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My Labor, My Ministry

Note: On the Sunday before Labor Day, Christian Vocation Sunday, 3 church members share how they live their Christian faith and discipleship in the workplace or in their vocation. Our speakers this year were Virginia Thibeaux, Shiloh Ferreira, and Irma Rivera-Carlisle.

Virginia Thibeaux - Labor's Love

When Joanne first invited me to share about my work as it relates to my Christian vocation in a 4-5 minute “talk”, my first response was, “gulp”. Busted. Sooner or later I figured this invitation would fall into my lap. So, like ripping off a Band-aid, I quickly said yes. I have to say, I could easily take up the entire time allotted to all three of us. Don’t worry, I won’t. This time, you can say, “You got lucky.”

Lucky for you, this is not a talk about my professional resume. If it were I could tell you about my educational background that ended with a Master of Divinity at SFTS. Some of you know that. Most of you probably don’t. But I knew in my third year that becoming a church pastor was not going to be where my ministry would take me. For one thing, I don’t like preaching. No really.

My music comes from my heart and it always has, though that, too, once led me to graduate school and a Master’s degree in flute performance. But alas, I wasn’t destined to be a music professional, either.

Anne and I practice a spirituality of home, our place has been a haven for healing, where

guests become family and relatives are welcomed as guests. My love of cooking is tied in with this way of serving others.

All of that is embedded into the larger thing that I think of as “call”.

But those things, interesting as they are, are not what I’m here to share.

When people ask me about what I do at Matrix Parent Network and Resource Center, I say, “My job is to make sure that everyone has what they need to do their job.” As an office manager, it’s an apt description, and it is a role I am very comfortable playing.

There are many reasons why Matrix is such a great fit for me, including that the office is in Bel Marin Keys, just 6 minutes from home. But first among my reasons is their mission: “To empower families of children with special needs to successfully understand and access the systems that serve them.” For me, it is necessary that my work aligns with my personal values; that what I do makes a difference in other people’s lives. Matrix serves families in the North Bay, and provides technical assistance to other parent centers throughout the western United States.

I get to fix things that are broken; I give encouragement and support to the people I manage; I set up workspaces for new hires; I provide administrative and logistical support for meetings and conferences; I give a boost to fundraising efforts and am available for last-minute projects.

Whatever is needed, it’s always “Yes I can do that!”

I am proud to be a part of the work of Matrix. The work we do is so important and has a

lifetime of benefit for families, and for communities. And our services have always been free to parents.

Nearly everyone at Matrix is a parent of a child with special needs. They are the ones who really get what parents are going through; a parent-to-parent connection, something they can’t really get from any other provider. Our parent advisors provide training and information to parents about schools, special education, Early Start, regional centers, and other agencies; we partner with them so that they are able to successfully collaborate with the providers to achieve the best possible outcomes for their children. Matrix provides caring, nurture and support. Last year, as the fires raged in Santa Rosa and Sonoma, immediately and within hours, Matrix was there in partnership with the School Box project to create a safe space for families to come with their special needs children; to find comfort and calm amid the displacement brought on by the firestorms. Matrix is where families find community. Last Christmas, at one of our “Sensitive Santa” events, created for kids who cannot cope with the chaos of the typical mall Santa settings.

One father, with tears in his eyes, thanked us, telling us how isolated he and his wife had felt, especially since the fires. He was relieved to find they were not alone in their struggle to be good parents to their son with autism. He then went out to his car and came back with a check for us. (This was not a fundraiser, but donations are always appreciated.)

The Matrix community is where parents and their children discover what it means to be

included and accepted. 2 weeks ago, there was a group of kids from Sonoma County who ran the 5k race associated with the Santa Rosa Marathon. They were the Matrix Mighty Milers, and it was a group made up of about 64 children with, and without special needs, who trained together all summer.

Many of these children have NEVER been included in anything related to sports. For many kids, (and parents!) the Matrix Mighty Milers program has been a life-changing event. The kids without special needs learn to respect kids with special needs and are more likely to be friends with them and include them in school activities. Kids with special needs can begin to re-define who they are and what they can do.

After training with the Mighty Milers last year, one junior high girl, who had never before

shown any interest in sports, suddenly announced that she was joining the track team at

school, because she “is a runner.” And so she was. Just like that. It is a profound and powerful experience for parents, never thinking their child could do sports—what more can they be when they are fully included?

I get to be a part of this amazing organization. It is my ministry to support them so they can do their best work. And yes, it would be great to have a bigger paycheck. They put the “non” in non-profit.

But for me it is all in a day’s work. IT is my labor’s love, something that is bigger than me, a call that also draws me into the life and ministry of this church. THIS church, where all those things that people find at Matrix are found here: community, support, growth, nurture, safety, acceptance, belonging… Here is where I was told I was an artist, and so I am. Here is where I discovered that I do have a ministry and that my call takes me beyond the walls of church—beyond ordination, and into the world: to serve with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love. And a fair amount of God’s grace. I guess you could say I got lucky.

Shiloh Ferreira

My faith makes it possible for me to do my job. Teaching gives me an appreciation for God‘s love—a little peek into how deep His affection is for us. Each year, I have the privilege of witnessing and guiding the growth and development of up to 130 preteens, while teaching them 7th grade math. My students are so fascinating to me that I don’t mind living in a perpetual loop of middle school. First days of school, challenging tests, school plays, Mathletes competitions, making new friends, graduation… After seven years of teaching 7th grade in Mill Valley, the challenges and celebrations repeat but they never grow less meaningful.

Each new school year, my students will go through the heartbreak of changing friend groups, the pressures of finding balance between school, sports, and family responsibilities, studying for bar mitzvahs, and making decisions about the type of person that they want to become. I had a rough time in middle school. I remember it being a very lonely time in which academics were only a small part of the whole experience. Having an empathetic and enthusiastic adult in my school life was at least a small help to making me feel more connected during this time. With this in mind, I do my best to support not only my students’ academic growth, but to also consider their

emotional well-being.

In order to be that support, I have to be there for students regardless of their attitudes

towards math and regardless of my own attitude that day. Believe it or not students don’t always arrive to my class thrilled and excited to learn about the Triangle Angle Sum Theorem, or Algebraic Properties of Equality. It is somewhat infrequent that a student will come to school exhausted from staying up all night brainstorming all of the ways that we can apply a proportion to our daily lives. We can all have rough days, and students will not always treat me or others with kindness and respect, but I know that I must still work with them and help them to learn how to correct these hurts. That is the hidden part of the math curriculum.

You all know that I am not just a teacher. I’m a Christian. I am a mother, friend, and a

wife. All the other parts of my life can bring me joy and stress. If I’m not careful, I can end up bringing stress into the classroom. God helps me to refocus and to find the strength and compassion for students regardless of what’s going on in my own life. Frequently I need to take a moment to say a silent prayer of focus during class. This can be especially true on Fridays, at the end of the day, when students have been cooped up inside due to a rainy-day lunch. I need God to show me His love so that I can reflect it for my students in my classroom. They deserve to feel that love. They deserve authentic care rather than forced smiles.

I can’t directly bring my faith into my job, but I do bring my faithfulness into the classroom. Working at a public school in Mill Valley, I feel that I must be careful about how I practice my faith at school. I understand that as a teacher I can have a deep impact on the development of a child, and I take that responsibility seriously. I never hide my faith, but I must be careful to never seem that I am advertising it to my classes. I strive instead to simply show God’s love (to the best of my ability) to my students and colleagues.

Every Sunday I try to take a moment to rededicate myself to living in a way that I can be

satisfied with. I really couldn’t do this job on my own. My work demands that I rely on God. Seeing my students as His children reminds me to really see them. Each one of them is a unique and important person that deserves attention, compassion, and joy.

Irma Rivera-Carlisle

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