My 9-year-old said to me the other day, “Mom, you don’t work, because you don’t get paid for Hagar’s Heart!”
Hagar’s Heart is an Arlington-based non-profit organization I founded in the shadow – or more correctly, in the light – of COVID-19. The pandemic revealed so many triggers of domestic violence, and I felt myself both horrified and being called to help. I founded Hagar’s Heart in May 2020 with the big idea that it will become the go-to nonprofit for self-care support. Since then, Hagar’s Heart has gone from serving 20 women in one shelter to over 850 women in seven.
And then my daughter says, “Mom, you don’t work.” I don’t work? As I felt myself becoming a little offended, I stopped and pondered her statement. She was right. I don’t get paid for what I do for Hagar’s Heart. But I sure do love what I do.
A few months back, I first heard, “We should work to live, not live to work.”
I began to question if I had it backwards in my 20-year education career and really, all my life.
Did I see work as a way of making a name for myself? Was I looking for “the next best thing” in my career and moving to the top of the ladder what success was to me?
Am I working to live? Or living to work?
From the beginning, I always had a deep passion to help others feel seen, valued, and loved for just exactly who they were. The problem? As the years went on, I no longer felt this passion in my work. Don’t get me wrong: teaching was my heartbeat for so long. Then I had a child, a heartbreak, and a new beginning. Unexpected life lessons threw everything out of balance. My work went sideways, and I questioned if I was ever going to be able to give my all again.
I had lost my identity as an exceptional educator. I questioned if I should be in another place and proceeded to move to different schools, thinking that was the answer.
But it wasn’t. I began to seek answers from role models and others.
Our world is full of role models: some good, some bad, and many in between. I learned a long time ago that actions speak louder than words. Role models don’t always have fancy titles or lots of money. They lead by the example of a life well lived.
My very first role model came in the form of a tiny woman full of enthusiasm for life, a woman who is my biggest advocate, and a stoic lady who showed me that persevering through crisis and life on life’s terms provides lessons that make one stronger. She proudly wears the title of Todd (my brother) and Jennifer’s Mom, but not as proud as we are to be hers.
She wasn’t “just a mom,” but an educator extraordinaire: visionary, advocate, counselor, and lifelong learner. She would touch hundreds of lives across the metroplex. She has never been shy of sharing her God-given gifts, which included tutoring children with dyslexia and learning differences; counseling parents and children; modeling good, effective teaching; and advocating for all.
Mom was a 5-foot giant with a vision…one that began 40 years ago with the creation of a tiny early childhood community and a communal room in which 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds could gather. When the Quinn Kindergarten Building was built, each classroom was a tiny house designated by color. Each “house” was made to be a home, a place where young children would be given the opportunity to grow and cultivate their learning together where they felt safe, loved, and valued. The vision grew and continues to grow. Now in its 36th year, this community is known as the Betty Garvin Garton Early Childhood Center on the campus of The Oakridge School in Arlington.
Looking back on the stories of her life, Mom used her life to teach others. She poured herself into her vision of making the world a better place.
Every story has a beginning, even one as epic as making the world a better place. My mom’s vision started with me as her child and her title as Mom. When I began Kindergarten, it seemed to not be the right environment for me, so she began searching for something better. She knew I was worthy of an experience that saw me and my talents. She gave me the tools and wisdom to grow. She built me up when I was down. And as she did, she not only saw the way forward for me but for every child. While I may have been jealous of the countless hours she poured into her work – her vision – I now see the WHY in what she did. By making the world better, she made my world better by showing me the kind of role model who loves others and takes care of those who need it the most. Her need to “work to live” manifested in every aspect of her life.
We are never too old to learn. I see why “working to live” is the art of a job – work doesn’t provide happiness, but the way work is approached can. And in May 2020, my understanding of the best and highest way to “work to live” became my cause in the form of a nonprofit serving women across the metroplex.
As I dreamt of Hagar’s Heart, it was just that: a dream. Now, I can’t help but think that was how my mom’s vision of the Oakridge Early Childhood Center started, too. We both saw a need to work wholeheartedly. Being able to look at the idea of WORK through a different lens makes it much easier to do. And while I may not be getting paid with dollar bills at this moment, I’m getting paid in a much bigger way, one that will grow Hagar’s Heart and keep my priorities straight: work is for living, not living for work.
Choices about where we work may be limited, but we all have a choice in how we work. While I now see the risk far outweighs the comfort, I cannot say it was an easy decision for me to begin again…this time as something different. Fortunately, I had the role model of a lifetime. Not only did I get to see the path she chose, but I got to see how her journey ended. Mom chose to retire from her role as ECC Director on her terms. She worked to live in that role, but she also knew when it was time to leave and begin her next chapter.
Looking back on my mom’s “work to live” legacy, I have learned:
- Listening and empathy are a must. You won’t get far without the two.
- Observe and really see the need, not what you think it should be.
- Kindness trumps all.
- Being a role model is powerful.
- Know to Whom you belong, and you will accomplish your dreams.
Working to live is a risk, but one well worth it.