On Saturday, September 15th, about 30 women gathered at Trinity Episcopal Church in Wheaton, IL for our first-ever Perennial Gen workshop. This half-day event focused on the theme of vocation for women at midlife and beyond. It was gratifying and a bit miraculous to see some of our virtual community come together in real life.
Carol Longenecker Hiestand opened the day with a beautiful invocation. PerGen co-founder Michelle Van Loon offered a keynote message about the way the losses, shifts, and transitions of midlife help us to come to terms with the false images and ambitions that often shape the first half of our lives, allowing us to discover here and now who God has made us to be.
The group then proceeded to the century-old chapel of the church for a time of guided silent reflection that made space for participants to seek God surrounding some of the questions Michelle raised in her talk. After a break when we refilled our coffee cups, PerGen co-founder Amanda Cleary Eastep facilitated a panel discussion between Carol Marshall, Judy Allen, and Deb Lawrence highlighting the career shifts and vocational clarity that has come to each of them as they’ve navigated midlife. We then broke into table groups to continue the conversation launched by the panelists.
The morning concluded with a charge from Michelle for participants to continue this conversation in their churches, Bible studies, and among groups of friends. Discipleship at midlife means we must ask these kinds of age/life-stage relevant questions. The morning concluded as Meg Kausaulik led us in singing “Be Thou My Vision” a capella. Check out our instagram for more pics of the day,
How we wish each one of you could have been there! We dream that gatherings and retreats like this – on topics relevant to growth and formation at midlife and beyond – would begin to happen in many locations. For now, we will keep the conversation going online, and will prayerfully consider what a next step might be for an “in real life” gathering. A number of women asked us yesterday to keep praying about what’s next in this regard.
Below, you’ll find our reflections on yesterday, and a list of resources on the topic of vocation we shared with those in attendance.
(1) Leading up the event, what was your hope/prayer for the day?
Amanda: While planning Growing Sage together, I couldn’t help but think about the 2016 Deeply Rooted-Chicago conference where I first heard Michelle speak on the topic of restlessness as a compass (two years later, I still have the notes in my phone) and acted on a God nudge to introduce myself to her. I hoped a lot of things for Growing Sage, from “I hope someone shows up” to–and this especially–”I hope someone says yes to their own God nudge.”
Michelle: My prayer for Growing Sage was that women at midlife would be reminded that the “pruning” that takes place in this season offers us a way to more clearly see ourselves as human beings loved and uniquely made by the God who loves them, rather than the human “doings” we learn to be during the first half of our lives. We knew we weren’t going to answer all the questions of vocation in three short hours, but prayed that those who attended would find a sense of companionship in those questions. Oh, and I hoped someone would show up! 🙂
(2) What was a sweet or memorable moment from the day?
Amanda: When a stranger comes to you and says, “I needed this,” or “This meant so much to me,” you know in that moment how absolutely nothing is about you or your weaknesses or your “expertise.” Rather, any good that is being done is from God, through you and even in spite of you.
Michelle kept saying, “We don’t know what’s next.” This whole process, all the Perennial Gen founding, up until planning this first workshop, kept bringing to mind what my favorite author Madeleine L’Engle said, and which, to me, speaks to vocation/calling: “One does not have to understand to be obedient.” (Walking on Water)
Michelle: After our time of reflection in the chapel, one woman came up to me in tears and said, “I didn’t know how much I needed this.” Another woman said, “That was kind of a bold choice to create some quiet time in the middle of a three hour workshop, but I’m so glad you did.” I hoped that making space for women to be still would minister to them far more than our words would. Seeing them all sitting in that beautiful old chapel was my favorite moment of the morning.
(3) What did you hear or sense from the attendees about the gathering?
Amanda: I both heard and sensed a need to keep speaking, not just about vocation and calling in the second half of life, but about the true meaning of vocation itself–becoming/being over doing (hence, our workshop title). Calling is something I’ve been obsessed with since childhood, and I spent far too long accepting what a wise friend told me almost two decades ago: “Maybe it’s not about what God wants you to do but what he wants you to be.” To be like Christ, to be obedient, to take on the nature of a servant (Philippians 2:5-8). How I do that doesn’t matter, except that I use whatever God has equipped me with to live it out. This truth transcends job titles and academic degrees and social status, etc. And we need to keep pointing people back to this–to knowing Christ and making him known, whatever our calling.
Michelle: I heard a longing for more. As this was a first-time event for us, we had no idea if anyone would be interested. We were amazed that we drew attendees from the Quad Cities, Milwaukee, and northern Indiana (and one from Florida who happened to be in town). I was touched by the desire I sensed among many to share their stories with others. At midlife, our stories and experiences matter, and they are what makes us beautiful sages in our families, churches, and communities.
If you’d like to dig a little deeper into the topic of vocation, we commend these books to you:
- Bourke, Dale Hanson. Embracing Your Second Calling: Find Passion and Purpose for the Rest of Your Life
- Buechner, Frederick. Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation
- Palmer, Parker J. Let Your Life Speak: Listen for the Voice of Vocation
- Thomas, Gary. Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path to God
- Towner, Sibyl and Swing, Sharon. Listen to My Life: Maps for Recognizing and Responding to God in My Story