By Vicki Dearing

Along the Way: Staying the Course

As I look back on my life of the last twenty years, I never would have imagined the twists and turns I’ve encountered, professionally, and personally. In hindsight, I see God’s leading in each step, keeping me on course following him, but I have to admit there were many moments of confusion and second thoughts along the way. When I went to law school I never thought God would call me to be a stay-at-home mom, which I did for seven years, and I don’t think I would have dreamed of the creative ways God has fulfilled my desire to be faithful to my call to law and my call to my family.

I began graduate school 20 years ago and as I think back over these years I see many different seasons. There have been seasons of striving, seasons of second thoughts, seasons of surrender, and seasons of surprises. When I first finished law school, there was a season of extreme pressure in my first job to make a name for myself, a season of intense striving. I worked 60 hour weeks and all I thought about was my clients and law. I was not married then and I could put most of my energy into my job. However, after getting married I started to work fewer hours and noticed I was getting more interested in other things and losing interest in my work. I was 30 years old and I began to think about starting a family and how difficult it would be to be a mom and a good lawyer at the same time. I wasn’t sure I was up to the task.

Eventually, I entered into a season of second thoughts. Did I really want to be a lawyer? I was tired of all the stress and confrontation. I started thinking about becoming a teacher. I decided to take a sabbatical from my law practice and substitute teach for a few months in a local middle school. I spent many days putting mail in teachers’ boxes and making copies. The days I was in the classroom, I would go home exhausted. The experience was humbling. I had 19 years of education and I couldn’t figure out how to work a copy machine! Moreover, I could take depositions of corporate bigwigs, but I couldn’t get an 11 year old to stay in his seat. I ultimately decided that practicing law was much easier for me than being a middle school teacher.

Through this, I believe God taught me there are no perfect jobs. I learned that we are each uniquely gifted and our task is to determine what those gifts are and to find our suitable calling. Then, we have to begin the real work of learning to be content with daily tasks, however mundane, and to work as if working for the Lord, not for man. All jobs will get boring and stressful. The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. With a somewhat better attitude, I returned to the practice of law.

I continued to have second thoughts, however. I found myself thinking about the same questions over and over. Was I still in God’s will? Was I making a difference in the world? Were my relationships suffering because of my career? During this time of questioning, I discovered I was pregnant with our first child. The pace of my law practice was crazy with no clear spaces on my calendar. When my son was two months old I knew I could not keep up the hectic lifestyle, but I didn’t see how to escape it. Both my husband and I had student loans to pay and now we had a mortgage as well.

In my prayer time one morning I felt the Lord leading us to sell our house. Our mortgage was $1300 a month. If we could somehow cut that payment in half, we would have enough to pay my student loans if I also worked part-time. We decided to take a step of faith and met with a realtor on a Monday morning. By that same afternoon we had a buyer. We never even put a “for sale” sign in the yard. We moved to a tiny two-bedroom house with a monthly mortgage of $650. Eventually, I closed my law practice and went to work just two days a week so I could be home with our son. A season of surrender began — surrendering a large home, a successful career, and an identity in my role as a lawyer. Although it was very difficult at times, going through this surrender taught me to depend on God for my identity and not on the world’s view of who I was. It was not the last time I would go through a “surrendering my identity” season.

Our second child came along just 19 months later. This was my season of surprises. After our daughter was born, I decided to quit working altogether. Life was not easy as a full-time stay-at-home mom. Over and over my husband and I had to learn to depend on the Lord because we were short of money so much of the time. I used to search around in the seat of my old Honda Accord to find change for a gallon of milk. Just when we thought we couldn’t pay the mortgage, we would get a rebate check on our escrow or car insurance. God continued to surprise us with his care and provision.

My season of surrender continued as well as I learned lessons on pride. Our other lawyer friends were moving into bigger and better houses and we were embarrassed to invite them over. However, once we got over our false pride and invited them in, we found they really admired us for our decision to downsize so I could be home more. I also had to surrender as I started to compare myself to other stay-at-home moms. I’d never planned to be a stay-at-home mom and I wasn’t very domestic. I turned many a pair of my husband’s underwear pink and burned plenty of casseroles. I had much to learn and didn’t give myself much grace in the process. I wanted to fast-forward life and was not living in the moment. I realized too that I was not operating in my gifts, resulting in depression. My self-esteem was at a new low.

I loved being with my kids, but the truth is I needed the structure in my life that a job provides. As an extrovert, I longed for interaction with others in meaningful teamwork. I wasn’t sure where to turn, but we serve a creative and resourceful God. He heard my cry and my heart’s desire, helped me figure out what was wrong and put me on a new path, teaching college students one night a week. Working part-time was the best way for me to achieve the balance I needed both mentally and emotionally. Teaching a college class energized and refreshed me so that I could appreciate the days I was home even more.

Five years ago when my youngest started first grade I returned to a full-time position teaching at the law school. At first, the change was satisfying. I particularly enjoyed teaching a course on professional responsibility and being the faculty advisor to the Christian Legal Society, but after a few years, I cycled back to the way I had felt in my law practice. I began to feel like a rat on a wheel. Working full-time, taking care of two very busy kids, a husband, a home, and five pets (including a horse), as well as staying plugged in at our church was stressful and demanding. I was exhausted much of the time. I couldn’t keep up the pace and since my husband worked most days until 7 pm, we had to figure out how to manage all the schedules. I didn’t want to hire someone else to take care of my children in the afternoons and early evenings.

I was praying about what to do and was confused because I loved my job. I finally got the confirmation I needed when my husband said, “I don’t want you to look back on this time in your life with regret because you can’t get these years back with the kids.” He looked me in the eyes and said, “Would you regret it?” I knew then the answer was yes. Quitting full-time and going to an adjunct status was difficult at first. Just like when I gave up my law practice, we had to make financial adjustments. Once more, I have had to re-learn that my true identity is in Christ and not in my job title. We are several months into the school year and I can clearly see that shifting my priorities to the home was once again the right decision for our family. My kids are older now, but they need me more than ever.

This past summer, God kept bringing me back to the scripture in Ecclesiastes: “To everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.” This time around, I am asking the Lord to give me the grace to just be present with my family, to live in the daily moments, and to fully enjoy this season of life. I am still turning underwear pink and burning casseroles, but this time I am not being so hard on myself. The best gift is learning how to lead a calmer life. And I see the whole family calming down and growing spiritually.

I have come to see that when I am sprinting and wearing myself out I need to slow down and try to run at a slow and steady pace instead. Too many times I have had the idea that it is one way or the other, all or nothing. Instead, God has asked me to learn balance. Paul said in Philippians, “I have not yet achieved it (perfection in Christ) but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Philippians 3:12-14 (New Living Translation). My prayer is that I will continue to stay tuned in to God and his leadings about what season I am in and what he may be calling me to next, not being afraid to make a change if necessary. I trust that he will keep me on course as I live my life freely for his glory, continuing to look to him to guide me.

About the Author

Vicki Dearing graduated from Auburn University in 1987, and from Cumberland School of Law of Samford University in 1991. Presently, she is a part-time professor at Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville, Florida. She has been married for 17 years and has two children. She is active in her church in various ministries, sits on the board of directors of Quigley House (a domestic violence shelter), and enjoys other community-related activities.

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