June 21, 2016
Earlier this month I went to a one-day Christian women's conference called Gather in my city of Montreal. As a rule I don't attend women's conferences because I'm afraid.
I'm afraid I won't "fit" as a woman in the mix of women there. I'm afraid I'll come away with a message of needing to do more, to be more. That I'll get (lovingly) hammered for being a Martha when I need to be Mary. That I'll feel guilt about something in my life I really must change. Get with the program already.
I don't know why I have this fear, it's mostly unfounded because I've only been to one, or maybe two, designated "Christian" women day-long gatherings in my life. In part because I don't like identifying as a Christian woman.
I know, I have issues (you ain't seen nothing yet). I'm insecure, but I want to feel deeply loved, I want to belong, and I want to remain me. I don't want to have to be someone else to belong.
In my relationships with other women I tend to feel that I should be different. More this, less that. More that, less this. Actually, I feel that in a lot of contexts. And God forbid I speak my mind, and do so without my "is this kind? is this helpful? is this necessary?" filter in place. So embarrassing and potentially hurtful, which is the last thing I want.
What I'm afraid of in going to a women's conference is opening myself up to all of that, all those insecurities, all my issues.
But I went to this one day conference called Gather because Sarah Bessey was going to be there. (Dream alert) And because I want to someday speak at a woman's gathering and I want to know what that looks like. The irony, I don't particularly dig women's gatherings, for the vulnerability I experience there, yet I want to speak at them. Hum.
Sarah Bessey is one of my favorite "Christian woman" bloggers. She's one of my favorite bloggers period, and her writing ministers to the parts of me that are mother, wife, Christian, seeker, wanderer through spiritual oasis' and spiritual deserts, Canadian, happy-clappy Jesus follower.
I went to hear Sarah; to meet her, hug her and tell her I adore her.
I did not come away from the conference feeling too Martha and not enough Mary. I did come away with some guilt that we haven't written our sponsor children recently but I also had a couple pages of very encouraging notes and truths to ponder.
Something that a speaker (I don't remember who) asked us, right near the beginning of the day, before my brain was overloaded and I still had the wherewithal and interest to take notes, was this:
What do I need to trust God with right now?
This is not a profound question but it spoke to something I have been wrestling with since moving to Montreal: our pace of living in this season of family life.
I long for a simplicity that is not practical but that appears possible in other people's curated social media lives. I am not envious of writing fame (ok, I am), or big houses. I'm envious of non-complexity.
So when I was asked that question, what do I need to trust God with right now? I wrote in the margin of my journal: I need to trust God that this pace is His pace. That God's got this.
One of my biggest struggles is that I feel the pace of life is not the pace at which I "should" be living. There is a knowing deep in my core that the state of the world, on all levels, is misaligned with its intended design and purpose; a disconnect between reality and what our hearts know to be true, right, lovely, and pure.
I just want to go back to the garden, which is the essence of what I'm searching for in a simple life, a well-tended life. Life being what it is, I will never achieve the ideal. Besides, there is work to be done. We're not here to seek a simple life, we're here to glorify God and to love people. And sometimes loving people feels anything but well-tended and simple.
But I keep trying to simplify, organize, and tend, which feels like the itch I can't scratch, my heart beating that rhythm, be still, be still, be still. (This heart's desire was part of the motivation to move to the woods and hike the Appalachian Trail - neither of which yielded the sustained satisfaction and contentment of life in the garden.)
I need to trust that this pace is God's pace for my life, right now. It feels like my heart is saying one thing, but the work I am called to do requires another thing. Though these seem like opposing forces, they are really two sides of the same coin; resting : working, being : doing. Like all kingdom principles it's not either/or, it's both/and.
I don't like this tension. I feel I have to make peace with it, daily. But I don't want to make peace. I want to make war, fighting against situations I don't like. Unfortunately, this means I often make war against myself.
Wrestle, surrender, make peace; I honestly don't know the best thing to do right now. But I feel I need to, at the very least, trust that God knows all this, that this pace is God's pace for my life not because I like it but because it's a necessary part of the work that is being done in me.
And then the shit hit the fan in the financial domain of our life last week. And on the morning after, when I was sobbing on my bed with disappointment and shame (a management failure is epic failure in my ESTJ, Type 6 brain); with self-pity and then guilt on top of pity, I returned to that question.
What do I need to trust God with right now?
This is what I wrote.
I need to trust God that this is how it is supposed to play out, this is part of the story.
My heart feels heavy with disappointment and shame. In my next breath I am thankful for the hot shower, my morning cup of coffee, my intact and loving family. I am carrying both right now. And I need to trust God with that too. It's ok to carry both, breath by breath.
I need to trust God with my frustrations, of which there are many.
I want to write a different story. I want to write gardens and flowers. I want to write travel. I want to write cozy home.
My sense of entitlement makes me feel ashamed. I feel sorrow for loss and change, and then shame at my sorrow. You have so much, why do you think your life should be any better? Why do you reach, long for, desire more?
I want to write sunshine and blossoms, the great expanse of the star-filled sky, campfire, and sleeping bags.
I don’t want to be “that” blogger, that writer. The one who writes this.
What do I need to trust God with?
All of this. All my shame, all my sorrows, all my disappointments, all my failings, all my inadequacies, all my entitlement. (What gives me the right to not experience deep discomfort? This is the state of the world.)
I need to trust God that I was knit together the way I am for a reason, a purpose. And that as these purposes bump up against each other (because they seem to compete for time, space and energy in my life) God knows this too. And that's ok.
So many days in the last month I have wished to be someone different. Not a literal someone, wishing to take someone’s shoes, though there are a few aspects of people’s lives I wish I could claim as my own: a better backyard, a bigger bank account, more readers.
I want to be different in my own life. I want to be more giving, of time and resources. I want to have different expectations. I want to not care so much about some things and care more about others. I want to be thankful. I want to be less needy. I want to not need to write so that when I don't have the time or discipline (you can always get up earlier, they say) to write I won't feel so disappointed. And if I didn't need to write, I'd never need to write this. And I wouldn't feel like such a whiner.
I want to have a new brain that sees the positive things, first. I want to be a person who writes something else other than memoir, because sharing this feels so vulnerable.
I want to be a person who doesn’t care about gardening, or cultivating beauty, so the mess of our yard wouldn’t irk me so much.
I want to be a person who doesn’t have such high standards for mothering so my failings and fumbling wouldn’t grieve me.
I want to be a person who trusts more so I wouldn’t have a lack of trust.
I want to be a person who doesn’t always think “what could I have done better, differently, to avoid this current suffering?” I want to be the person who naturally, because I'm wired that way, looks forward with optimism. I want to be the woman who views life through the lens of blessing, the first time, every time. I want to be a person who doesn't struggle with dark and difficult thought patterns.
I just want to be different so I wouldn’t feel this. This human. I want to go back to the garden. I want to be restored to what was meant to be.
I need to trust God with this too. That who I am is exactly who he made me. That everything I go through is a part of my becoming, my being.
I need to trust God with an aching heart, a worried mind, bills, things I want, things I need, a loving-but-very-human husband, three growing-beyond-my-influence children.
I need to trust God that this is the yard for me. That the desire in my heart to create beauty is a gift from God, and a gift I share, not a curse to frustrate me. I will bring beauty here, just slower than I would like. Which is basically the story of all progress in my life, slower than I would like.
It hurts to be human. It hurts to recognize how much it hurts to be human. It hurts to write about how much it hurts to be human. It hurts that hurting is better than numbing, better than drinking, better than overeating, better than addiction. It hurts that we sometimes hurt other people when we feel hurt.
It hurts that other people seem to have "this" (life) figured out, but I don’t. And that they can publish answers, and I can’t.
It hurts that I am needy and crying out to God, and disappointed in myself for the asking. God alone should be enough but I like material comforts and securities. I have a measure of both, but I could always have more, while most of the world has less. Shame upon shame.
It hurts that this is my skin.
It hurts that even though I have a great capacity to love - my spouse, my children, my parents, my friends, my neighbors - I am so selfish also. I am light and I am dark. And my selfishness, greed, and pride will bring other people pain; not if, when.
And there is nothing for this except God’s grace. And even knowing that God's grace will cover all my failings and being able to stand only in that truth, it still hurts because I want to better than that, but I am not.
So I was asked, what do you need to trust God with right now?
Just everything. Who I am and whom I’m married to and the people we are raising into adults.
The pace of my life. The fact that I need to write about this.
The things that are out of my control (virtually everything).
All the pain and discomfort I am currently feeling.
I need to trust God with my anger and my disappointment and my hurt, with life in general and with myself.
I need to trust that yes, as hideous as this feels sometimes, this is what I need to write and share. The alternative is worse. To swallow these words is more harmful, more damaging to my soul, than sobbing while I write; is worse than the discomfort of hitting publish.
Shame shrivels in the sharing. Disappointment is a pill slightly less bitter to swallow in the fellowship of friends. I trust God with this, and I know it to be true.
When I had written that all out (I've edited it for public consumption) I could see, in the pattern, in the words, in the heart, that I am in good company.
I am like every other person who has called out to God, asking to be rescued, begging to be rescued, stating my need and confessing my selfishness. Lamenting what is against what I wish.
And I felt a wee bit better, not much, but some. My crying stopped. Not because I was able to "buck up" but because I could release the tension with the release of words.
I spent some much needed, much desired time in the yard, digging out thistles as tall as my waist, and that helped too.
A friend came over for lunch and we ate in the sunshine and warm air. We sat at the table I found in the trash last summer and under the nearly-new but slightly defective, beer-branded umbrella I found in the trash behind the pub last week.
We sat in the midst of my very weedy yard, and I didn't even notice the weeds (ok, I did, but they didn't bother me) in the warmth of her friendship, the beauty of her smile, the taste of summer in our salad.
The day after her visit I recognized that I had been able to show up for friendship and I may not be as messed up as I think. We gave each other grace and presence, we exchanged ideas and experience. I was completely ok, not just ok but fabulous, in my own skin.
(That same night after the calm reassurance that maybe I'm not so messed up, I exploded from my pent-up frustration with life: the pace, the finances, the intense emotional work of mothering three teens. And I realized ah yes, I am still as messed up as I think, but I was able to remember my birthright: I am loved anyway. I am loved anyway!!)
God's grace was in that lunch with my friend, in the sunshine and the strawberries and the melon. It was in the patio furniture redeemed from the trash. It was in a friend's embrace and warm acceptance. It was in my husband asking, "do you want to talk?", and then hearing me out till the very end.
Grace oozes into all the crevices and lubricates every annoying, squeaky wheel of my life. It does not remove pain and struggle. It doesn't sugar-coat or simplify my life. But when I choose to accept it, grace seeps down into the hurt, disappointment, anxiety, frustrations, and failures. It covers my inadequacies. It covers my inadequacies!! It is the balm for life's complexity, for my mothering and my marriage.
And this is what I need to trust God with: everything.
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