I grew up in Goshen [Indiana], attended Goshen High School, and, like my sister, parents and grandparents before me, I was pretty sure I was heading to Goshen College. But I had a strong desire to do it on my own terms. So, rather than head straight from high school to college, I took time out for a year with Service Adventure in Albany, Oregon.
My service placements were at a nursing home and an after-school program. At the nursing home, I completed training to be a CNA (certified nursing assistant) so I could help dress, feed, toilet, and transfer the residents. I liked being helpful and needed in practical ways. But what I really enjoyed was visiting with the residents. When one of my hospice residents died, I was surprised by how attached I had become and I grieved her.
My service placement in the after-school program helped vary the age range of people with whom I worked. I also grew attached to the children I played with each day. But after that year, I had clarity that neither nursing nor teaching were career paths I wanted to pursue.
Each month, my two housemates and I had individual check-ins with our leaders, Steve and Ronda. I loved check-ins. They were a wonderful time to process my work and relationships inside the house. I felt valued and supported by my leaders.
I also valued witnessing their marriage up-close. My parents’ marriage was the only one I knew, so watching Steve and Ronda parent together, make decisions together, fight together, and travel together was very educational. They were a fun, playful couple. Steve was sillier and Ronda was more responsible, but they both knew how to have a good time. They were honest with us about how hard it was for them to move to a new place and not know anyone.
When I returned to Goshen College in the fall, I felt ready, and I declared a major of Undecided. Service Adventure didn’t give me a clear path forward, but it helped me rule some things out and gain a wider perspective on the world.
Fast forward 10 years later, when I had completed a seminary degree from Iliff School of Theology in Denver. I knew I didn’t want to be a pastor right away, and our friends, Gabe and Bethany Bauman Baker, had just finishing their second year of being Service Adventure leaders in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They encouraged my husband and me to consider applying to be unit leaders there. Based on what I remembered of Service Adventure, I thought it sounded like a great idea. Rather than jumping into traditional pastoring, we could experience another part of the country, I could tend a tiny flock, and we wouldn't have to cook dinner every night. It sounded amazing.
Spoiler alert: It is more fun to be a Service Adventure participant than it is to be a leader. We began the year with five 18-year-old girls, four from the United States and one from Germany. All brought gifts and challenges, which, in hindsight, is probably what Steve and Ronda would have said about our Oregon crew.
Just when we hit our stride in December, a fire rendered our house unlivable. The six of us slept on sleeping bags for a week in a church member’s living room. The day after the fire, Brian and I discovered we were pregnant.
That was a hard time. I hated not being in control, and I hated that I had an audience of four watching my every move. I was full of feelings and had no privacy. One night, a week before the girls were to go home for Christmas, we had our weekly house worship night. Our German participant read the Christmas story and reflected on how—like us—Mary and Joseph were homeless (and pregnant) and struggled to figure out where they could stay and what their future would look like. In that moment, I was grateful for her reminder that other people had been in this situation.
Christmas break gave us a reset. When the girls returned from break, we had found a place to live for the rest of the year. Things calmed down again as we formed a new routine in the new space.
Then we discovered we were having twins. That was a game changer. How could we be leaders and take care of twins? Would we need a new house? A new van? The fire and its aftermath had taxed our congregation as well. Did they still have capacity for sponsoring the unit?
Ultimately, there weren’t enough participants for the coming year, so the unit closed and our two-year commitment with it. That meant my husband and I could spend the last few months focused on the girls without having to prepare for the next group. It was a blessing, because I was put on bedrest for the final three months of my pregnancy. I couldn’t leave Albuquerque or even be up on my feet for more than 15 minutes at a time.
Gabe and Bethany took the girls to the Grand Canyon for our year-end trip. It wasn’t how I wanted to finish. But I learned how to let other people step in and do the things I could no longer do. The year had a lot of unexpected turns, but I think it was certainly a year of good learning for all of us.
On the whole, my two years of participating in and leading Service Adventure in Albany and Albuquerque were the most formative of my life. They stretched and inspired me and laid the groundwork for my future. As I think about my current work as a pastor, I recognize how my service time at the retirement home prepared me for pastoring older people in the congregation. I recognize how my time as a leader prepared me for the messiness of church life and pastoral care and leading, and I think it also prepared us for parenting.