1) Be Open

Even though I was already super excited for my plans after graduation—I was off to study and teach English, a very special opportunity for me—I still decided to check out the long-term volunteer fair on campus. I even talked with the Maggie’s Place representatives and listed my contact information, all the while thinking, “What are you doing?!” Spoiler: the fair didn’t change my decision. I pursued my studies, and I’m very happy about that. But the fair, ever so subtly, did open some doors. Months later when my sister came to visit me at school, I ended up suggesting that she apply to Maggie’s Place. And by the time I was finishing up my graduate work, a timely text message from said sister, who had now served at Maggie’s Place for a year, planted the seed in me to consider applying as well. (Initially, I rationalized her jarring idea by thinking I could use the volunteer experience as a research opportunity for my coursework. But God meets us where we are.)

2) Commit to Goals You Care about

My sis and a good friend of ours kept a “Post Commencement Plan” list our senior year of college. Our ideas for life after graduation were all over the place, and sometimes that felt really unnerving. Like a big tunnel where one indecision ricocheted off another. And I had this underlying belief that choosing one path meant that I never, ever would get to do the others. That caused a lot of grief and really limited me. Over time, however, I realized that my goals, which at one point I felt were fighting each other, are actually highly interconnected. I thought that going off to graduate school meant that I missed the opportunity to volunteer. But really it prepared, nurtured, and motivated me for Maggie’s Place.

3) Take a Good, Hard Look at Your Fears

Here is a revealing snippet from a journal entry about my early discernment process: “Do you think it’s possible to be a rooster” at Maggie’s Place? What?! Yeah, I was confused too when I reread it. To clarify, when I was looking into Maggie’s Place, I was also using dictation software, so I spoke aloud hundreds of pages of seminar papers, lesson plans, emails, and, yes, journal musings. This software was a very helpful accommodation as I promoted healthful living during a serious, long-term illness that, among other things, affected the joints in my hands and arms. You could say that this confusing “rooster” issue was symbolically showing up in my interior life as well. I had a lot of fears to work though, fears that could totally confuse me mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. And these were not just fears with my health situation, but with any number of self-doubts we all cling to as a way to protect ourselves. Protect us from what? Well, oddly enough, the experience of being open, free, and whole. I’ve almost been at Maggie’s Place for seven months, and I feel great: a three mile walk this morning, fresh salad for breakfast, and let’s just say I didn’t speak this blog entry out loud, so there won’t be any surprising “rooster” sentences. This outer wellness reflects my inner commitment to release fears by living in the present, where I can be most energized, creative, and authentic.

4) Celebrate Your Journey

It’s helpful for me to visualize, so when I was thinking about Maggie’s Place I drew a discernment map. Each picture represented an important moment or experience for me, and I began to see a cool, interconnected pattern throughout my life. That fostered a sense of gratitude, acceptance, and trust. This isn’t some aimless ambling; it’s a providential stroll with God.

5) Be Happy

There’s a little story that tells about a newcomer who asked his neighbor about the area. Instead of answering the question directly, the neighbor asked what the man thought about his old place. The man responded, “Oh, it was really nice. I had a lot of meaningful relationships with people. And the weather suited me. And I was really connected to a great community.” The neighbor smiled and said, “Then, I think you’re going to love it here.” In other words, how we express ourselves in one area is how we’ll show up in another. Whatever decisions you’re making now, see if you can shift the motivation from filling a “hole” in your life to doing something—being someone—because you are “whole.”