Marty Steele

In what now seems like another life in another universe, my college-aged self believed passionately that I could identify a clear career path, follow it without deviation and with near perfect predictability, and end up living happily ever after. Raised by my parents to believe I would get a job and perform it ably for the rest of my working years, I enthusiastically chose a field to pursue and then promptly decided to get married. The marriage led to all kinds of frustrating, even agonizing deviations in that carefully planned path, but with time, to much more openness at listening in all kinds of ways to what I am called to do with my life.

Throughout my vocational journey, there has been a clear theme of being called to make connections. Manifested initially in my passion for music as therapy, using the tool of music to build connections with self and others led me to opportunities to experience both diversity and a marginalization of humans I had never been aware of. The pull was strong to continue to weave connections more intentionally, and so I returned to graduate school to earn validation for my work advocating for and connecting the disenfranchised, discounted mentally ill population with a supportive community and humanizing work. Eventually, fatigue and a chance opportunity to support the resilience of young adults led me to redirect my connecting efforts to college counseling settings, where opportunities in this regard abound.

As time has passed, I have been increasingly aware that this pull to weave connections as a vocation is not just about where I am gainfully employed. The granddaughter of farmers, I have always felt a strong pull to be intentionally connected with the land on which I spend most of my time. As the granddaughter of two women who each had five sisters with whom they spoke every day of their lives, family connectedness has also been a strong pull, and these needs in part led me to the corner of Northeast Iowa where I could see family in comfortable doses, grow food for my children, and share cuttings of favorite garden treasures with those I love. In addition, connecting with a community of faith that embodies my deepest sense of vocation has been a large part of choosing to remain in this part of the world.

In January of 2004, I had a life-altering opportunity, funded in part by a Sense of Vocation grant, to travel to Nicaragua to study issues of economic justice. Connectedness could have been the theme of the entire travel seminar, over and over I experienced the many ways people in this poverty-stricken, distant country were impacted by and in turn impacted decisions I make every day of my life. This hit me strongly while visiting the mountainside farm of a woman who was about my age. She had one or two acres to raise her own food and support herself, and the topsoil of her entire farm had been washed away in Hurricane Mitch six years before. However, she had, with the help of Lutheran World Relief, been rebuilding her soil and learning new farming methods to prevent further erosion and to improve her own food security. As we walked around her small farm she could tell me the genealogy of every single plant, and touched them all as if they were her children. In my garden it is the same; most of my plants have come from dear friends or family members, and some are over 80 years old. Later, we spoke with a collective of coffee farmers who were farming organically; raising their crop under shade trees, fertilizing with the composted pulp of the coffee beans. It took my breath away to realize their choice to protect the water flowing through their farm impacted the water available to me as well, and the butterflies in my garden last summer could well be ancestors of those dancing beneath the banana trees in such hospitable, chemical-free habitat. Meanwhile, my decision to compost, to purchase fairly traded coffee regularly, and to keep the chemicals out of my garden would impact their lives as well. The travel seminar also revealed some of the many sociopolitical connections between the U.S. and Central America, and has led me to explore the history of our relationship in more depth.

During January 2006, I was able to realize my dream to share these lessons of connection with students in a manner somewhat different than what usually happens in my individual counseling work. With several wonderful colleagues, I helped facilitate a January-term class, which explored the theme of “Women in the Developing World”, and returned once more to Nicaragua. While there, I found myself referring over and over to connections, both in terms of our interaction with the people and culture there as well as within our immediate group. Now I know that the manifestation of my vocation may not be always be predictable, but the call is consistent and I listen with care for possibilities on the next part of my journey.