Uniformity Diabolical, Diversity Divine

Hello readers, I hope you are doing well as we approach the end of winter and the start of Spring. Overall, I am doing well, although I have been feeling a little out of sorts, not in a severe sense, but in a way that has felt too complicated to write about. But I have felt compelled to listen to memoirs on Audible, and actually reading memoirs has been quite therapeutic for me. Despite writing a memoir a couple years ago, which I published here last summer, I hadn’t actually read very many memoirs, partly due to the busyness of life, and partly due to my cynicism. The memoirs you hear about written by famous people are often written with an agenda–publicity for someone interested in running for president for example–and what worse is these memoirs are often written by ghost writers, which in my mind is cheating.


But maybe the Lord works in funny ways because Prince Harry’s memoir Spare, was released shortly before my sister’s birthday. It so happened that Queen Elizabeth passed away while we were on our family vacation in Hilton Head, where I was surprised and amused by my sister’s interest in all of the royal family intrigue, so when Spare was released, I decided to text her and ask if she would like me to buy her a copy for her birthday. She indicated she was interested, but also asked if I had read it, to which I ribbed her light-heartedly, responding that I didn’t intend to read it because life is too short to waste on tabloid gossip. But then I told her I would have an open mind and read it for purposes of sister bonding. So in honor of this commitment to my sister, I found the book on Audible, read by Prince Harry himself. Yes, Prince Harry had an agenda writing this book. Having been banished from the royal family which meant losing their financial support, and having grown up so privileged that taking a job at a grocery store or something like an ordinary person banished from a dysfunctional family would was unthinkable, he most likely wrote this memoir to generate income, although he would be $20 million richer if he hadn’t cheated and paid a ghost writer. But motives aside, it occurred to me after listening to this memoir that it was not the waste of 15 hours and 39 minutes of my life that I thought it would be. In fact it provided just the sense of perspective I needed in this season of my life, perspective further reenforced as I subsequently felt compelled to read Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming, Fiona Hill’s memoir There is Nothing for You Here, and Barack Obama’s first memoir Dreams from my Father, which by the way was not written by a ghost writer. I am pretty confident of this because Michelle mentioned in her memoir that shortly after they were married, Barack flew to Bali and spent five weeks in solitude drafting this memoir.


I will comment more on these memoirs, as well as some science fiction classics I decided to read, in subsequent posts as appropriate. But the common thread of perspective woven through all these memoirs, perspective which I sorely needed in this season, is that no one is living a fairy tale. Sure, being part of the royal family meant Prince Harry had opportunities to meet famous people and visit exotic destinations at British taxpayer expense. But this privilege was ultimately overshadowed by the turmoil of living in a family where the reputation of the institution took precedence over unconditional, authentic love. Sure, Michelle Obama was a top student and landed a job in a prestigious law firm, and then had the opportunity to make history as the first black First Lady, serving alongside the first black president of the United States. But once she had “made it” to the prestigious law firm, she realized she had spent her whole life checking boxes, desperate to prove that a black girl raised on the south side of Chicago could succeed, but never really thought about what she really wanted out of life, and ultimately accepted a dramatic pay cut to work in the government and nonprofit sectors where she could make a difference in the lives of people disadvantaged by the system. And then as First Lady, though she had unique opportunities to shape history, she also had to contend with anxiety, self-doubt, petty partisanship, racism, sexism and unfair press coverage. Though Barack Obama had an interesting upbringing, born to a father from Kenya and a white mother, living for a time in Malaysia and then Hawaii with white grandparents, he also struggled with questions of racial identity, and complex emotions regarding his father. When Fiona Hill testified at Donald Trump’s first impeachment hearing, I was mesmerized by her courage, but hadn’t fully appreciated until reading her memoir just how much courage it took for her to do what she did. Her father encouraged her to leave the small town in Northeast Britain, where she grew up because the classist culture of Britain, combined with Margaret Thatcher’s de-industrialization policies in the 1980s meant she had no future in Britain. But when she got to this country, her academic brilliance and expertise on Russia was often not taken seriously because of sexism.


Of course, I ought to know that no one is living a fairy tale. First and foremost, Jesus himself guarantees this when he says not “In this world you might have trouble.” Rather, he says, “in this world you will have trouble.” And although Jesus led an exciting life traveling from village to village preaching the good news and healing people, he was despised by the Roman empire and religious leaders, betrayed, and ultimately crucified. I have also found it interesting that although in my imagination, I imagine that if I was out for a walk one day and God appeared in a burning bush to give me a special mission, I would be thrilled beyond words, Moses was not thrilled, even begged God to send someone else. Neither were the other prophets, especially Jonah who tried to run away from God.


You may recall that last summer, I wrote about longing for a sort of Rumspringa, the chance to live on my own, to (temporarily) disconnect from family a little, just as my older siblings all did for a couple years, to know what life is like “out there.” I mentioned how I was about to embark on my Rumspringa with Gilbert at eighteen, but when unexpected curve balls came my way, I gave up, moving back home when I should have persevered through the struggles as my siblings did, letting them mature and refine me. In other words, I gave up on the unpleasant crawling stage, and now I am paying for it in that I never learned to fully walk as an adult. But then in a subsequent post, I spoke of how anxiety was behind many of my thoughts, and I needed to trust God, realize that he puts us all where we are for a reason, and I should let him drive my boat on this river called life because he is a far wiser driver than I am. And yet the sin of envy is a difficult one to overcome, and my resolve to trust God is easily forgotten when I hear of another peer who got married, had a child, landed an interesting job, even as intellectually I know that what you glean from social media or casual conversation at the grocery store is filtered, an accentuation of the positive, minimizing of the negative. This same filtering applies to press coverage of famous people, such that we aren’t fully aware that these famous people are human like the rest of us, that their success isn’t as thrilling as you imagine it would be, and most importantly that their achievements are most often not the result of anything they did right and you did wrong, but that their lives are also rivers that took them in directions they often never expected themselves.


Shortly after the trip to Appleton and the “I’m glad to see she’s getting out” comment, I decided it was time to get serious and start making plans to pull off the logistics of a Rumspringa, which I realized meant finding a job again, so I would have the money to pay for housing and school tuition. Overwhelmed and discouraged in the past by intimidating job postings with descriptions like “oversee the entire operation of the department” I decided to start with a company I had heard of in passing but knew very little about. I had heard that it had a social mission of prioritizing employment for people who were blind, so figured that even if the job descriptions seemed intimidating, accessibility would be built into the company culture, so it would be easier to persevere through any challenges than with the typical company. To my delight, there was a position available for a Contact Center Agent, and as an additional bonus, it could be done remotely so long as I resided in Wisconsin, Illinois or Minnesota. Thus, the job could go with me to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois! Thinking this was perfect divine providence, I quickly attached an updated resume and composed a cover letter, but when I clicked to the next section of the application, self-doubt reared its head. Was I really qualified for this job, or would I regret this when the virus was dormant and I was thinking clearly again? So I closed the tab for the application without fully finishing or submitting it. But to my dismay, the next day I received an email from the hiring manager expressing interest in my application, so somehow my resume was viewable after all. But not wanting to burn any bridges, and also realizing that it wouldn’t hurt to be back in the workforce again, reconnecting with people and earning income whether or not I followed through with a Rumspringa, I wrote back and a phone interview was arranged. At the time, there was no work available yet, but the company was in the process of opening a new facility and the hiring manager indicated she would get back with me in a month or two.


The callback came on Friday September 9, toward the end of our Hilton Head trip. It took awhile to get some paperwork filled out and processed, but on October 5, I joined the workforce again! The job was challenging at first, but in a good way. Mostly the challenges were a result of my anxiety. Given that my previous job at the Social Security law firm involved spending as much as an hour on the phone with clients filling out forms that asked for sensitive medical information, you would think making a credit card transaction with a client would have been no big deal, but I think because of the social isolation of the pandemic, my confidence was rusty and the first few transactions were absolutely terrifying! My confidence with the JAWS screen reader was also rusty. But my fellow blind coworkers were, and still are, an incredible source of support and encouragement. I even reconnected with a boy who remembered me from the preschool program for the blind we both attended! Currently, I earn less per hour than I did at my previous job, but the job itself is also easier, which after being away from work for two years, isn’t such a bad thing.


Depending on the level of business, I work between 24 and 30 hours per week. Right now most of our business comes from a Jewish company that contracts with us to make outbound calls soliciting donations for nonprofit organizations. This is actually the exact kind of job I longed for in the thick of my anxiety in the dark days of 2016 at the Social Security job, when I would find myself crying at my desk or unable to sleep at night because software wasn’t as accessible as I thought it would be, and mistakes I made months ago could come back to bite me at any moment. With this new job, I largely read from a script, and every day is a fresh start, no case management required. And although I had one week of low grades in my theology class as I adjusted to the job, by the following week I had found my footing and realized that I would be able to hold down a job and still have enough bandwidth left to pursue a Chaplaincy degree if I chose. It was looking like all the pieces might be falling in place to embark on a Rumspringa in Fall 2023!


Despite another flare-up of my irritability at Christmas, something kept me from moving full-speed ahead with Rumspringa planning in January. And then came February 17.


Friday February 17, 2017 will always occupy a special place in my heart. As I wrote about in 2018, this was the day the dark cloud fully lifted from my soul. In 2016, though I wouldn’t say I had a plan to harm myself, my mind went to places that frightened me. Despite the anxiety that job was causing, my pride kept me from asking my manager for help, and I feared being perceived as a quitter by potential future employers if I resigned without having another job lined up. And unlike a couple rough school years, made more bearable by eagerly anticipating a firm end date–summer vacation–I realized bitterly that now that I was in the adult world, I wasn’t sure if or when a respite would ever come. Starting in January, I tried desperately to land a job in state government. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience as an intern at the Milwaukee office of Governor Scott Walker in 2011, not only because it was an interesting experience learning about the politics of state government, but also because I was impressed with how on-the-ball the staff was with providing the accommodations I needed from day one. In 2016, I was invited to interview for three state government positions, but all three decided to “go forward with another candidate.” Then in December 2016, my manager offered me a new position where my sole responsibility would be filing appeals for clients whose initial application for Social Security disability was denied (which is pretty much everybody), and I think after only the second day in this position, I realized that my anxiety had melted away. At first, going through the form online with clients was draining, but soon, I found my flow. The form was entirely accessible with my screen reader, and while I was tired at the end of each day, I could sleep peacefully at night again. The only thing I still longed for was better work-life balance.


That Friday was a particularly slow day as two of the clients I called did not answer the phone for their scheduled appointments with me, and looking ahead at my Google schedule, on which I think I had created timeslots going out a month, I noticed that although some appeals had been scheduled, there were several empty slots, even in the upcoming week, and so the thought occurred to me that I could go part-time! It wouldn’t cause the company any hardship: in fact working less days would better ensure that all timeslots were filled, improving productivity and thus doing the company a favor. As a full-time employee, the company reimbursed half of my insurance premium, the only expense my parents asked me to cover, but I realized if I worked three days a week, I would still earn enough to cover the full premium. I cannot really profess in good conscience that the Holy Spirit directed me because I didn’t pray about it, nor did I go home and discuss this idea with family and risk being talked out of it. But something, some intuition, a sensation of inner peace just came over me. So at around 3:00 that Friday afternoon, I turned around and made this proposal to my boss, who worked at a desk right behind me, and to my delight, she agreed!


I know that good writers aren’t supposed to employ cliches, but I really cannot think of a better way to describe my mood that afternoon than the feeling that a giant weight had been lifted from my shoulders, and I like to think that God was smiling down on me too because the weather that weekend was unusually warm and Spring-like. That Sunday, the sermon in church reflected on the moment when Joshua took the helm of leadership after Moses died and had to lead the Israelites across the fearsome Jordan River into the Promise Land and take new ground. The pastor reflected that in our lives, we often have to muster the courage to do something risky in order to take the new ground God may want us to take in our own lives. I smiled to myself, realizing that is exactly what I had done Friday. The decision would have consequences: I would earn less money, and potential future employers might question my work ethic when my resume shows that I switched from full-time to part-time. But I was confident that ultimately the reward would outweigh the risk. I would still have the dignity of earning my own income and contributing to society, and yet I would have the time and mental bandwidth to sing in choir again, smile again, dream again. On Friday February 17, 2023 as I sat down to a bowl of the yummy bean soup I make every week–which I started preparing in the crock-pot as one of my first new hobbies after going part-time, and which I perfected even further during the pandemic–I gasped internally as I realized it was six years to the very day of that born-again sort of moment. This made the soup even more comforting and delicious as I realized just how blessed I am, and fully appreciated the truth and insight of a Trinity classmate who told me God has us exactly where he wants us to be. I had experienced pangs of longing to try a Rumspringa again in 2015 and 2016 as well, but had I been on my own then, my heart would have sank that Friday afternoon in 2017 and I would not have been able to turn to my boss and make this request as it would not have been financially feasible.


But then, lying in bed that night, I checked my Trinity school e-mail, where a broadcast had been sent by the president of Trinity indicating that out of financial necessity, the university would be moving all undergraduate programs entirely online. He also pointed out that financial strain, and declining interest in residential programs was the trend nationwide, affecting all but the largest, most elite universities. I was aware that Trinity, like all nondenominational, evangelical seminaries were facing financial challenges, and last year during a Zoom session of my American Church History class, we discussed this article, published in Christianity Today. I knew abstractly that Trinity would be implementing plans to cut costs and adapt to the future. But reading this official, concrete decision saddened me in a personal way that surprised me. I was sad in the general sense for future undergraduate students nationwide who would never experience the lively class discussions and college social life that online education just cannot replicate. But selfishly, I was also sad on an individual level. Due to various circumstances, I was not ready to fully experience college social life and live on my own at 18, but now that I was older and wiser, and now that advancements in technology have dramatically increased the availability of college textbooks in e-book form, I was ready for a do-over. But this e-mail from Trinity forced me to reexamine this dream. The e-mail did not indicate any changes to the graduate level Chaplaincy program, but the Christianity Today article from the previous year did indicate declining graduate enrollment, and my dream centered on being part of a dynamic, thriving community where social opportunities, and opportunities to engage in interesting theological discussion were within walking distance. But with undergraduate students gone and graduate students sparse, would I be even lonelier there than I am in our suburb with no sidewalks, but where I have my parents to laugh with over a TV show and share meals with? With a wry smile, I sighed, put my phone on my nightstand, rolled over and went to sleep grumbling to God, “why do I have a knack for choosing paths that are about to be obsolete: newspaper Journalism as an undergraduate, and now this?


For a couple weeks following this news, I was in a “blah” kind of mood, going through the motions of work, passing the time reading memoirs after work, all the while feeling discouraged and uncertain. As I said before, I didn’t mind, in fact I relished the tedium of my job, but I also imagined that it would be temporary, the equivalent of the sighted young adult taking a job as a waitress to pay her way through school, and then spreading her wings and moving on to new horizons. But now, I wasn’t sure how to proceed.


But gradually through prayer and reflection over the past month, God has led me to some insight that has lifted my spirits. For one thing, I think God used this news to slow me down, to force me to examine my true motives. Regarding the Rumspringa part of my dream, the realization even on the afternoon before reading that e-mail that going part-time would not have been possible if I had been on my own later led to the realization that if I moved to Trinity, I might need to work full-time again, perhaps leaving little time or energy for the very social and intellectual opportunities I craved. I have some savings, but my dad, who is more money-wise than I am, told me that given the high costs of living, my savings would be gone in a flash, and he is most likely right. And if I am being fully honest, some of my longing may not even be a true desire in my heart of hearts, but the result of cultural conditioning, and also a desire to win the esteem of my parents and siblings. Though they have reassured me this isn’t the case, sometimes I cannot shake the feeling that they perceive me as the special needs child/handicapped little sister, and I imagine that the Rumspringa would once and for all shatter this feeling. But then the week after reading this e-mail, I read the book Rethinking Life, by Shane Claiborne, a co-founder of Red Letter Christians, an organization whose philosophies I agree with, especially their stance against Christian Nationalism. In the first chapter, Shane quoted a friend and wildlife expert, and the quote struck me. “Uniformity is diabolical. Diversity is divine!” The context of this quote was that we should cherish the diversity of God’s creation, as well as the beautiful diversity of languages, cultures and abilities that God intended for humanity, but this could also apply to life paths. Human history is full of stories of people pressured to conform to the culture around them, get married or pursue an inappropriate career path, and the results have all too often been diabolical, as they missed out on a better path God may have had in store for them. By contrast, those who found the courage to resist pressure to conform sometimes suffered consequences such as being marginalized by society, even shunned by their own families, but when they reflect on their lives, they often realize those consequences were worth the divine joy they ultimately experienced by listening to the Holy Spirit. It is hard to take this insight to heart when something triggers the virus of irritability, but I am trying to pray for the calmness and maturity to respond in a constructive, spiritually mature manner the next time it flares up, and also to realize that these hardships are trivial compared to the opportunities I would have missed out on, the academic achievement that may have been unattainable, had I conformed to traditional ideas of what it means to be a young adult, just to prove something. And to be honest, before choosing Carroll University for my undergraduate education, and before choosing to work part-time, I experienced a deep, spiritual calmness, a certainty that I was making the right decision, and while having a Rumspringa seems like an exciting idea, I have yet to experience that spiritual calmness when I actually seriously contemplate sitting down and filling out a student housing application. Perhaps, God used this e-mail to slow me down, help me realize that I should not go forward with such a momentous, life-altering decision unless or until He gives me that deep spiritual calmness, the peace that comes from knowing for certain that I am letting Him drive the boat on this river of life rather than insisting on my own route which could ultimately lead to destruction or at least an unnecessary detour into rough waters.


As for Chaplaincy itself, I could still study to become a Chaplain. Dallas Theological Seminary offers the chaplaincy coursework entirely online, and there are plenty of local hospitals and churches where I could meet the Clinical Pastoral Education requirements and still live with my parents. But once again when visiting Granny in the nursing home over Christmas this year, I found that I was deeply uncomfortable, unsure what to say or how to minister to her. Mom asked me to sing a couple songs, which I reluctantly did: I am more comfortable singing in choir than singing solo. But she was in pain, that day, softly moaning it seemed while I was singing, such that I couldn’t tell if she was really enjoying my singing or if, had she the strength to speak, she would have asked me to shut up and leave her alone. Mom assured me that Granny was smiling. I was sad, even a little angry that in the 21st century and the wealthiest country on earth, the best we can do for elderly people like my Granny is warehouse them in a place that smells like poo, with few enrichment activities and feed them a gross, pureed diet of food that is not meant to be pureed, like fried chicken which comes out dry and difficult to swallow. Spiritual care for the patients is sorely needed in places like this, but given my uncertainty in knowing how to minister to Granny, am I really the person God is calling to provide such care? Furthermore, the idea of pursuing Chaplaincy arose from how much I enjoyed talking to cancer patients in my previous job because I could relate to them as a brain tumor survivor but also because they were so gracious and had their lives in beautiful perspective. But the true spiritual maturity required of Chaplains would also require loving those who are difficult to love, including the people whose only disability was back pain who sometimes cussed at me because their cases weren’t progressing fast enough. Am I truly the person God is calling to a ministry that would demand such mentally exhausting, self-sacrificial love, day in and day out? I still haven’t ruled out chaplaincy, and Mom reminded me that if I am uncomfortable in hospital/nursing home settings, chaplains also serve in colleges, even corporations. But what I am realizing about the Rumspringa idea, and the contemplation of Chaplaincy as a career path is that I need to be patient, to pray more about my true motivations and not rush ahead of God. If I have learned anything these past six years, it is that life is full of uncertainty and perhaps to keep us from being overwhelmed by this, God often only shows us the path ahead a little at a time. In those dark days of 2016, I feared they would last forever–or at least until retirement age–because I couldn’t get into state government, but then my manager offered me a more suitable position and I felt prompted to go part-time, a path I hadn’t expected but one which turned out for the best. It still wasn’t a dream job, but I think I could have tolerated it until retirement age. But then of course came the pandemic which took the whole world by surprise, and again I felt a spiritual calmness when I decided to resign and take seminary classes, and then I was offered my current job. This job doesn’t utilize my undergraduate nor my seminary education, but time and time again, pastors have cited Scripture in their sermons which has reassured me that God does not waste any experiences. It is hard not to feel as though I have gone backwards in my progression through life, to wonder if I will ever find my true purpose in life, especially as I approach my 33rd birthday and the cusp of transitioning from young to middle-age. Then again, Moses must have felt the same way when he grew up in Pharaoh’s palace, and then had to flee and ended up working as a shepherd for forty years, before God’s purpose was revealed to him at 80 years old! Age really is just a number. I don’t know what the future holds, but I should know well by now given my emergence from the dark days of 2016 and the unexpected way God used the pandemic in my life that God knows what He is doing. I have resolved to continue to pray and trust in this, taking one day at a time. If or when God calls me to a new vocation or living arrangement, He will let me know.

Published by Allison Nastoff

As I write this in 2020, I am 30 years old. I am blind, and Gilbert was my first guide dog. He passed away on December 2, 2020, but I decided to keep the title for my blog as a tribute to him because he will always hold a special place in my heart. In 2012, I earned a Bachelor of Science in Communication with a journalism emphasis, and went back to school for a Paralegal certificate in 2014. I worked for five years at a Social Security disability firm. When the pandemic hit, I did some reflecting and decided to resign from this job and take seminary courses. My dream is a career as a teacher or writer where I can be a blessing to others.

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