All around us, we see evidence that the seasons are changing. The brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows are highlighted by the fall light that looks and feels different from the summer light. The change makes us pay attention and look at our everyday paths and patterns through new eyes.
When we’re going through a changing season, it isn’t quite as evident. In fact, we might be almost through a season of change before we ourselves realize what we have been going through. The season might not be one with brilliant colors and basking in the light. The season might be one of hurt and grief, hopelessness and loneliness. It’s hard for others to see this change within us for our leaves don’t change or draw attention to what is going on within.
It is easy to interact with others by simply passing by, not really looking and not really hearing what’s beneath our conversations. This season of change invites us to change the way we interact too.
Listen deeply, look deeply, connect deeply.
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.
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.
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.
October always marks a season of remembering for our family because it is when our family became a family. This year Sam and I celebrated six years of marriage and six years of creating and learning and growing together. There’s a lot about this season that feels familiar with the high chair back in the kitchen and the inspections of the floor for legos that might find their way to the mouth of a curious younger sibling, being partners not only in life but at work, too. In other ways, this season feels all new. Having a middle schooler for the first time, having four kids in four different schools, moving into a new office.
I find myself wanting to remember everything about this moment. The cars that find their way to the fall centerpiece. The toys strewn across the living room. Sparkly pumpkin costumes. Blanket-built forts. The late-night conversations with my partner about theodicy, parenting, and the origins of the Ceaser salad.
I wonder if the most miraculous work of the Holy Spirit is the way that we become and create family together. The way that we bring in tastes, experiences, personalities, passions, and dreams to live together in one space. Maybe the way that we create together and live together and eat together and cry together and hurt together and dance together is exactly what it means to be church.
Maybe in trying to figure out what our calling in this world is, we find our way home first. Then suddenly, the world and our place in the world looks a little bit clearer and a little bit easier because we aren’t alone on the journey.
A recent Atlantic article recounted the impact of the constant noise of our society has on an individual. While we may consider the background hum or low volume music in the coffee shop and grocery store to be inconsequential, research is showing that this constant drum has an impact on our ability to center ourselves and to hear ourselves.
There is so much noise. There are so many voices vying for our attention. There are so many stories and narratives begging for our attention. We diagnose ourselves, our friends and strangers we encounter with Enneagram numbers, Myers-Briggs letters, and a host of other ideas and philosophies.
In the midst of all the noise, we are falling for anything that will explain who we are and why we are here.
We want to understand why we react and act the way we do. We want to understand why we are here and what our purpose is in the limited time we have here on earth.
In the midst of all the noise, it is getting more and more difficult to find our own voice and the voice of the divine whispering not in the form of gifs or quotations or charts. Rather that still, small voice calls us inward to the deepest parts of who we are to explain all the good and all the missteps we have made and are making.
The journey inward is arduous and painful.
It is why we distract ourselves with all the noise.
But the only way into fullness and wholeness is to journey inward into the silence and into the uncertainty of finding our voice in the midst of all the noise.
As we count down the days to our three-year-old’s first day of school, I find myself digging through drawers trying to make sure that we have enough shirt/short combos for the five day week. Next, we look for shoes that fit and stay on his feet and water bottles that don’t leak.
In the midst of the preparation, there is one thing that never crosses my mind: that I would take my child to school and not pick him up.
That’s what happened to families yesterday in Mississippi. The first big raid was organized and implemented on the first day of school, which led children to being left at school alone. Again parents and children being separated. Again fear falling on the shoulders of children. These children ranged in ages from 4 to age 15. Thankfully community members stepped up to provide food and shelter to these children.
Political banter and rhetoric are swirling in the air creating a cloud of confusion about what is real and what is not. Let us not be confused. Let our vision not be clouded to what is happening to children in our country. Let us not forget that while this is happening, we all are playing a part as we continue to separate parents and children.
This week 100 years ago, women earned the right to vote in the United States, but not every state was in favor of giving women this right. Matthew Isbell points out that there were noticeable patterns across the country. As I looked at the stark, glaring red of South Carolina, I wondered how much had changed over the past 100 years. Women have been elected to serve on the state and national level, but is there an undercurrent, a subtext that pervades our state and our culture here in South Carolina that continues to try to limit a women’s influence?
As a female clergy in the Bible Belt of South Carolina, there have been more times than not that I have been asked again what I do after I answer I am a pastor. This hasn’t changed in the five years since I have been pastoring in South Carolina. The number of women whose stories I read and hear who have been taught that their role is to raise children and to be a homemaker hasn’t decreased over the past five years and has actually increased.
Although South Carolina is no longer the deadliest state for women to live in due to domestic violence, we are still ranked number six in the nation and just this week faced the horrible realization that domestic violence doesn’t just impact women, but children too. There are still many, many women who live in fear of their lives and their children’s lives in our state but don’t have the financial means to create a life independent of an abusive partner, especially a life in which they can also support their children.
Living in the capital city of the first state to secede from the Union before the Civil War reminds us that history matters and that the voices that wanted to secede a protect slavery still exist in the descendants and power and money that came on the backs of other people. Living in the capital city where many people come to receive medical services from the Veteran’s hospital is a daily reminder that there is not enough affordable housing for people living on fixed incomes and that there are not lasting protections for those who fought to protect our country. Even though South Carolina made a name for itself because of its ability to grow so many different cash crops, we are living in the reality of food deserts where there aren’t fresh fruits and produce available for miles and miles.
Our history matters and the voices that spoke out to support slavery and racism and to limit voices of women, African Americans and anyone considered other still impact the way our city and our state operate. We cannot move forward until we take a long look at our history as a state. We’ve already seen multiple presidential candidates visit South Carolina because we are a powerful player on the national political stage. I just hope we can move towards a future where we make a name for ourselves for something besides oppressing, silencing and enslaving other people.
This year in the midst of our irises springing up out of the ground, we had quite a surprise. I am not much of a gardener, so the fact that these irises that I transplanted four years ago bloom every year is still astounding to me. To have another bloom was remarkable. At first, I wondered if maybe I had forgotten this burst of red in the midst of the flowy purple and white from previous years, but then I was sure this was the first time I had seen this flower bloom.
That means that mixed into the iris bulbs, there was this surprise waiting all these years.
It makes me thinks of the many, many conversations I have with people who are doing right and good work to try to offer hope and healing in the midst of the dissidence and discontent that surrounds us. There questions and laments of “Why can’t I see anything change?” remind me that the work that we see is often only after years of planting, rooting, and weeding out.
In fact, we may never see the bright, red blooms of the work that we have toiled and sweated over. We might never smell the surprise fragrant of new life, but someone will. Someone will see that surprise spring up and know that someone else has worked diligently and faithfully to produce something beautiful.
Thanks be to God that we cannot see the whole story.
We went for a walk today.
It’s one of those days where Spring is creeping in and there’s just something about the weather that beckons you outside to see the bumblebees flying and flirting with each other and to notice the pollen accumulating everywhere. I found myself breathing deeply into the promise of a new season. When I looked back, I caught sight of the little hospital tag on our seven week’s old’s infant carrier.
I thought about last week when we went into the children’s hospital for a routine ultrasound following her breech position in utero and the good news that came back that all was normal and then I started thinking about all the kids and parents and families I saw in the children’s hospital. Because we needed an ultrasound, we were in the radiology department.
Although it wasn’t busy when we were there I thought about the way the newness of the waiting room took me off guard. I didn’t know where to go, I didn’t know where we were going after the waiting room. I didn’t know anything about the procedure other than the name of the procedure. I didn’t know who would be performing the procedure. I didn’t know what we were looking for or what we weren’t looking for. I thought about how many families spend so much time in this place where we were that there is nothing about the waiting room or procedures or places behind the double doors that are new. I thought about how many people are hurting and how amazing it is that after just seven weeks we were walking together outside in the Spring air with two dogs with their tongues hanging out. I thought about how much pain and hurt goes unspoken and unnoticed in my own city; how many stories go untold. I thought about how bright it was even though it was a cold day when we walked out of the children’s hospital.
Sometimes we get taken to places that are new and scary and uncertain and sometimes those new places open our eyes to a new set of needs just minutes away from our own families.