The Double-Jointed Answer



When I was about twenty years old, I did some food deliveries and tutoring in a very rough part of Palo Alto, California and it changed me. I saw people taking advantage of the poor in neighbourhoods that lacked basic services. In hopes of providing real tools to improve lives, I decided to become an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher.

I put myself through school, got my graduate degree and had a vision of working either overseas or with the poor here. I thought that would be the long-term plan.

After five years of teaching, I was home with my first child. This is where I’ve stayed and still am, twenty years later. The plan, needless to say, changed along the way!

I’m often asked: What do you do? 

It’s a question that has haunted me.

I wanted to be with my children when they were small, and my paycheck was so minimal, it made sense that I would be the one to stay home.

My husband’s job in high-tech consumes much time and energy and after a few years, it was clear that our son’s health meant that I was needed home all the time. I’m thankful Steve’s job made enough that I could be here to take care of him. It would have been difficult to hold a job with the constant health crises.

Do I regret staying home? No, I’m grateful to have been here. But I’ve struggled to find a sense of vocation and too often find myself mentioning past accomplishments or service.

Even before I got married, my answer to the dreaded question was often double-jointed. 

I’m a secretary, but I do food deliveries to East Palo Alto. I also teach English there and take kids to swim and fly kites.

I’m a college student, but I spent last summer working with the poor in Mexico City.

Lately, it’s: “I’m home, but I run a community garden. We grow food for the hungry.”

Everyone loves that last answer. (This is Seattle, after all!) It’s like the golden ticket to approval and cool. Everyone knows right away that you care, that you’re helping, and that you love edamame.

But the double-jointed answer is in trouble. I’m about to lose the second half. 

My back is complaining loudly about all the digging, and I think it’s time for me to give over the leadership of the garden to someone else. Time to take better care of myself.

Now, what do I say?

I’m home. I have a child who spends half his life trying to breathe, and a husband with a stressful job. I try and do everything possible to make life easier for them. This is reality for us. 

But all of this explaining feels off-kilter. Why do we rush over the word “secretary,” or “mom,” or “programmer” to spit out the thing we think sounds more interesting, or important?

I think we are trying to prove that we are valuable; that we matter and our contribution counts.

In thinking about devotion, I wonder if I’ve been so worried about developing the other half of my sentence that I’ve neglected my main job description. Was I the best secretary I could be? The best mom? The best human? While I was trying to prove my usefulness, how was I doing on being who and what I was called to be?

Here is a verse I love:

Whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”  – Matthew 10:42

Whether it’s in China or Mexico or East Palo Alto, or here in the town of Edmonds, I think I’ve found what I was made for: sitting with friends and listening to them, sharing my struggles and receiving love and support in return, as well as providing good things for family and friends through the work of my hands and words that sustain.

I’m not the gal to do the big thing, anywhere. In fact, I’m more comfortable with the small.

Finally, I’m good with that.

I want the water I offer to be clear and the cup clean. I’m waiting on that prophet’s reward.


Dear SheLoves friends, we’d love to know: 

  • Do you have a double-jointed answer to the question, What do you do?
  • How do you answer when challenged on how you use your money, time or gifts?
  • Do you have a good way to turn what might feel like a poke into an open conversation?