So You’ve Rocked Your World, Now What?

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First of all, let’s just set the record straight on the brilliance of upending one’s entire life for the sake of rest and adventure:

Don’t do it. It’s a bad idea.

Or…

Hire a pseudo-you to go before you and smooth all the kinks, cry all the tears, and vent all the frustrations. Then you can slip into your new life unnoticed and free from pain and regret.

Or…

You can post all the awesome pictures of your new life on social media and pretend that everything is awesome and peachy and the food is great and the kids are happy.

Or…

You can admit that sometimes dumb decisions are made, which is fine, because I’ve read Scripture and I know God works with and through idiots all the time.

So we are joining the ranks of fools with faith. Fools with Faith. The capitals make it sound more official.

But in the spirit of foolishness, I’m making myself a list of ways to cope that don’t include packing my boxes and running back to…nothing.

  1. Don’t panic. If you’re like me, it’s easier to Craigslist your entire life in preparation for an emergency move anywhere. I know it’s tempting to send out your spouse’s resume and have the return email bounce back to you and go through the entire initial interview process, vetting new opportunities until you can SURPRISE! him with an onsite interview. Easy-peasy. Problem solved. Return to your old life in a new place and it’s like transplant surgery. Same organism, different Body, right?
  2. Don’t make brownies. Just don’t. When the two dozen reasons to be stressed this morning happen, you just don’t want the brownies calling to you from the stovetop. It’s too easy to have brownies with coffee and brownies after coffee and brownies alongside lunch and brownies before the kids get home. Before you know it, your Craigslisting your pants.
  3. Don’t reminisce your old life. For the sake of sanity, just remember high school boyfriends and how everything before was always so much cuter and sweeter and funnier and more romantic after the breakup. This is the way life works, too. It’s reverse Grass Was Greener syndrome. The grass probably was greener, but you sold it. So move forward.
  4. But if for some reason you find yourself Craigslisting the living room furniture with a quarter-pan of brownies to your right while sneaking a peek of your old house on Google Maps then… name it for what it is: Fear.

Fear that God could meet you there but not here. Fear that His love has boundaries that don’t follow fools across country. Fear that He might forget to be with you. Fear that things are completely out of control because control feeds off familiarity and nothing here looks the same.

5. Fear less. Trust more. Lean in. Breathe.

Or maybe all this is just me. My oven is beeping and I smell chocolate.

 

 

Addicted to Being Needed

A couple weeks ago I opened my inbox to find an inquiry to teach at a women’s conference in Canada. I was excited for a few reasons:

  1. New Brunswick is close and I wouldn’t have to fly.
  2. It would give me an opportunity to do what I love—prepare a message for a group of women. I could see the next few months filled with studying and praying and writing. Hours and hours of seeking out God’s message for these women.
  3. I was tired of shedding the skin of our previous life and this would be like an injection of identity again. A reminder that God still sees me and desires to use all these gifts and passions for preaching that He’s developed in me.

And so I waited. And I sent them video links and I waited. And I looked at their conference Facebook page and I waited.

A couple weeks later I received the email letting me know I hadn’t been selected, sharing with me the name of the woman who had, and telling me they’d keep me in mind for another time.

Don’t google her, I told myself. But I couldn’t help it. I typed in the name of the woman who had received the opportunity to immerse herself in these women for the weekend. She had a beautiful website and it was easy to find her video clips. I noticed her books were empowering and her training and endorsements validating.

But most of all, I took in her photograph, her clothes and her accessories and her hair. Not because I was shallow, but because she was staring back at me, fully dressed and put together. And I was sitting on the other side of the screen completely exposed and somewhat fragile.

I almost wished they had never asked, I told God. Not in this season. Not at this moment. It would have been easier to not have received an invitation than it was to receive a rejection.

For two months I’ve been stripped bare, repeatedly reminded of what we’ve left behind. I notice the busyness of the pastor’s wife and I inhale deeply, grateful that I am no longer overcome by guilt at my inability to meet the needs of everyone and myself. But I notice her relationships and lose my breath, longing for the role that automatically placed me near the heart of others.

For two months I’ve been setting old talents and projects aside, telling myself that it’s okay if what I was once good at is no longer needed. Reminding myself these abilities were the Lord’s to begin with and if He needs them to be stagnant for a time, so be it. Reminding myself there are other ways I can make this season of life meaningful.

And for two months I’ve been trying to rush rest because I secretly decided that if we could get through this season of rest and learn our lesson quickly, then we could return to the world that is comfortable and familiar. We could get redressed in an identity and feel strong and capable and needed again.

Instead we feel out of sorts. We feel humbled. We wonder if we were ever good at anything. We feel a bit forgotten by God. Or maybe that’s just me.

After the email saying thanks but no thanks, I’m tempted to only focus on perfecting my granola and jam and stop daydreaming about teaching and preaching and studying. Maybe granola and jam is all I have to offer the world at this moment.

Two months of feeling bare and how many months more?

Will I ever stop being plagued by the phrase, See what you left behind when you abandoned your life’s work thinking you’d find life? 

Such a cruel, untrue accusation. So I try to silence the noise of loss and listen for an invitation into more. 

And it’s then I hear God say: Welcome back to the garden, where it’s just you and Me. Where the gifts you’ve spent years unearthing don’t match the beauty of just being.

I know you want to get redressed, but the first woman put on her first clothes when shame entered the world. And I want you to be unashamed: Unashamed of your exhaustion. Unashamed of your inabilities. Unashamed that you desired more than I’ve given you. Unashamed that your need to be needed has trumped your need for Me.

 

And so I can learn to celebrate the rejection, for it exposed my fear of being forgotten. And as I sit in the garden of rest before the Lord, I dig in the dirt—fingernails caked with the stuff man is made of, hands stained by the stuff roots call home—and I bury my fear before him. Unashamed to admit I was addicted.

I’m bare. I’m fragile. But never have I been in the presence of such strength.

 

 

 

 

Annesley Writers: Relational Death this Mother’s Day

960462_383e55c43a6942a1af19c050fda6f610{The full post is on Annesley Writers today…}

I have mostly warm thoughts toward the month of May. The return of sunshine, the planting of flowers, the promise of Winter’s last appearance if she dares, a birthday celebration, and outdoor dining all bring life after a long season of dormancy. But in the midst of nature’s new life I’m confronted by the stark contrast of relational death, as May is also the month of mothers.

For many reasons, my relationship with my mom didn’t make the leap between adolescence and adulthood. Because it’s a death of relationship but not a death of love, it’s been difficult to accept and even more difficult to grieve. Both of us have tried various resuscitation techniques without success.

And so as May comes, I’m reminded I must continue the journey of learning to grieve all that has been lost: Christmases together, long summer holidays, introducing her to my youngest child, watching my children create traditions with her, getting to know her as a woman, hearing more stories that comprise her life, making her laugh, and the list goes on.

May has become the month I grieve the woman who gave me life.  But because I also have children of my own who never fail to surprise me with handmade cards and homespun surprises, I find myself facing Mother’s Day in a peculiar place of being celebrated without celebrating. And it feels lonely. As though the long string of life that is supposed to run from my children, through me, toward my mother, and her mother, and her mother’s mother—that string has been severed and I don’t know how to tie the right knot that would keep us all connected.

And so, as Facebook is about to be inundated with photographs of mothers and daughters whose relationships are still very much in tact, I am left feeling acutely out of place this month. Not only that, but acutely aware of the lies that try to accompany the day: You aren’t enough. You are too much. You’re not needed. You aren’t missed.

So just in case you find yourself in this odd month of being celebrated without celebrating, or you’re learning to grieve a relationship lost where love still remains, I’d like to offer you some lessons I’ve learned over the last several years: {Continue reading at Annesley Writers…}

Delayed Goodbye

Until today I must have thought there was an actual u-turn available. As though the road we had traveled—the route we’d mapped out on our own—was one we could also travel in reverse.

Perhaps this was a security-thought-blanket, something I wrapped tightly around me to keep tears in place and sorrow suppressed.

But today was the first day I volunteered as a volunteer—no superlative title attached. No pastor’s wife who is in the children’s ministry. No church staff hanging out with the 10 and under. It was just me, an unassuming presence, who didn’t know where anything was located and didn’t know the families to whom the children belonged. I had no authority when schedules were shifted, and no peace-offering for the kids when the fun un-shifted.

It was in that moment I longed for the community we had created. I wished we were only on vacation. I wished to make a u-turn that didn’t exist.

Thirty minutes later, eavesdropping from the kitchen as I made lunch, I heard a service streaming from my husband’s computer. Our ‘back home church’ had found a new pastor—a new someone to care for them and learn their kids’ names. A new someone to uncover God’s word for them and watch them grow into roles of leadership. A new someone to share meals with. A new someone to call friend.

And as he spoke on the church’s ministry of reconciliation, I wanted nothing more than to be reunited with—to be in right standing, standing right beside—my family on the screen. But I couldn’t, because we left them and we chose this.

The finality of that decision has been the heaviest today as I celebrate the incredible leader our former church family has chosen to call theirs.

I’ve been saving a book, unable to open it and unsure of why. Its pages are filled with photographs of Colorado, layered with handwritten farewells. Now I know the why:

I might have moved 8 weeks ago, but today is the day I say goodbye.

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On Skipping Church for the First Time

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We played hooky from church for the first time last Sunday. For fourteen years we watched other families take breaks on a regular basis, heading out for hikes or to the lake—going skiing, or just getting some stuff done around the house. And each time a family would text us with, “Staying an extra night in the mountains!” we’d both look at each other with the same though bubble, That must be so nice.

 And so four weeks after our last Sunday as pastor and family, we thought it was time to play hooky from church, too. We wanted to see what all the fun was about. We wanted to explore the great, big, huge world that exists on Sunday mornings.

You can only imagine the enormity of our expectations—a height from which we fell, hard.

A friend called the following Tuesday and asked how everything was going. “It’s fine,” I said. “We tried skipping church for the first time Sunday and it was an epic fail. I thought we were hiking, but Nathan thought we were walking on the beach. I didn’t wear the right clothing for the beach, and so an hour and a half into our walk—which was really me, sitting on a log, huddled beneath jackets, watching everyone walk up the coast—I wanted to go home. This frustrated Nathan, who just wanted some time outside. And somehow we ended up arguing about the quality of our marriage—the whole way home.”

There was quietness on the other end of the phone, followed by a question I needed to hear, “Why would you take a break from God? That’s the opposite of who you guys are.”

And I knew she was right.

The most difficult part of this decision to leave local church ministry and move has been the nagging feeling that we’ve divorced God. We both know that’s not true, but when your relationship with Jesus is welded to your identity in church leadership, to leave one is to feel as though you’re leaving both. It’s painful. It’s lonely. It’s uncharted waters and we both feel lost.

So now that we know the world isn’t some magical place of secret fun between the hours of 8-12 on Sunday mornings, I suppose we’ll continue rediscovering ourselves in the context of community. This sounds much safer and wiser than going for a hike and discovering you might need counseling.

Thoughts on Loss of Identity

The caterpillar emerged from the cocoon and cried. Who was she now?

I got my first tattoo on my 18th birthday. We hopped in the car and drove into the mountains with friends—I can’t remember whom exactly. What I do remember is rounding a corner in my boyfriend’s Camaro and being surprised that there was a casino tucked so deeply into the hills of North Carolina. Across from the casino was the place that would mark my body for life.

We walked inside and I was handed a book of artwork. Most of the pictures reminded me of airbrush t-shirt stands I might find on the sidewalks of Myrtle Beach. Maybe I should have turned around and walked out, but I didn’t. Instead I turned the laminated pages, looking for a drawing that told a story about my identity. Or maybe looking for an identity that I might become. Definitely looking for something simple so that my body didn’t become an air-brushed t-shirt.

I chose what every common girl of the 90’s chose, a butterfly. Nothing fancy. Perfectly ordinary. A little like me.

And I sat with my hand between the pages of the book while I watched the artist mark my boyfriend for life with the head of a ram.

I never asked why the ram. But I did try to come up with a story about the butterfly. The best I could conjure was that a butterfly was evidence that transformation existed in the world. That who I would be could be radically different than who I was. If anything, it sounded lovelier than not wanting to be air-brushed.

Just a few years later, transformation did come, and with it everything in my former life was undone. Friends. Habits. Addictions. Roots. I emerged from that Sunday morning new—determined to never look over my shoulder in longing.

For fourteen years this has served me well—this always looking forward and never looking back. I was less like the butterfly and more like the locust—shedding skin over and over again, leaving the old skins behind as evidence of how I’d grown.

And so now, as I explain the most difficult part of this transition away from spiritual leadership inside the church, I hear myself speak the same phrase over and over again, “I’ve lost a huge part of my identity. I’ve left behind someone I’ve been for a long time.”

But today I realized that doesn’t have to be true. Rather than shedding skin and leaving the old behind, I could be more like the butterfly. I can enter this season of rest and allow everything—all the mistakes, the successes, the celebrations, and the regrets—to be pressed in tightly, becoming part of the transformation—becoming a part of me.

And I could emerge from this journey completely unrecognizable except for the stripes on my back that declare, “It’s still me. My whole self made it through.”

A Short List of Moving Taboos

It’s week 3 and the harmonies have come to a screeching coda. I’ve inquired about three different jobs and received none of them—although the bakery did hire my oldest son. I’ve made 20 jars of jam, a gallon size bag of granola, and drove for an hour just to deliver my husband a thermos of coffee which turned out to be sour. I didn’t even know coffee could sour. And I love coffee.

So today I walked in circles around the house refusing to do any of the many things that demanded to be done. Instead I looked at my reflection in the mirror and blamed the haircut for this mess. I have learned that there are a couple things one should not do when moving (or pregnant for that matter—which I’m not, don’t worry): Don’t eat so much chocolate that you need to unbutton your pants, because you never know when you’ll need to stop at a gas station or take a walk downtown. Don’t cut your hair because vanity is an extension of identity. It can be the cutest, but if inches are shed at the wrong time—such as resigning from a role you have possessed for most of your adult life—it will feel as though your head is naked. And in turn you will feel naked. And this is not necessary at all when it would have been less devastating to walk downtown with your pants unbuttoned.

I shouldn’t have cut my hair. I’m a stranger in life and a stranger in the mirror right now. But there is an odd solace in knowing that by the time my strands have regrown into their tangled mess, I will have found myself at home here. It’s as though two sets of roots are growing—one deepening and the other lengthening. My hope is that one day I will wake up, recognize myself, and realize I belong here.

Until then, I should send out a PSA to the town of Bath, ME, to simply ignore the girl sending out a writer’s resume for the desk job at the Y, or the cashier at the bakery, or a substitute at the schools. If I come for an interview and my hair isn’t half way down my back, just don’t bother.

It would seem that the hardest part of resting is—quite honestly—getting reacquainted with me.

I Can Carry this Woman No Further

I wove myself between the most beautiful harmonies tonight—the type of harmony only God can design. A brother, a sister, and an extra man who played the bass as though he were playing the strings of his own soul.

And while I was excited when I first heard that the concert was two doors down, I realized—sitting in the ambiance of candle light, and centuries-old history, and a bar that wasn’t really a bar but an ‘I’ll trade you a glass of wine for a donation’—I realized a piece of me was ready to die. I was the locust who knew the skin he wore no longer fit and must be shed.

I thought it would be painful to lose an identity that was mine for so many years. But instead, it felt like air after forgetting how to breathe. It was a cocktail of nostalgia mixed with the unknown. It was a rebirth of the best parts of my younger self. And it brought tears to my eyes, because I thought that the younger version of me was capable only of foolishness.

Had I judged her wrongly? In the haze of ignorance, had she known a little bit of right? Had she been aware of a little bit of beauty? Had she carried a little bit of soul?

As the harmonies crescendoed and the bass dared my heart to keep rhythm, I allowed the most recent version of myself to be laid to rest.

Stillness.

An admission that I can carry this woman no further.

And I fly upon the breath of a new life. I whirl to the rhythm of the bass, allowing the beat of my heart to do some daring of its own…as I resuscitate the woman of 16 years ago and offered her a trade…

If she will give me life—if she will teach me to feel again—I will weave wisdom across the threshold of her living…

Breakfast for the Sun

This morning, I made breakfast for the sun. It wasn’t much, just a few birthday biscuits because we were out of milk for cereal and no one should have to greet their sixteenth year with an empty stomach. And so I woke up early and rolled out my great-grandmother’s biscuits.

I heard his leaden footsteps before I saw him. He pulled up a chair to the edge of the kitchen and sat down like he does when he’s eager to connect. I asked him about his boy-self: How did his boy-self imagine his nearly man-self to be?

I thought I’d be driving.

I thought I’d have a job.

I thought I’d have a car.

But I look about the way I thought I would.

And I’m proud of my decisions so far…

As I cut out each biscuit and put them on the pan, I told him the story of his first day in the world. How I looked over and saw him for the first time and cried because light had been born into my darkness. His birth was a tangible sign that I was still loved—a living road map that eventually led me to find the Source of that love.

And I celebrated how far we’ve come in sixteen years. I celebrated that I have a boy-man who pull chairs up to the edge of kitchens to talk with his mama.

And I prayed for all those teen moms, living in darkness with just enough light to see the positive sign on that test. I prayed they would say yes…So that in sixteen years they, too, can make breakfast for the sun.

That God could form something so beautiful within me during a time when my life was so void of Him shows there isn’t a place in all creation He cannot enter and glorify.

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Fallowing the Field of Me

Before we left for Ethiopia, a friend tried to explain the economic hardship I’d find there, “The land is beautiful. It’s not like what you saw on the commercials as a kid. It’s lush and green. Poverty exists due to green famine.”

Green famine. Also called ‘suffering amongst the plenty.’ The land’s beauty is only surface. Beneath the lush top layer is ground that’s been been depleted of nutrients necessary for growth.

Beauty on the surface, depleted beneath—this has been life for the last few years. Everything has appeared fantastic. Each day held work rooted in passion and purpose. Health has stayed with us. Children have been kind and only fight before breakfast and after dinner. But beneath the surface, the energy required to sustain our pace of living was waning. The more I took on, the less I had available.

And so I brought about my own green famine.

Just this week, I completed a much anticipated project deadline. It was finished. Done. Over. After I pressed ‘send’ on the manuscript, I slipped out of my office, into my bedroom and ran a bath. A few minutes later I heard my husband knock. “Are you in there?”

“Yes, sir, I am.”

“I didn’t even hear you slip downstairs. I was going to tell you congratulations. What are you doing?”

“Taking a bath. And then I’m going to workout. And then I’m going to drink a cup of tea.”

Silence. “All that today?”

“Yeah. I’ve forgotten how to relax, so I’ve decided to make it my fulltime job.”

The most natural way to restore a depleted field back so that it can cultivate life is to fallow the field. Plow it up, turn all the plants and organic remains back into the soil, but leave the field unseeded—empty—at rest. Fallowing still requires intentionality—the farmer still has to wake up early. The farmer still spends hours preparing land as if it were to be planted. And the farmer still has to stare at the plowed land—knowing how easy it would be to plant seed there—and choose to say ‘no’ to a small harvest for the purpose of abundance.

There is work so that there is rest. And today’s rest will recompense future tomorrows.

And so I decided it was time to fallow the field of me. I recognize that I’m depleted and what little I could produce isn’t going to be enough for the world to consume. It’s time to prepare space for that rest. It’s time to get out of time-debt for the purpose of relational wealth.

In honor of the fallowing, I’ve committed to answering the following question when posed with a new project: When I imagine myself doing this thing, does it feel like a deep inhale and exhale, or can I barely catch my breath?

Answering this question isn’t an overnight event. So far, I’ve carried my list of potential projects around in my thoughts. If I was enjoying an evening with my family, I’d ask myself, “Would I be enjoying this if I took on Project A, B, or C?”

If I found that I wanted to volunteer for something but couldn’t, I’d ask, “If I choose to do Project A, will I miss out on this again?”

I’ve had conversations with people who love me and asked their opinion about my ability/inability to rest.

And then I prayed like mad that the Lord would teach me to be open-handed in my hopes and dreams—because it’s hard to let go of good opportunity.

Sometimes, our lives need fallowed. They need rest. After years of busy and productivity have taken their toll, a mark of Spirit-led maturity is being able to say, ‘no more, not now.’ When the ‘no more, not now’ has been spoken, we must then do the work of preparing ourselves for rest.

Like the farmer who fallows the field, choosing rest isn’t a passive event. It’s an invitation. Spirit, have your way here, in me. Renew me. Revive me. Refill me. Only then will the next season offer living matter worth consuming.

 And as the Spirit has His way, you’ll find me walking the length of the fallowed field, following each plowed line of intentional rest. Remembering why it was I was given this field, anyhow. And dreaming about what I might plant next….

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photo by Martin Brigden