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Leadership decision

Compassion | I'm kissing law school goodbye, for now

Issue: "Tour d'America," June 18, 2011

Many of my peers are heading to law school. It's a natural choice for those who want to be leaders. I was student body president at my college, trained to be a leader. I saw the challenge and opportunity of law school as a logical next step. I've spent a year and half working toward law school. I took the LSAT twice, wrote multiple versions of my application essays, applied to eight law schools, and got into some good ones.

I'm not going, at least this coming year. Instead, I've decided to work at a residential program for at-risk teenagers.

Like most people, I am prone to anxiety when faced with limited information and life-changing choices. I don't know the ramifications of my new decision. I did face the pressure of law school looming in front of me like a dreaded inevitability. I feared that God had forgotten to lead me and instead left me to stare at many perfectly good paths with no direction as to which law school to choose.

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Then, I found I had little desire to decide. Why, I wondered, am I forcing myself into something because others say it's important if I am to be a leader? What kind of leader?

By God's grace, I started asking myself if I might be looking at the wrong option. Suddenly I focused on an opportunity I'd been aware of for years, but had never considered: being on staff at Shelterwood, a residential program in Missouri for struggling teens. The job requirements mirrored my God-given situation: I had to be unmarried, willing to move, willing to immerse myself into a community, and flexible in my expectations of time and independence.

Teenagers come to Shelterwood for many different reasons: academic struggles, family conflict, depression, addiction. Regardless of why their parents decide to enroll them in a therapeutic boarding school, the program's goal is to bring hope and restoration through a structured counseling curriculum and mentorship. Residents live, eat, go to high school, and work all in this environment.

I will be one of about 20 on-site, full-time mentors living with the residents. It's not glamorous; my job includes chores and kitchen duty. But I will also have a task of incredible value: loving a few teenagers unconditionally through struggle.

If someone had asked me a year ago where I might be, I would have gone through a hundred guesses before landing on Shelterwood. I imagined I'd be doing something that had a bit more of a "changing the world" ring to it, something that sounded strategic, academic, influential, and resumé-building. Nevertheless, I have full confidence this is the right step.

I would never present my decision as an exact map to follow. In general, I think graduate school is a good idea. I think difficult jobs are worth taking. I like crafting a good resumé. There is more to consider than prestige, but I should not scorn it. I want to make decisions courageously, trusting that God's direction is steady and sure, but not always what I expect and not always when I want it.

Two things bolster my confidence and steady my conviction in this decision. The first is that God calls us to faithful pursuit of His purposes, and so surrendering my own plans and trusting God's direction is a necessary part of achieving the gutsy, hard, and joyful life He promises. The second is that life is a marathon, not a sprint. My heroes, both dead and alive, were all called to things they had not even considered in their 20s. I may spend the next few years doing a job that prepares me for a calling I have yet to imagine.

Shelterwood may appear to be a diversion from a leadership path. I am realizing it is an opportunity for God to develop my resolve and prove Himself sufficient.

Kiley Crossland
Kiley Crossland

Kiley works for an international student and missions organization. She and her husband live on a farm in Boulder, Colo.

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