I am an architect, but I’m not.
I am a missionary, but I’m not.
Sound confusing? Maybe the confusion subsides when we embrace a view of vocation as separate from that of career — as something that far surpasses nine to five work hours, salaries and benefits, something that begins to describe the condition of an individual’s gifts and passions, heart and soul. And maybe this paradigm shift could be a way for many women to find greater peace with what can seem like conflicting desires for family life and working toward personal goals.
My own testimony of vocation is one of hearing a clear calling from the Lord to enter into the design field as a ministry, a missionary specifically. Then later (even presently) working through the confusion brought on by youthful presumption when plans have yet to manifest the way I expected. The journey has been both agonizing and rich, however, as I sift away the need to work in order to identify with my field, while I learn to embrace the character of this vocation in new areas of life, as it is woven into my very being.
As believers, when we embrace the notion of vocation, we are celebrating the integration of work and personality for God’s glory. The way that the Lord has uniquely knit each of us together, with good works prepared in advanced suited to how He created us, is the very song that we sing in worship of Him.
For me, that song comes in the form of architecture. The Lord was good to show me as a first-year university student that He had plans to use my training on the mission field. I moved passionately in this direction through nine years worth of higher learning and was easily capable of drawing together my design work with a love of God’s Word. My portfolio of design work reads as a narrative describing the human experience in our innate desire to know God. Each project was an outpouring of worship and even an apologetic in being able to talk to my classmates about the areas where my design theory met theology.
Fast forward years later, I find myself living overseas, but neither working as an architect or even under the title of missionary. Instead, I am a stay at home mom and a naturalized citizen of the nation of Israel.
Life has taken a course less conventional than I anticipated. The professional needs of my field have been much more challenging to merge with family than I expected as a younger woman full of faith that all of the desires of my heart would simply work out since it is the calling the Lord placed on my life.
The tensions have surfaced but not for the reasons one might assume. I have never felt torn between having a high power career or staying home with my children; being at home was always part of the plan. Rather, this professional silence has tapped into the deep reservoir of my relationship with the Lord, causing questions and doubt to surface about whether or not I had truly heard from Him throughout the course of life. Eventually, pressing in with the hard questions allowed more powerful meaning to emerge.
Why would You have me work so hard in so many years of school, if I’m not going to be practicing?
He responded in turn with a question:
If I had made you a singer, would you have stopped singing after your first baby was born?
With this subjective nudge from the Holy Spirit, I realized I was thinking about this wrong. My reply:
Of course not! I would sing to my baby.
And the Lord encouraged:
Then make buildings with your babies.
This conversation fell during a time when I was in meditation and study of the first Psalm.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season. (Psalm 1:3)
In its season.
That is a promise from God’s Word.
The imagery of the passage reminds me of the real-life story of the beloved Laura Ingalls Wilder and her husband Almanzo. Upon moving to Missouri, they began their “Rocky Ridge Farm” with the planting of an apple orchard, yet waited seven years for the trees to begin bearing fruit. During that time, they built their farm around other trades, wheat, poultry, dairy, even hauling wagon loads of firewood. Eventually, Mrs. Wilder became an expert at farming, being asked to lecture on her knowledge base throughout the state. If her trees had been fruitful younger in their lives, might she have missed an opportunity to learn well the broad scope of her craft, due to the liveliness of the harvest?
Besides Mrs. Wilder’s Proverbs 31-like diligence in her vocation, the apple tree in itself reveals a great mystery. Is it merely an apple tree only when bearing fruit? Hardly. Its identity remains the same in that long dormant season the Lord intended for maturation, as in the ordained time of fruit-bearing.
Doubt subsided as I repented of viewing my vocation through an earthly mindset, and began embracing the biblical truth of seasonal living. As women, our biology expresses the Lord’s heart for seasons of time, as our child-bearing years come with maturity and leave with even greater maturity. Similarly, to complement the great work of creating life through our bodies — a fruitfulness surpassing all others — for many of us the Lord very well may bring our vocation in and out of season to accommodate the needs of our children.
For He has made everything appropriate in its time. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
As the apple tree keeps its identity in and out of season, I am no less an architect while home-making with small children than I was during a brief time of practice, or will possibly be in the future. What lies dormant for today, is allowing a maturation for later.
A lesson to be gleaned from Mrs. Wilder is that of stewardship: investing in a vocation through the dormant times. While I am taking on small scale projects as I have opportunity, keeping my practical skill set up, my priorities have shifted. As the Lord admonished, I am making buildings with my children. Whether it is Legos and train tracks or Play-doh and paints, as I enjoy my little ones, I seize moments to pass along a knowledge of my field as well as to learn more myself. The dormancy of my vocation has also allowed for teaching art at my son’s school, developing my writing skills both through contributing to online efforts, as well as writing and illustrating a children’s book — creative endeavors I would not have time to explore if I was in the office.
Likewise, I am understanding my daily life as my practice. Regular chores while enduring the extreme seasons of the Israeli climate have been ample times to think critically about how buildings work and don’t work, and where innovative construction needs to be implemented in order to better aid the human experience. Leaving the office and being more present at home has also granted greater opportunity to live in a missional way, learning through friendships the physical and spiritual needs of a people that I am now part of.
I trust that what I’m doing today will impact my practice in the future if I am intentional about viewing this season as part of a whole. This biblical principle of bearing fruit in its season is one I believe to be cross-disciplinary, no matter what the vocation. A life well lived for God’s glory will enrich work in any field.
Architect is who I am, regardless of having a full-time practice or formal ministry, and that is the power of vocation and calling. It is a place in the human spirit that influences many of life’s facets and will endure long after the flesh withers away. I can’t not be an architect. It is how I look at the world and how I think, finding eternal purpose in creative endeavors. It is how I relate to others. It is even how I put cookie dough on the oven tray (my husband laughs at my precision).
And one day, I hope to taste the fruit of what lies dormant in the present.
Photography: JenniMarie Photography