I am not a risk taker. By nature, I am calculated and intentional, traits that short-circuit the spontaneity often necessary to make “big moves.” While I think these valuable parts of my personality have likely saved my life on a number of occasions, I’ve recently begun to wonder if they’ve perhaps stunted it, too. If, mixed with fear and shame, comfort and control, they’ve led me to live a lesser life. If an aversion to risk has guided my steps more than the leading of the Lord has. My life has been pretty beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but it hasn’t always been brave. Too many decisions have been made based on convenience, the expectations of others, or my own insecurities. And while I don’t regret the decisions I’ve made, I do regret missed opportunities to exercise faith and practice courage.
In a few short weeks, I’m packing up a life that I love in Philadelphia and driving across the country to make a new one in Denver. And while the “risk” involved in this decision was carefully calculated (just ask the 26″ x 30″ pro-con list currently affixed to my bedroom wall), it still makes my stomach flip like a gymnast. I feel confident that I am stepping further into my calling, but I’m learning that many times, the call from comfort takes courage, and big steps beg bravery.
When the life that I planned abruptly changed some months ago, part of discerning “what’s next?” was praying for opportunities that would draw me deeper into my vocation, not just advance my career. In Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer makes a distinction between vocation and career, defining career as “what you DO in the world” and vocation as “what you BRING to the world” (emphasis mine). Vocation and career don’t always overlap, but when they do, it seems to me that those are the opportunities we can’t or at least shouldn’t refuse. In the Venn diagram of vocation and career, that sweet spot in the middle is calling – in it we find the answer to “What is mine to do?” For me, right now, that sweet spot of overlap, the answer is in Denver.
I met Juan Pena and Jason Janz in my senior year of college. They were church planters and social entrepreneurs, on campus recruiting for the first cohort of their urban leadership fellowship. Over a cafeteria dinner, their passion and charisma appealed to my idealism, and I remember distinctly that feeling you get when you recognize qualities of your “tribe” in perfect strangers. I decided the fellowship was something worth pursuing so I mailed off an application over winter break and waited for a response. None came. To this day, Juan and Jason swear that they never received my application. I, to this day, like to give them a hard time and say that they just didn’t like it and tossed it in the reject pile. Either way, it was a ‘divine misappointment’ and I didn’t go to Denver. After graduation, I took a job at my alma mater, and a year passed. Juan came back to campus for a second recruiting trip and came to my office, sent by a former professor who said, “Go talk to Kellyn – she would be a great fit.” Juan came, made a pitch, and said “You should apply to our fellowship.” Well, this is awkward. I explained that I had applied the previous year, and after some back and forth about our respective ‘sides’ of the story, we eventually had a laugh about it all and the beginnings of a friendship were formed. Juan, of course, went back to Denver, and I move to Philly to begin my year of service with AmeriCorps.
Fast forward four years. While living the dream in Philly, I had kept up with Juan and Jason’s work at CrossPurpose and Upstream Impact, and they apparently with mine. I got a call in January of this year, presumably to pick my brain about grant writing. By the end of the call, the conversation had shifted to, “Would you maybe want to come work for us?” I, albeit skeptically, agreed to fly out for an interview/vision trip. When I boarded the plane to Denver, I felt pretty confident that I wouldn’t want to move there. “It’s too far away”, “The job commitment is too long” , “The job description is too narrow”, and “I don’t have the emotional stability right now to make this big of a move” were among the host of reasons I had for feeling unsure. Quite frankly, I loved my life in Philly, and wasn’t looking to leave. I had been praying for the Lord’s leading toward vocation, but I hadn’t expected it to uproot me from a place I loved so much.
Even after Day 1 in Denver, I was still relatively unmoved in my resolve to stay in Philly forever. But with Day 2 and 3, came a subtle, yet persistent churning in my spirit. Maybe this was right, maybe I was more ready, maybe God had been in this all along. As my plane descended over Philadelphia, with Center City’s skyscrapers jutting proudly into the night like a pop-up book, I know the decision before me wasn’t going to be easy.
You see, I’ve got mad love for the city of Philadelphia. Like, more than is reasonable, I think. I’ve often said that if a city could be one’s soulmate, she would be mine. Philly is art and music, history and inspiration, grit and timeless beauty, all rolled into one, and I am in love with her rhythms, her people, and her spirit. I think for me, Philly represents the resolution of years of ‘wandering’, in essence, my personal Promised Land. Moving to Philadelphia was the tangible manifestation of whispered prayers and dearly held dreams, and maybe that’s why the skyline still takes my breath away sometimes. Philly has taught me so much, about myself and about the world – in many ways, I’ve “grown up” here.
Of all the things I hold dear in this city, my church community tops the list. Being welcomed into the Epiphany Fellowship family has been one of the most powerful and formative experiences of my life. My faith has been stretched as I’ve sat under Godly teaching, done life with friends who became family, and co-ministered in our community. Epiphany is one of very few places where I have ever felt truly known, and for that it will always be home.
It was these thoughts that came to mind as my plane touched back down in Philly. How could I ever leave? And so began a month of pro-con list building, seemingly endless conversations with people I love and trust, and so much prayer. The consensus from the first two was pretty much unanimous: go to Denver, dummy!, but I lacked the clarity I wanted from the Lord. In my desire for answers, I had forgotten that our God is not a god that can be ordered around, issuing advice like a Magic 8 Ball, with a shake and a question. No, in our moments of indecision and uncertainty, He is after our hearts. The felt “risk” that comes with a total dependence on Him builds our trust in His goodness and faithfulness. Some of the best advice I received during this discernment phase came from my counselor (go figure!). She said, “Pray for heart of obedience, rather than a lack of uncertainty.” The beauty of this counsel was that as I prayed for an obedient heart, the certainty I so wanted wasn’t far behind. I began to see the threads of my vocation – of communication, of community, of compassion, all intersecting in the career opportunity before me and with both fear and hope, and witnessed calling leading me from comfort.
One night, I was out for a run, and was listening to a podcast in which Rob Bell (please spare me your thoughts on his theology – I’ve probably heard them before) was being interviewed about his departure from his leadership role at Mars Hill Church and the cultural disease of staying too long. So much of his story was resonating with my own struggle, and by the time he got to these words, describing the sense he had gotten from the Lord, I had stopped running and was weeping right there on the trail: “You did it and it worked and it was great and it was painful and heartache and beautiful all at the same time, like the rest of life, and the chapter comes to an end.” Everything came together in that moment for me to realize that I didn’t need to resent the chapter I was in to know that it was over – at least for now. I realized in that moment that leaning courageously into calling meant more than just saying ‘yes’ to the exciting opportunity before me, but also saying ‘no’ to something else. In Let’s All Be Brave, Annie Downs captures this idea well, “A lot of courageous noes make for some beautifully brave yeses. And I guess we never know which ones come first until we are standing at the crossroads.”
So, now that you’re well-acquainted with my ‘no’, let me tell you more about my ‘yes’! I’m moving to Denver to join the executive team of CrossPurpose/Upstream Impact, sister nonprofits dedicated to the idea of neighborhoods without poverty. The model shared by these organizations utilizes the power of redemptive relationships to abolish relational, economic, and spiritual poverty, and has been wildly successful on a small scale over the last four years. The big, hairy, audacious goal is to see 1,000 men, women, and children in northeast Denver escape poverty over the next four. To help see this vision come to reality, I’ll be stepping into the role of Director of Strategic Communications, where I’ll continue to leverage my skills and experience as a writer, but also have a more significant role in program development, public relations, and fundraising events. There are a few things that get me really excited about this next step:
- Integration of work and worship – CrossPurpose is faith-based and the nonprofit arm of a church plant in Denver. Being on this team will allow me to “bring my heart to work” and really direct my passion and energy and skills in a streamlined way.
- Tribe – The teams behind CrossPurpose and Upstream Impact are incredible leaders and justice warriors and I just vibe with them on so many levels. I’m looking forward to working alongside folks who are on mission in the same way.
- Calling – I’ve talked about calling and vocation alot already, but I can’t imagine a more perfect role for me right now. I am so grateful that my experience, giftings, and leadership abilities were all taken into consideration to craft this particular role, with practically unlimited potential for future growth.
With the move just a few weeks away, I feel excited and scared and anxious and hopeful all at the same time. All along, it has felt like God was rolling out this opportunity in front of me, and all I’ve done is cautiously, but trustingly put one foot in front of the other. I don’t know what the next few years will hold, but I think I’m always going to look back at this period of my life with great fondness. By then the anxiety in the pit of my stomach will be long gone, and all that will remain is the sweet remembrance of God creating beauty from ashes and the confidence that comes with stepping out in faith.
To Him be the glory.