If you have not made peace with the truth of that statement, I’m sorry about the life events or intentional denials in your future. Even in healthy and whole, when you involve humans, things grow exponentially harder. There is nothing that can complicate all of the things about humanity more than a self-imposed need to be responsible for another’s…everything. Look. I’ve been working on co-dependency in therapy for more than 2 decades. I’ve made some good strides. But with the big bad WHY change of my motivation, I’ve had to choose to love. And that’s pointed out some really bad habits. When I’m honest, it’s the truth of many relationships that are no longer. As a word of confession and humility:
1. I’m slow.
2. It takes great pain for me to face reality.
3. I’m so bad at this. Still. Like today.
I’m not even going down all the roads on this, but what I hope that this post and this song…no, this moment…can transcend is whatever the now of us – you (reader) and me – if we have ever shared music, I miss you. If a song defines a season of our lives together, you are held in holy space in my life. If when I flip on the radio I can be transported to a time and place and see your face, I want you to know that I smile.
Sharing music is sacred. There is a vulnerability in the story you are sharing that cannot always be put in spoken words. So when that happens, you stick. A piece of my story is defined in that melody, and so many of these moments are imprinted in the healing that has come about in 2022. All the while, the music of the memories has been the soundtrack.
The songs that I have not heard in 30 years that are now remixed.
The ones that I wanted to feel from the first moment I heard them, but I knew I wasn’t “supposed” to.
The rock song that I tried to turn into a dramatic Jesus moment on youth Sunday and it flopped. But I just smile when I hear it.
The one that takes me into the heart of the hurt. All the way.
Walking into the truth of a song alongside someone redefines our human trust. Try it. Just close your eyes and let a song take you there. I’ve done that so much this year. And in the process, I have learned to let those connections to even the most complicated of treasured musical moments float right to the surface. While I smile.
I miss the top hits of days gone by. But I also know which songs need to stay off the comeback pile. And it’s so good to have the breadth to invite all of the mess, of every song, into my big reconstructed life. I’m committed to intention, not empty emoting. With each memory, I’m trying to make sense of the depth of old pain and dream lost dreams again. Songs are an invitation to, even if for just 3.5 minutes, sit with all of my truth.
And the #1 thing that has come from me learning to let go of the old rules is that I get to love you more. You. The best friend from junior high or the teenager that made me crazy or even the ones that broke my heart. More love. That’s what a melody gives me.
My historical references to Advent have a theme word woven into the week’s focus. This week is all about self-love and there is no better place to start than “Brave.” It is rare that I go 2-3 days without this song. It is an anthem – ANTHEM – for the days that I feel not enough.
It’s a pep talk and a hug.
It’s a kick in the ass and a handkerchief for my tears.
And I’ve needed all of it this year. The bravest thing I have ever done is intellectually decide that it was acceptable for me to love myself. Completely. Because if I did that, I knew I pulled the last cord. The final thread that held the scraps of my faith depended on this one belief staying together. And then I pulled it.
I have discovered some important things since I stepped out of my known faith. The first, and perhaps the biggest asterisk on this series, is that most people don’t do faith (especially Christianity) like I did. I BELIEVED IT. With all of my believer. I gave my heart, my career, my soul, my family, my money, my house, my mind, even my body for the cause of Christ. I gave of myself in ways that I genuinely thought were my sacrificial gifts and I now know differently. Some go to church for preaching or music. I was the church because I believed that it was my job by profession of faith to make sure that everyone around me KNEW Jesus. So they would live eternally. And the hardest thing for someone who KNOWS and BELIEVES on such a painfully deep level to do – ever – is question. Because we can’t just question a few things. And all that string pulling landed me in the pit of hardest truth: I couldn’t love myself because I couldn’t believe that I was good. How could I be? Because of all the sin…
It’s at this time that I need to say something important. This series is my experience. It’s not something I need to be saved from. It’s not something I even fully understand. And while I’m totally ok with that, I am not looking for answers outside of myself today. I look forward to listening for more of my own truth. I say these words because had I read this 10 years ago, I would already be penning the DM or comment to let that friend know that they were still included. I promise…I’m good. Better than I’ve been in a while. And the best news of all is that I’m starting to love myself. Me. For no other reason than I like myself. And that’s enough.
So back to “Brave.” There is a line in the bigness of the song that leads my self-love charge.
SHOW ME…HOW BIG YOUR BRAVE IS
Those are my marching orders.
And in 2022, Sara has reminded me regularly that I can. I will. And on the other side of this, there are some crazy beautiful brave rewards. The most important one being that I can undo every belief that I held and still be a whole human. That’s freaking brave.
For more than 20 years, Dad gave perfume to the women in our family for Christmas. I have almost every bottle he ever gave me. For all of these years I have sporadically worn my perfume on special occasions. In 2022, I threw that thought out with a few other lies I have internalized. What makes a day special? What if Tuesday the 8th is as special as the 25th? Because, if I’m honest, perfume is a perfect example of the things that I save. And waste. And manage. And judge the worth of.
I have changed. I am so different from the writer that has tried in past years to excitedly enter into the worldly holiday experience through the lens of Advent. I spent most of my winter energy guiding the waiting, for me and for others. This year has brought to my life a more clarified awareness of my need for rhythms. I long for intentional seasons of internal work and celebration. I need to mark beginnings and endings. I need my space for all of it. I need ritual more than certainty today. I have spent much of this year thinking that my lack of certainty equated to a loss of voice. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t want to know. That’s not the norm for me…
I’ve been on an exploratory journey of sorts. I have been making lists of the things that once held central positions in my heart and no longer hold weight. I’ve explored relationships, sexuality, eternity, prayer, exercise, nature, animals, religion and even food. I’ve made peace with some and stirred up hornets’ nests in others. I’ve found understanding and confusion, clarity and clouds, rain and so much sunshine. I’ve learned to play and laugh. I’ve seen new places. I’ve lived. In that work, I’ve seen the way my firmly held thinking (I am a good Enneagram 8, after all) destroyed my joy.
In a parallel universe to my inability to use my words, I have drawn deeply into the things that make my soul come alive. Music is my comfort. Music is my discomfort. And in a recent conversation with a friend, I was confronted with these words: “The songs you love all sound religious.”
First of all, that pissed me off. P!nk is not religious! I like songs about whiskey and dancing. These are not religious. Like so many other things, it was a language barrier that finally clicked with me. And in a very framing moment of OHHHH, it came together. I love music because I was conditioned to believe that the draw of the right lyrics and a perfectly timed acoustic guitar could conjure a soul moment. My heart longs for the songs you have to wait for. The ones that tell a story that ends in a big bridge. And my friend was right. And I cried. Again. Music is my religion of choice. I worship at the feet of genius artists that have helped me come alive in new ways this year.
Rather than grieving what I don’t have in certainty today, my year has led me to see what a good remix sounds like. In the creative quest to add more color to my black and white world, I’m taking back a little of the play and sharing my 2022 advent. This is a musical journey of growth and pain. It’s the road that has set the stage for the journey of 2023. With each day in the season, a song a day for all 28 days. (Getting this list down to 29 songs was no small task. See, I couldn’t do it in 28…) Along with each carefully curated song, a lesson learned in one of the 4 week long themes:
Just in case I wasn’t clear, this advent journey is not about the preparation for the coming of Jesus. This advent is about the rhythm of return to self. A wonderful season of taking something that lost its meaning and allowing old words to mean new things.
I’ve learned so much about the nervous system this year. They get stuck. Did you know that? They get trapped and buried by fear and panic. I’ve also tuned in enough to know that the very same “feeling” that I have had falling on my face at an altar in worship happens when I love myself. I “feel” that, too. In such profound ways that I have learned to trust that feeling as the safest home.
In the most generous way I know how to say it, welcome to my homecoming ritual. Melody. Dance. And. So. Much. Bass. My body loves music. My heart feels lyrics. And the ability to not judge one thought and just feel the inner draw is one of the greatest gifts in this practice. So rather than wait for for the day that I felt together enough to write with perfection or special enough to wear the perfume, I choose today. I’m letting that big smell fill the room. Even if not everyone likes it. Or if some think it’s too much. My words and my perfume will be used out of passion and not perfection. And I hope these daily ramblings will inspire your own advent-like wake up calls.
I’ve been back in therapy for two years. I say, “Back in” because for the past 20 years, I have found myself on a therapist’s couch on countless occasions. For those new to my story, mental health has long been a challenge for me. Depression was always clear, but as I have navigated through many providers and professionals, labels and diagnosis have followed me like looming shadows. I really hate the labels. Like haaattteeeee them. And it’s not because I don’t believe the labels, it’s that I don’t think anyone can put their finger EXACTLY on what my mind and hormones and chemistry are doing with any concrete knowledge – except me. And there is no amount of 50 min sessions and co-pay filled specialist appointments that can give you a clear picture of the reality of someone’s world. But I show up. In my closet. Or car. And bring my tissue box and journal every week.
This season of work has been excruciatingly hard to navigate. Imagine taking the most “supportive” systems in your life and digging deep into dependence and worth and meaning to find that your stool legs are hollow and many of your well held truths no longer fit. Be it calling, career, parenthood or relationships, asking the question of ‘Is this making me a whole person?” has transformed and wrecked my world. My pegs just don’t fit like they once did.
You know the game. In the 80’s it was wooden and the hammer was, too. We didn’t think about nursery harm and anti-bacterial surfaces back then. Side note, these moments made me tough. But that toughness also made me unaware of the many aspects of that square peg. That peg is tired at 46. That peg has been smacked so hard with that wooden hammer that she (in so many ways) has used the force of the impact to literally try to shave off the corners of the square to try to fit. Decades of this work has created an unfortunate reality. Squares are just squares. They were never meant to fit in any other hole. And the really mind-blowing reality is that WE DON’T HAVE TO.
For me that means that I get to quit trying to manage all the other shapes. They get to be circles and stars and ovals and even pesky triangles. And it’s not my job, or more importantly my responsibility, to pound them into another hole. They are fine. They don’t need my help. And I am ok, too. Just like I am. Because I’m not just a square. I’m some sort of weird shape. One star point. Two 90 degree corners. And of course, a rounded edge, too. I’m weird. I look outwardly bizarre because I don’t fit a mold. And that hurts and heals in the same breath.
This week, we have had many new faces helping at work. It’s Valentine’s week and I work at a florist. We cray. But as we have cleaned 6,000 (not one exaggeration) roses, and prepared for more than 200+ deliveries, we have chatted about life. In a bizarre moment of awakening, one of the women said, “I overheard you the other day and have a question for you as a ‘person of faith’.” A new thing happened in that moment. I realized I wasn’t that shape anymore. Not in the way she meant. She wanted me to use my knowledge of churchy things to defend and back her stance on a human rights issue. One that when I am honest I feel very passionate about. But in that moment, this was not an issue conversation. It was a stake in the ground. *I will not be anyone’s reason for anything.*
So much of my soul exhaustion is communal. I’ve become absolutely depleted in my attempt to make relationships fit and people ok. For some of you that know me, you think this is a facade. Boss bitch is my go-to and warm fuzzy and caring is not my normal mode. But you need to know that for Enneagram 8s, there is nothing that we feel more than someone we love not being loved well. We will fight like we have just been offered a top bill of a MMA fight. And those on the other side of the pain will leave bloody. And while that feels horrific to so many of my empath friends, for those with the scars of abandonment and betrayal, having someone love you enough to go to the mat for us is better than getting a trip to Europe, a new tattoo and a 1967 retro RV all at the same time. (And sure, those are my things, but I’d give up all of those asks for the knowledge that someone is ready to go for the sake of my peace.) All that to say, this kind of fight can exhaust and paralyze. Especially if it is offered too freely.
I’ve spent much of my 2022 hours in therapy revisiting being safe in my own crazy shaped self. With no labels. With no judgment. (I’m trying.) And most importantly with a curiosity to see what my new stool legs might look like. I’ve tried on a few for size. I’ve even learned that good legs hollow if you don’t take care of them. And perhaps, the biggest feat, is that I’ve stopped fighting so hard.
Sleep has been very illusive the last week. I’ve really had to spend some intentional time choosing me. That’s about as counterintuitive as it comes for someone who spent her entire life with the weight of the world’s eternal damnation resting on her shoulders. So when I look back, I give myself credit. I’m not where I want to be yet. Today, I’ll probably still feel like the wolf in sheep’s clothing who is inauthentically present. Because this is new. And terrifying. When you have spent your whole life trying to beat that peg, it is no wonder we feel splintered and ready to quit.
To those that bravely send texts to their people that lovingly admit the hard. Continue.
To those that don’t understand mental health challenges and yet show up in ways that we can’t articulate their worth. You are a blessing.
And to those who find themselves uncomfortably fighting feelings of square-ness, please let your unique shapes be enough. Because we are.
A year ago, I sat on the porch at the home of my dear friends and tried to smile. There were dogs and children and pre-teens hanging from yoga ropes. We laughed. We told stories. We sat by the fire and tried to piece together the things that had beed destroyed in the previous 9 months. Everything changed in March of 2020. Places that had been safe were no longer. Relationships that were sufficient were destroyed with masking and distance and deviating beliefs. In December, the last of “my things” was removed from my life. I had spent the last 20 years of my life serving organizations that I believed in. That has meant different things in different seasons, but by this time – by choice or by force – this was the last tether to the life that I had built in my suburban paradise. Two decades. My entire adult existence was birthed and gave birth and buried and grieved and fought and loved on 312 Sunset Ridge in League City, Texas. Here is the funny. I never wanted to be in League City. I tried to escape in active attempts through the years. At 45 years old, the only things that I had known to be stabilizing communal forces went. That included the city that I never intended to love and the many people that had woven their way into our lives.
Lucas and I made a decision (like we have for many years) to lean into our own understanding of what was best for our kids. After trying to think outside of all of the boxes, it was decided that the best opportunity was to move to our lake house in Austin. In a matter of weeks, I moved with my daughter to a small community on Lake Travis. A house on the lake? What a wonderful way to reset. A natural life pause after a trying year? Lovely. Just days into this solo experiment, the freeze of 2021 hit Texas and I was immediately reminded that I am ill equipped for wells and deer and ice and ice. I also found out that living in the Hill Country means that I have to kill scorpions and handle all the spiders. I have seen snakes and Texas sized centipedes. I now drive back roads that are written about in country songs…to the grocery. That was all before April. And then a new sadness set in.
By April, I was hemorrhaging grief. I was lonely and alone. This season has given me a respect that I will never lose. One that no one can convince me otherwise about. SINGLE PARENTS ARE MY HEORES. I have the best of rocks in my spouse. Steady. Sure. And completely incapable of parenting long distance. I don’t think this is a skill one should strive to master, because the cause is always painful. Instead, we fell into a rhythm of weekend Dad bringing the fun. This might be the only thing harder than single parenting. I was the nagging bitch all week and Dad came to be wake surf buddy on Friday. Not exactly a joyous mother-dream Hallmark moment. Motherhood is so hard in every stage and season. And this one is no exception. I thought I would love these years. Wise voices have reminded me that I have been set up for pain in launching thanks to COVID. The most import observation from the spring and early summer was…exhaustion.
Something unexplainable happens when you go through struggle and pain with others. They become the scabs on your open wounds when you can’t heal. They remind you of your worth when you have forgotten. They drag you out of the mind gutters and (especially in my case) annoyingly position themselves not to intervene, but to be the pillow that you can come home and cry in when things just make you want to hide in bed. That’s what my lifelines have been this year. This small band of humans have saved me from myself. And in the process, through many tales of treachery and unplanned nonsense, they are the ones that have encouraged me to finally own my life. MY life. Not the one that was handed to me through birth or culture or religion. One that says what I mean and means what I say. To live, from every pore, the most true life that I can create. Today.
So, I went outside more. I started fishing. I camped. I flew to the coast alone. I drove out of a city in a car without RESERVATIONS. I saw so many places I had never seen. From the California coast to the shores of the east. From the small creeks in Austin to the oceans. I stayed in a bus one night. A bus. As a house. I played. I loved. I started to dream. The stinging pain of the last 6 month began to wain. I began August on a new mission. What if? What if this next season of my life was about the things that I have always thought that I could never do – and I fucking do them? As I began telling my people about what I could only explain as a required new birth, they said GO. My people said I could do it. Even things that others would laugh about. Even things that would take me so far out of my comfort zone that I would fail. They believed that I was worth all of it. ME. A middle-aged mom who had given her life away to everyone but herself.
Just as I began to feel the legs underneath me again, a new wave of hard broke open with a painful swell. I lost my Dad. September was brutal. The last days, while in retrospect were few, felt like they would never end. And then people. Because of COVID, we had been so careful around my dad. The number of face-to-face human interactions that I fostered in the previous 18 months were few. The day Dad died, I found myself in a room with 30+ people for the first time in what felt like forever. I never thought about the fact that after the long detox, I might not ever want to return to peopling. Going from nothing to being together with alllllll the faces during one of those days when I just needed safety, changed something. I wanted small. I wanted still. I can’t hear in the noise of people anymore. My soul whispers. And as I have learned to hear her, I also know that her voice is intentionally quiet. She wants me to be in an environment of simple to work on the complex healing. I am not privy to some sacred spaces unless I provide myself sanctuary from the world.
I was supposed to be on one of my adventure trips the weekend we lost Dad. The friend that I was planning to travel with supported me though the funeral and when all was settled, I was gifted a modified version of the planned trip. I needed those days of stillness in ways that I cannot articulate. I was given space and most importantly, we went outside. We cried. I wrote. We cooked and ate. We even stopped for chargrilled oysters as we sped through Louisiana. The gift of allowing people to really know you is that they know how to support you. I didn’t need “normal” that week. I needed the most abnormal days, as compared to my daily grind. As we wandered hills and chased the sun, we also began to think and dream.
I’m not the only one that lost all that was normal this year. The number of life tables that have been turned upside down from the pandemic are many. One of those most impacted in my life was my best friend. So in those heartbroken raw days, we sat on rocks and threw sticks for dogs to chase. We also began to think about happiness. Not a business plan. Not a 10 year plan. HAPPINESS. I have never once in my life walked into a decision with the majority motivator being MY happiness. I’m horrified to say that, but the value of investing in my own happiness has never been a priority. That changed in the weeks that followed. In my most fragile, sad, broken spaces, I have seen that the only person who knows the things I dream about is me. And I can only make those dreams a reality if I demand (to myself, mostly) that things have to change. So, I did.
My final adventure of 2021 was to a goat farm. South of Sanity was the name. And there was only one person that had caught the craziness of my vision enough to want to come along. Something sacred happened on that farm. Healing began. Philipp played all day with the animals. He slaughtered chickens while I wrote. I studied goat products and quizzed the owners about anything that they would share. This was it. I wanted a farm. A goat farm. With land and space and soap making and egg harvesting and wild chickens that chase big dogs. I could feel the aliveness that I thought was dead. Somewhere between hanging out in the rabbit reading room and playing with the fearless diaper wearing youngest child of the farmer, I realized that the next season would not be in a city. I would not be loud. It may not even be in Texas. But I wanted that. So I said it. Out loud. And every time I did, I fell more in love with the idea.
I came home and announced my big dream. That was on November 10th. For added fun, my new farm partner and I had 829 miles between our current residences. Philipp lived in Georgia, after moving to be closer to his son. Having worked together before, we know our natural strengths. Let me organize. Finances? Got it. Manure hauling? I’ll do it, but he will love it. So, we drew a 2 hour circle from Atlanta and began to look. He had been searching for a permeant home, but this big idea, the fully sustainable, agro-tourism farm was a new level of land exploration. It was all we did. We obsessed over the perfect spot.
By mid-December, the land had been purchased, and the name established. For Christmas Lucas gave me 35 chickens and 4 goats. (Of course, being the stellar man that he is, that also included the same through Heifer International.) I didn’t walk on it before closing because it all happened so fast, but the day we decided to make the offer on this land I quit looking. I deleted the real-estate apps off my phone because I knew it was the one. But I’ve now been there and I can’t hold on to my excitement any longer. It is all that I could have ever asked for. Every dream that I’ve thought about can all happen on our 22 acres. All at the same time. Let me introduce you to my next season…
If that opening sounded flat and empty, yep. That’s about where 2020 has left my ability to rose-color anything. For those that follow my writing, you know that Advent has historically been one of the two most important seasons in my journey to find spiritual connection. I have explained the historical significance before. I have also written extensively during Advent in 2018 and 2019. This has always been a digging in season. One that produces good hard work. One that pulls me back to the story that is familiar and brings comfort. And yet here I find myself, sitting on the bathroom floor on this first Sunday of Advent with little certainty, no familiarity and a wicked rebellious streak that tells me that I need to sit this one out. But I can’t. So, what now?
In case you have missed the 2020 journey of chaos, let me catch you up:
Just rereading those 4 posts makes me emotionally want to hide. Well, physically, too. But that’s a conversation for another time and place. This is what I drag into Advent today. I drag doubt and pain and mistrust and disgust. I bring hurt and jealously and irritation. These are my starting points. And in year’s past, I would write that today is about Hope. And I would confidently know that Hope is coming in just weeks. And waiting is so good. But instead I write things like this to people in my life:
“I’m struggling. Advent starts on Sunday and for the first time in my life, I have no connection to the Church and little desire to focus on the “reason for the season”. I don’t know what I believe about Jesus. I don’t know if his birth really matters the way that I always have. But there is something that keeps calling me to to Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. What does it look like to embody those words in my soul?….This Advent looks so different it hurts. I can’t rest on what I’ve always done. I can’t read the daily devotion on the Advent internet sites because it doesn’t fit anymore. I can’t even really wrap my mind around what I need, so I’m sitting in the middle of the chaos. I feel like a teenager that just wrecked her room in raging fit and now has the choice to clean up the wreckage or burn the house down.”
I have never feared the real. And I write these words today as a warning as much as anything. I don’t know what this Advent brings. I don’t know what I might have to say in the coming weeks. So, if it is discouraging or hard for you to read about doubt or loss of faith or even hear the wrecked honestly of my foul mouth, you may want to skip my Advent ramblings this year. But if you want to hear about how in the midst of faithless-ness, I have chosen to sit and wait, let’s go.
The sweet spot. We are all looking for it. Be it in relationships, the perfect at bat, the ideal buzz, the desired spiritual high. We are searchers by creation. But, I’m tired. This exhausting effort to find the perfect feeling has left me hurt and untrusting of all the people and things. As a control freak, it is even more problematic because my search usually ends in one of two things: judgment of others or shaming of myself. Today, I surrender.
I have recently gone back to therapy. I could make a list of all the reasons that this was the right thing to do, but here is the truth. This ain’t my first rodeo. The topics and lessons and pain and tears have been rooted in the same issues that landed me on my first squishy piece of furniture in 2002. For decades, I have searched for ways to avoid pain. In some seasons, this has manifested itself in taking up new practices. In others, change has required putting down old habits. As someone that has seen the benefits of good mental health work, I should willingly walk into the rooms of professionals with excitement and honor for the transformation that is sure to come.
This time, however, it was not the case. I wanted to avoid this work. There is no better example of the journey of self-discovery and growth than an onion. Seriously, I’m using a Shrek reference for my hardest work. Because in my world, I need Eddie Murphy’s voice to remind me that I stink and that I make people cry. The bottom line is I AM NOT LIKE CAKE. I am a freaking ogre and my layers are many and deep. The only way to deal with the central challenges that I am sitting with for the um-teenth time is to peel back the next freaking layer.
The world that I live in tells me that I have the ability to do it all. I watch so many people in so many arenas of my life living gloriously “successful” lives. I would bet that many reading this think the same of me. “What do you need to work on?” “You have two great kids and a stellar husband.” “Team Hilbrich is a solid fighting machine.” “What could be wrong?” These things are true. And even with the truth of all the great things that life has given me, I have layers upon layers that are very far from the view of the masses. If there is one thing that I have mastered in this life, it is the art of the presentation. Sure, I come off a little mouthy and I have always been bossy and controlling, but in many circles those things have served me (and those that I have advocated for) quite well. I’m so perfected in this area, that my entire interior can be burning to the ground and I can still convince those observing from the periphery that the smoke is just part of the designed decorative accessories.
Want in on a secret? My chase has always been for the perfect combination of success and escape. That’s my sweet spot. The moment that the world believes that I have all the things together and I can simultaneously find the private and perfect ways to have the things that are “mine” out of your view of consumption. That’s how we avoid peeling the next layer. We don’t have to look deeper if we can live in that sweet spot. The one where we can come into our house or car or closet or porch and believe that we are alone and safe. Sure, we are safe from some things in these spaces. There are certainly ways that we can further that belief or prolong seeing the truth of the onion middle by avoiding the inner work but it is still there. And if you are anything like me, avoidance is only temporary. Because one day, you will be sitting in your safe spot and you finally admit that you can never escape your own soul. That’s the lie of the sweet spot. It’s a big fat liar.
For the record, there is nothing like a global pandemic and a major life shift to jerk off multiple layers at one time. This season has been fucking painful. It still is. Because when the layer is pulled off, we can’t put it back on. There is no amount of hot glue that can slap that sucker back on in a way that allows me to sell a together exterior once I have a half peeled layer flapping in the wind. This is the moment that I have a choice. I can live the lie that everything is fine (seriously, people, this is like my least favorite and most overused coverup) or I can face the reality that none of us are fine and instead embrace that the work of wholeness is just that – work. There is no shortcut. There is no easy way. There is no numbing or drinking or relationship or food or self sabotage that will make this magically disappear.
One of the first things that I have been asked to do as I begin this work is to pay attention to my body. Have I mentioned that I do not enjoy slowing down? That is the heart of paying attention. My body is speaking in loud and painful ways to me these days. It is tired. It is in protect mode. It shouts pain and fatigue and irritation and grief from every direction. There is a reason that my therapist asked me to pay attention to my body…bodies do not lie. I lie. My words do not match what I know to be true about my insides when it comes to my “fine-ness,” but my body does not lie. I woke up this morning after 10 hours of sleep (see, bodies don’t lie) and my shoulders were curled in on them selves. My gut was pained. My neck felt weighty. Even in my sleep, my body was screaming for me to listen.
So today, I just need to ask the Universe, am I the only one that is really ready to quit? Quit fighting the lie that there is a sweet spot? Quit believing that avoidance is the goal? Quit looking for ways to keep the exterior tougher so that the layer can withstand all that I throw at it? I hate being a quitter. Being is quitter is something that I fight with all of my everything. But my body and mind and soul and spirit and anxious heart and pounding head all tell me that it is time. So for today, I quit.
Today is Pentecost. Pentecost is considered by many modern Christians to the birthday of the Church. According to the Biblical account in the book of Acts that is traced to this day, the original followers of Jesus (including the disciples) were in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks. As the story goes, there was a rushing wind that came through the crowd and caused them to speak in different tongues. It was Peter, one of the twelve, that then explained that it was not drunkenness, but the Spirit of God that had come upon the people. He retold the prophecies that called for such a day. He told of the work of Jesus as a savior who was raised from the dead. In this moment, the more than 3,000 came to repent and believe in Jesus and were baptized. Around the world, this day is celebrated with Confirmations and recommitments to the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church. While there is certainly a different feeling to this Pentecost in many churches today, it is certainly a feast day of celebration for those that follow the rhythms of the story of the Christian faith.
As I have done with so many things in my journey of questions, I began to look at this story as I approached the end of Eastertide and this writing journey. Just like most parties, we each approach a celebration differently. I can’t imagine the scene in Jerusalem that day, but I can imagine it was a bit more chaotic than what I long for when I gather a few friends for a holiday celebration. The fire and tongues and mass baptism only adds further drama to the occasion. As I have reflected on this day that I have long touted as a beautiful visual of God’s presence in the world, I realized that the actual depiction in Scripture is the very scene that repels me from mass faith gatherings, even today. If I had been there and 3,000 people came forward to an altar call, my skeptic mind would be in overdrive. That’s just the truth.
It only further intrigues my questioning heart that this expression of the birth of the Church is enabled and motivated by one of the most deeply personal and tender aspects of faith for me today. The Spirit is something that I cannot deny. I believe in the mystery of the internal nudgeing of Spirit. I long for those moments, when in ways that I can’t explain or understand, the Divine is able to connect with creation. And at my core, I know that the Holy Spirit did not come into existence that day. The Spirit was and is and is to come. The Spirit is and can and does. It always has. Sure, the image of the comforter that comes to connect to humanity after the earthy life of Jesus ended is the common mold of expression in understanding the Spirit, but I believe that the great mystery of the presence of the Divine cannot be separated from Spirit, so from the beginning, so has Spirit been.
What I know for me today is that I’m not interested in the mass movements of religious expression. I am not motivated or stirred by anything that could even appear to be orchestrated group think. Should I encounter a group that I perceive to be drunk in words, actions or behavior, I’m not sure that I would even look long enough to hear the “explanation” of the situation. I am a doubter of the act. What I have realized is that in so many ways, the story that is the example of the birth of the Church is the very reason that I’ve lost my connection with the Church.
I have spent my entire life deeply embedded in the Christian Church. I have literally given every aspect of my life to the work of the institution. I have fought and created and tried. I have planted and studied the systems. I have breathed deeply and lost my breath. 13 years ago, I was a part of a team that began a church in League City, TX. Since that time, I have served as a leader, teacher and elder. In mid-March, I resigned from the elder board and at that time, I took a very important step away from the Church. I journeyed though the end of Lent and Holy Week in an intentional aloneness. When Easter came, I realized that the journey of the next season was being revealed in a global pandemic and in a personal internal one. My Eastertide 50 days of writing has been a public honoring of the private journey that I have been on for years. I made an intentional decision to listen to myself and my own journey in this season. For all of the hard, I am more free than I have been in quite some time.
What I am not doing in this season in committing to anything but my own personal journey of today. I am taking a very deliberate step out of Church life, and I don’t know if I will go back. My plan for this morning does not look anything like the Sunday mornings of the last 45 years of my life. If you were to Find My Friend me right now, you would probably see that I am walking a labyrinth. I can promise you that I have already acknowledged the Creator today. I can assure you that my porch and my tomato plants have become sanctuary for me. I am not without a sense of Spirit.
Here, on this day when we remember that a deeply personal revelation of the Divine was integral in the work and the lives of the followers of Jesus, I like to imagine that I am one that was sitting in the garden on the edge of the city wall. This is the same garden that I sat in with Jesus the night that he was taken to his death. That’s my holy space. I don’t need to be in the crowd of 3,000 to experience the wind. I can assure you that the separation from the business and the mass and paperwork and the thinking about all the ways that other people need to experience a gathering is not where I am feeling the work of God today. I am happily sitting outside the gathering, with an open and questioning awareness. And the Spirit of the Divine Gift and Mysterious Wonder that is beyond anything that I could have ever dreamed of, is blowing a new fresh wind into my life.
I’ve shared many stories about my questions and doubts during this ‘What If’ journey. In the process of publicly voicing the changes that have long been inside of me, there has been a shift. Almost without exception, I have experienced one of three responses from those that are following along. The sociology/psychology nut in me finds this study in human behavior wildly fascinating. Do I have your interest piqued?
Friend #1 is explorer. My inbox is filled with bigger, deeper, more pushing and more shoving into even deeper places thanks to this friend group. Truth be told, this is a small group. What I have discovered in this process is that most of the time, only those that have previously gone before me in an exploratory process are comfortable in this space. Well, that or friends that never had my boxes in the first place! Whatever the motivation for holding this space may be, this group of friends has a unique role. You make me uncomfortable. You have spoken to things that I did not want to consider. I have pushed back on you. On many occasions, you have been the reason that I have bravely stepped out of my boxes. You have also been the caution flags that I have needed. You have reminded me about safety and choice. You have forced me to think before speaking. And most of these vital lessons have come because somewhere in your own process, you have been wounded. Thank you is wildly insufficient.
Friend #2 is distant. This entire conversation is one of two things for #2: uninteresting or unhelpful. Whatever the case, there is not a need to discuss and explore the questions that have rambled through my mind and sparked wonder and discovery in my own exploration. I have heard from this group, “You do you.” While this is often the approach of less-mystical dreamers, I have felt an off-putting distance as I wander into the realm of questioning Spirit. No doubt, this ability to come at life from this position is constructed from a pre-established understanding of certainty. While I would love to share deeper parts of this journey with my model #2 friends, I also fully recognize that without those that are not constantly running the race of deconstructed discovery, this would be a very exhausting world. So to those that hold space for my questions, but do not eagerly jump into the boat of wild thought with me, thank you for waiting safely for me on the shore.
Friend #3 is terrified. To this group of friends, I see you. I love you. I do not need to be saved from this journey. I know that many of you know me in the context of a faith leader. I understand that anytime a shift or change takes place in the life of someone you love, it can be unsettling. The beauty of this journey and the season that I find myself in today is that I am not alone. I am very much alive and thriving and exploring and growing. If you could see me today, you would feel a lightness that I have not had in…well, forever. I am actively leaning into living in ways that I did not know existed. One of the things that I know to have been true in past experiences in church life is an expectation to “be our brother/sister’s keeper.” I want to assure you that you are off the hook on this one. Not only do I have those that are loving me deeply in this season, but I have committed to not going alone on this journey. The real danger zones in my life are entered in secrecy. I know that journeying on the road with no co-passengers is a bad idea for so many reasons. I have chosen wisely. You need not worry or feel the need to rescue. I am not in danger. I actually feel more safe and cared for than I have been in many years. Thank you. Thank you.
One of the very real challenges of being a writer and a life-sharer is that people think they have access and knowledge of your life. While I always long for truth in my tales of life lessons and experiences, it is often hard to remember that the words on this screen are not all of me. What I share and write about is the portion of the journey that is for public consumption. I still have very real private feelings and experiences, many of which, shape and mold me in ways that words on a page cannot express.
Because of that reality, I am refining the way that I respond to expressions about my writing. I feel passionalty about sharing and exploring the real through writing. I do not feel the same way about explaining and defending my life. I have taken wise counsel from those that have gone ahead of me on this journey and I know I will not find joy or comfort in responding to every individual communication to my work. What I hope is that my words make you think about your own journey rather than analyzing or unpacking mine. That sacred work is mine to do. And while I fumble through the journey of discovery, I will share insights along the way. Of course, we will see things differently. Isn’t that the beauty of the human journey? Those are the stories that I want to hear. How is your soul evolving? How is adventure taking hold in your life? How is life coming forth from the places of death? If you feel like sending me a message or reaching out in text, these are the things that I want to know!
To all of the friends that read and explore and feel and sit back and observe, you are woven into this journey in special ways. Worry not, my friends, no need to send out a rescue boat because your sister Lacy is already racing her own little speed boat all over the ocean of life’s wonder. Jump in, the water is quite perfect.
In 2002, I began a conscious journey of question asking. At that time, I was not familiar with the term “deconstruction,” but over the last almost 2 decades, that word has come to encompass the more common conversations among many modern progressive leaning Christians. Some have walked away from faith completely. Others have unpacked long held beliefs of theology and yet held onto the roots of the traditions. As this term became more trendy, I have seen some begin to bristle at the idea that what began as a form of rebelling has become quite mainstream. In certain faith circles, a journey of deconstruction is the only entrance ticket.
The interesting part of this journey for me is that I never planned to still be on this road. What began as an attempt to gently unpack understandings that felt stifling and old, has landed me years later in places that I never intended to go. These are arenas that I would have told you, even a few years ago, were beyond my desire and longing. I wrongly assumed that I would explore some messy beliefs and then pack the rest of life in neatly held depositories for open minded exploration. As I’ve discovered, that’s not how it works.
When I gave myself permission to ask the first question, I opened a way of thinking that I could not rebottle. In some ways, I feel like I rubbed a lamp and out popped the magic question asking genie, a genie with unlimited questions. Once I realized that the first question only added depth and richness to the journey of my life, I grew to love the questions. I realized that the unknown was not bad. I came to believe that the beauty of the journey of life was actually more fully known in the doubts and struggles.
As the one in the midst of the deconstructed way of life, I have never felt threatening. I have, however, quickly discovered that my journey makes others very uncomfortable. I will have more words about this particular part of the journey tomorrow, but what I need to say today is that I’m not finished. I’m not even close to being “deconstructed.” So, dear ones that are confused and concerned, hold on tight.
At the very heart of every good question asker is the deep desire to fully engage. When we stop living from the posture of individual containers in a segregated life and intentionally chose to move into integrated and holistic living, we change. Our entire outlook on growth and humanity and spirit and our physical bodies and our mental health begin to align in ways that can be absolutely uncomfortable for those that have chosen to live from multiple bucket. For me, deconstruction has literally wrecked the ability to keep a particular issue, idea or belief in its own compartmentalized thought container. And while this intentional shift has been so life giving, it has disrupted all of the things.
I can no longer see things that were once very right and wrong or black and white as anything but gray. When I apply that to the ways that I have always operated, it causes an immediate shift in priorities. This way of thinking has moved me into spaces of wonderful doubt and loving embracing. It has pushed me to call out injustice and oppression that I would have never acknowledged for fear of displaying spiritually wrong thought. It has even required that I reframe the “biggies” of life like parenting and marriage and friendship. I think it is safe to say that I am (at least) middle aged. At 45, I’m confident that I have lived long enough to have my own experiences and understanding, yet separating from ‘others’ thoughts, and fully embracing the reality that I have the ability to frame my life through my own lens and belief system, is still new ground for me.
What does this mean? Why does this matter? It matters because this is only the beginning. Deconstruction is merely the jumping off point. I like to think that much of my current state of existence is the a mid-air flight of a big fearless leap. Sure, your stomach is in your throat some days. Of course, there is a fear of sticking the landing without over-rotating or belly flopping. These are the very normal life experiences of risk. But what I have found is that the adventure of the decision to jump – the thrill of running to the edge – the moment of bravery that launches your life in a no take-backs kind of way, is simply glorious. There is absolutely no way to stop deconstruction. If I am honest, why would I want to? If deconstruction is an open handed question asking life, I’m here for it. I’m all in for all the things. I’m ready to live the rest of my life asking the questions that wreck the status quo and require me to know MY very own reason for belief and being.
May we sit in the midst of the deconstruction and be completely content that the rebuild is the not the journey.
May we see that the real challenge is not re-construction, but the realization that our world assumes that a structure is needed.
May we enjoy this formless state of contentment, with its warmth and invitation to rest in the unrestricted.