Can’t Unhear the Call

I was working as a social worker in St. Louis, Missouri. I had a lot of joy in this job working with individuals who lived with addiction or mental illness. Many of the people who were living on the street that I engaged with were resilient, and generous. I had a great rapport with many of them and found a lot of life in this job.

I found that the system was limited in what we could do for our people. At one point, I had a plan to create a Housing Forum to expose some of the barriers and limitations. My boss sat me down and told me that in no uncertain terms, “We don’t do things like that.” She told me in a loving way that our people’s entrance to some of the low-income housing could be compromised if the housing officials felt like I was criticizing them. I was frustrated and understood at that moment what a “Poverty Pimp” was. I hated the paralyzing feeling I had.

At the same time, providence was at work. I had an 18 month old baby that we had just adopted from China. I started looking for a job across the state in my hometown. The Gamaliel affiliate was looking for their first organizer in training. As part of the process I was sent to a organizer training produced by the national network.

I took a chance and went to Northbrook, IL for the training. I remember watching the trainees and the trainers and feeling like I was on a different planet. After the discussions on “POWER” and “SELF-INTEREST,” I made a decision to leave the training. I went to my room and started to pack. At some point, I called my mom. We chatted and she asked me, “What are you doing?” Me: “I’m leaving.” Her: “I thought you were at a work meeting?” I told her how this training was not what I expected, how the organizer had lied to me, and how I didn’t think I wanted this job anymore. . .

She stopped me and asked, “Are you scared?”

I remember feeling very scared, nauseous, and alone. Looking back, I was very scared. I did not know if a new mom could do a job like this. I never saw anyone in my whole life who looked like me who did anything like this. So I said, “Yes.”

Mom: “Don’t be like me, when I was young, I didn’t do anything.”

I remember crying and feeling a clear call. I told my mom, “I think I might have the flu.”

Mom: “Go make yourself throw up, but go back in and finish.”*

I visit this story a lot. I think of this moment as the minute that God, in the form of my mother, called me into the fold. I know that God was with me when I took a risk to answer that Call.

I sometimes wish I could un-hear my Call. I find myself slaying my demons of fear, of feeling small, of feeling like a fraud. . . . all the time. I know that this feeling is part of the Call.

*Post-note: I did actually throw up.

5 thoughts on “Can’t Unhear the Call

  1. **So glad the throwing up at weeklong training story has made it here**

    Curious about how call is continuing to unfold for you.
    In other words: What else recently felt terrifying and nauseating?

    In what ways do you continue to feel stretched? What is the riskiest thing you’ve done lately in your public life?

    How have you experienced the invitation to preach?

    You recently took a risk, it seems, in choosing to divorce your husband and re-negotiated family life in a way that allows for flourishing. Do you have any inclination about what new space that is opening up for you?

    As you reach 50, and think about the next chapter. Where do you feel called to build power and why?

    You always asked “for what? power for what?”

    What are we trying to do with this power we are building? I wonder how you continue to answer or live that question (if you do)

    So many women in churches of all kinds of stripes have deeply internalized the notion that we shouldn’t want power. You know this, from all the years of training & organizing. Is this particular struggle one you are feeling energy or desire to dive more deeply into?

  2. I really applaud your bravery to go back in and answer the call. Almost every single time, I let my fear and anxiety either win the fight or keep me from the battle for a very, VERY long time.

    I noticed when you were feeling that dissonance and fear and decided you wanted to leave, you called you mom, who ended up bringing you back on course. Do you have other supports you call on in times like these? What if you don’t have a person to talk to in the moment? Do you have strategies to pull that sort of guidance and discerment out of yourself?

  3. Dear Mary,
    I experience you as so bold and brave through your writing, someone who says what she thinks. It’s incredible that you got there through really actively, as you say, slaying the demons of fear!

    I want to offer another interpretation of your vomiting. You could say that you vomited because you were afraid. But I wonder if you were cleansing the oppressive ideas that were pushing on you, such as your boss being too timid to criticize the system, or a narrative of Chinese girls which would harm your daughter as you alluded to in your last post. I wonder if your body was saying, “I’m done with these lies” and throwing up was part of that. OK, my idea is a little graphic….I just think that the physical part is important! I just wanted to say that I don’t see it as you being timid: I see it as you needing to reject something that was bad.

  4. I read that John Lennon would throw up before every show. The line, “I never saw anyone in my whole life who looked like me who did anything like this,” resonates deeply with me, thank you for that. My yoga teacher says that growth can never happen in comfort. This is a wonderful story of Why.

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