Meet Woman of the Week Lijin Thomas, theologian, social worker, and youth minister! We asked her to tell you about herself:
“First and foremost, I am an Orthodox Christian woman. I am also an alumna of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, the current Youth Director in my previous diocese before I moved to NY, a licensed social worker, a theologically trained woman doing ministry within the church, the daughter of a priest, and wife of a priest, etc. All these roles keep me accountable to attempt to live up to the calling of an Orthodox Christian.
"I grew up in a clergy household which means, not too rich, but also not too poor. God always provided. Looking back though, I feel rich because I grew up with parents who exemplified SUCH genuine selflessness and love that they gave me a foretaste of God’s unconditional love. They illustrated that the word "serve" does not have to be limited to a mission trip or the parish. Regardless of the time or place, they live a life READY to serve God and His people. As a young adult, I realized the effectiveness of their influence on my brother’s and my lives. They are the reason I desired to be theologically trained and to enter the world of social services.
"I am incredibly tall, being a 5’1” young lady 😊. It’s easy to overlook me in a room, so I’ve made sure to develop a voice and use it for myself and others--especially in a world where it’s easy to be discounted for being female and young. I draw my confidence from “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path,” whether I’m sitting among church clergy and laity, among individuals seeking secular counseling/therapy, or walking through the homeless shelter with its 335 male clients roaming around. It hasn’t been an easy journey, but I’ve learned a lot about putting confidence in my Christ rather than in myself.
"I am grateful that my Church desires to use me as a theologically trained woman. I get called to speak at various retreats and conferences, to counsel young men and women at those conferences (and sometimes in the evening after work). That’s my volunteer work. My 9-5 day job is as a social worker. I am a Program Director at a homeless shelter in NY, helping clients find permanent housing and doing therapy with them. We serve 335 individuals at our shelter. Navigating through this population with its various traumas, diagnoses, backgrounds, experiences, incarcerations, etc., is a daily privilege as well as an uphill battle. Some days I find myself buried at my desk by paperwork, reports, replying to emails from funders, corporate, hospitals, and various mental health providers. Other days I find myself unable to get to my desk because I am following up on incident reports of drug use or fights, or doing routine random locker searches with the on-site officers to assure safety for everyone at the shelter or therapy with the clients. I am incredibly thankful that my professors, supervisors, and various mentors past and present constantly emphasized the importance of 'self-care.' In my field it is easy to experience compassion-fatigue and burnout (especially given that my concentration is mental health and substance abuse)." Axia!
We know that Woman of the Week Lijin Thomas, social worker, theologian, and youth minister, has a lot of demands on her time. We asked her how she manages:
“When friends ask how I’ve been, I often say, 'Pretty busy.' To me, that means it's been hard to make time for things I need to do, hard to make time for myself and for others. Even before we married, Fr. Shawn and I felt busy as individuals. Our weekends were full, mostly with ministry-related activities. For some reason, I thought things would slow down after we married in 2018, but God had other plans! I usually look forward to weekends to catch up on laundry and cooking and relaxing. But over the last six months or more, we traveled to other states for almost every weekend so I had to grab what little time I had during weekday evenings to catch up instead. I only get home from work by 6pm--if I am able to leave on time, that is. So fitting in praying, cooking, making time for my husband, attending ministry-related meetings, and counseling others over the phone is tough. Also, I still hold a Diocesan position based in Houston (Texas!) and therefore have to manage my council team from New York!
“But somehow I am managing to squeeze in being involved in multiple things in my new Diocese, building friendships in our new community, and finding ways to prioritize my marriage and spend quality time with my husband. I still can’t quite believe that we also had 14 out-of-state weddings that we had to attend this year! I’m learning to adjust and make time for us and God even when I feel like there's not enough time. My face also lights up when friends check in on me and I’m reminded that our friendships haven't missed a beat, even though we are many states apart and unable to keep in touch on a weekly basis. This year has been 'good exhausting'! I'm thankful for each experience it has brought, because we probably won't be able to travel as much or have such a variety of responsibilities in upcoming years."
As always, we asked our Woman of the Week, Lijin Thomas, about her morning routine: “I usually set about 20 alarms, one to go off every 15 minutes from when I’m supposed to wake up until I’m supposed to leave for work. My husband loves it and wishes it could be every 5 minutes instead! (He’s really not a fan of the multiple alarms because he’s usually the one turning them off.) I wake up around 6:30 or 6:50. I’ll brush my teeth, wash my face, shower. Then I pray matins for 30 minutes from what we call Shehimo(our book of the daily office). I get ready, eat cereal or oats or grab something to go for breakfast. I get my lunchbag ready and head out. Since I generally only get home from work around 6pm or later, I also prep dinner (since I often attend evening meetings, it’s hard to coordinate anything after work). That’s why on my drives to and from work, I also try to catch up with my parents (both Fr. Shawn’s and mine) by phone; that’s the time I’m guaranteed I can talk to them since none of them live near us. “Growing up, it was so ingrained in me through our morning family prayers that, now that I’m an adult, I can’t start my day without prayer. Something that I use if I don’t have enough time to pray before work is do a really short prayer at home then pray the rest in the car; I might also listen to a recording of the matins of the day. It really helps set my day to remember that I can tackle anything by starting it with God and invoking His presence, especially as it's easy to get overwhelmed.”
Thank you, Lijin!