Persistence as a guiding star

asphalt dark dawn endless

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Attempting to incorporate our faith practices into the rhythm of daily life, on Epiphany back in January, we adapted an activity from Traci Smith’s Seamless Faith. I purchased thin wooden stars from the craft store, and labeled around 20 of them, each with a different virtue. To make it fancy (since that’s a thing I do), I wrote in gold ink with artsy lettering.

Then, we read Matthew’s account of the magi following a star to find a young Jesus. After reading together, we had the little pick one of the stars out of the basket.

What was chosen: persistence.

J hung the star on our fridge. And we keep coming back to it as we hit bumps and snags in life this year.

Though the activity seems arbitrary, a bit like drawing straws or gambling, what I appreciate is how that persistence star helps us find meaning in life events the past few months. It’s become a guide for noticing the Spirit.

Rather than seeing everything as meaningless, I find myself asking — what does this teach us about persistence? Where can I grow?

Where is the Spirit working in this? Who am I called to be in this situation?

The virtue has been a flashlight — a thin beam of hope lighting a way forward in the dark.

When I felt chewed up and spit back out earlier in January and February, persistence became a way to hang in there in spite of the desire to run away. Persistence meant staying fully present all the way through to the end of a story, even when I’d rather rip off the band-aid early and be done with the nerve-wracking wondering and anticipation.

And it’s not that somehow I mustered up this capability through my own willpower. It’s the work of the Spirit, who somehow makes a way when there was none. Somehow even when I’d rather seal up my heart like a clam shell in anticipation of pain, the Spirit compels me to stay open, to stay soft.

Perhaps a small miracle, but I still claim it as miracle nonetheless.

Recently I wondered for the first time how this word might be a blessing not just for me, but for the little who drew it. I wept on the thought, but found it comforting as well. That even apart perhaps there’s something in this word still drawing all of us onward. Keep growing, little one. Keep persisting.

This Lent, persistence shapes this practice of writing. I read and write — with varying degrees of effort. Some weeks the words and ideas flow easily.

This week is not one of them. Today I’d rather hide and fritter the day away. But instead, I’m here. Slowly word after word appears, in spite of the inner critic harping on all that’s wrong with me.

Writing about persistence was not the tack I planned take. But all the other stuff I contemplated writing felt like an effort to fix things irritating me on social media. And that’s not a place where I show up as my best self.

It’s a middle road, this persistence post. It’s what is in me today. There’s some other drafts I’m working on for the next weeks, and I’m excited to see what develops there. But those things aren’t quite ready yet.

So today yet again, I’m still putting fingers to keyboard, attempting to be faithful to my best self and to my own commitment.

Showing up means seeing myself as a writer, even in the midst of doubt over my worthiness. It means practicing this skill that tangles me up as much as it knits me back together — often both at the same time. It means, despite the unhelpful self-talk, I choose to practice self-compassion and post anyway.

For you, in whatever season you find yourself, I hope you find the persistence to continue showing up where it matters for you.

Waiting in the wilderness

November Gray

Yet again, I find myself in a season of waiting.

This season of stasis, of living on pause, irritates me. It feels like an exile to the wilderness — dry and barren. Perhaps Lent is the appropriate church season for the sensation.

I waffle between sadness, anger and flashes of envy. And then, horrified by the not-so-nice feelings, silence and police them into submission (or so I naively like to think). I gave in finally and let the feelings express themselves in my journal. Perhaps now they can stop with the sneak attacks.

I want to whine, to rush things forward, to move beyond the space of discomfort.

Life feels like the March mud season outside. The world is brown, but I know crocus, tulips and lilacs are on the horizon. Green will sprout. But, I don’t know when, and I can’t rush it along. It’ll come, and as with every year, will surprise me with its timing and splendor.

It sounds nice enough to know spring will come as it always does, but the waiting is sandpaper rubbing on my heart and soul. Mildly abrasive and increasingly painful. Maybe it serves a useful purpose, but it still hurts. Will my heart be bleeding or soft and smooth when the wait is over? Time will tell, I suppose.

If you’re in the wilderness, stuck in the place between, you’re not alone.

The space between here and there is a difficult space to dwell. I’m no longer the person I was, and I’m definitely not in the place I’d like to go. There’s no going back, and I have little control over moving forward. We wait for the phone to ring. I hate this sense of powerlessness; it feels like weakness, and my weakness irks me.

When I wrote on this subject a year ago, I started to realize life is lived on the way from here to there. What I hadn’t fully grasped (and am still coming to grips with) was the fact that life is waiting — whether it’s in hope of some good thing or in expectation of something painful.

We spend so little time in the moments of arrival. This week I remembered that even after the phone rings I’ll start another kind of waiting. One train lands in the station, while another departs. I just trade out the event that I await.

The bulk of life is the space between — wilderness.

I can learn to make the most of the time waiting — or I can make myself bananas over not yet being in the place I want to be.  As I consciously think about it, I’d rather land in the former; as a matter of course, I want to lean into choices that open me to wonder and curiosity over bitterness. Even if it’s just for a moment, I want to be open to the possibility of joy springing up like a dandelion sprouting through concrete.

In this season, choosing life in the waiting means renewed dedication to reading, writing and creating. I’ve started scrapbooking again as a way of organizing our story of our first tiny. And I’ve picked up my crochet hooks again, working ahead on blankets for future littles as well as a project just for me. The busyness of my hands helps tame the churning of anxious thoughts. Plus, there’s a tiny thrill of accomplishment when I learn a new stitch and when I finish something I started.

Reading helps too; in the past few weeks I’ve had a chance to catch up on my book list. Highlights include Kathy Khang’s Raise Your Voice, Jonathan Merritt’s Learning to Speak God from Scratch, Rachel Held Evans’ Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Learning to Love the Bible Again, Nadia Bolz Weber’s Shameless: A Sexual Reformation, and Anne Lamott’s Almost Everything: Notes on Hope.

And all that reading fuels my passion for writing and checking in with my own story. I remembered my love of words, and how writing, for me, is a way of healing. I unearthed my sense of calling to write in public way, not just in the privacy of my journal.

I made a quick decision to write each week in Lent as I wrote that first post of things I didn’t know before fostering. It felt like something I needed.

And it was. But, I thought it’d be easy, not something that stretches my guts open and inside out each week. There’s fear with public writing and putting my story out there. Impostor syndrome sets in with a vengeance. Who am I to do this thing?

But in showing up despite the fear, I get a chance to grow into myself as a writer and to reclaim my voice.

Perhaps the newfound openness of time that burns is also opportunity.

And I’m going to frame it that way for my sanity. I get to choose the meaning for my story. Rather than squandering the time and seeing it as meaningless, what if it’s a chance for my growth?

I can hold the sadness and frustration of wanting to be a mom at the same time I say there’s a gift in this window of time to invest in myself as a writer. It’s an opportunity to answer the “what if” questions about my life now, instead of looking back in regret.

Perhaps that is the manna I’m looking for in this season of waiting. As I’ve said recently, we can’t always get what we want, but we can make the most of what we do have. And what I have right now is time to write.

What’s the manna for you in your season of waiting? What carries you into the next day? What would making the most of what you have look like?

Practice over perfect.

13a394e1-84c1-43e2-a059-f1dd91d35686.jpegWords came easily last week.

I thought the same magic would happen again. That I’d have another experience reminding me why I love writing.

And then, I tried to write yesterday and today.

I wanted the work to be fast and for the ideas that bounced around my brain like pinballs for the last few months to finally come to rest. I sat all day with journals and computer screen. I wrote words and words. I went for a walk. I sat in silence.

I waited for something to spark, for something to demand to be said.

Yet nothing came to me. All those words on a page aren’t ready yet. There are nuggets of value in there, but they’re not ready to be released.

Because the magic of inspiration didn’t happen, I thought about skipping the post altogether. After all, who would really hold me to this weekly commitment?

This thought came to me: I need to show up. I feel called to writing, and I’ve let this calling languish while I’ve juggled other priorities. In ignoring this process, I’ve missed connecting with my own story. I need this as part of my own healing and wholeness.

If all I can do is show up to my commitment today, it’s enough. I can learn. I practice my skills. Practice over perfect.

It took a crazy amount of effort to generate these few words. But, here I am.

If you’re in the grit your teeth and honor a commitment season of your life, you’re not alone. Sometimes showing up is what we can do.

But, the wonder is that sometimes showing up is enough. It’s authentic. We own our failures, we learn, and we can try again tomorrow.

Anniversaries and starting new chapters

Wally in the front seat

One of my favorite social media memories to pop up! Oh the joys of road trips with the Wall-nut!

 

Stories fascinate me. In particular, the way humans create narratives about our lives, linking the memories we frequently call to mind into a bigger picture about who we are.

And, so too, the role of Facebook memories in all this intrigues me. With over a decade on Facebook (When did I get that old?) , there’s oh so many memories to pop up on my “On This Day” feed. Photos of family meals, evenings out with J, vacations. The occasional odd story, like the spring when neighbor children stole about $600 worth of flowers out of the front yard in spite of repeated conversations with the parents (they didn’t care), buying the kids flowers for their own yard, and installing 6 foot deer fencing as a deterrent.

Then, there’s the anniversaries that catch me off guard — like last month’s reminder that it’s been five years since I stared up into the blinding operating room lights before the surgeons removed an ectopic pregnancy (and a ruptured fallopian tube along with it).

Five years since waking in a hospital bed, pregnancy hormones still flowing, no longer pregnant and minus a fallopian tube. The blonde, blue-eyed Jesus portrait on the wall mocked me as I laid there that night.

But five years down the road, the sorrow wasn’t wasted. Somehow that particular loss and my willingness to share my story cracked me open like chick emerging from eggshell.

I found myself in the writing. There was something profoundly healing in connecting with others in their own messy, broken middle stories. The middle story is where you can’t go back to where you were, but you’re not sure where you’re going yet or even how you’re going to pick yourself up to go anywhere else.

Somehow I forgave my body for not living up to my expectations, and I rejected the impulse to see my infertility as a badge of public shame.

Slowly two quiet convictions — that God doesn’t owe me for my years of good girl behavior and that God wasn’t punishing me with this crap hand of infertility — settled into my bones.

The ectopic pregnancy changed my life, like a punctuation mark. Recognizing the end of the sentence took a while (ahem…years). However, the process of story making as I grieved launched me into a whole new chapter, not just another sentence.

This past year we (finally) became foster parents after a long period of hemming and hawing and filling out stacks upon stacks of paperwork.

And in the busyness and routine of diaper changes, naps and bottles this summer, I forgot the anniversary as I happily went about the business of work and family life.

It’s the first time I forgot.

And then later that day Facebook reminded me of the anniversary as it highlighted my vague post about needing to find an easier way to get the hospital grippy socks that I love so much. (Yes, I love hospital socks. They’re fluffy, warm and non-slip — perfect for curling up on the couch with a book and a mug of lavender Earl Grey tea.) 

I felt horribly guilty for forgetting — as though somehow I failed as a mom for not thinking of the loss this year.

But now a month down the road, I think there’s a better explanation. It’s no longer a primary narrative in my story. It’s an important chapter, one that changed entire direction of my story, but it’s not the chapter I’m living anymore.

The stories I find myself sharing and the questions I’m asking have shifted to this new role of foster mother.

A new chapter began, and that’s the way life works. We die to things, thinking there’s no way life could go on after such an event. But, it eventually does, however much we might wish otherwise. Life springs up boldly, like weeds sprouted in concrete.

I’m so incredibly happy in this current chapter — even as I’m stressed, tired and generally overwhelmed like just about every person I know. Five years ago, I couldn’t see how the road would curve. I just kept putting one foot in the front of the other trusting the path to lead somewhere. Eventually, it did. And here I am now, still learning to simply put one foot in front of the other. Minute to minute. Day by day. Different questions, but similar process.

The Grace of “Good Enough”

the grace of good enough

I aim for perfect.

The goal isn’t praise or accolades; praise makes me awkward, especially when I’m just doing what was expected of me. Really, I want to avoid disgruntled comments. I desperately want to be competent, and the fear I’ll be weighed and found wanting drives my compulsive striving. I manage better when I limit the areas where I feel a need to be competent.

The problem: I forget to set my limits consciously and strategically.

When everything is up for grabs–home, family, faith, work, photography, friends– my vision blurs like a telephoto zoom lens panning in and out without focusing. It’s exhausting. Continue reading

Rediscovering the importance of story

tigers

When I challenged my home congregation to read Luke in the month of February, little did I know that challenge would leave me reading the whole book in the first three days of the month. I saturated myself in Jesus’ words the last couple of days.

I needed it.

The last couple of weeks, for me, feel like waking to some nightmarish alternate reality. Each day brings news reports that violate my core values.

I’m an INFP on the Myers-Briggs. The salient point about my personality: I delight in seeing the world through other people’s perspectives, and I hate conflict. Right up to the point where my core values are tripped, and then I am a rampaging tiger with roaring feelings and little logic.

I can handle disagreement and questions. I do not react well to shame, control or folks who bully or ridicule others, especially those who are marginalized or are weaker than them. I lose my mind. Poof. Out comes the tiger from normally placid me. Continue reading

Floating in the Sea of Grace

071916 Waters of Mercy

Recently I started reading Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People. Nearly immediately, betwixt laughter and tears, I found myself dripping with writer’s envy. The kind I’d heard other writers mention, but hadn’t deeply experienced yet. Could I ever write something like this? I mean, not exactly like this, but with the artistry in the book and simplicity of speech. I aspire to that. The levity and depth of thought. Getting at the sorrow and tragedy and wonder of the Gospel and human experience.  Weaving deep thought with tangible human experience and owning of my own foibles.  All of that rich tapestry in everyday, normal human speak. Even though we differ theologically, it was everything I hope to be as a writer.  It’s also everything I’m deeply afraid I never will be — whether that’s fair or accurate (or not).

I’d been wrestling with my insecurities yet again. Feeling small, insignificant, useless. I have crappy self-talk, and generally I am my meanest critic and naysayer. I’d like to think that one day I’ll have defeated these little thought monsters, but the reality is they’ll likely come and go for the rest of my life. Maybe, as a gesture of gracious acceptance of my entire self –naysayers and all — I should give them names at some point? I’d even take suggestions if you had some in mind, perhaps grumpy-sounding names?  Continue reading