Wednesday, April 21, 2010

So Long, Khaki Pants

By Nicole Unice

Yesterday I stepped into my closet to scan my bottom-half options. One, two, five pairs of khaki pants hung together, jostling one another for my attention. They seem to holler “Grownup! Professional! Wear me.” I leave them stuffed between three pairs of black pants and a blazer I wore once to the office, but took off before I saw any clients.

Seems like every time (or the one time) that I wore them this year, I felt like I was being something that I wasn’t. Something that didn’t quite fit.

I’m stepping out of those khakis—and everything they stand for—after seven years as a counseling “professional.” They are just pants, but they represent an image I thought I needed to project, one of maturity and wisdom.

How could I love on teenage girls if their parents thought I looked too young to be paid? How could I know what I was talking about if I couldn’t wear pumps with panache?

Silly, of course.

But somehow I believed it to be true. That my real self wasn’t good enough to “professionally” guide, love and instruct others.

Over time, the strict boundaries of the office—watching the minutes, writing treatment plans, looking for progress—morphed, as I did. I found myself praying for clients as I was often without words. Sometimes I took teenagers to the park or the coffee shop. Some of them started coming to my church, because I invited them, a clear no-no of professional relationships. My understanding of “profession” become cloudy. How do I love within the confines of this experience?

Bit by bit, what felt like the perfect fit became uncomfortable. The evening and weekend hours—perfect with little children at home—became burdensome as I traded nap strategies for spelling tests.

I tried to shake it off—surely this was my call. All work feels like work sometimes. It’s just burnout. But the feeling wouldn’t go away.

A few weeks ago I spent time with a spiritual director. We discussed my hang-ups with Jesus’ words, paraphrased in the Message: “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.” (Matthew 11:29)

Ill-fitting. Like my khakis, something about life didn’t quite fit. She pointed out: “perhaps this role was right for a time, but God is calling you to something new.”

So, I step out into the unknown, unpaid land of ministry. Degree in hand, I tremble. Is it anticipation or anxiety? I don’t know, and it still doesn’t feel quite right. But I fold the khakis and slide them, stacked one on the other, to the back of the closet.

Yesterday, I left my khakis and bought something I’ve eyed for three years. A denim skirt, faded, with a frayed hem. It will go perfect with my cowboy boots in the spring and my flip-flops in the summer. And that fits just right, for now.

Learning to live and to lead means I am stuttering toward his rhythms of grace, letting go of what was and moving toward what is to come. And I am trying to trust him, that folding up my khaki pants and embracing my denim mini is just what He would have me to do.


  1. Thank you so much for the encouragement to step out and be the person that God really wants me to be!

  2. This post describes my life about three years ago. Change a few words, like cowboy boots to black Chuck Taylors and, yah, that's me.!

    I put away my professional black shoes and rayon out of love for my daughter who was a Senior in high school. She watched her mom catching up on case notes and files far too many hours at home and settled for less of me as I rushed around trying to maintain a home and family life--even when stretched thin.

    I loved my job connecting older people with services that would help them remain in their own homes. It was like visiting your grandparents everyday. Many were lonely and had adult children who were stretched thin and spent little time with them. The paperwork required, however, was overwhelming. There was no way to finish it within my work week, so I brought it home. I knew that I wasn't the wife and mom that I could be, so I put away the office wear and donned comfy jeans and Chuck Taylor's and brought peace and life back into our home.

    I was freed to be available, patient, rested, nurturing during the month's before my daughter left for college. The budget was tighter, but it was so worth it.

    God used that period as a transition to an amazing new ministry: the one I had dreamed of for many years, but never really believed I would be fit to serve in. I am growing into a real, live speaker and writer. I could have never imagined that when I stepped into the unknown. God has brought me to an exciting place in which I live most of my life in Chuck Taylors and jeans, but I once again don polyester and heels, but they have been resurrected for His new purpose for me.

    I'm excited to see where God takes you...looking forward to your follow-up post! Hope I come across it in another two or three years.

  3. I, too, enjoyed your post. I'm transitioning again. My husband will soon be pastoring a new church. In that new location I will discover which wardrobe to wear as I seek God's direction in continuing my speaking and retreat leading ministry.
    In my 60's now, I can surely say that God is incredibly wise, available, and trustworthy. May He expand your ministry.... He will!

  4. This is what I love about women. We can all find the connections between clothing and life transitions!

  5. Wow. Chills are running through me. I don't know why, but for some reason it seems that everyone (well, at least me) feels that their life experience is somehow different from everyone else's in the world. . . no one could be going through the same thing, no one could be feeling these emotions or thinking these same things. But, then I read about a shockingly similar experience to mine in another woman's life. Encouraging, uplifting, and poignant. Thanks for sharing a piece of your story.
    As a clinical social worker who barely got started in my professional career before having my first child, I can SO relate to this, Nicole. Now I stay home with my two little ones. . . stretching the dollar, but enjoying (almost!) every moment of it.

  6. Nicole - What a great image (and great writing) to express the transitions of life. I hate to say it, but it seems so much easier to stick with the familiar than to listen for the rhythm of grace in what might be the next.

  7. This is an awesome collection of thoughts. The passage out of Matthew 11:29 is great out of The Message Paraphrase.

  8. Freedom, freedom to be what God is calling you to be at any stage of life...proud of you, sweetheart. Mom

  9. Great post, love the comparison! It often takes courage to make a change...especially when the change is counterintuitive.

  10. @Erin: God is so good to allow us to use words to join our hearts. Thank you for your comment!
    @Carla: I love what you say about sticking to the familiar. Yet it seems that God wants to call us to so much more...if we still ourselves enough to listen.
    @Esther: I am inspired by women who are strong enough to make changes. When I meet strong, accomplished, educated women who've laid down their mantle of success or leadership in honor of their family, I am so encouraged. That is the kind of strength Jesus exhibits when he humbles himself to the cross. We often humble ourselves to the dishwasher and the dirty socks. A cross to bear that manifests such good fruit when we let it.

  11. Thank you for sharing your "wonderings" with all of us. Seems like anticipation and anxiety go hand in hand, and I think that is OK. I am grateful Jesus offers peace, and helps us get to know Him better in the midst of it all. I, too, am in a season of transition, and am grateful to know what I'm feeling is not unique. I guess that's what living by faith is all about ... laying aside what used to "fit," and trusting God to outfit us for the days ahead!