Saturday, October 17, 2015

If/Then, Idina Menzel and the power of Theatre

Theatre has always been one of those precious things in my life. I saw my first show when I was 9 years old. It makes me chuckle to remember it now. The theatre was “huge” and there were “so many” people. In addition, the show was “A Chorus Line” which was amazing, and relatively inappropriate for my age, to put it kindly. When the curtains opened that night, the lights came up, and I breathed a deep, expectant breath and suddenly, I was a thespian. I felt the calling in my bones.

There is something, a tangible sense, a warm exquisite blanket that wraps itself around you as those lights come up. What you are about to see will never happen again. Only the people in that room with you, in those moments, will share that experience.

Theatre, without fail, teaches. In that quiet space, a story spills gracefully out onto the canvas we call a stage, and it tells us our story. Theatre reflects back those truths we've missed and makes connections between our heart and our head. It uses the beauty of life to poignantly contrast the tragedy that comes in tandem.

Tonight, I learned a great deal, and so much of it is trapped in the recesses of my heart, evolving. I know the lessons will emerge gently as my deepest parts thaw from the winter that has set in to make way for spring. Yet, others, I was ready for.

“If/Then” is a new musical and my best friend and I are lucky enough to live in Denver, the first stop on the show’s national tour. Two of the stars, Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp, are our absolute favorites. I thought tonight would be a fun way to love on my friend, laugh (and then cry, because that’s how we roll), and then we would enjoy a show and another day would end. Instead, I am deeply challenged, changed and a little bit scared of what might come next.

If, then. If I do this, then this. What if? In a nutshell, that is what the musical is about. A woman lives three different lives, though it is only one, and each life plays out as a vignette of how each choice might have unfolded. Beth, the main character, sings about “some other me” and the life that person might be living. She stumbles through, painfully sorting through who she is, what she wants, where she is going. She wants the answer, the right answer. There are marriages and children, a prestigious dream job, and of course several men to choose from. A chance meeting in a park, a marriage that fails, a war that pulls love away. What if?

Liz sings:

“Tell me what if I'm bound for disaster?
What if I fall off a cliff?
Will I ever just learn how to live and not wonder 'what if?
Tell me how could this make any difference?
How could it matter at all?

We question everything about our lives. We question our choices, our friends, and our career choice. We look at our spouses and we doubt, or we wonder, is this as good as it gets? All the while, the part of life that we cannot control lurks, waiting. While we throw ourselves through the mental gymnastics of “What if”, the very things we complain about or take for granted are in danger of being forever altered, permanently removed from our lives. Sometimes they are, and our lives are dramatically transformed, and we regret what we did not do, what we did not say, and the choice we did not make.

Life is nothing if not change, we have heard this all of our lives. Yet, I still find myself surprised and devastated and in awe of the way life continues to unfold, outside of my influence. Dreams have died and been reborn and realized. Despite my best efforts, friendships have fizzled, great pain has gripped my family, and recovery has had its fits and starts. Yes, we make the choices that build (or destroy) our lives. We are undeniably responsible for what we create. Still, there is an intangible agent of the universe that takes over. Call it fate. Call it God. Call it whatever helps you understand that our agency is not all there is. All things must be broken down and rebuilt into something better and we need the force of fate. As people, this often means our lives or our hearts must be broken and beat up a bit so we can be woken up, so we can make different choices and build something new. We are always starting over.

In the show, after have lost he husband, being left a mother of two children, Liz sings:

“Am I always starting over
In a brand new story
Am I always back at one
After all I've done
'Cause I've burned all of my bridges
And learned every last lesson too
So how can I start new?

I learned tonight how to start new. It does not involve the mental gymnastics, self-criticism and finger pointing we distract ourselves with. It is not about figuring out all of the patterns and formulas that can help us predict how any path we take may turn out. How can we start new?


With all of the doubt and fear, without all of the information, with no promises or assurances: Start. Build the new thing.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Everyone Recovers

2007-2015 starting top left
I have a theory.

My theory is that every human being in this world is, or will at some point in their life, be in recovery from something. Everyone recovers. Recovery is that thing we do when something, anything has knocked us down.  Sometimes recovery is just catching our balance after tripping over a tree root, and other times it’s learning to walk again after a terrible accident. Sometimes recovery is rebuilding our life after disease has riddled our body. Sometimes recovery is rebuilding our life after disease has destroyed our brains.

Unfortunately, only those of us who recover from physical disease, divorce, death of a loved one or like maladies are permitted the badge of Courage and Bravery. Those of us who struggle with diseases of the mind are most often marginalized, judged, distanced and dismissed.  We scare people. This makes telling anyone about being in recovery shameful, forget the actual importance and work of recovering.

I have spent the last eight years learning how to flip the script of shame and stigma associated with mental illness by increasingly and carefully sharing my story, all while trudging the road of recovery.  I have fought so hard for my own recovery precisely because people with mental illness are so often denied the respect and support they deserve due to their illness. It hasn’t been perfect, least of all pretty, but it has and continues to be worth it.

In 2007, in the midst of my then 13 year battle with an eating disorder, I felt the full weight of the stigma, the fear (from others and of myself), the disappointment of failed recovery attempts and I gave up fighting. There was no hope in my heart for health, healing, or recovery. When I awoke from the week long coma my suicide attempt induced, on this day eight years ago, I was angry at the breath in my lungs; it only meant the torture of my mental illness would continue.

For a short time, the torment did continue. Within a few months of leaving the hospital, I found myself in a long-term treatment facility for my eating disorder. The first few months there were worse than the disorder itself. Yet, when poor insurance practices threatened to take away my very last chance at a life of meaning, something banal within me rose up and I began to really fight.  This was the beginning of My Recovery.

I have lived eight years longer than I had wanted or expected to live, and I am more grateful than I believed was possible for a person to feel.  I could write for days about the beauty and grace I have experienced and been able to offer, about the incredible people in my life who have stood along side me as I fought with myself to get out of my own way, the hurdles I have climbed, the joy I have felt, the minds I have opened by simply being the face of this Thing so many people fear. Yet, I find it more appropriate to reflect on my commitment to recover, the real work of overcoming; the choice-after-choice process of returning to health and the lessons and growth those decisions have brought me.

Eight years of recovery, eight lessons learned.

Recovery, like life, is a process, which means the road will not be straight, flat or smooth.

This is one of those lessons a person has to learn the hard way, multiple times. Each time we face recovery, no matter what it is from, new lessons are learned. And when we do not fully learn all we are meant to in our attempts, we are knocked down again, somehow, and must again return to the mindful practice of recovery.

The past is rarely as relevant as we choose to believe.

Who of us does not have a past? Who doesn’t have some embarrassing memory of behaving badly, or of the person they used to be? Of course, we all learn from those experiences, they are necessary teachers. The danger of the past, though, comes when we allow it to tag along behind us like a toy duck on a string, quacking it’s way into our present endeavors. That silly duck belongs back at the Pond of Our Past. What happened, happened. We cannot alter or change our past truths, and so much suffering is born out of the relentless pursuit to do so.  Our history can and does inform our future, but in this, the present moment, our past doesn’t need to exist. In this moment, we just are. Here is where we get to choose.  So, in the words of Elsa – let it go.

Scars are signs of survival and hope for others.

The evidence of what a person has been through is often left behind in the form of a scar. Some of us are lucky enough to have our scars on the outside for anyone to see. Just by looking at us, others know we have a story to tell, that we’ve been through something arduous and come out in victory. Others have scars hidden deeply away that only the most intimate of friends or family are allowed to see. Both types of scars have given me the opportunity to tell my story to others, and in so doing, to learn about myself. My scars have offered proof of my story, but more importantly, hope for others walking similar paths. The full redemption my scars may offer has yet to come to fruition, as I’m still busy with this business of living. It is entirely possible that none of us will ever know the far-reaching effects of the scars we let others see. Do not shame yourself or others because of their scars: Embrace the honor of being allowed to know and celebrate the victories of each and every one.

Your story will be your most powerful influence and profound gift.

Last November, I chose to leave the field of marketing and pursue my dream of becoming a therapist. I started applying to grad schools and studying for the GRE. By pure chance, I came across a job posting for a Peer Specialist position in a behavioral health care company. I had never heard the title before, but come to find out that the main requirement for this job is that you have your own lived experience with a mental illness. WHAT? For too many years my diagnoses was a reason for being mistreated, judged, ostracized and “fixed”. Now it’s a means to fulfilling my dream! Turns out, much of the mental health field is moving to a Peer Based model and I happen to be lucky enough to be a part of that shift. I work with persistently and seriously mentally ill people who are in various stages of recovery. As I continue in my own, I guide others through their recovery by sharing parts of my experience and story at strategic times. My job is to tell my story – the whole truth of it. My story is where the power to change is drawn from by others. YOUR story can change someone else. The risk of vulnerability is worth the chance of honest connection. Pretending to be perfect with the perfect life will never bring you the connection and intimacy you desire – there is a very definitive cost to faking it. So my question to you is, will you risk it?

A lot of people will shame you for your story, but the worst one will be yourself.

The word “Stigma” means “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.” Usually, disgrace will come from people outside of us, and it often does. This stigma is painful and dangerous, keeping many people caged in their fear of judgment and exposure. However, more lethal than the stigma of others towards us are the stigmas we hold against ourselves. Members of my own family and select friends, as well as doctors along the way, have been so loudly convinced that I would never be anything worthwhile that I internalized those beliefs and discounted my own value. Every time I had a slip in behaviors or gave into destructive urges I echoed the words of my doubters to myself.  “Personal stigma” a fellow Peer Specialist calls it.

I venture to believe that the best weapon against stigma, both towards myself and from others,  is for us to tell our stories over and over until we no longer have breath.

You are in charge of your life.

There is no magic formula, no “right way” and definitely no Perfect Path in this life. There is only you and the choices you make. You get out of life what you put into it, and your life becomes what you MAKE it to be. There is great freedom in this, at least in America, because all of the choices are yours. And so are all the consequences. So you don’t owe anything to anyone.

Your parents, your religion even, at times, your friends will try to convince you that they know what is best for you. Take caution: No one else is going to walk out your life or its consequences for you. Best that you make the decisions that support your values, dreams and heart. Build what you want, not what others deem worthwhile.

You define your own success.

Unfortunately, we all have a picture in our heads of how life is “supposed” to be. We’re meant to graduate high school, go to college, get married, buy the house, have kids, have a career, retire, play with the grandkids and die peacefully in our sleep at 98 years old.

I mean, that’s how it all happened for you, right?

Success is an individual pursuit and can only be measured as such. What is a victory for one is not for another. Each of our lives have different challenges that we must face and each us comes to those obstacles with different skills and abilities. Therefore comparison of my life to yours as to which is more successful is mutually exclusive.

You define your own success. You NEED to define your own success. Don’t allow anyone outside of yourself to define your achievements.  

Other people are allowed to have their own opinions and experiences of you, and you’ll recognize your own growth when you can listen to these and not feel compelled to agree, immediately change, or defend yourself.

I spent a good deal of my life altering myself at the mere hint of annoyance or dissatisfaction from anyone I came into contact with. I literally became who ever people told me to be just so I could have friends and feel loved.  When I grew tired of that and started to like myself, I felt I had to defend who I was to those who took issue with my personality or world view out of fear that I was actually wrong about finding something of worth in myself. It took time for me to realize that just because someone didn’t like some aspect of me, it didn’t mean there was something wrong with me. Additionally, it took time to understand that people are entitled to their opinions and experiences of me, just as I am of them. I reached the deepest depths of peace when I understood that this entitlement, nor the content contained therein, were my responsibility. Similarly, no one can change anyone else except himself or herself. The mission of influential people in my life to alter me was unfair and I am truly sorry to myself for allowing their opinions to matter so much. The next time you feel someone pushing you to take their advice or to “be like so and so, ” remind yourself that who you are is already Perfectly You. Don’t change for anyone – except yourself.

Thank You

There are many people I wish to thank for their support and encouragement as I have journeyed through recovery and learned these lessons through the last eight years. These people have given their time to listen, their shoulder to cry on, their couch to sleep on, their finances to help pay for treatment, driven my butt to treatment and sat with me as I waited to be admitted, eaten with me, laughed with me, kicked my butt when necessary and celebrated my victories with me. Without each one of you, I could not celebrate the victory of today. Recovery is never a solo sport. These words are so meager and insufficient, but outside of living a healthy life, they are all I have to offer you, please accept my deepest gratitude: THANK YOU.

Linda Gardner
Jerry Gardner
Sheri and Bob Collins
Kristin and Bob Bieri
Marianna Oja and Matt Graham
Steve and Dawn Swan
Claire Moon
Debbie Lamb
Stephanie and Eric Beutz
Robin Newsome
Megan and Chad Buckendahl
Heather Neill
David Lamb
Christie Ward

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

To Bravely Be

Today is a day of remembrance for many. It's a day of triumph and pain, but mostly, a reminder of strength.

Eighteen years ago, the only thing I ever wanted was to be healthy. I wanted to have a mind that wasn't plotting my demise and death, and eyes that saw a worthy human before them and not Ugly. Bad. Useless. Annoying. Loud. Pretentious. Emotional. Usable.  A litany of descriptors and labels followed me around.

I hated me for all that I was not. I hated me for all the things other people told me I ought to be and for all the things they thought I should be able to do and didn't. Or couldn't. Donald Miller said it best: "The great stumbling block of the creative mind is the awareness of self from the perspective of others."  This awareness was an albatross of obligation, this contract to conform that was both other and self-imposed. I carried the weight of it all for as long as I could until I just couldn't anymore. And unfortunately, that's all any of us who are concerned with pleasing others have to look forward to: The moment we can't carry their demands any longer.

That heart-wrenching moment really is the beginning of something majestic - but it must rupture everything held falsely precious first. All that you hold dear must lie as a sacrifice on the altar of willingness and become only a memory before healing can begin.

My moment came 6 years ago, September 11, 2007. I stepped onto a plane headed for Paradise, Utah (no, seriously) where I surrendered my life, my choices, and my dignity (for a time) and became willing. It was truly one of the most ugly and pathetic experiences of my whole life, literally handing over my mind to other people who could take care of it better than I could. There just comes a point in some people's lives when all of the words, and the bullying, and the abuse, and the judgement and silencing literally breaks you. And by "you" I mean a person's soul, the very essence of them becomes something else, entirely. It took a good, long time for me to see that only in an act of both absolute surrender and bravery can a soul that broken find repair.

And I did.

I am still not perfect. I am still not "good". I am not now and never was "bad". I am definitely still not you. I'm not measured or defined by standards. I am not wearing labels or walking the way I've been told is acceptable. I'm just alive and trying and enjoying and failing and embracing and adventuring and being and HUMAN. I am who I am because I am supposed to be who I am.

And if I'm honest, that's all I want: To bravely be myself.

To stand however I see fit to stand.

Even if it is alone.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Breathing Deep

I used to think it sounded so cool, that phrase, “born again.” I know most people hear “born again” and think of Christianity and salvation and rites of passage, I did, too. And when I prayed the salvation prayer, I passionately believed I was truly living for the first time.

But, I had a secret and a sadness and neither of them would leave me alone in my new life. For 14 years the secret and the sadness followed me around like pathetic strays, and because I was a pathetic stray myself, I fed them to keep their company and starved myself.

My dark night of the soul lasted half of my life time. I had to look death in the face of her half bald head over a hospital sink and choke on life support before I realized that I was not living, not even a little bit.

When a baby is born, it cries. It’s alive, but, that first breath, that first expansion hurts. I guess I spent a good bit of my life afraid of that first breath, and perhaps that’s why I fooled myself into thinking I was already alive for all of those years.

It’s a lot of work being born, and it took me a long time to be ready to take that first breath. I was scared of the pain, of all that was unknown before me, of life without my strays. I wasn't sure I had what it took to live a successful life, or even just a life that didn't get in anyone’s way. But there I was, being wheeled out of the hospital, going into treatment, euthanizing my strays, holding a job, learning to eat, running for joy, and doing the very best I could to live.

Six years ago today, I woke up from a coma, came off of artificial life support, and started making my way through.

This sixth year has been the hardest in my recovery. It’s no longer new to me; the novelty of it has worn off. Now, recovery is hard work, attentiveness, intentionality, and honesty. Sounds a lot like living, doesn't it? While I am so grateful that is true, it is still hard, in the midst of a year that feels like great loss in community and faith, to not long for my strays.

And I realize this year hurts because in losing, I’m taking my first breath. And coming to life hurts.

On this gift of a day, I acknowledge the pain of what was and let it pass, and breathe deep this new life, expanding my lungs with the unknown and the possibilities.

Tomorrow morning, I will run a race, at the end of which my closest friends will be waiting. I really hope I kick the races ass and get the PR I'm hoping for...but if I don't? There will be another race...

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Barrier of The Mind

I don’t know how to explain the feeling I get when I cross a finish line. In the moments before, I can see all of my training flashing before my eyes; remember each pain and sacrifice that went into that singular instant of victory. Foot strike after foot strike, eyes forward, motion forward. When it gets tough, I remind myself: “This is the only place you have to be right now. A runner is all you have to be right now.”

I find my rhythm; this soul deep heart beat between the road and my feet. We are all that exist as the world fades. Running is my favorite place to be; a simple, safe place.

No matter the distance, when the finish line is in sight, when the run ends, it always seems like it has come so quickly. There is excitement, and a little bit of mourning because on the other side, the race is complete. There is always another race, but they are never the same. Every race has its own set of obstacles and distractions to overcome, so each victory is, sweetly, different.

Today, I was given a gift: I got to watch the joy eek up the face of fellow runners as they raised their fists in triumph and, one foot after another, let their struggle and fears fall away. I didn't get to run, but I had so much fun cheering the runners on as they rounded the 12.5 mile mark. To see another overcome, to see a person do something they didn't believe they could do and to see sheer glee take over their face when they realize they have done it – it just might be the only thing in this world that’s better than crossing the finish line myself. How very cool that I got to be a part of that, a part of their race, today. My favorite moment was seeing my friend come speeding down the chute, with a big FAT grin of a face, and hearing her daughter, usually so shy, shouting out, “MOMMY!” and giving her momma a high-five. I am so very proud of her! 

So many things in this life will try and distract us from the finish line: Money, people, cancer, fire, anger, change, hate, rejection. The only way to stay focused, the only way to make it to the finish line, in a race or in life, is with each other. Some days you may be the one running, hitting your stride, and others you might be the voice shouting over the noise, “You’re almost there! Looking good! Finish strong!” The success of these runners, of my friend, was my success; their joy was mine, too.

I’ve never really known how to answer someone when they ask me why I run. It’s kind of a crazy thing to get into, admittedly, and no answer has ever felt complete enough to bother sharing. But, today helped me understand why a little better: Running breeds community.

Even though it’s considered an individual sport, it’s bigger than any one runner or any specific race. It’s a lifestyle, a culture, a belonging: We need each other to make it. The road to the finish is strewn with well wishers and encouragement if you’ll listen for them. Screaming and clapping and smiling for hours are the least we can do for our community, when it’s our turn. We are all runners in one sense or another and a runner is all you have to be to belong – it’s enough. We journey together, even if it appears separate. You may find this terribly idealistic, but I believe it to my core. Distance is an illusion; a barrier of the mind.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Epic Authenticity

I am not a girly girl. I never have been. I did try once, but poking yourself in the eye with one of those brush things with the black gunk on it even once was too much. It’s not that I don’t want to have long, luxurious hair, or perfectly lined lips, or a lovely, lithe body: It’s that I just don’t, and I never will. I am not those things and I don’t have those things. It used to be a really big deal to me that I wasn’t like the girly girls – the pretty ones, with “come-hither” stares that line magazines and sitcoms (mostly, I wanted to be like the ones in the sitcoms, but funnier). But I wised up. It took a very long season of extreme pain and futile efforts in just about every realm possible in life, but somewhere after all of the hospitals and scars and scales and toilets and MANY “dark nights of the soul” I began to see what my idea of “beauty” was; it was hideous. And it wasn’t mine.

We are exposed to over 2,000 ads DAILY, and the advertising industry makes a whopping 100 billion a year . The National Eating Disorders Association website states that in the United States alone, 30 million people (20 million women and 10 million men) struggle with some form of eating disorder, and we know there are MORE than those because many cases are not reported . In 2011, total sales in the beauty and personal care industry were roughly $426 BILLION . Are you starting to see the bigger system here? Who do you think is benefiting from you hating your body? NOT YOU.

Ladies and gents, if you’d never been visually beaten to death by the ideals of what a few “powerful” people believe to be beautiful, you’d never have thought that you weren’t. Your self hate pays for someone else’s life, while you, dejected, tired, and hungry bemoan your body at the water cooler with your friends at work, or as you shop for new clothes, on Facebook as you announce yet another diet beginning, or in front of your sweet daughter, who hears every word and reads every whim of body hate on your face as you poke and prod your body while you look on in the mirror.
I do not want to breed more shame, I do not want to condemn another soul – we are so good at doing that to ourselves- but I do want to call out to you because I am afraid. I am afraid of another generation of girls growing up like I did, with their childhoods stolen from them by toilet bowls and treadmills because no one told them the story isn’t true.
If you are anything like me, I “dieted” because I believed I had to, to be accepted; because no one wants to be disconnected. Yet, that’s what happens to those people perceived as ugly or fat, isn’t it? We ignore them, make fun of them, judge them. We don’t want to experience that (and this is another problem, that the same ideals that make us hate ourselves make us hate other people).

So in our pursuit of acceptance, we label others as unacceptable. We chase diet after diet to avoid being unaccepted and potion after potion because we believe what these products and diets sell us. We can’t even see that they aren’t selling us the ideal body; they sell us a fairytale. They make us believe that if we can look a certain way, be beautiful /thin/buff enough, we can have a great life. We get so mesmerized by the possibility, by its simplicity, by the fact that its almost in our reach. What a great story teller this beauty industry is, huh? Liars.

You know what I want in life? Authenticity – in body, heart, and soul. Isn’t authenticity what we are all looking for, after all? Nobody wants knock-offs, right? So why are we chasing a knock off body? A fake story? I don't know about you, but I'd rather connect with an authentic person than one who is only physically beautiful. 

Can we, as a culture, please focus on authenticity? On accepting who we really are, who others really are? There is nothing wrong with who we really are. And if we focus on authenticity, we can give this world SO MUCH MORE than a pretty face or butt! I have my own butt. I don’t want yours.

What does it look like to authentically be you? Ask yourself: If the ads on TV, the magazine on your coffee table, the people on TV, if they weren’t what you accepted as your standard of beauty, would you see yourself as beautiful, as authentic? What can you do to reset your standards of beauty? What’s stopping you?

Let your story of becoming authentic touch the soul of another person who is killing themselves under all of the layers of untrue stories and self hate trying desperately to become that fake image. Get naked by telling them your story. All of it. Don’t hide the ugly parts (you may be the only person who actually thinks they are ugly). Let’s not starve ourselves and the next generation by proxy. Let’s not throw our money to the pigs so that the beauty industry can have a “beautiful” life.

Let’s tell a different story – a real life epic of a fake world turned authentic.


Monday, May 6, 2013

I'm Doing It (Learning to Live in Ordinary Courage)

Remember learning to drive? Who taught you? Did you go through a driver’s education course with a dozen other freedom-hopefuls? Or was it the torturous hours with mom or dad in your high school’s parking lot on Saturday mornings? I had a little of all of the above. It was comical to me how difficult and challenging it was to learn from one environment verses another. The teachers were all teaching the same exact content, but the surroundings were somehow different. Place, be it in my heart or physically, made the content and understanding of it far more accessible. Turns out, it’s a lot easier to learn how to drive without your mother nervously screaming to you about the pedestrian approaching from 100 yards away.

I am learning a whole lot in this new environment I’m in. The lessons aren’t necessarily different; in fact, I’m convinced the content is the same and that this education I’m earning would come after any demanding season of life, for any person open to true introspection.  For me, I’m just shy of forty days out of ministry and I’ve not had the privilege of someone showing me how to live in the aftermath, how to walk through the emotion, the turmoil, the simultaneous joy and disappointment. That’s been hard, and in the hope of not wasting the realism of being the first I’ve known to openly share the journey, I hope my words will help someone else, somewhere, somehow. I’m hoping that writing down my experiences will solidify these lessons for me, too.

What I’ve learned so far:

You'll want to say a lot of tactless, wounding, insensitive, and unkind things to those who have hurt you; but, if you hold your tongue long enough, you'll realize that only perpetuates the pain and shame cycle. You will find more merit in speaking of the good, and you’ll see the freedom in choosing to fight for forgiveness instead. You’ll recognize all of the humanity involved, including your own, and you’ll begin to see grace as the only repayment necessary.

Not everything you were told to believe to be true of yourself will turn out to be true.

This goes both ways, it turns out, to both positive and negative realities. In my elevated position as a person in ministry, I was told my Self was the enemy, the exact opposite of holy – no, the words were not that direct. Ministry breeds a culture of “reading between the lines” to decipher expectations. I may have read a demand for qualifiers that were not, in fact, there. Yet, how would I know? I was so fearful to lead anyone in the wrong direction, to tarnish my witness with someone, so neurotic about it that I questioned every thought, every desire, every word, and every motive. It was so exhausting. I lived in a constant state of defeat, in a condition which indicated I was not “free in Christ”. It is wearying, to pretend to be something we are not. I was convinced I was the black sheep, the “Extreme Make-Over” project that would one day be so great, if I’d only become enough of what I was told to be, but who was not yet, no matter how painful or shaming the “pruning” of my earthly gardeners had been. They meant it well, but, they needed pruned, too. The hardest part of it was that I wanted to be what others told me to be. I thought this intangible, untouchable “person” was the “real me”.  It was utterly devastating to fight to find her every day, and to come home empty handed, believing others had found their “freedom in Christ”.  I just kept wondering why my freedom was so hidden if God wanted me to have it.

I have a new vantage point now, though, as all of us find in seasons of change. And while I can see I do have much to offer, and though I feel more freedom this side of ministry than I ever did inside of it, I realize I’m not as marginalized as I viewed myself to be. Much of it was self-imposed. I was so busy comparing myself to others that I could not appreciate who I was. How is it so easy for us to look at our peers and see them as gifted, to respect what they bring to the table, and to just as quickly dismiss ourselves?

You'll begin to separate people's expectations of you from the reality of who you are and to joyfully accept your limitations.  

Self-pillaging began to bottom out for me, recently. I shared perhaps the most unacceptable thing about myself with a friend, something that completely defies the expectations of others, and though there was some degree of a shame hang-over in the days and weeks that followed, I found, mostly, a nimble lightness in my heart. These little buoyancies, I’ve noticed, pop up each time I recognize myself trying to meet an expectation of another, and then, politely, declining the invitation to play. This is the freedom I’ve been scavenging for, I think.

Not all who profess to be friends, are, and that’s okay.

It is a very busy world out there, and between the pressures on all to be a little bit of everything to everyone, sometimes things like friendships get the left overs, if that. Many times, our friendships are birthed far more from convenience than from common ground. Suffice it to say, once you remove that convenience some friendships build upon, they cease to exist.

That made me angry for a while, well, still does, a little. However, I’m choosing to believe that each friendship served a purpose in its own right, and there is only one way to redeem them: To appreciate them for what they were. I’ve begun a mental list of what each person taught me, and when I feel resentment rising, I recall their list, embrace what was, and release my expectations.

Traditional Saturdays are life-giving.

Ministry often requires odd working days and hours. For well over three years, I did not experience a true “Saturday”. It’s now my favorite day of the week! I have really enjoyed the chance for a slow, late start, for a day to watch movies and do laundry and catch up with friends on a mountain hike, or to play with my niece and spend time with my family. It is a great benefit in this new season.

You'll only remember the good looking back.  

The first few weeks post ministry have been a roller coaster. The most challenging part of it has been those moments when, in retrospect, I can only recall the beauty of my season in ministry. It reminds me of a eulogy, when loved ones speak of someone who has passed away. No one talks about what a cranky, bitter person they were, or how much they smoked, or how they never, ever, not even once paid their rent on time. We remember only what was beautiful about them, their kindnesses or quirks, what we loved about them. This is challenging because it leaves us room to second guess ourselves: Was this the right choice? Have I messed up? Were they really all that bad?

While I do have to remind myself that my decision was both well thought out and well motivated, I am glad my focus is on the positive. It was one of the greatest times and privileges of my life, and I could not be who I am, nor be prepared for this day without that wonderful set of experiences.  However, it serves us all well to make a choice, whatever that is, and to wrap both arms around it, consequences and all. No choice can be made half-heartedly in hopes of living wholly.

Reclaiming faith as faith and not a job requirement will become all consuming.

And it has. I find myself in some sort of mental gymnastics related to my faith, if it can be called that anymore, on a daily basis. It’s an excruciating journey, but one I could not take in the midst of a life in ministry, and yet one that is entirely necessary.  I have the time and space in this new environment to open myself up to the lessons and questions of my heart and of God. There are a lot of days I just want to find the off switch and power down this mad house (those are usually the days with a lot of wine & cheese in them) but overall, I am deeply grateful for the space, the questions, and, gracefully slow, the revelations of truth.

Life will feel normal and strange all at the same time.

And, perhaps, this is the win: That each day requires a motion in uncertainty, an element of trust and risk, willingness to miss-step and laugh at oneself…courage.

In her book, I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), Brene Brown says it this way: “Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor-the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” She later refers to this as “ordinary courage”.

I’m living a life of ordinary courage now. I’m telling my WHOLE story, devoid of shame or restraints, and I needed a new environment to learn how to do this. I’m still learning how to do this. But you know what?

I’m doing it.