This past week was one filled with the joys of birthdays and the grief of services of remembrance. For us, that fell on the same day, our four-year-old’s actual birthday. The beauty and the grief of life and death juxtaposed in one twenty-four hour period. And this is how it is. Life and death live within us all the time. That divine breath and our dustiness residing together in our physical beings. We walk through our days holding both hope and grief. At times they fight within us as we wrestle to find space for both and sanctuary to let them sit together never sure which one will come out on top.
The more I talk to people, the more I realize how much grief people are holding sometimes trying to fit into a box to put away for another time sometimes trying to send it away so that it doesn’t linger or pop up. The more I talk to people, the more I say grief doesn’t go away. You don’t go through grief. You don’t come out of grief. You become grief and then grief becomes you.
You and grief can’t get away from each other. You integrate into one being with a deeper love and appreciation for moments and relationships, for safety and belonging. This loss and hurt of grief make us deeper and fuller people.
People who love and live with gratitude and intention for we always hold both life and death within us.
Almost without fail when I ask a fellow parent of littles how it is going, their response is: “It’s busy.” To be certain that’s true. Just trying to get out of the door with shoes, weather-appropriate gear, and all the other things “just in case” there is an accident or someone gets hungry can be overwhelming. Not to mention all the doctors’ appointments, haircuts, and dentist appointments.
It’s very, very easy in the midst of the busyness to never be fully present. To be moving at such a break-neck speed that we are never where we are and we are just on our way to the next appointment. Sometimes we move in the midst of busyness because we are feeling lonely or isolated. Sometimes we move in the midst of the busyness because we are fearful that we aren’t a good parent, that we aren’t paying enough attention to each of our children Sometimes we move in the midst of the busyness because we aren’t sure of our purpose. Nothing feels intentional about our daily activities and yet everything feels pressing and that it needs to be done right away. As the holidays approach, it’s even easier to get lost in the midst of the busyness and never be truly present.
Maybe today instead of being in the midst of the busyness, we can defiantly say stop and sit down for a minute and be present feeling our cold feet against the cold ground, noticing that we have been slouching out of fatigue and exhaustion, and paying attention to our dry knuckles that are reminding us that we need to drink more water.
When we stop in the midst of the busyness and say no to our culture of chaos, we remind ourselves that there is more to us than just our physical beings. We are emotional and spiritual and we need to feed those parts of ourselves. Busyness only starves those parts of us claiming there is never enough time or that we don’t deserve to pay attention to that still, small voice whispering “just be”.
Everything around us is telling us to work more, add more to our calendars, and spend more time running from one place to the other. Everything about the upcoming Advent season says the opposite. Wait. Hope. Be.
In the midst of the busyness maybe there is a deep cry for something more meaningful, less exhausting, and more fulfilling. Can you hear it?
The phrase “when it rains, it pours” means that when one thing goes wrong a trail of other difficult things happen in a row. It is a reminder that the skies can be cloudy and in just a moment that can change and there can be rain so hard you can’t see and even a short dash from the door to the car door can leave you soaked through.
In the midst of the rain, it is always difficult to be thankful. Your body is soaked and there are often shivers that follow the respite from the rain. Even though you are out of the rain, you can still feel the impact of that rain in your bones.
In the midst of the rain, it seems like the sun will never shine again and the warmth is far away. In the midst of the rain, the ground is nourished and all of those buried seeds began to take root and when the rain stops, what blooms is new life and new hope.
One of my friends asked me the other day if there was something in the air. Our three-year-olds had both had similarly difficult mornings getting going and wanting to determine their own schedules and as good pattern seekers, we were trying to figure out what it was about this specific day that was causing them such consternation.
It’s a funny question when you think about it because there is always something in the air. People in India are finding out that what is in the air can actually be very dangerous. It is so difficult to see what is in the air and so we often forget that we are in the midst of a current.
Just like water has currents, so too are there air currents moving and changing all around us. We are in the midst of a current of air constantly moving and changing. This has a great impact on our body chemistry and indeed on our children’s body chemistries.
There is always something in the air. An invitation to remember that we are in the midst of current, but a small part to play in the energy and movement all around us.
This week in the move to our new office, we moved a bookshelf. As my partner was taking it out the door, the three-year-old started crying. We both stopped for a minute thinking that something had fallen and hurt him, but when we asked if he was ok, he responded, “But I don’t want it to move.” Let’s just say we’re at an age where we are more than a little resistant to changes in environment, schedule, and apparently bookshelves.
He’s not the only one that I’ve heard lamenting change. In my work as an editor and offering advice to writers who would like to become published authors, I often hear: “But I didn’t think I was going to have to change things.” Change is never easy no matter how old we are.
Interestingly, the idea that we are not changing constantly is something that we have convinced ourselves is true when in fact it’s not. We are constantly changing. The air around us is constantly changing. The temperature increases and decreases throughout the day or changes. Our bodies are changing digesting and reacting to the food and liquids we have consumed. The places we live and the transportation we use are constantly changing as wear and tear begin to take hold.
Change is all around us and indeed within us.
When we say we hate change, what we really are saying is that we hate being confronted with the reality that we don’t have control. We like to think that we have created something that will hold and that will remain stable from day to day. And when something bigger than a bookshelf moves or changes, we find ourselves in the same position as our three-year-old crying and reaching out for things not to move and change.
What if instead, we clung to the reality that things are always changing and that change is the only constant we can depend upon. Then we would ride the waves of the air current, marveling at the way that sun moves across the sky, and being astounded by all the work our bodies do every single minute to keep us breathing.
Our plans were changed because of bad weather on the weekend we were planning to carve our pumpkin. By the time we were able to carve it, let’s just say it had been with us for a while. I had this feeling that once we got inside, we were going to find something besides just the seeds and pumpkin guts. As I worked to pull off the top, just as I had expected, there was a big spot of rot (see where the pumpkin top looks like it has a bite out of it?). Although I expected that there was something not quite right with our pumpkin, I didn’t really know what was going on until we took a look inside.
The same holds true for our own lives. We might look orange and pretty on the outside, but if there is something that is eating away at us, a broken relationship, unresolved conflict, fatigue or exhausation, slowly by surely that one spot will grow bigger and bigger until what’s going on inside leaks out.
This is what self-care is: taking a look inside. Cracking open the top to see deep into the parts of ourselves that have hold all the seeds. The seeds of our past. The seeds of our hurts. The seeds of our hopes. The seeds of our passions. The seeds of our calling. The seeds of our fear. The seeds of our worries. The seeds of who we are.
When we don’t take the time to look inside or take a look at whether those seeds nestled within us are getting enough water and light and space, then rot begins to grow, comprising all those seeds of possibility.
Maybe you’re like us, the time that you meant to spend in self-reflection or self-care got rained out of stormed out by the fierce urgency of now. Maybe you think that you can’t make up that time or that the time has passed. What we discovered was that once we got inside our pumpkin, even though it was a little worse for the wear, we were able to scoop that rot out. We were able to clean out the part that was threatening the rest of the pumpkin and we were able to transform our pumpkin into a new creation.
See how happy our pumpkin is that we took the time to look inside!
During the day, we don’t take time to clean up the toys that find their way out into the living room and into the dining room and into the kitchen. We try to provide space for the kids to explore and play even when that play results in stepping on legos or cars or both at the same time.
And in the moments when I step on a lego or a car comes crashing into my ankle, I can look at everything around and think I am standing in the midst of messiness. There’s no way this is ever going to get cleaned up or put up or we’re going to find all the pieces to that one puzzle.
When my mind starts to go in that direction, I spot the humus in the baby’s hair and the dried sweet potatoes by her gummy smile and think there’s probably still sweet potatoes in her high chair and I’m going to have to put her in her high chair in the midst of the messiness.
In these moments, my mind can stream towards wishing away this messy stage of life. My mind can start to wander into time traveling to a different season where the house is neat, but the carpet details aren’t a train track and the porch isn’t a race track or the bookshelf a fire rescue scene.
It takes purpose and intention to bring me back here in the midst of the messiness of this stage and this phase realizing that it won’t be again. The nine-month-old won’t have her first Halloween or Thanksgiving or Advent again. The three-year-old won’t be doing a daily countdown to his fourth birthday again skipping some numbers to try and get to the day faster. If the stories from other parents prove true, I will long to be in the midst of the messiness again.
And so I take a deep breath and a big step sitting down in the midst of the messiness. My arm immediately becomes a ramp and my hair a leverage point for the baby to pull herself up to a sitting position so that she can plan her next route to the next item she wants to explore.
Just recently, Elizabeth Gilbert posted a picture of her 32-year-old self with the description that the girl in the picture looked like a baby. She was in the middle of her divorce and wouldn’t have been recognized in a crowd because she had yet to write Eat, Pray, Love. She offered a beautiful narrative of how she talked to herself during that period of her life and what she would say to that girl now. This struck me. She didn’t find herself until her thirties.
She was in the midst of becoming.
And then a wave of realization washed over me. We are all in the midst of becoming. If you, like me, find yourself at times thinking that by this age or by this season you should know who you are and what you want to do with your life, may I offer the idea that maybe you shouldn’t know? May I go even further and suggest that perhaps you will never know for sure who are you and what you want to do with your life?
That may seem scary. But I think it’s exciting.
There is no single point where there is no turning back and no chance to start over. No signs that say you can’t crawl into a chrysalis for a while to await getting wings. It is never too late to start becoming who you always wanted to be or doing what you always wanted to do. There is no point or season that you are supposed to have it all figured out or know for certain what lies ahead.
You are free to be in the midst of becoming.
In fact, I think allowing yourself the mental and spiritual relief to be in the midst of becoming allows you to open your mind and your attention to new challenges, new opportunities, and new relationships. I can remember the crisis I felt when I articulated a call to ministry. I was already five years and an advanced degree in one profession. I thought it was unwise financially to “switch careers”. And maybe it was. But I know if I hadn’t taken that step towards becoming something and someone I never imagined I could be, I wouldn’t be here in this moment.
You are free to be in the midst of becoming.
While it may seem like you are wrestling and struggling to find all the answers, maybe this reassurance will offer you some relief. You don’t have to know where you will be in five years or ten years or really even tomorrow. You can wake up today or decide after lunch to take an unexpected turn or U-turn or sprint in a different direction. You can try a new road or a road you have already been on before. You can take a break from societal expectations of having a long-range plan or a short-range plan for that matter.
You are free to be in the midst of becoming.
I was updating a dear friend on Facebook about where our family was and what we were up to last week and she responded: “In the midst of ministry…” That phrase, “in the midst,” has been walking with me over the past week.
It fits so much of this stage of life. Our nine-month-old is in the midst of getting a tooth, a process that has seemed to take forever. She is also in the midst of learning to sleep through the night. Our three almost-four-year-old is in the midst of developing his independence, his voice, and his passions. We are in the midst of the school year with four kids in four different schools spanning from middle school to nursery school. We are in the midst of getting settled into a new office space, a new phase of our company’s identity and history. We are in the midst of our first year at a new church with an amazing community of faith.
It’s easy when you are “in the midst” to want this season and this phase to be over. Your life seems like it is in constant transition and is constantly changing. And it is.
You aren’t sure what each day or night is going to hold. You wake up with one kid coughing and try to hide the other kids from him praying that the cough doesn’t go through every single member of the family, but just a small percentage. But in the midst of all the uncertainty and all the changing and transitioning, there are small glimpses of what life may look like in two years or three years. There the overwhelming moments of all four kids dancing and laughing together. The disbelief that an office door now holds the logo and name of something you have built from an inkling, an idea that just wouldn’t stop waking you up at night.
This is the part of being in the midst I love. The awe and wonder that each new day holds. The invitation to witness the miracles of growing mini-humans. The collaboration and creation of working with your partner where work and life and family all meet in the midst of this rainy October day.
In the past couple of months, our three-year-old’s legs have grown just long enough that he can pedal himself on his tricycle. The afternoon on the porch was like any other post-school playtime. He got on his tricycle using it more as a scooter than a tricycle. I said the same thing I’ve said for the past two years, “Hey buddy, try to use the pedals.”
Except for this time when he did, he was able to pedal all the way around propelling the tricycle forward. His face immediately lit up. He started singing our song of accomplishment, “I did it, I did it, I did it by myself.” As I watched I felt the smile stretched across my face. I don’t even know the number of times that he has tried without being able to pedal or how many times we have walked behind him with his feet on the pedals.
There was no way of knowing that this afternoon would be the afternoon that his legs had grown long enough, he felt enough confidence to try something that he had failed at so many times before, which made the accomplishment even more miraculous.
Right now, he is slow and steady, but I feel like we are on the verge of a season where what we are crying is not “try something new” or “try again,” but rather “Slow down!”
It’s easy to forget the vast number of things we are able to do without thinking. The things that took us so many failed attempts to master. The things that tried our patience and our resilience, but watching someone else in that moment of mastery reminds us that whatever we are facing we can get back on the bike and try one more time.