Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Chronicles of Following the Heart

So many meaningful moments have happened over the past few months, that I wanted to capture them and the journey thus far before walking on...I invite you to walk with me.

This summer, I let go of a higher-paying writing job to take a job at a bookstore and experience working retail for the first time. You could laugh at me for this, but in the spring, I had reached a point where I could barely drag myself through another day of writing projects, because I felt so far away from the subjects I was writing about. I wanted work that was face-to-face and tangible. Arriving at that decision to let go of the stability in my life for something risky and new was unsettling, even while my heart yearned for something new.

One night, as I lay asking God for an answer, it dawned on me that my friend worked at my favorite bookstore in the city, and if they were hiring, perhaps she could get me in the door. The next morning, feeling a bit more hopeful, I sent her a text message and was surprised when she texted back that yes, they were hiring. In fact, they were conducting interviews this week! I hurriedly applied that day, feeling this had to be a direct answer to prayer. I got an interview that same week and was offered the job.

The hands-on work, shelving books, CDs and DVDs, and providing customer service at the register was a welcome change from the mind-grueling Internet research and email interaction of my writing jobs. I loved the new experience, being on my feet, assisting customers by helping them find what they were looking for - and the employee discount wasn’t bad either!

People came into Half Price Books for different reasons. Some came to find a specific book. Others were music maniacs and had a daily ritual of searching the LPs for a rare or popular music title. Some came just to browse but left with their hands full and feeling fortunate they had found bargains galore. And I’m convinced some came for the socialization, for the stimulation of getting outside their house, as much as for finding a few more items to add to their book or music collections.

I would frequently chat with one sweet lady, who told me that she stopped here almost every day to get out of the house and around other people. I told her that’s why I was here, too. When she found out I was a writer, she encouraged me to dream big. One day, she commented on the phenomena that many of the authors she read lived in South Carolina. “They all like to live near the coast or the mountains," she said. "I guess they need that beauty for inspiration.”

I was able to find lots of inspiration in the books and music around me; I also learned a lot about culture – being amazed sometimes at the extremes of good and bad growing up next to each other on the shelves -- truth almost smothered out by the myths and falsities around it, yet resiliently emerging, brilliantly and beautifully, in unexpected places, like a desert flower shooting up through cracked rock.

As the summer came to a close, my life changed once again. I accepted a job at the headquarters of the magazine publishing company I had been freelancing for, and the promotion required relocation. I said good-bye to my bookstore co-workers after stocking up on a few books for my home library, and set off to a new city and a new home.

I couldn’t have done it without my cat Ginger. We got through the turmoil of moving to a new house in a different city together and making it feel like “home.” During the process, Ginger complained about the new smells, and I had to get used to doing without some of the luxuries I had enjoyed previously. Such “inconveniences” as not having home Internet access that first month or my own washer and dryer required that I step out of my cubby hole to seek out the nearest Internet hotspots and laundromats in the village.

One day at Starbucks, the skies suddenly darkened and a storm cloud came rolling in. I turned to the lady next to me to ask about the weather, and soon we found ourselves in a discussion of the Catholic Church and the Pentecostals. We were talking about the Charismatic movement and baptism; she was telling me to dig deeper in the Scriptures and I was telling her to read The Lamb’s Supper by Scott Hahn. As the storm hit with a downpour and thunder around us, we finished up our conversation and exchanged names before we rushed our separate ways. I wondered about her afterwards, praying she’d find all that she was searching for, and wondering if this was just a chance encounter or maybe more.

A few days later at the Laundromat, as I was figuring out how to get the machine to work, two middle-aged men volunteered to share their expertise with me, telling me all about which washers to use and which ones to avoid. “Those didn’t get the sweat stains out of my t-shirts!” one man said, lifting up his large, work t-shirts to show me the stain marks. Both men agreed there was a better laundromat just down the road past the Piggley Wiggley supermarket, which I made a mental note to check out the next time. Even though I was a little cautious about their friendliness, I felt really grateful for their help. And the event humorously reminded me that too often we find ourselves each to our own little cubicle, little hotspot, little device, little comfort zone, fearful of strangers. Has our social media age handicapped us to engage with others in the real world?

I wonder. I have no problem reaching out to someone online but in person, there is risk; there is reality. Nonetheless, it seems to be what we really want deep down.

“I don’t think your purpose for being here is [this job],” ventured a close friend of mine during my first month here, always able – in her discerning way – to shine a light over the intersection of my life and God’s plan. “It may be the reason you came here, but I think God has a bigger purpose for you here, and this is just what brought you," she said. "I have this feeling, because you were in a hurting place before...and really followed your heart to get here.” 

Where is your heart maybe prompting you to go, to take a risk and pursue your purpose?

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