the next voice you hear


    God called again, “Samuel!”—the third time! Yet again Samuel got up and went to Eli, “Yes? I heard you call me. Here I am.”

    That’s when it dawned on Eli that God was calling the boy. So Eli directed Samuel, “Go back and lie down. If the voice calls again, say, ‘Speak, God. I’m your servant, ready to listen.'” Samuel returned to his bed. (I Samuel 3:8-9, The Message)

    As I have tried to listen this week, here are some of the voices I have heard and read:

    Joe: It’s not often at halfway to a hundred you get to start all over. Ride on Milton ride on.

    Anj: I will be holding you in the Light, as we Friends say, as the Spirit brings you and Ginger to mind.

    Zorra: I wonder what God will do with this time in your life?

    Bill Hill: Go for it, Milton. Make it happen. Immerse yourself in it. Write your fool head off. Work at other things to support your writing habit. You need to do it, and we need to read it. Grieve over the loss and the injustice of your dismissal, but then write.

    Tim Sean: I’m on your side, whatever that might mean.

    KQ: I believe two things about your situation (and mine): The twins Danger and Opportunity are always present in the crisis of unemployment. You will prevail over the former and excel in the latter, no matter what professional path you chose.

    muphinsmom: I’d say you probably need a much bigger blank piece of paper now.

    fishrock: Have faith that you will survive. Keep “a kind heart” to everyone, including yourself. Keep writing.

    Lisa in Austin: I was wishing you’d write a book.

    Anne: Some of us are aching for such a book…something that validates our lives and feelings as woven into the tapestry of ‘normal’ life.

    RLP: Please God, find Milton a job, if you do that kind of thing. I hope you do.

    Ginger and I have felt an amazing amount of love and support from people both far and near, in both words and actions. We have also continued to get bills in the mail. I’ve spent a good bit of time scouring the Web, making phone calls, and reading want ads, trying to see what was out there, trying to discern God’s call in all of this.

    Growing up in a preacher’s home, I learned early about call. It was how I was taught to think about work: God called you. My father talked about how he was called into ministry – it wasn’t where he was headed to begin with. My mother talked about feeling called to take care of my brother and I. As I sat in Baptist churches growing up, I watched more than one person walk down the aisle during the invitation hymn to answer God’s call to “special service,” which meant the vocational ministry. I never saw anyone come forward to say God had called them to be an accountant, a physical therapist, a truck driver, or a chef.

    When we first moved to Boston, Ginger and I both had to find jobs to help supplement our income as church planters. I worked at the Blockbuster Video in Charlestown. One night, I was walking through the store and asked a woman if I could help her find a movie. She looked up surprised and said, “I don’t usually talk to the help in places like this.”

    What I wanted to say was, “I have a Masters degree and could talk circles around you when it comes to movies.” What I did was go back behind the counter and leave her to search on her own. It created an identity crisis for me: I had to come to terms with who I was and what I did not being the same thing. If all I was could be summed up in renting copies of Terminator 2, I couldn’t take it.

    Once again, I’ve had to learn to live in the creative tension between the two extremes. When people ask me what I do, don’t I usually answer, “I am a chef,” rather than “I cook for a living”?

    One of the things I have heard in the past week is both writing and cooking are expressions of my spirit: they are who I am. Regardless of the circumstance, if someone asks who can help with the food, my hand goes up and my mind starts dreaming up what to make. Several times a day, I catch myself looking at what is going on around me and thinking about how to put it on paper so others could be in that moment as well. I do these things; I am a chef and a writer.

    The kicker comes when we add money to the equation. A friend used to work in a hospital with a woman who spent all her vacation time working in indigent clinics overseas. The woman said she did her job during the year for those four weeks of meaning. Not everyone in the world gets to think about meaningful jobs. Some get to choose based on necessity and compensation; others have to take what they can find. At different times, I’ve lived on both sides of that line. I’ve come to feel that the sense of calling comes in the doing of the thing: the work ethic, the loyalty, the commitment to excellence, the sense of community with co-workers. Again, not all of those are available in every work place.

    About noon today, I heard another voice. The general manager from the Inn called and asked if I would consider coming back to work. She did a good job of saying she knew I had not been treated well over the past few days and she also said they understood what a good worker I was.

    I told her I would think about it.

    When I hung up the phone, all I could hear was Jackson Browne singing, “Caught between the longing for love and the struggle for the legal tender.” Except I don’t feel caught. I do wish there was a clear indication – a Voice, if you will – to show what the best path would be. I won’t know that until I take a few steps, at least; maybe more.

    I have some time to keep listening and I will because, before long, it will be my turn to speak.


    PS — And I did find time to post a new recipe.


    1. Taking steps down the path where we think we hear the voice is really the only way to discern the Voice.

      I remember watching people answer a call and then they were told what to do afterwards. The advice given was never about discovery, it was systematic.

      Our calls are about discovery. They are about us learning and truly discerning what God wants from us. Just because we walk down the path and it ends up being the wrong, doesn’t mean we heard wrong. There’s a CS Lewis reference that could inserted here but I have typed too much so you can look it up in The Silver Chair.

      May God grant you more pass.

    2. A beautiful reflection Milton! I believe strongly that God calls us to what is life-giving and that there are likely multiple possible ways to follow that call. Also, a favorite discernment question of mine is “What is it the season for?” Thinking about my particular life context, in this time and place, how am I being called?

    3. Wow, Milton. Irony of ironies. You’ve been called back to the Inn! Now comes the question of maintaining your dignity. If your manager understands the passion with which you cook, that it is a passion rather than a job, then perhaps they will respect you more, and the dignity thing is resolved. The articulate, thoughtful way in which you communicate could certainly be put to good use in establishing respect and boundaries between you and them. Regardless, blessings as you sort it out, and, above all, write!
      Bill Hill

    4. I think sometimes God trips us up just to show us a new perspective. Thinks look very different when viewed from below rather than above.

      If you return, you will be doing the Inn a favor, not the other way around. If it meets your goals of cooking and creating while still paying the bills, perhaps you will choose that path. The key is that it is now your choice – a choice you didn’t think you had before.

      (I couldn’t figure out how they could possibly do without you anyway – but I digress;) ).

    5. Bill and advocate,

      You have articulated well much of what I thought about today. The call from the Inn was not the only surprise. I don’t mean to be cryptic, but I am seeing some other possibilities. The next few days are going to be interesting.

      Thanks again to all for your prayers and encouragement.


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