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A Walk in the Woods

Clouds in the sky

Yesterday I did something. I took off my watch, that small piece of magic that goes beyond telling time into the world of tracking everything from my breath, my sleep, my steps, my email, my calendar and I took a long walk in the woods. It was a beautiful day. The cool breeze touching the back of my neck, the bare trees and crunchy leaves underfoot were the only reminders I had that we are still in the midst of winter. Spring seems so eager to emerge. In this space, I feel the smallness of who I am.

As I walked in the woods, I was reminded of two important lessons. First, as I often do, I noticed the clouds overhead and remembered a time long ago. I was maybe 13 or 14 years old getting ready to play a softball game in Arkansas, many miles from my Ohio home, and I was so homesick I could barely breathe. Until that point in my life, I had never been that far from home. The coaches, not knowing what to do with me, sent one of the other kid’s dad to talk with me. Mr. Motz and I took a walk. I don’t remember all that he said to me that day, but I remember at one point we stopped and looked up at the clouds. Mr. Motz assured me then that those who were the source of my homesickness were standing under the very same cloud cover. Though far apart, my family and I were still connected. What was likely a “Hail Mary” attempt by my coaches to get the team’s pitcher back on the field, has served as a lifelong gift for me. I have become one who continues to look up at the clouds.

Last week I asked the question, “what keeps you grounded?” It is a question I often use in volunteer and staff interviews. As I took my watch off and headed into the woods yesterday, I was reminded that smallness felt in this space is what keeps me grounded. This work I do is bigger than me, and greater than anything I can do alone. I have been fortunate to live into a vocation, not just a career. Vocation, as author and theologian Frederick Buechner defines as “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

I ask that important question, “what keeps you grounded” for two reasons. One, I want to know if there is within that potential employee or volunteer a depth that will sustain them when things get tough, because in this work things getting tough is a given. And two, I want to be someone who encourages and can point one back to that energy source, if in the midst of a tough time, they forget their way.

This work we do in child welfare is costly. To pour oneself out, to stand in places that are uncomfortable, chaotic even, and be the calm that a child, a parent, or colleague needs to feel. To be the consistent, the constant in a place in a child’s life, even when they push against you, as they often do. Even when, especially when, the brokenness of a system breaks your heart. Again.

For those who do this work, and continue to do this work, my heart is filled with gratitude. Whatever that source of grounding is for you, I hope you take a moment to go there, be there, be filled - whether it is a walk in the woods, time spent with family and friends, your journal, your faith, time spent in a greenhouse or with a book, or a combination of these and more. In these days of uncertainty globally, divisiveness politically and in relationships with those who are experiencing uncertainty, the need to dig deep is greater than ever. To love into the hard places. To keep showing up. To pour out, be filled, only to pour out again.

In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, author Brené Brown reminds me, “to love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees – these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. But, I’m learning that recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude and grace.” A beautiful reminder of what this work requires, and my simple prayer. My heart is full of gratitude for those who have paved the way for me, and those who walk with me in this incredible journey.