Turning 21, Again

I am taking a trip of a lifetime next month. My daughter called me up and asked me if I would meet her in Paris and could we tack on Iceland.

“YES!” I screamed with no hesitation. “Oh, wait. Hold on. Let me talk with Dad (my husband, her dad, not my dad).”

I’ve never been to Europe. My miles and money went to Paris a few years ago for Bethany’s study abroad, and I have all sorts of ridiculous fantasies about traveling abroad and a clean bathroom and a perfect paper planner. Her question, while it could’ve waited for a few days, felt pressing, urgent, and important. I didn’t ask my husband. I told him. I told him our young adult daughter asked me, her mother, to meet her in the City of Lights, and I told him I wanted to go.

So we said yes.

But getting to yes also meant making some other decisions about how this almost empty nest stage of life would be, what needed to stay and what needed to be let go. Before deciding on this trip to Paris was one other decision to be made that had been hanging around like the last dumpling at an Asian gathering. I didn’t want to touch it. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Asian American/Canadian Lounge at Urbana18. Y’all know exactly what I am talking about.)

Before saying yes to Paris, I knew it was time to say yes to a different invitation into uncharted waters. I said yes to leaving InterVarsity. My last day will be February 15.

Milestones are a chance to shift

This month my staff career with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA turned 21 years old, barely legal and ready for new things. I sent out the following words in an email to a few colleagues after I had given official notice:

There has been a cost that I no longer want to carry, do not feel called to bear, or have the influence to change – a funding system that was designed for white men in a completely different cultural context, the human sexuality rollout that left our LGBTQ staff vulnerable and inconsistently asked for belief and behavior, and an affirmation of women in leadership that falls short of calling the Church to do the same. 

As I’ve wrestled with those concerns I’ve also sensed that it’s simply time to leave and explore options to write and lead in another context. I do not have another job lined up except for the two yoga classes I teach on Thursdays. I am asking God what the invitation is for this next stage of leadership and life with the privilege of stepping away from IVCF without a plan.

I tell people I am a product of InterVarsity’s training and development – my deep love for scripture and manuscript Bible study, a commitment to mentoring and discipling, integrating my values into action. IVCF has been one of the few spaces in the Church that provided a Korean American married mother an opportunity to learn and be mentored by the likes of Jeanette Yep, Lisa Espinelli Chin, and Paul Tokunaga. I can only hope I will have left staff with a fraction of their wisdom.

I don’t know

That’s still my answer to the question, “So, what’s next?” I do not have a job lined up. I have not talked with an agent or a head hunter. I’m looking for a new spiritual director, preferably a WOC. I’m looking at the first three months as a sabbatical and, in some ways, a detox and untangling of my identity from an organization I’ve been a part of as a student, volunteer, and then employee for almost half of my life. I don’t know what’s next in terms of employment, but that’s OK.

For having worked most of my adult life in ministry I am finding that question funny because in it is an implicit request for certainty, and as a person of faith the older I get the less certain I am and the less certainty I require. My children are young adults. They have taught me that humility, failure, and uncertainty are essential and critical in parenting. My husband and I have been married for almost 26 years, and that friendship and relationship has taught me the same. We screw up on the daily, and more often than not I am not sure how we will fare the “till death do us part” part of our vows.

I don’t know what my next job will be. I know that uncertainty is a privilege and one I do not enter into or carry lightly, but I am carrying it.

Yes, I’m scared

No, I’m not totally OK with all of this uncertainty. Why do you think I am still searching for the perfect paper planner system (right now I’m loving my very basic bullet journal)?? I am a planner. I like making lists and checking off to-do items. I love setting goals. I love the friendships and community I have had the honor of being a part of on staff, and I will miss seeing colleagues who have become friends. I’m scared of losing friends and losing a sense of identity. I sat on making this decision for a LOOOOOOOOONG time, in part, because of the uncertainty and the privilege to say, “I’m quitting” without a plan to replace that income. It feels incredibly selfish, and as the daughter of immigrants all you know and are told is about the unselfish sacrifices our elders made/make for us to live better lives.

And just to drive the point home even my parents were worried about my non-plan even though for the past 21 years they haven’t been convinced that working in ministry where you are required to raise your own salary is a real job that one could really quit. How do you quit a job that isn’t a real job? See? It’s weird.

But I quit, with some financial planning because I’m not that selfish or stupid, and I’m scared. I’m scared my dreams are too old or faded. I’m scared I’ve become risk-averse and practical. I’m scared my imagination is too limited. So why did I quit? Because I’m scared of being stuck because of my fear.

My Dear Readers, are you stuck? Are you scared of staying stuck? If you could “do” anything or make a career change what would you do? If you’ve taken that scary leap of faith, what advice do you have for us newbies who are free falling?

9 Comments

  1. Christina Smerick January 28, 2019

    Kathy! I too am leaving my job of 14 years, and taking what some may see as a step backwards career-wise…and moving my family thousands of miles in the process. I prayed and talked and prayed and still some days the knot in my stomach seems like it will never go away. Solidarity. God seems to like lighting our path one little spotlight at a time. Which is hard to put in a planner (ahem, God. Seriously. ) Blessings to you as we walk this new road.

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  2. Disna Trautwein January 28, 2019

    BRAVA, dear Kathy!! You will be just fine. Yes, you will. You are fierce and smart and gifted and called to be a catalyst for change. The next thing will be … the next thing. And there may be several more next things after that. Who knows? I was 44 when I started seminary, 52, when I took my first paid position, 65ish when I began doing spiritual direction. You are JUST GETTING STARTED. (P.S. — we have L O N G ties to IV. Dick’s uncle was Paul Byer, who developed manuscript Bible study. We now share many of your same concerns, but carry those right next to all that we’re grateful for.) Many, many blessings to you!!!

    (And you will love Paris!)

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  3. Prasanta Verma January 28, 2019

    Good for you! So much of life is still ahead. And, have a blast in Paris!
    (And yes, I’m definitely scared of staying stuck…)

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  4. Rachel Bobbitt January 28, 2019

    I am so happy for you. Well done on your time so serving so faithfully, and on all the work I know it took to decide to leave. You blessed me through talks and teaching over the years. I left IV after only 12 years in July for reasons that sound eerily similar to yours but also different because I’m White. Sigh. Felt like a free fall for a few months. It is a whole identity that you leave behind- a way of life. So many feelings I’m still working through. It is less stressful in the real world- there are more happy hours. I started taking aerial silks classes and doing more yoga. Many many blessings as you move toward whatever is next for you.

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  5. Michelle Perrigo January 28, 2019

    Kathy, I met you “late” in my 12 year IV career but I have appreciated you ever since a long ago Women’s Conference planning session in your home in Chicagoland. Having left sooner for many similar and related poignant reasons, my first thought is: Don’t think too much about any of what comes next until after Paris and Iceland. Detox. Breathe. Rest. Play. F’ing enjoy your daughter and the beautiful, luscious worlds of exploring together. And then, when you get back among the planning and the new openness for listening to God’s next options, prepare for an onslaught (hopefully yours will not be mighty as I think you’ve already done some healthier processing via your writing and speaking). Mine included a LOT of anger, anger enough to *almost* chuck my faith out the door entirely—but Jesus made me too stubborn for that. It included a lot of soul searching to find “what I believe”—-or if the kind of thinking implied by that phrase even matters to me anymore. (It doesn’t. Great book I found along the way: Thomas Moore, A Religion Of One’s Own). And it included a LOT of unpacking my identity from ministry, and from what I and others long-believed a good, healthy Life would look like. And I was buried pretty deep in what only at the end and after could I see was clearly toxic to my life and my soul. It took a long while to heal from that and to not be bitter. Be on guard for that, though I trust you have a good community around you to help circumvent that. Also, oddly (but not) be prepared for the critical one who will see your departure as unfaithful and who will “pray for Your soul.” (No joke. I got several of those messages from former disciplees…, as if I’d turned into a 3-headed monster overnight). I always graciously answered back that I welcomed the prayers. Can’t ever have too much of that!

    I too value the excellent training and lessons that forever shaped my skills and worldview from my time as a student and staff member in IV. Some of the lessons and worldview that emerged though are categorically different than my old students and colleagues would find “acceptable”. That’s okay with me. They won’t answer to Jesus for me bit I will be able to answer with my own clear conscience. It’s a wild ride. It’s like breathing fresh air after you’ve been cooped up inside too long. And then after you’ve been outside for a while, you realize this air is different. And it’s good. But spending time both in and out could also work? I bless you, my wise and winsome Sister in the King. I look forward to following your new career and continuing to learn from the life and Spirit wisdom you share. If you ever travel to Seattle, I’d love a chance to have tea or coffee with you. Not that we’ve had many interactions but I’ve held you in high regard in your honest, bold and vulnerable writing, posting and blogging. May the new adventures be richer than you imagine. Our good God is immense and there’s so much world out there to see Her majesty in…Grace & peace. Michelle Perrigo (formerly of West Michigan)

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  6. Kristin Anderson-Wolff January 29, 2019

    Kathy,

    I am an InterVarsity alum and past Urbana Operations team member. My brothers were on staff for decades, in leadership roles (one with Grad and Faculty and the other in the Great Lakes region). InterVarsity has run in our family blood like an IV. I “know” from afar the way people with these kinds of mutual connections can feel familiar, and I’ve been grateful for your thoughtful writing and presence on social media.

    After a 25±/- process of coming out to myself, I finally came out to the family and friends about 6 years ago. I left my leadership role at the seminary/university I’d invested my life in for 21 years. I left being able to speak to the large group meetings of the InterVarsity chapter at my undergrad Alma Mater. After a lifetime as an insider in denominational and InterVarsity contexts, I became an outsider.

    My family (siblings, cousins, etc) and I have worked to understand each other. I married my wife four years ago this May. My sisters were able to attend along with two nieces and a nephew. That’s one way we’ve stayed open to being family despite differences about our views on scripture vis-a-vis committed gay relationships. We are first and foremost family and deeply committed to loving each other across differences.

    The InterVarsity statement on human sexuality, and the requirement that staff agree to a position was one of the most painful experiences in my coming out process. I was fb friends with some of the senior leaders that implemented this decision (I’d known one since he’d been in my small group during a Bible and Life Conference his freshman year of college, the other had been my boss on Urbana). It was so hurtful to have people I knew be part of this exclusionary decision (I unfriended both as a result. I just couldn’t watch the one advocating publicly with universities as they responded to LGBT exclusion). I stopped supporting my niece through InterVarsity and donated to her work directly through PayPal. After so much healing with family, this created another wedge to overcome (with some).

    I say all of this, because I’m grateful for your willingness to name your discomfort with InterVarsity’s position on LGBT relationships as part of your decision. Your willingness to name it as a factor in your departure, takes courage. I’ve wondered from afar how you saw these things (I almost emailed to ask!). Your mentors in InterVarsity are people I respect. You’ve worked with some of the finest women and men in Christian leadership. What a gift.

    Now you’ll find your way in new circles. It might take longer than a few months to disentangle, so be patient with yourself! My prayer is that this will be a decision that breathes newness into your life and vocation.

    I am grateful for you…from afar.

    Kristin

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  7. Mary January 29, 2019

    You are brave and full of faith and amazing and courageous and a LEADER for doing this. This inspires me and gives me hope. I was so aghast at Intervarsity after the whole LGBTQ+ position thing. The first paragraph of your email is just fire. I support you 100%. You don’t know me, and I barely know you but just know that a fellow sister who loves the same God is rooting for you!!!!

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  8. Shawn January 30, 2019

    I needed to read this. Thank you, Kathy.

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  9. Bonnie Ward February 11, 2019

    Blessings as you go. Often, we have to let go of what was, before we can embrace what will be. I too, am leaving staff at the end of the fiscal year. Not totally sure what is next, though it includes tutoring ESL. I know that God will open doors for you and lead you in good paths! Blessings!

    Reply

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