Snapbacksandtutus - Musings on...
There is a house that I love. It is not mine and its inhabitants are unfamiliar to me, but it is an alluring structure. Magnolia trees line the gentle curve of the drive as if to beckon visitors to lean in, and the neatly trimmed lawn and carefully curated rose bushes that pepper the exterior of the building give way to an ethereal glow in the dawning of day. At first glance one would assume that it is a place of symphonies and sonnets, but upon further inspection it becomes clear that there are secrets hidden within its courts and corridors, for it is, in reality, an edifice riddled with interior neglect, tenuously supported by a crumbling foundation.
I have, as of late, become engaged in an internal dialogue related to authenticity and the church. In the age of social media I am often troubled by the easy acceptance and promotion of superficial piety and perfection, for it is so easily executed, requires minimal endeavor and never has to withstand the examination of truth. We walk the earth with an invisible veil of sorts that softens our vision. There are moments of course, when the veil is pushed aside, and the realities of humanity, compassion and cruelty and sorrow and affection are visible, but they are fleeting as our preference is to blur and filter.
This preferential vision is most troublesome when it becomes a driving force. We are so inspired by a pristine and pleasing exterior that our foundations, much like those of the house I love, are crumbling from interior neglect. I cannot fathom the scope of our impact would that our stewardship not be limited to things so easily pleasing and perceptively holy.
Authentic faith is relational, it forges past what we can see to the things we cannot, and the mark of authenticity in the church can be seen in its investment of people. Authentic leadership is not satisfied with appearance and perception, it seeks to truly know and to be known. It is a church that points people to the love and reconciliation of God rather than to a church’s history or organizational preferences. It is a church that nurtures diversity rather than elitism and it is one whose focus is on the development of giftedness and calling rather than the ease and comfort of superficial complacency and social media marketing. One of the most compelling examples of authenticity in leadership was set for us by Jesus Himself. He noticed and engaged with people, with a diligently focused, unhurried, unflappable desire to connect.
I long for a community in which no one passes by unknown or unaccepted. Where there is no need and no place for superficial piety and perfection, no need to hide the commonalities of brokenness, grace, forgiveness and transformation. Where the interior of our own souls and personal struggles are not treated with spiritual clichés and buttoned up pride, and where self-awareness and empathy come from mutual connectedness rooted in the love and the example of Jesus, whose own eyes were drawn to the subtle frailty of beautiful things. We are so accustomed to adjusting our truth, that in the end, we become unrecognizable to ourselves.
What I know today is this, though the world assigns relevance superficially, according to perception, position and prestige, God is far more pleased with a heart that is simply surrendered and broken open for Him. To this day He chooses ordinary, inadequate, highly flawed people, to change the world. For leaders are prepared not on platforms and pulpits, but in the hard places of obscurity, where hearts are rubbed raw and giants are slain.
I am the new girl. And while this is not a novel circumstance, everything in me wants to scamper back to where I came from, to the place where I was safely sheltered in the concrete corners of urban streets cradled gently in the hammock of amiable familiarity and immaculate anonymity. I have been uprooted and it is disorienting and unnerving.
On city streets in late afternoon, the world hurries on. In that place, on those days people passed hastily on broken stone boulevards their movement serving as fuel for the composition of symphonies and stories in my mind. The man in the dark coat and worn boots striking puddles with great intent, was he the hero of his own narrative? And the ginger haired twentysomething, lithe and unlined by time, was her scenario one of simplicity and ease, or a complex tale of intrigue and strife? Might he be the love of someone’s life? Was she destined to change the world?
I always worried that someone would notice me, but I remained unknown. In the place I came from I was not new. In the place I find myself on this murky morning I am the new girl, and I feel strangely restless and increasingly exposed, as if the cadence within me is increasingly out of tempo with the unhurried gait of the outside world.
I have spoken of this transition often as of late. I have made note of its impact on my children and on the dynamics of our family, and I have spoken about its imprint on my own life, and if I’m to be honest, these mountains unmoved are growing tiresome. I am restless, as if I haven’t really met myself yet, as if perhaps in the last stop on my journey I may have caught a glimpse of my image in the fog only to have it disappear again into the mist. It is gritty and uncomfortable but it is also the truth, and as I navigate through these emotions to make sense of them, I fully embrace the knowledge that even in the wilderness of transition there is a Shepherd.
In transition and loss there is separation and the exploration of emotion related to what was and what is to come. In transition there is a time of marked numbness and disorientation as we find ourselves detached from the old life, but not yet established in the new. Transition is a desert of sorts, but God is familiar with the desert. And though it is painful, it is equally providential as the protective love of the Shepherd serves to fortify us with hope and courage to face the interior journey of transition.
Change is not easy, though we wish it were so. It requires no less than the willingness to surrender, to sit in the uncomfortable void, trusting that even as we cry and rage, we are exactly where we need to be. I am the new girl, and I will find peace in Him when I’m confronting the unfamiliar and when it seems the clock is ticking on unanswered prayers. I am the new girl, and what I am coming to understand is that this undefined yearning is what it feels like to grow. And though I am not certain as to what the coming days will bring, I will find rest in Him because in the arms of the Father there is no place for uncertainty. I am the new girl, but the story isn’t over, and for all of the seeds sown in this season there will be gardens grown in seasons to come.
I am afraid of snakes but it isn’t quite that elementary. Were my consternation solely focused on elongated limbless reptiles, life would be far less complicated. Sadly, however, there are spiders, in whom every unknown terror in the world is fused into wriggling, poison-jawed horror, and menacing sea creatures who roam the depths of ocean playgrounds giving life to hideous anxiety even as the sea calls out to me from the shore. I am fearful, and this propensity forces a steely focused amplification of threats both real and perceived, at every turn. All it takes is the rumor of danger, the peril itself is irrelevant.
In recent days I was once again called upon to relent the security of the city for the trappings of nature. Nestled in among the rolling foothills of Appalachia on the Kentucky-Tennessee border, Camp Paradise Valley is home to summer camps, retreats, celebrations, and for this girl, the untenable taunting forces of nature veiled in rich verdant landscapes. I watched with interest as others seemed to move effortlessly through the stunningly crafted minefields of creation. While I, in stark contrast, remained on high alert for the intrusion of stealthily slithering reptiles and other noxious vermin.
As night fell and my vision became further obscured, my instinct was to quickly retreat indoors as to not test my anxiety any further, but mothering called and I was summoned into the elements once again, lured from four walls into the cool dark night by the sound of my son. The dogs needed to be walked and my sweet boy wanted my company, a rarity among the adolescent set in these tender days. With a little coaxing I obliged and tiptoed out the door, stepping gingerly from stone to stone. Distracted by my fear and feeling hurried and a bit frantic, I paid little attention to anything other than my fumbling feet. Watching, waiting, testing…certain of the snares and pitfalls that left me unnerved.
Stuck in fear’s arsenal of threats and worries, I had failed to hear the urgent pleading of my child’s voice. “Mom, Mom! MOM!” he implored, breaking my steely focus. “Just…look…UP”. And so I did. Even as a little boy, my son had preferred night to day. He could sit out in the yard after sunset, soothed by the darkness. It softened the rough edges of the world and toned down the overload of colors that seemed to assault his mind. And sensing my anxiety he was inviting me in to share what he had long ago discovered.
I tilted my head back and took a deep breath allowing the light to fall over me like a deep balm. It was a clear, cloudless night, and after too many nights of looking down, the sight of the sky was dizzying. This is what I had been thirsting for after the minutia of the day, the magnitude and enormity of a night full of stars, each one hung with great intention by the same God who knows my name.
What I had never understood about night and nature was that just above my terror was a mural of stars that crafted a story. There were stars everywhere. The most stunning flashes of light that I had, in the trappings of fear and insecurity, taken for granted night after night. I had been so downward focused, that I hadn’t bothered to look up.
My forehead is a maze of anxious little grooves, from seasons of worry that lasted far too long. And after the experience of loss, self-preservation seems to go onto permanent alert, as if danger exists at every turn. There is an undefinable untethering that accompanies grief. It is both disorienting and terrifying forcing us into a world without orientation. We put one foot in front of the other, holding the hand of fear until we remember to look up. Until we are quietly convinced to stop clinching our fists around precious people and things, relenting their care to a God who is able.
What I am learning to embrace today is the reality of my own insignificance in the light of an Almighty God who simply begs my trust. And when I find myself looking down, consenting to anxiety and fear, He gently cradles my quivering chin and lifts it heavenward. Nothing happens, not a hair falls from our heads without His intention. And though there may be times we find Him sleeping in the boat in a tempest tossed sea, He is there nonetheless.
I have yet to fully navigate my disdain for menacing creatures. I have panicked unnecessarily in the air, on land and sea, but I am learning to navigate the complexity that my circumstances often present with my heart open and my head up casting all my anxieties on Him knowing the ocean depths of His unbounding love for me.
Keith loved the weather. He could innately discern the distant mutter of an approaching storm and his senses were inexplicably keen to the faint suggestion of rain in a misfit breeze. He would often, with the expectancy of a child on Christmas morning, stand outside, his face gently turned upward, watching the icy grey sky. He always knew when another storm was coming, snowstorms, windstorms, sandstorms and firestorms, some fierce and others small, always keeping an eye on what may be brewing unexpectedly from a fickle sky.
While Keith felt most at home under clouds dragged down by heavy rain held in delicate frames, I do not. I call the sea and the sun home. I much prefer equilibrium and balance to the disorientated chaos of skittish weather.
Most of humanity does not live with the anticipation that the rug may be yanked out from underneath them at any given time. Life changing events do not typically announce themselves. But the experience of loss profoundly changes this tendency, forcing those within its reach to live with the unflinching reality of vulnerability at all times. A by-product of grief I suppose, is the knowledge that sometimes pain, like an unannounced storm, can come out of nowhere.
Studies suggest that the top five most stressful life events include the death of a loved one, divorce, job change and major illness or injury. The experience of just one of which valiantly disrupts equilibrium and balance. Living in the shadow of four out of five is an avalanche of sorts, in which every sense is maxed out and every muscle working beyond intended capacity to simply remain upright. While instinct and intuition offer the faint suggestion of an approaching storm, they offer little preparation for the feeling of rootlessness that follows an upending life event.
Transition is nothing new to this girl. Having grown up a vagabond of sorts I delight in the exploration of new landscapes both physical and personal. But I was ill prepared for this most recent shift, for you see, grief alters even the most indomitable gypsy spirit. When the call came in April announcing new horizons and fresh ministry opportunities for our family I was not taken by surprise. I, like Keith with an approaching storm, was keen to the faint suggestion of instability on the horizon, but I was ill prepared for the collateral damage that would occur as a result. You see, while I was certainly open to new horizons and the opportunity to spread my wings if you will, I miscalculated the toll on my children, whose experience with brokenness is once again evident in the anger, confusion, sadness and frustration that now mark the tenuous moments of our days…and this mama’s heart is bone weary.
Were I to explain in great detail the logistical hurdles of settling five adolescents into their respective nests, leaving my own half empty, were I to impress upon you the implications of a transition as a solo parent in a sea of partners, were I to express the depth of my conflicting emotions as the sun rises and sets on new you might think me grumbling. That quite simply is not the case, for the expression and admission of struggle is not rooted in hopelessness and complaint. It would be far simpler to disguise the import of this experience to those around me, to be disingenuous of expression as to ease the burden bearing of others. But to do so would be to risk becoming unrecognizable to myself. The admission of human frailty without ambiguity is instead the announcement of yet another hurdle in an arduous climb toward the promise of a stunning summit. Clearly grief and belief in the resurrection are not an either or proposition. Jesus himself shows us that they are a both, and. We can feel the sorrow and the pain of loss with gut wrenching clarity and still possess unflinching faith.
And so I live in a place of authenticity, expressing the depth of my experience to avoid the wounding of silence. Jesus came to bring healing. He longed for all of humanity to be whole. He longed for us to experience abundance in life. To be open to the whole range of human experience and emotion. This is strength, staying open to life even with all the pleasures that fade and the pain that sticks around for too long.
It will take time for the emotional dust to settle as we adjust to the new and the now. These times are hard, but I won’t walk away jaded, darker or different. This wasn’t my plan A, B or even Z but I am upright even so. And one day, in spite of this treacherous mountain, I will rise in wonder at what the Lord has revealed of me. The dark, the captivating, the untamed, the secret, the light. For I live split wide open to tell a story of redemption, mercy and grace. I have seen the violent turbulence of the strongest storm stilled by the quiet promises of God, and better storms than this haven’t taken us down yet. Today nothing remains as it was, and so this tender heart will begin again, in relentless pursuit of joy in the uprooting. One day I am certain to wake up to find that it all made sense. I am sure to discover that the prayers so tangled in worry were carefully wrapped with great intention in the grip of grace. And now, even before I am certain that the storm will lift quickly, I know that God can be trusted, and He will not waste the rain.
“…I have come
that they may have live, and have it to the full.” ~ John 10:10
I have the soul of a wanderer I suppose. My heart is keenly convinced that wonder does not live in cold, predictable and tidy. It is almost as if nostalgia for me is forward facing. I recognize it as the strange longing for that which has yet to be explored.
I have often pondered the origin of this strange gypsy spirit, supposing that it was birthed in the somewhat nomadic experiences of my childhood. Perhaps it has been even more firmly rooted in adulthood, as my calling to ministry requires a certain level of comfort with transition. And though I may not be able to boldly define its genesis, I understand that I am inexplicably drawn to endings and beginnings.
But though I love to wander beautiful places to which I’ve never been, suspicion is the nature of humanity when it comes to change. Moving is filled with stark contrast in its symbolism. The hope for new beginnings is often coupled with what might be crushing disappointments, loss anxiety and fear, for after all, there is the heartbreakingly exquisite tender weight of being human. There is always the danger that in a move to new horizons and far-away places that the very first thing that may rise to greet our arrival is loneliness. There is deep anxiety when we feel as if we are abandoning a safe harbor for the menacing sea. And our new destination, looks at us through unknown eyes with very little to say.
I write for a multitude of reasons. I write to find courage and to unearth the person that is at times hidden deeply within an often misunderstood exterior. I write, although frequently with fear and trepidation, to be seen and heard. I write to remember and I write to forget. I write because my words speak not of who I am on the outside, but of my heart, tender like a bruise longing to reach out to soothe another struggling soul. I write because someone needs to tell the tales of battles fought and won and lost. And I write because stories nurture our connection to one another, for one of the most profound gifts of the Father is the ability to let others know that they are not alone.
This is the turning of the year for so many with whom I partner in ministry. When the days wind down and when our souls nest somewhere between chaos and shape preparing some to march out again. And while the tangled emotions of promise and dread may be guiding our uncertain footing for now, today may simply be a time of sitting still and waiting. It may be a day for which we are to stop in our tracks to admire what is now without the consumption of what is to come. Perhaps to see in this place at this very moment, that which we have taken for granted on preceding days, wasting nothing, for it is all of value. It is an invitation to hold still, to tease back the layers and to embrace the tension between now and then.
We have no idea what lies ahead on any given day really. In life we will come and go often. We may leave an assignment, a city, and a home, but the people that inhabited those places do not leave us. They follow us, like shadows of sorts, until we happen upon them again at another time and another place.
The most beautiful things in life often come wrapped in a crown of thorns. We can have regret from yesterday and fear for tomorrow but today there is only peace as we tie ourselves to an unchanging and unquestionably loving God, who knows with unflinching clarity what doors of potentiality lie ahead. All is unknown to us, but life giving, as He writes yet another chapter in each of our stories. And I am utterly convinced that the Master of the wind and waves will calm unsettled seas and quiet restless hearts. For He will hasten our safe passage from here to next.