Friday, October 15, 2010

An Office of One's Own

One of the many blessings of this new job at ActionAid is that I have my own office, with a door that closes…if I pull the couch out to just the right place and wedge the door past it. And, I have a big window, so that if I lean way over to the right, I can just see a bit of sky in between the tall buildings. This little space that I call my own is no small thing. (Ok, it technically is a relatively small space, but I’m talking metaphorically here.) It is a place where I can regroup…a place where I can seek refuge…a place that I can call my own.

In the spirit of owning up to my space, new job and general work callings, I’ve decided to thoroughly decorate my office. Hence, I have the usual suspects in the room with me: Mahatma Ghandi, butterflies, a map of people from around the world, my friends and family (with my hubby right in front of my computer, where I can keep an eye on him;)
Last week, I made a proud purchase of 3 sweet little office plants that the woman promised me would be very difficult indeed to kill. An added bonus is that the kitchen (and hence the potential for them actually getting watered) is right next to my office. I grabbed a cute little pumpkin while I was at it, plunked him down in full view at the corner of my desk and declared it fall time, as verified by the Monterey calendar on my wall. My space felt almost perfect...more like a work home. Yet, I realized yesterday that there was one more thing missing.

And so, I surrounded my computer this morning with some key reminders. They’re little pieces of advice that I’ve accumulated over time from wise friends, family members and prophets. Here are a few of them:

- Listen and Look
- Do not be afraid
- Knock, and the door shall be opened
- When in doubt, give
- Seek and you will find
- Live by faith and not by sight
- Forgive
- Be patient

And the big one, placed right at the center of my screen so that I just can't ignore it...Love.

Last week, I had a few work days where I think I broke just about every one of these guidelines. This week, I’m trying to make them a little bit harder to forget. So, I’m thankful to have the space in which to do that.
The final item that I have in my office as a reminder of how I want to work and live my life is a poem, given to me by a dear friend. It goes something like this:
"I asked for strength...
And God gave me challenges to make me strong
I asked for wisdom...
And God gave me problems to solve
I asked for prosperity...
And God gave me brain and brawn to work
I asked for courage...
And God gave me danger to overcome
I asked for love...
And God gave me troubled people to help

I asked for favors...
And God gave me opportunities
I received nothing I wanted
I received everything I needed."


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

An Ode to Working Mothers

My church, Foundry UMC, www.foundryumc.org 

I was amazed this past weekend by the women who spoke at the Haiti education event that we organized at my church, Foundry United Methodist. Both women are of Haitian descent and work on Haiti recovery and policy efforts around the clock. Both are married and mothers to young children. Both travel back and forth to Haiti for their work, with one woman in particular traveling at least twice per month. Yet, there they were this past Sunday...dynamic, eloquent, passionate, soulful women who are so committed to Haiti reconstruction that they packed their entire families into their cars and gave up a portion of their incredibly limited free time in order to help educate us. Talk about having a WOW moment.

Something that particularly struck me during their presentations was the amazingly challenging path that committed working women have to walk. Due to a lack of available childcare, both women had their 3 year olds pulling on their skirts as they attempted to present and then answer questions. (I was lucky enough to take care of one of the women's darling 1 year old daughter...but still had to use every trick in the book to keep her amused for an hour.) I just kept thinking that these women probably get an average of 5 or 6 hrs of sleep per night (if they're lucky.) They work long, hard weeks and some how have to balance being 100% available to their families.They must have been exhausted. Yet, they were able to give perfect, intelligent, comprehensive commentaries on one of the most challenging post disaster countries in history as their 3 year old children yanked on their clothes, jumped up and down and tried to get their attention. And they performed the roles of professional, friend and mother all without blinking an eye. My question is, how did they do it?!

Two of my dearest friends, both of whom are intelligent, successful professionals, just recently had their first child. Already, they are having to navigate through how they will balance their new roles. How much time can they afford to take off...how long will they nurse their babies...when will they need to go back to work...when will they get sleep...how will they maintain their friendships and community. And, both friends are incredibly blessed with progressive, caring, engaged husbands who are thrilled to be fathers and to co-raise their children. I, myself, have every confidence that my husband Mark will be an equally wonderful father some day. Yet, it is still the mothers, for the most part, who must play the most challenging roles. It is the mom's who must be all things to all people at all times. Perhaps that is why these women who presented at our Haiti church event were able to navigate through multi-tasking so easily. Their lives inevitably center around this skill.

I hope and pray that I am blessed enough to experience this challenge of multi-tasking through the roles of professional, spouse, daughter, sister, cousin, social justice advocate, church member, neighbor, friend and especially mother one day. In the meantime, I extend some much deserved admiration and appreciation out to all of you working mothers. May we, as a culture, work to better support our mothers (and fathers too!) so that they don't have to choose between their careers, their families and themselves.