While I was growing up, my mother was a kindergarten teacher. For five years I went to school with her in the morning, playing in her classroom before school with the farm, sifting through the rice box, or getting the dolls all dressed up for the day. On special mornings we would pick up a bagel at Burger King on the way in and I would watch Inspector Gadget while she prepared for the day. Later on the mornings would be time for last-minute homework or preparing for a spelling test.
In middle school I was dropped off at my school before my mom headed into work, then I walked to her building (7 blocks from mine; this was when I learned to read while walking) after school. By this point I wasn’t playing with the sheep that looked like dogs any more, but I still was part of that world by creating example art projects or putting up bulletin boards. I remember one coloring project where I was a bit bored, so instead of coloring in the two kids on the sheet completely, I just outlined them with the colors I choose. It was funny to see that most of the kids had copied my work, even though it looks a bit odd and they had never even met me. I had such authority in these little one’s eyes.
In high school I had stopped attending my own church services and instead helped out with the kindergarteners one summer before giving up on church completely for a little while. I volunteered at camp a few times and even worked there for two summers. In college I had two children’s ministry internships and volunteered at a Four Square church during two school years before trying out youth ministry for a while.
After I graduated from college, I didn’t know what the right next steps were for me. I had planned on using my Religion major to work in children’s ministry but found that role was more about acquiring volunteers than about being with the kids. And youth ministry was fun, but I was not the stereotypical youth leader and didn’t want to be. Churches wanted married men for that role who had a lot of extroverted energy and some athletic skills to connect with the kids; I was just too much of a bookworm and schedule-girl to fit that role. So to buy myself a bit of time I applied for about 40 jobs and found myself working with the YMCA in an after-school program for a year. Much like children’s ministry, the position turned out to be more about budgets and curriculum than just being with the kids so I knew this was not my long-term destiny.
There is more to this story, like with any story, but the point is that I am good with kids. I have experience working with them since I was one and I find it fun. I know about twistable crayons, graveyard sodas, and snipe hunting, as well as who Phineas, Fred, Carly, Artemis Fowl, and Dora are. At a party, I will often choose to play with the toddlers rather than the grown ups because I understand their world a bit better (I’m working on this wallflower tendency).
So you may be wondering the point of this story, especially if you’re looking back to the title of this post. Kids and education are my comfort zone. Last night, standing on the corner of SE 82nd and Powell was not. Last night, talking with strangers and sharing hot dogs, was miles away from my warm and safe comfort zone. But it was where I needed to be. I’ve done the comfort zone, and get to go back to visit every time I babysit Natalie or Josiah and Abraham, but it’s not where I’m supposed to be limited to. A friend asked me earlier this week (in her wonderful and annoyingly penetrating way) what are some of my goals and challenges moving forward in my career. The thought that sprung to mind first was about authority; discerning what authority I have in my role and in my person and wisely determining how to use that authority. After a day or two of mulling, I realized that my goal is to be bigger than one role, than one sphere, than one zone no matter right or comfortable that zone might be. So in a few weeks I’ll be back out on 82nd and Powell, helping with Second Stories again and hopefully shivering a bit less in the cold. I want to venture outside of my comfort zone more often because it is there, in the new world that we get to experience the surprises that make life so amazing and worth it.
Portland was out of the Yakima comfort zone, and now its home. Running was outside of the couch potato comfort zone, and now its my primary hobby (I’m even volunteering as a coach with elementary girls this spring). And right now I’m out of my comfort zone with a Lent commitment to caffeine only one day a week, and I’ve learned I really can survive without it. So here I am, far from zone and sometimes exactly where I belong.