I get a lot of ridiculous questions, ranging from the confusing to the totally strange. For example:
Q: “Did you know I was born in California?” (from a 4th-grader I’d never met.)
Q: “Do you do birthday parties?” (from a middle school boy following a chastity talk.)
A: “If you have a chastity-themed birthday party, I will be your best friend.”
Q: “Has anyone ever told you that you sound like you’re from Alabama?”
A: “No…. Thank you?”
Q: “Are you really a hobo cause you don’t look like a hippie and you don’t have hair down to your butt.”
Most of these questions merit an eye roll at best. There’s one, though, that I often hear and try to answer thoughtfully: How did you know God was calling you to this?
I suppose I ought to establish first that I don’t know that God is calling me to this funny hobo life—not in the way that I know that he exists or that the Eucharist is truly him or that he wants me for his own. There are different kinds of knowing, of course, and some decisions require that sort of certainty. But what I’m doing is a good thing, so feeling confident that this is his will is good enough for me. If I never did anything until I knew God was calling me to, I’d accomplish very little in life. That being said….
I loved teaching. Loved it. For four and a half years, I would get excited Sunday nights because I got to go to school Monday mornings. I loved sleeping in but hated summers—I missed my kids! And while I’m naturally a very irritable person, I got angry in the classroom only twice in four and a half years.
Unfortunately, I taught for five.
My last semester should have been my easiest. For the first time in my teaching career, I was teaching only classes I’d taught before. Everything I was doing was recycled from past classes. I had no extracurriculars, no responsibilities aside from teaching…and I was miserable. I felt ill on Sunday nights because I knew I had to go in to school the next day. I was exhausted all the time even though I was getting plenty of sleep. And at least three times a week, I had to stop talking, turn around, and pray that I wouldn’t freak the heck out all over my kids.
I had always known that my patience in the classroom wasn’t natural–it was a supernatural gift. And clearly that gift had been withdrawn. When my circumstances are unchanged but my peace of mind is lost, I know it’s time to ask the Lord what’s up.
But I didn’t want to jump to the conclusion that I was dealing with spiritual desolation, so I took a look at anything in the natural world that might be messing with me. Work was good, friends were good, my prayer life was good but I was all anxiety and anger and irrational drama.
So I began to ask the Lord if I should leave my school in Kansas. Praying about leaving gave me great peace while the idea of staying made me tense and miserable. I’m not saying that we ought to discern based entirely on emotions, but I’ve found that it’s important to listen to our emotions, especially when they’re not what we’d expect. I sure didn’t want to leave Atchison, so when that idea gave me such peace, I listened.
My next step, of course, was to make up an Excel spreadsheet with all the schools I might want to teach at. You know, columns for size, uniform, curriculum, apparent fidelity.1 But the thought occurred to me, “What if I’m supposed to stop teaching?”
Now, I had discerned leaving the classroom once before. I had a panic attack and almost crashed my car. More than anything, I thought at the time, I know that I’m a teacher. But this time it was different. The idea of not teaching wasn’t so bad. In fact, and contrary to all reason, I found it rather attractive.
But friends, I’ve been planning on being a teacher, in one form or another, my whole life. Since I was 15 and I found out that you could get paid to talk about Jesus, being a religion teacher was all I really dreamed of. I chose my college and my major and my grad degree all with the purpose of being a high school religion teacher. “What else can I do?” I thought. “This is all I’ve ever done, all I’ve ever wanted.”
“Well,” my friend Fr. Jeremy suggested, “You’re good at public speaking. And you’ve been wanting to do more of it.”
“Father, you can’t just quit life and be a public speaker!” I objected. And then I took it to prayer.
“Tell me why not,” the Lord seemed to say. And I thought about it. I had no debt, no dependents, no debilitating diseases. I had enough savings to cover me for a while and not a lot of bills I’d have to pay. Why not?
And this type-A, plan-the-next-30-years, put-down-roots-and-stay-till-you-die girl got excited about the strangest thing: being a hobo. This life that is so contrary to everything I’d ever wanted was suddenly appealing—more than appealing: it felt right.
Now, don’t quote me as saying “if it feels good, do it.” But when something that we wouldn’t normally consider draws us, we need to pay attention.
Thomas Aquinas had it right when he told us that grace builds on nature. But we don’t know our nature as well as the Lord does. I would never have thought that this kind of life would work for me. After all, I’m all about relational ministry and assigning homework and knowing everybody around me. But I also love meeting new people and socializing. I’m flexible and fairly easy to please and not particular about beds or food or how I take my water.2 I’m extraverted enough that the constant conversation with my hosts energizes me and committed enough to prayer that I still get plenty of “alone” time. As it turns out, this life makes a lot of sense for me. I can work with more people, be as intense as I want, and spend some occasional time writing, which I didn’t even realize I enjoyed. It seems that, once again, the Lord knows better than I.
So I quit my job and didn’t look for another. I wasn’t planning on living out of my car for long, but the Lord seems to have had other plans. I thought I’d find a place to live over the summer. But everything was working out, so I figured I’d travel till October. Then January. Then it began to look like this might be a long-term thing.
I can’t tell you exactly why I’m doing what I’m doing but I can tell you that I’ve seen how the Lord is touching hearts through the testimony of this scatter-brained nomad. I don’t know that people would listen to me the way they do if I weren’t such a fanatic. I do know that the minute I say I’m a hobo, people snap to attention. I know that I’m able to connect with people who wouldn’t otherwise talk with me because they want to ask all the awkward questions about my life. And I know that the Lord is showing me over and over again how he will always provide for me.
How long am I going to be living out of my car? I have no idea. I’m a planner, but God seems to prefer that I trust and follow. So for now, I’m headed out west. Beyond that, who knows?
Speaking of heading out west, I have literally nothing scheduled between Wednesday and mid-July. And while I’m sure I’ll find places to stay, I’m going to be really bored! So if you’re in any state west of the Mississippi and you want me to come talk to any group about pretty much anything, let me know. I don’t even want your money, just an opportunity to serve. I’m trying to get to every state out west in the next 3 months and I need some help. Because really, does anybody live in Wyoming?
If you’re east of the Mississippi, don’t feel left out—I’ll be out your way in the fall.
- What, this isn’t how you make all decisions? Yeah, well, I didn’t choose the nerd life either. [↩]
- This varies more than I thought possible. Options include: bottled water, tepid; bottled water, chilled; tap water, tepid; tap water in a pitcher in the fridge; tap water through a filter, tepid; filtered tap water sitting on the counter; filtered tap water, in the fridge; filtered water from the fridge door, ice from the fridge door; filtered water from the fridge door, ice from the freezer; tap water, ice from the basement; tap water, ice from the freezer; jugs of water in the fridge. That may be it. [↩]