On the Road Again

On the Road Again

I can’t believe it’s been 4 months since we came to Death Valley National Park. I’m really can’t believe that it’s time to move on – again. This last year and a half has been one extended period of saying good-bye and moving on. It started in Aug 2016 when I was informed that Judson was shutting down the theology program and ending my faculty line. Taking a deep breath, my first thought when I heard this was – “It’s going to be ages before we feel settled and at home again.” Little did I realize then how ongoing this experience would be, how many good-byes we would have to say and how some were going to be permanent.

Moving On

We signed up to volunteer (free camping but no salary) at Death Valley National Park [DVNP] as interpretive rangers or park guides, for the Fall part of the park’s high season. Usually the commitments are for 3 months but with the busy time here being over the Holiday season we agreed to stay on through January. Since we didn’t have another gig lined up after DVNP, we thought we might stay until the end of March or maybe even April, if they needed us. Either way, we knew were here short-term. In late November and early December, we began applying for volunteer opportunities for the spring and summer – anticipating that we will still be on the road. As it turns out, on January 20th we will be moving to Joshua Tree National Park (JTNP). There we will be serving in a different role, as campground hosts rather than park guides – and we’ve heard conflicting reports about the hosting experience.

One of the interesting things about volunteering is that you get to learn a huge amount of information about the regions and the parks – history, geography, geology, weather patterns, biology, animals, recreational usage, safety… – but then you move on. Just when you feel you finally have a good amount, if not a lot, to offer to others, you move on. As enjoyable as the time is, as privileged as you are to have the extended chance to learn these things, as adventurous as this is – in the end its unsettling.

Feeling Settled

We are processing a quite strange sense of being both settled and unsettled. We humans have a strange capacity to domicile rather quickly. A family camping will set up for a week and make the place quite homey and their own. A place can quickly become ‘my place’ if you know you are going to be there for a bit. You “settle in” establish a routine, get to know the people, the place, the rhythms of life. You learn to, but also you choose to be at home in a place. DVNP has come in 4 short months to feel familiar, homey, like our place.

This feeling at home has also been mixed with a constant feeling of being unsettled however. After 2 weeks of training, then 2 ½ weeks of working and getting into a routine we received word that my mother had died. We immediately left for the east coast and spent almost 3 weeks disoriented and like we had whiplash. When we returned we headed into the craziness of the Thanksgiving onslaught here in the park. We also realized we would need to start applying and interviewing for whatever parks came next. Then after catching our breath for a couple of weeks and settling back down, the insanity of the Christmas/New Year onslaught hit the park. This coupled with a visit from our daughter and her boyfriend made for a fantastic but not-routine and early January. For me this unsettled period was amplified by 3 events. After being back from my mother’s funeral for a week I flew to Houston for a job interview. Might we be leaving the road sooner than we expected and moving to Houston? Alas, the answer was no. Then, I was contacted out of the blue and had an interview (on the phone this time) in Palm Beach. Would we be moving soon to Florida? Alas, the answer was no. Then, right after the new year I had a conference in LA. It was a fantastic time and I was able to share reflections on work disruptions and its effect on faith and church life.

So, in fact we have been anything but settled over the last 4 months. And yet, we have completely settled in. This paradox seems to be, on a larger scale, the paradox of our life right now.

Saying Good-bye

In a week, we will say good-bye to some amazing new friends. The team of volunteers that we live with, in our little camper neighborhood, are interesting, enjoyable to be with and have become a kind of family. Likewise, we’ve come to love all of the 6 month seasonal rangers (mid-20’s through early 30’s). And, the permanent rangers here are great folk, passionate about their work – the park and visitor experience. Saying good-bye to new friends, after such an intense experience is going to bring on some tears.

This is especially true after the number of good-byes we’ve had to say in the last 6 months. My friends and colleagues of 10 years at Judson, our friends and church family in Carpentersville and Algonquin, our kids, reuniting and then saying so long to friends in Colorado… at least all of these good-byes are more like “see you later” than final farewells. Yet there have also been more significant deaths in our close family (biological and church) than I have ever experienced. My mother, my cousin Jeff (like a second brother), my sister-in-law’s dad Jack, Al our friend from church and even our dog of 14 years. While we believe in the resurrection of the dead and know we will one day be reunited, for now, these good-byes are more than just, “see ya later.”

It’s the People

So, what have we learned? I’m honestly not sure yet. We are still on the journey and not sure where it is taking us or how long it will take to get there – wherever or whatever ‘there’ means. And in a way, that’s ok. Knowing that we are learning and growing, that this time is not wasted, gives our desert and wilderness experience a sense of meaning and purpose. Knowing that God is with us and has not abandoned us, even when it feels otherwise, gives us the ability to keep on going.

While I’m not sure yet what “the” lesson is, or even if there is “a lesson” as such, here are some things we can say with confidence:

  1. God is good and we will be fine, if not always in this life, at least in the next.
  2. Life is short, seize the moment if you can. Seek for beauty where you are.
  3. People make the difference. Everybody has a story. Listen to them.
  4. We all need meaningful work – whether that is paid or volunteer makes little difference. We all need to serve, to give to another, in and through our daily activities to live a good life full of meaning and joy.

 

A Crooked Road

I walk a crooked road to get where I am going
To get where I am going I must walk a crooked road
And only when I’m looking back I see the straight and narrow
I see the straight and narrow when I walk a crooked road

I sing a lonesome song to anyone who’ll listen,
To anyone who’ll listen I‘ll sing my lonesome song.
And when I hear you singing too the sorrow sounds so hopeful
The sorrow sounds so hopeful when I sing my lonesome song.

And a lonesome song will be my true companion
When all else has abandoned for singing of their own
And a lonesome song will fill my days with gladness
Make joy out of sadness when I sing this lonesome song to you

I love with all my heart, there is no way of stopping
I have no way of stopping I just love with all my heart
Through the broken and the beautiful, the bad news and the good news
The bad new and the good news is I love with all my heart

And a loving heart will be my true companion
When all else has abandoned for loving of their own
And a loving heart will fill my days with gladness
Make joy out of sadness when I bring this loving heart to you

I long to be a happy man, in this life that I’ve been given
In this life that I’ve been given I long to be a happy man
When the noise turns to stillness I see I have the makings
I see I have the makings to be one happy man

And a happy man will be my true companion
When all else has abandoned for happy of their own
And a happy man will fill my days with gladness
Make joy out of sadness when I show this happy man

And a happy man will be my true companion
When all else has abandoned for happy of their own
And a happy man will fill my days with gladness
Make joy out of sadness when I bring this happy man to you

I walk a crooked road to get where I am going
To get where I am going I must walk a crooked road
And only when I’m looking back I see the straight and narrow
I see the straight and narrow when I walk a crooked road

Darrell Scott

A Labor Day Appeal

“While it may be politically expedient to blame globalization for the job losses, the real culprits are increased automation and investment in software. According to some predictions, half of all jobs in industrialized countries will vanish in the next 20 years due to automation, computerization, and advances in robotics and artificial intelligence. It will take time before new jobs replace those that are lost.”

Maintaining a sense of purpose in a changing workplace

I need your help?

My current research project involves interviewing people who I meet on the road (literally and virtually) who have experienced or find themselves facing the kinds of changes in work and working highlighted in this article.

Many of us have stories to tell and these stories need to be told in our colleges, seminaries and through related faith@work organizations. If professors and other leaders are to be equipped and to equip those they teach to help people through these challenges they will need your help – they need your story.

If you have a personal story you would like to share and include in this research on work disruption, unemployment, under-employment, mid or late career pivoting, or the like, I’d love to hear from you and hear your byway tale.

I am asking 3 basic questions

  1. What is your story through your working life and how have changes in work and working effected you and your ‘career’?
  2. How did you respond to these changes or disruptions and how did you maintain a sense of meaning, purpose or personal identity in the process, and did faith or spirituality play a role positively or negatively through this journey?
  3. Did ‘play’ (recreation, travel, art…) help you or distract you during your transitions?

You may write your responses, or make a short video (e.g. on your phone) and send it to me. (Contact me for details for submitting a video.)

If you wish to participate, I will send you a ‘consent form’ as I will need your permission to share your story in publication and in educational presentations.

How do you ‘Volunteer’ at Work?

Scary and Sad Beginnings
We pulled out around noon on Saturday Aug 19. After an hour on back roads through Dekalb we headed west on the 88. Within 5 minutes we had our first ‘incident’. As a semi flew past I let off the gas to slow down but the trailer began to ‘freewheel’ and push us rather than us pulling it. We found ourselves being tossed back and forth, bucked like riding a bull. The trailer fishtailed to the left then right then left… all over both lanes, bouncing, out of control. I thought I had a flat so didn’t hit the brakes. Wrong move for our situation I later learned.
The rest of the day and the next is white knuckle driving all the way to Kansas – scared to drive 60mph for fear of loosing control and fishtailing. Add to that, on the second day Kristy’s wedding-engagement ring are lost. We call where we stopped and left a message just incase it is found.
By the time we reach family in Wichita on Sunday evening we are both exhausted and discouraged. This is not how we had hoped to start our new life. We know there will be a learning curve, we know there will be hiccups along the way. But so soon? Do we need a bigger vehicle to pull the trailer? Where do we get money for that? We have to be able to tow our new home, and with a measure of confidence. This is not a hobby. It’s our new life.

People at Work who Care
On Monday we watch the eclipse with family. Pretty cool, 93-4% totality in Wichita. Then off to Flint Hills RV to have them look at our tow set up, hoping something can be done, no matter what it costs. Amazing folk. Jim works miracles. At least for now we have tow stability at 65mph. May have to change to ‘truck’ tires eventually, but for now we seem solid enough.
It’s odd. It feels like we are just on another family visit, only this time with a camper. BUT, we’re not. We have no place we have to be, at least until Oct 1. We have no ‘home’ to go back to. We simply ‘are’ where we are. The reality of this hits us occasionally, but what this reality is is still unclear.
But here’s what we have found to help us take heart. Jim at Flint Hills RV cared first and foremost about our safety. He wouldn’t even let us pay him for an hour+ working to figure out and fix our hitch problem. I tried to pay him but he said no. He was just glad he could help. “I just run my business hoping that what goes around comes around.” He said. “You are from out of town, just passing through. I just want to make sure you are safe. I used 3 washers…”
So which is ‘worth’ more to a business – a one time payment of $70 , or a direct recommendation to 52,000 fellow full-time RVers to go see Jim? It’s hard to say. I can tell you this, my full-time RVers Facebook group now know that if they are ever in Wichita and need an RV dealer or service they should go to Jim at Flint Hills RV.
By the way, Kristy called the rest area where she thinks she might have lost her rings. The woman on the other end talks to her for at least a half an hour, trying to comfort her and offer perspective, knowing how traumatic it is to lose a wedding ring. She didn’t have to do this for Kristy, but she cared about the pain of a person she has never met, but to whom she can relate, having a while back lost her ring as well.

Observations
We need others. We need friends and family, but we also people we don’t even know, who offer ‘services’, who just go to work. We were lucky enough to meet people in their work who cared, who simply met us in our humanity at our points of need.
The work we do, if we are to stay in business, is to meet some kind of need. This means it is actually a service. It is so much more than working to pay the bills. Our work, our business, is a primary way to care for and serve others beyond our small circle of family and friends. Volunteer work at church or in the community is great, important and necessary, but we spend most of our time ‘serving’ others at work. I wonder how today we might knowingly or unknowingly be serving, meeting needs? I wonder how we would experience our days at work differently if we had the same attitude and joy that we do when volunteering and serving in the community? Indeed we actually are doing so whether we realize it or not.

Why talk about byways?

A byway is a road or path that doesn’t follow the main route. It can be treacherous, or a trek ‘off the beaten path’ leading to amazing experiences that most could only ever dream of.

In the US, Scenic Byways are roads recognized for one or more of six “intrinsic qualities” – historic, cultural, recreational, archeological, natural, and scenic. Scenic does not mean these will be easy routes. Most of the time, they are not. But the joy and beauty sometimes found can make the journey worth the time and effort.

A byway is a good metaphor for describing the ‘detours’  we often find ourselves on having met life’s roadblocks, and increasing in the disruptions of our working lives. Sometimes we are fortunate, and land on a beautiful and gentle path leading to amazing new places. Other times the road is hard, the way forward uncertain, and the destination, if we even know where we are going, is clouded by doubt, fear and frustration. Not all byways are scenic. But some are, even if not at first, and the best byways usually are the roads less traveled.

A byway, whether scenic or not, brings a newness, and often richness and depth to our experience. Literally. it seeks to preserve and protect important but often less-traveled roads and promote recreation and tourism with economic development generating new work.