The Fellows program, by nature, forces self-reflection, -discovery and –growth, but the month of January bore special significance for the year. We both experienced the mid-year vocational retreat and composed a massive biographical genogram reflection paper—the first event, a glimpse into our future, and the second, an investigation of our past. I’ve learned a great many things about myself this month. I’ve also learned how the Lord has woven his unending grace into the fabric of my life today and back multiple generations in my family.

To write the genogram paper, I interviewed my parents, two brothers, sister, and my maternal grandmother. To gather information on my three deceased grandparents, I interviewed their closest kin. Lots of hours on the phone, but the wealth of history I gathered is invaluable. Though the paper itself is finished, I’d guess the internal processing of this history will continue for weeks and maybe months to come. Some early realizations include the following:

  • My grandparents, both the Protestants and the Catholics, laid the foundations of my faith. For much of my life, I believed those foundations were truly laid by my parents (and other faith mentors in my life), but after researching, I’m convinced that even my opinionated, Italian-American, Catholic grandmother set some of the wood forms for that foundation. I hope to be so fortunate as to leave that kind of legacy for my descendants.
  • Some of my humor developed as a coping mechanism for conflict in my home growing up. I tend to make jokes to ease tense situations, a skill I picked up in the assertive, aggressive environment that was my home. It’s served me well in the past, and it’s a fun talent to wield when necessary. 
  • My grandparents’ aversion to discussing conflict in their families of origin stems from family loyalty but also the decision of that generation to be optimistic and the necessity to be strong. Post WWII life in the US was no place for selfishness or weakness, and there was strength in family; so they learned to value family tremendously.
  • The perspectives of my siblings nuance the stories of my childhood. They see some of the big issues with different eyes than I have for all my life. I look forward to learning their perspectives on past as well as future issues in the world and our family alike. 

This list, I’m certain, will grow if I continue to reflect on my family history, and these realizations are useful as I think about myself, my current modus operandi and my actions towards the future.

As for the future, the mid-year vocational retreat provided space to dream. Dreaming about who I want to be, what values I want to govern my life, and what career fits my gifting, desire and opportunities. I received the results from assessments of my natural gifts, motivations and emotional strengths, very little of which was a surprise. The true value was in the rhetoric. The retreat gave me the language to communicate what I already knew about myself. It improved my ability to communicate myself to others, which I believe will further relationships in both my work and personal life. I could go on, but suffice it to say, this retreat and the genogram have provoked enough thought to keep me busy for a while.

J. Nordstrom