REFLECTIONS FROM MY MIDLIFE CRISIS

Hi there!  It’s been a while since I’ve written.  Not just for my website, it’s been months since I’ve written anything.

Like everyone else, I’ve been busy. But the whole truth is that I’ve been busy having a midlife crisis.  Not a major one.  Not the kind where I abandon my life and my people.  Nor the kind of midlife crisis where I buy something really expensive to distract me from troubling thoughts and emotions.

I’m just experiencing a run-of-the-mill, forty-something, midlife crisis that provoked me to retreat into my thoughts.  Questioning and over processing everything.  Evaluating and examining every decision, and every investment of my heart and soul so far – family, friendships, purpose, calling, work, vocation, ministry.  And feeling like so much, especially me, comes up short.

The existential ponderings of my personal crisis are so cliche that it’s almost comical, and yet the struggle is indeed real.

But I am also discovering that there is comfort in the overused expression of midlife as a crisis, because everything I’m wrestling with connects me to the shared experience of aging.  And viewing my midlife crisis as a shared experience reminds me that I’m not alone.

The proverbial midlife crisis seems to be a communal rite of passage – like puberty, #adulting, and receiving your welcome letter from AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons…which I recently learned arrives – unsolicited – in the mail shortly after your 5oth birthday).

Rites of passage are important, as they create opportunities to reaffirm solidarity with our community.  As we participate in this hard work of continually maturing, transforming connections are made as we share our raw and unfiltered thoughts with trusted friends as we pass through the portal of a major life milestone hearing the words “Me too”.  

Almost everyone my age is evaluating the fruit of whatever they have poured their heart and soul into the past 20 years – whether it be marriage, family, career, ministry, or something else. Us 40-somethings all seem to be scratching our heads and asking the same questions.  

Beginning with something like, “Really???”

Followed by, “THIS is what a 20 year investment in _____ looks like? Huh. Not what I expected.”

And then the resulting feelings range from disappointment, to dissatisfaction, to despair.  Cue the midlife crisis.

During my own season of midlife crisis, it is tempting to simply berate myself for whining – because nothing in my life is truly horrible  – and then get on with it.  But I do believe that when we wrestle with unbecoming feelings rather than convincing ourselves that we are foolish for having them – beautiful growth eventually blossoms from owning unhappiness and letting it teach us something we need to know.  

The trick is keeping ourselves tethered to the wisdom of God and others who speak constructive truth into our discouragement and keep us pointed in a healthy direction while we wander in our lament.  You can read more about how I participate in this type of soul work by clicking HERE.

In my recent months of existential crisis – evaluating and questioning the point and value of everything that makes up my life – I’ve been steadfast in praying and reading and talking and listening and thinking.  All the while my belief has remained strong, and yet being what I believe has been much harder.  

The gap between genuine belief and actually being hopeful, peaceful, joyful, and loving feels like an immense desert. 

In her book “When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions”, Sue Monk Kidd describes her midlife struggles and how God nurtured and protected her weary soul through the process of cocooning – or active waiting.  And while God was always with her – equipping her with strength and endurance – the work of emergence was hers.  Because the God who created everything knows that once a caterpillar completes the wonder of metamorphosis, it’s final preparation to thrive in the world as a butterfly can only be completed by making it’s own way out of the cocoon.  If a butterfly is rescued from it’s cocoon she will never gain the strength she needs to survive long enough to fulfill her life’s purpose.

I think the same is true for metamorphosis-ing forty year olds.

And while I feel like I still haven’t made my way to the end of this dreary desert, the blurry image of it’s edge far off in the distance seems to be taking shape.  

One of my favorite verses is found in the book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 2, written about the Israelites wanderings in the wilderness for forty years between fleeing the tyranny of Egypt and entering The Promise Land:

“Then the Lord said to me, ‘You have made your way around this hill country long enough.  Now turn North.'” v. 2-3.

They still had quite a distance to travel until they reached the end of their desert experience, but the season of aimless wandering was over.  

It’s time to turn North.

HOW I’M NAVIGATING MY MIDLIFE CRISIS

I recently published a post entitled “REFLECTIONS FROM MY MIDLIFE CRISIS”.  Within that post I shared insights that I learned from reading “When the Heart Waits” by Sue Monk Kidd.  Her profound reflections helped me understand the significance of cocooning, waiting, and emerging within the challenges of midlife. You can read my full post HERE.

But there are other insights and resources helping me to navigate the desert of my midlife crisis that I’d love to share as well for anyone who’s up for a longer read.  (I think this might be helpful for the quarter-life crisis too):

SCRIPTURE – The Book of Ecclesiastes is pretty good read for anyone in a midlife crisis.  Apparently King Solomon had one too.  He acquired everything – both material possessions and the prestige of men – and then wrote a whole book questioning the point and meaning of any of it.  He concludes with, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.”  In other words, life is hard.  And at times will feel unsatisfying and pointless – love God and your neighbor anyways.

But the midlife lament of Ecclesiastes doesn’t just say quit your belly-achin’.   He offers encouragement as well throughout his lament, like “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A chord of three strands in not quickly broken.” 4:12.

We really do need each other.

PRAYER – Seasons of desperation have taught me the power of claiming the truth I believe from the scriptures, rather than merely pleading for God to help me.  I have spent much time in prayer in recent months claiming what I believe to be true, even when I can’t feel it.

One of my most effective prayers during this season has been proclaiming that the active movement of the Holy Spirit that was true for Ezekiel in a desolate season is also true for me.  I made parts of Ezekiel 36 & 37 my daily prayer.  Claiming out loud – “The Lord WILL remove this heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh, because God has put his Spirit in me.  The Sovereign Lord says to my dry bones, “I will make breath enter you and and you WILL come to life!”.  I prayed this daily for weeks, until I felt in my soul and the soul of my family.

SERMONS – “It’s Halftime!” – my take away from the Mother’s Day sermon at my church by my dear friend and pastor, Melissa Tucker.  She preached on a passage in 1 Peter and made the analogy of Peter’s letter being like a halftime speech.  Imagine Peter as a coach, standing in a smelly, messy locker room, delivering a passionate speech to his team at halftime.  Peter is reminding the recipients of his letter who they are, what they’ve overcome, and casting a vision for the second half because he can see victory.

Raising a family is hard – as is raising a career or developing a ministry – and there are significant blows and disappointments along the way.  In regards to my family, I feel like the first quarter was great, but the second quarter was really rough, and at midlife I’m feeling pretty discouraged as a parent.  But it’s still only halftime.  My job as the matriarch is to remind my family of who we are (God’s beloved), and cast a vision for the future that points us all towards victory…which doesn’t necessarily mean winning.  For us it means surviving raising three boys through the teen years with our relationships still in tact. (You can listen to a podcast of this sermon on 5/14/17 entitled “Living Sanctuaries” by clicking HERE.)

THERAPY – I don’t feel like I’m someone who struggles with control.  And yet the challenges and disappointments of midlife have forced me into an awareness of my inner wiring that is more than a little uncomfortable to explore.   I’m thankful for qualified therapists who can serve as a guide through this part of the journey.  For example, my kind counselor has gently encouraged me to accept that intentionally living a good life does not mean that I’m entitled to all of my expected outcomes in return for my lifework.  Well, I guess that’s a good enough reason to be less angry.

READING – A dear friend recommended the book “40/40 Vision: Clarifying Your Vision in Midlife” by Peter Greer and Greg Lafferty.  It is one of the lifelines keeping my head above the waterline of this storm.  So many profound insights in this book, such as “Midlife is hard because 40 is the old age of youth, but 50 is the youth of old age.”  So there is hope and there is camaraderie.  This season of evaluation and disappointment will end.  And many good things are still ahead.

I’ve also been reading blogs like Beth Moore’s letter “To Servants of Jesus in your 30’s and 40’s”.  This poignant letter is a summary of what older women in the church need to say to the middle-aged women:  that the middle stage is hard, but to keep pressing forward because it gets easier and the coming joy is worth staying in the fight.

COMMUNITY – Even though some days, and even some weeks, have felt long and hard and discouraging, I have not stopped meeting with my community.  My commitment to them is not based on how I feel.  It’s rooted in what I believe to be true.  We are created to need each other, and I will miss out on the fullness of what God has to say to me if I’m not listening for his voice in the words and presence of My People, as part of my intimate conversations with him.

For example, we concluded our spring bible study season with a scripture study of Acts.  We didn’t read any commentaries, watch video lectures, or fill in a workbook.  We simply read several chapters each week, and gathered together to share what we learned, what we felt challenged by, what inspired us, and what we question.  We didn’t come together to give each other answers.  We gathered to listen and to care and to encourage.  And this session will always be counted among my most favorite in life of Monday Night Bible Study.

An insight from this Acts reading that is particularly encouraging to me is from Chapter 12, Peter’s miraculous escape from prison.  I’ve interacted with this story countless times: through my own reading and sermon illustrations, rejoicing over the angel’s rescue and laughing at the shock of the believer’s who are praying for Peter when he actually shows up at their front door.  What I never noticed in this chapter – until I was reading it with my community, in the midst of my own personal life crisis – is that this great miracle is book ended by tragedy and injustice.  The chapter opens with a reference that James has been martyred (he did not receive a miraculous rescue) and closes with a note that the jailer was executed because the Roman government assumed Peter escaped, and that was the consequence of the day for failing at prison work.  Total injustice!  And yet there is a miracle to be celebrated in between.  Remarkable.

The fullness of this story teaches me to willingly accept all of my life.  The parts that are great and the parts that are hard, the parts that are miraculous and the parts that feel totally unfair.  These things have always been, and always will be a part of everyone’s story.  And even though life feels hard and discouraging, I can’t stop living until I’m pleased with every storyline because that is never going to happen.  But the gift of faith is that I can know joy anyways, and that I am invited to take part in God’s work of bringing freedom and justice in this world.

THEMES – Every time I stay committed to prayer and seeking the presence of God in the midst of tribulation, reoccurring themes surface in what I’m reading and in my conversations, and in sermons and my thoughts.  I claim these themes as God’s response to my prayers, questions, and laments.

The reoccurring theme of my midlife crisis is “be okay with ordinary”.  But that doesn’t mean I can be lazy and self-deprecating, or that I shouldn’t dream and work towards goals, or continually evolve into better versions of myself.  Let me explain.

We live in a culture that puts so much pressure on everyone to be amazing, to do something BIG, and to be noticeable and unique.  But most of us will live ordinary lives.  Lives that may not be described as extraordinary by societies definition, or look extraordinary on social media.

But all of us can live a life that is characterized by doing small things with great love (That’s wisdom from Mother Theresa).  Loving people well in our families, around our tables, and in our communities.  Living lives that are characterized by investing whole-heartedly in the piece of holy work that God has assigned us, and spending less time coveting a different piece.  

Living in a way that is beautiful, meaningful, AND ordinary requires us to be radically reliant on faith – not the praise or recognition of men.  It also makes the space for us to experience God’s mighty and ferocious love because of who we are (his created and his beloved) not because of what we do (accomplish or achieve).

There is so much joy to be lived in that space if give up needing to make ourselves great and instead surrender to being ordinary people who God can do wonderful things in and through.

You can read a more about this concept in “Searching For Sunday” by Rachel Held Evans, “The Little Way of Saint Therese of Lisieux” by John Nelson, “The Liturgy of the Ordinary” by Tish Harrison Warren, and “God Hides in Plain Sight” by Dean Nelson.

GRATITUDE – In the little gem of a book, “A Theology of the Ordinary”, Julie Canlis presents a great case that the fall of man and the brokenness of this world occurred because Adam & Eve stopped being grateful.  They lived in paradise but at some point it just didn’t feel like enough and they felt entitled to more. Ingratitude is at the root of their sin that lead to their banishment from the garden.  Living the abundant life Jesus promised does require us to be intentionally aware of all that is good and beautiful, in seasons of plenty and times of want.  Midlife is a great time to start following Shauna Neiquist’s advice, and write down three things I’m grateful for every day, regardless of whether it’s been crappy or fantastic.

FUN – I am no longer waiting until I feel better to spend time with people who make me belly laugh.  Likewise, I’m intentionally engaging in shared experiences that make my soul sing, and giving myself permission to choose moments of joy, in the midst of a season of frustration – not after it or in spite of it.  God is actively at work enlarging my soul to hold all of it.  I partner with him in this work every time I let the hormones that feed discouragement take a break, while the endorphins that reinforce happiness wash over my cerebrum.

DOING – I have put in enough time thinking.  Thinking alone isn’t going to get me to feeling consistent joy.  Doing is the next step.  Doing what is healthy and right, even if the corresponding feelings of satisfaction aren’t quite there yet.  My season of pondering and evaluating will never end if it remains an intellectual, existential pursuit.  The end will be reached by doing.  Being the wife, mom, friend, mentor, leader, writer, professional, etc that I want to be before I have the feelings of being effective or accomplished or satisfied with those things.

That’s it.  That’s my list so far of what is helping me navigate a tough season rather than being consumed by it.  If you have any thing you can teach us about healthy ways you have learned to managed your midlife or quarterlife crisis, please share with us in the comments section.

I truly wish you all the best from your travels.

A RALLY CRY THAT WE ARE ALL HOMEMAKERS

“Homemaker”. It is what I write in the box for occupation.

As a stay at home parent I spent my younger years rallying for acknowledgement that I too am a working mom.

But as I age and grow – and my perspectives enlarge – I realize how one sided my soap box issues have been.

In my early twenties I needed boxes to organize my rapidly changing life.  As I navigated a big, overwhelming world filled with so many options, putting boxes around my roles helped me to contain life’s wild uncertainty and possibility.  In the season of emerging adulthood, when the I had to make huge life choices – without the benefit of wisdom learned through life experience – boxes helped me define who I was and who I was becoming.

Maturing has invited me to an awareness that life is alive and active and dynamic and evolving.  Lines will always be blurry and moving and changing.  And all of us are so much more than the labels we use to complete a standardized form.

I am a homemaker.

And working moms are homemakers as well.

Men and women are homemakers.

Singles and couples are homemakers.

People who have launched kids, and people who never had kids are homemakers.

Furthermore, I’m not just a homemaker for my sweet family of five.  I am a homemaker for everyone who comes through my front door.

And so are you.

Today my rally cry is that the calling of Homemaking is for all of us.

Because a home is defined as “a persons residence; the place in which one’s domestic affections are centered.” 

Home is not defined by size or location, whether you rent or own, or the relationships of the people who live there.

And maker?  Well a maker is defined as a person or thing that makes.  Maker – with a capital M – is also a synonym for  God.

So a HOMEMAKER is someone who intentionally makes their residence a place where love and kindness are the center.

All of us are Homemakers every time we invite others to gather around our tables to be loved and fed through the nourishment of belonging, unity, and connection.  

We are Homemakers when we invite others to our tables not based of what they do or what they offer, but because of who we all are.  People who are enough.  People who are worthy of friendship and acceptance and being truly known. 

And in this process we find that our homes become a reflection of the force making earth as it is in heaven.  A great feast of goodness and love where everyone is invited.

We are indeed all HOMEMAKERS.  

Let’s invite someone to our tables and get to work.

HOW TO KEEP LISTENING FOR THE SONG OF OUR DREAMS

I’ve been in a bit of a rut lately.  Triaging endless tasks that feel urgent and then never having enough during the day to pour into the things that seem most important.  Discouraged by how hard I work every day keeping all the balls up in the air for a life I truly love, and yet not making progress on dreams that matter to me.

And I’m certain that I’m not the only one feeling this way.

So today let’s hit the pause button on our hectic schedules to think about how to listen for the consistent beat of our hearts that hum the song of our dreams not just our responsibilities.

My dream is to write a book.

A lovely book about hospitality and community and sharing meals.  It’s filled with inspiring stories about how we connect and change and love each other well when we gather at the table.  It includes how-to advice, and recipes shown with instructions for creating each dish for 4-6 people, 10-12 people, and 18-20 people.  It’s a hard cover book with beautiful photography worthy of being displayed on coffee tables and kitchen book stands.

It’s almost absurd how deeply my heart and soul are invested in a thing that feels so real, yet only exists in my head.  Because it’s not a thing at all.  It’s just an idea.  And yet my heart is attached enough to this dream to feel its existence.

I love my imaginary book so much that it’s overwhelming to let it out.  In my head it’s beautiful and delightful and perfect.   But every time I sit down to start writing my book I just stare at the blinking cursor on a blank screen and end up wondering why I can write so freely about every other topic that is meaningful to me and then feel so hindered when I want to work on the one that matters to me the most.

This book project is my baby.  And I’m searching for the way to magically birth the finished product.  

If my book stays in my head I can keep it safe and perfect.  But there’s no way to transform this baby into something you can hold in your hands without letting it first be clumsy and awkward.  And I’m realizing that I need to give my dream permission to be out of my head in a childish state so that it grow and develop on paper – trusting in the process of writing to mature and refine it into something remarkable.

There is a lot of releasing in the journey of pursing our dreams rather than protecting them.

And letting go always demands courage.  

Because releasing something we care for deeply always leaves us standing for a moment with empty hands before the new thing that replaces it begins takes shape.  And the moment of standing empty handed and uncertain is at best highly uncomfortable, and sometimes its downright terrifying.

But when I step back and take in the big picture view of my life so far I realize that I have already lived this hard and scary journey many times:  

  • Loving my teenagers is a hair-raising adventure of loving and releasing the three young men who actually are large pieces of my heart with arms and legs.  
  • Choosing not to pursue a career as a social worker when I became a mom six weeks after I completed my graduate program is a continual journey of loving and releasing my well-thought out plans.
  • Building relationships and community with young adults who are navigating a season of great transition is an ongoing story of loving and releasing people I care for deeply into their next chapter. 
  • Living a life of faith is the never-ending practice of loving God and others, and releasing selfish desires.  (And I use the word “practice” here intentionally, because some days I do this well, and other days not so much.  But I keep at the practicing so that I can live my faith better, even though I will never be able to do it perfectly.)

The love and joy that comes after the release are enough of a reason to do the hard work of holding the empty space created by the risks and the loss and the fear and the disappointment that life’s demands.  If we choose a life of love and purpose over safety, then this is the road we all must walk.

Perhaps we hold our ground in the uncertain space by listening for that hum.  The consistent beat of our hearts that hums the song of our hopes and dreams not just our responsibilities.  Using all of our spiritual senses – not just what we can see – to guide us towards the fulfillment of our deepest desires.

The hum fills the space of the empty handed time, singing a tune that reminds us why our dreams matter and why pushing through the struggle of the uncertain and uncomfortable middle space is worth it.

I think connecting with other humans around our tables by sharing a meal matters.  The dinner table is where we invite others to experience the common ground, unity, and belonging that everyone desperately needs.  And too many people confuse entertaining with hospitality.  Our communities need us to get back to creating moments that matter at the table, rather than moments that impress.

I believe this to the depths of my soul, and that is enough to keep me anchored to the courage I need to let my dream out of my head so that it has a chance to grow and become a thing, not merely an idea.

What is your dream, and why does it matter?  How can we hum a tune of encouragement to each other in the middle time when we are standing empty handed in the space between releasing our dream from the protection of our minds and the fruition of the song it will become?

PRACTICING HOSPITALITY TO MYSELF

Anyone who knows me at all knows that hospitality is my jam.  My table is where my purpose, passions, skills, resources, and the needs of my community intersect. And I have discovered that inviting people into my home – to be fed and seen and loved by sharing a meal – is one way that I get to witness the sweet presence of Jesus alive and active in this beautiful, broken world.

In recent years hospitality has grown to be about so much more than hosting overnight travelers or guests for dinner.  It isn’t something I practice for one-time events and special occasions.  Hospitality is my lifestyle.

Shauna Niequist, in her book “Present Over Perfect”, identifies the core of hospitality as offering grace in one hand and nourishment in the other to every soul who finds their way to our homes and our tables.

Grace and nourishment.  Sacred gifts that can revive the most exhausted and weary of souls.

As hospitality became a part of the rhythm of my home, I began to witness glimpses of the Kingdom of God at work.  Meaningful connections in my home here on earth, that reflect God’s home in the kingdom of heaven.  I get to see others nourished by good food and authentic conversation, and transformed by the grace that is passed around the table along with warm serving bowls as we listen and nod and say, “Me too”.

Part of this journey is learning that sharing in the joy of my guests finding grace and nourishment at my table is not enough to sustain me in this important work for the long haul.  I must learn to practice hospitality to my very self as well.

Offering grace to my own soul with one hand, and nourishment with the other.

This is the only way that hospitality can be a beautiful, sustainable lifestyle – rather than a martyrdom.   By being intentional to invest time and effort in the things that feed my own soul, not just the people gathered at my table.

I believe this practice is consistent with Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels:

“One of the religion scholars came up. Hearing the lively exchanges of question and answer and seeing how sharp Jesus was in his answers, he put in his question: “Which is most important of all the commandments?” Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.” The religion scholar said, “A wonderful answer, Teacher! So lucid and accurate—that God is one and there is no other. And loving him with all passion and intelligence and energy, and loving others as well as you love yourself. Why, that’s better than all offerings and sacrifices put together!” When Jesus realized how insightful he was, he said, “You’re almost there, right on the border of God’s kingdom.” Mark 12: 28-34, The Message.

We love our neighbors, as. we. love. ourselves.

Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s necessary.  Rest isn’t optional, it’s God’s design for filling us up so that we can continue to pour out.  Grace isn’t a gift we only offer to others; it’s a gift from God that he also intends for us to offer to ourselves.

Have you ever noticed how horribly we can talk to ourselves?  When I fail or make a mistake, I can berate myself with an uncompassionate harshness that I would never think or speak aloud to my family or friends or even strangers.  Why do we do this?  It’s not glorifying or pleasing to God to tear ourselves down or curse ourselves.  We too are his creation – beautifully and wonderfully made.  And the grace and nourishment I’m called to give others is for me as well.

Because that is better than offerings and sacrifice.

Shauna Niequist writes, “You can rest. You don’t have to starve. The messages of the world will say, in no uncertain terms: ruin yourself, and starve yourself.  Wring yourself out. Ignore your hunger, your soul, your sickness, your longing. Exhaustion and starvation are the twin virtues of that world, but I will not live there anymore.  I will practice hospitality – the offering of grace and nourishment – to myself.”

I work really hard every week to take care of my family, my home, my community, and my personal goals.  Every day my calendar is filled with productive and responsible tasks.

But everyday I also spend some time – even if it’s just a few minutes, and sometimes a few hours – practicing hospitality to myself.  Here are some of the ways that I do that:

  • Setting aside the urgency of my to-do list for a few moments everyday to be fed by solitude, even if it’s just 5 or 10 minutes.  I like to spend this time reading through the daily scripture and devotion on the SheReadsTruth App.  And talking to God about the concerns of my heart.  Asking for his help with everything I want to accomplish that day – which is always a complex balance of my daily tasks and loving people well.
  • Scheduling some time every week – even if it’s just one hour – to meet up with a girlfriend for a walk or coffee.
  • Taking a 20 or 30 minute midweek power nap – sometimes longer on Sundays – every time I have the opportunity.
  • Dating my husband.
  • Laughing with my kids and enjoying their company.
  • Accepting affirming words and thoughtful gifts by simply saying thank you and experiencing the full blessing of that moment – rather than thinking or saying something in response that declares my unworthiness while at the same time minimizing and deflecting the kind gesture of another person.
  • Saying yes to invitations to be served a meal or share a special experience without feeling like I must to do something in return to earn or deserve someone’s generosity.
  • Reading good books, and not just non-fiction books.  But immersing myself in great fictional stories as well.
  • Drinking a cup of tea and perusing a cooking magazine.
  • Laying on my couch under a snugly blanket, watching an entertaining TV show or a good movie.
  • Quieting the voice in my head that accuses me of being a failure and tells me that I’m not enough by claiming the truth that even though there will always be times when I fall short – I am still a child of God, and a daughter of The King.

If we chose to create a lifestyle of hospitality then we must fully engage in the hard work that is challenging and at times tedious; the abundant joy that comes from celebrating others blessings and helping to carry their sorrows; and the opportunities for rest and refreshment that God will be faithful to weave into our path every day.

We also must say YES to invitations for rest and refreshment, without feeling guilty or like we only deserve a break if we are hustling.

That’s practicing hospitality to ourselves.

And when we are loving God, loving others, AND taking care of our selves – the kingdom of God in near.

How do you extend grace and nourishment to yourself?  Please share your ideas in the comments.

ENTERTAINING VS HOSPITALITY

[fusion_text]dsc04316This may not be the best photo I’ve ever taken, but it captures a great moment.  And today that makes it good enough to share.

On September 21st I enjoyed speaking to a local MOPS group about hospitality and connecting with community around our tables.

This was a special opportunity to share my message about transforming our tables into places where people can gather to be loved and find belonging.  And that nourishing bodies and souls at our tables is not as complicated as we’ve come to believe.

Our culture – heavily influenced by foodies and social media –  has convinced many of us that hospitality and entertaining are the same thing.  But I am certain that they are not.

Entertaining is what I do for family and friends at the holidays, or to celebrate milestone events.  I love to entertain.  But I always make myself (and my family) a little crazy every time I do because I want everything to be so perfect.  At the end of the event I usually collapse into my comfy chair, happy but exhausted.

Hospitality is what I do for our weekly community dinners.  Hospitality is opening up my front door and inviting people to my table for dinner and conversation that is authentic and real.  Messes and all.  At the end of the meal, even if I’m tired, I still feel like the cup of my soul is full.

For my recent speaking event I created this chart to clarify the difference:[/fusion_text][fusion_text][fusion_text]

ENTERTAINING HOSPITALITY
Hosting a party. Sharing real life.
Striving for perfect presentation. Hoping for authentic connections.
My home is “company ready”. My home is tidy for my family.
Everyone is on their best behavior. Everyone is themselves.
My family looks their best. My family looks like they do on any average day.
I prepare my best dishes. I prepare my everyday dishes.
A fancy, elaborate menu. Simple meals.
Start cooking at least one day before. Start cooking an hour to an hour and a 1/2 before.
Focused on food and presentation. Focused on people.
Several shopping trips to get precisely what I need. One shopping trip, and then I make do.
My family and I do most of the work. Everyone eating with us helps.
When everyone leaves I am exhausted and happy. When every one leaves my soul feels full.

[/fusion_text]

WHAT I LEARNED DURING SUMMER VACATION ABOUT HOPE

In our community, today is the first day of school. My kids headed out the door early this morning with new backpacks and nervous anticipation.

I always have very mixed feeling about this time of year. I miss my boys when they are gone all day at school. I miss slower mornings, carefree afternoons, and disregarding bedtimes.

But at the same time, I love the refreshening, the possibilities, and the restarts of a new school year.  It offers a second chance at making commitments to more intentional living, as well as experiencing once again the hope I feel during the New Year.

Ah, HOPE.  A perspective that can be so encouraging, yet also feel misleading. I am an optimistic person by nature – but some days it feels like the realities of broken relationships, personal struggles, dreams unfulfilled, and local and global suffering multiply much faster than my natural capacity for hope can keep up with.

Hope can feel very disappointing.

And yet, I’ve known people who given up on hope – poisoned by cynicism instead – and that is certainly not the direction that I want to grow towards.

So in this season of fresh starts, how do we move forward holding both hope and reality at the same time?

This summer I learned that it is possible when I also embrace these perspectives:

  1. Understanding the difference between Hope and Expectation.
  2. Moving forward in the midst of my unresolved stories.
  3. Living my most creative life.

In August my family took a road trip to visit close friends.  While sitting around in our pajamas, drinking our morning coffee, and sharing meaningful conversation, I learned some thing significant about an unresolved disappointment that I’ve been wrestling with.

Our friend pointed out how important it is to understand the difference between hope and expectation:

  • HOPE is confidence that events will ultimately result in something good.
  • EXPECTATION is thinking that I know how something ought to happen.

I have a tendency to slip into a mindset that if I have a great attitude, talk to wise mentors, pray fervent prayers, and truly wish the best for myself and others – then I’m entitled to everything going the way I think it should. Until it doesn’t.

And then I wrestle with disappointment and resentment until I come back around to relearning that I’m never entitled to certain outcomes.  That lasting joy is not found in a particular ending to circumstances.  And that the gifts of love, grace, and beauty are most often found in the ashes left by brokenness and flawed people (which includes me).

But the reality that some stories don’t resolve the way we would like, or seem like they will never have a happy ending, doesn’t means that we should give up on hope. Because hope is the anchor of confidence that good can always be redeemed from brokenness, and that new life grows from death.

So I’m learning to hold both hope and reality by letting go of my expectations – how I think things should happen.  And instead, I’m growing in my confidence that good things, positive growth, and needed healing will come.  Even though resolution will likely look very different than I imagined.

Secondly, my new mantra for work and joy and living comes from a movie Ryan and I watched this summer entitled “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” with Tina Fey.  One of the climactic scenes at the end is a conversation between Tina Fey’s character (and embedded journalist in Afghanistan) and a US soldier who has every reason to be consumed by bitterness, but he has chosen to build a beautiful life instead. She asks him why, and he replies with several reasons, but sums them up by saying, “Ma’am, you just need to embrace the suck, and move the *#@% forward.”

That’s gold. I’m seriously considering painting a censored version of that quote on the wall above my head in my writing space. Because I’m going to waste the second half of my life if I get stuck in my personal storylines that are not going the way I think they should.

Rather, I have to embrace that broken and unresolved stories exists within the reality of everyone’s memoirs. And I’m going to miss out on a lot of beautiful living if I wait for all of them to be resolved before I am willing to move forward into what’s next for all the other parts of my story.  And regardless of my (and your) flaws, mistakes, conflicts, problems, and imperfections – there is always more love, joy, and peace to be discovered and enjoyed.

Lastly, this summer I read what has become one of my all-time favorite books: “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear” by Elizabeth Gilbert. It is a book about having the courage to live our most creative life – whether that be writing, art, crafting, cooking, dancing, or whatever it is that lights you up. Elizabeth Gilbert’s voice is incredibly inspiring and incredibly practical, at the same time.

I could write pages about all the beautiful things I learned from this book. But for now I’ll just focus on one. In the opening pages of her book, she quotes one of her favorite poets, Jack Gilbert (much to her disappointment, their last names are just a coincidence):

“We must risk delight. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.”

Living my most creative life (developing my writing, cooking abilities, and the community around my table), is the best way I can fight back against the suckiness of the world. The suckiness that cannot be separated from my stories or yours no matter how hard we try.  Even though there are sad things happening in my world and in yours and in theirs, we need to create anyways.

I want to risk the delight of creating in a broken world.

Today – rather than allowing unmet expectations, painful disappointments, or unresolved brokenness to cause me to retreat – I choose to respond by living my most creative life.

Holding hope and reality. Continually moving forward with stubborn gladness.

I hope you will join me.

WHAT I’M LEARNING ABOUT THE DILEMMA OF REST

In the early months of 2016, I finally overcame many of the hurdles that have held me back from working towards my writing goals.  Throughout springtime I was enjoying consistent personal prayer and scripture reading.  Getting up early to write.   Meeting with friends at coffee shops to work on my blog.  Exercising regularly, and actually liking it.

For a brief moment, I was in the sweet spot.  Life was cruising along nicely.  Victory at last, right?

This is where you cue the sound of squealing brakes.

And what was it you ask that completely derailed my groove?

Vacation.  A really nice family vacation over Memorial Day weekend.

Last night Ryan and I were complaining to each other about how off track life still feels after returning from vacation two weeks ago.  It’s ironic that just a few days of relaxing and disconnecting from to-do lists can completely obliterate the successful patterns of discipline we establish for productivity.

And yet, I truly believe that we are created to need rest.  Rest is good, and I am grateful for it.

Nevertheless, last night I fell asleep wondering if taking a holiday is worth the strain and frustration that comes with getting real life back in order.

I know.  First World Problems.

But, I also think that when I am too quick to categorize all of my daily frustrations under this label, I miss out on significant opportunities to learn and grow and mature.  I miss out on opportunities for God to continually refine me into a person who – hopefully – reflects the peace, joy, hope, and love of Jesus to my First World neighbors.

And so, this morning – sensing that I was on a fast track towards debilitating discouragement – I decided to go for a run (for the first time in over three weeks).  I often do some of my best, head-clearing, thinking while running.  Towards the end of my run, I had an epiphany that I don’t just need the gift of refreshment that comes through rest.  I need the gift that comes after rest just as much.

The gift of disequilibrium in my established routine that reminds me that ultimately my strength, growth, ability, and achievement comes from God and the Holy Spirit alive with in me.  Not my time management skills, life hacks, and organizational apps.

I need to be derailed me from my well crafted routines occasionally to remember that – regardless of successes or failures – our worth is rooted in who we are, God’s beloved, not in what we can do.

So now while I’m back at the daily work of being, growing, writing, exercising, serving, and loving.  I’m reminded to do so from The Source of Life, not sources that are crafted from my power and resources.  These tools are good and helpful, but they are just that.  Tools. They are not the source.  And today I’m so glad to be reminded of the difference.

It is the perspective that grows from the cycle of rest, regrouping, and remembering.  I need every stage to accomplish the work of blogging, writing, discipling, and nourishing community in a way that glorifies God and satisfies my soul.

WHAT I’M LEARNING ABOUT THE BEAUTIFUL THINGS IN COMMUNITIES & FAMILIES

This Mother’s Day fell in a season of firsts – a season of firsts that follows a season of endings.

Most notably, this year I celebrated my first Mother’s Day without all three of my boys living at home.  Our oldest son, who is a college freshman living in a dorm room two states away, still has another month of classes until summer vacation.

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Never one to readily embrace even minor changes, I woke up on Sunday feeling a weird mixture of melancholy and comfort in spending the day with Ryan, and our two sons who (for now!) still live at home .

As I snuggled with two of my sons on our couch – wrapped in fuzzy blankets and enjoying my morning coffee – I contemplated creating some new traditions.  In response, Jordan and Riley enthusiastically suggested staying home from church so that they could lead a home service for me to honor Mother’s Day.

I was a little skeptical at first if this was a good idea – their initial motivations are certainly questionable.  But I also recognized that doing something original might help me to experience the wonder of new things starting, even as I long for some beloved traditions that have ended.

And oh my goodness.  What they put together was beautiful!  A forty minute service that included arms raised in worship, a solo trumpet performance, a dramatic performance of the David & Goliath battle scene recorded in 1 Samuel 32-52, and a small group discussion that lead to an insightful conversation about the “Goliaths” each of us feels like we are facing.

As part of our family worship, we sang “Beautiful Things” by Gungor.  A lump welled in my throat as I reflected on the new things growing in my home from the dust that is settling over the places where things have ended.

I realized that as much as my mama’s heart missed my oldest son and wished for him to be home with us, this truly beautiful moment probably wouldn’t have happened if Corey had been here.  He is much more reserved and far less emotionally expressive than our other two boys – who are always wanting the approval of their big brother.   If Corey was home, I really don’t think Jordan and Riley could have acted with such uninhibited abandon of their own “coolness”, fueled simply by a desire to whole-heartedly bless their mom.

This Mother’s Day was an opportunity to glimpse God at work in my home and my family right in the midst of all the change and transition.  Sadness and longing, woven together with joy and wonder of all things being made new.

Communities are like that too.  They go through seasons of growth, seasons of change, seasons of loss, and seasons of rebirth.

In the midst of that evolution, God is constantly at work, weaving the broken and beautiful pieces together to create something vibrant and amazing.

Jean Venier, in his classic work “Community & Growth“, writes, “A community cannot remain static.  It is not an end in itself.  It is like a fire which must spread even at the risk of burning out.  A moment comes when a community can only grow through separation, sacrifice, and gift.  The more it finds unity, the more it must be prepared in some sense to lose it, through the free gift of some of its members who will create other networks of love and communities of peace.”

We nourish our community at our tables to share life and nurture relationships.  Life gives birth to life.  Healthy communities encourage one another to be who we are becoming, intentionally seeing who we are rather than who we were.

As a community grows in numbers, as well as in depth, some beloved members must be released to go out and replicate communities of love and authentic friendship in other places.

People being nourished, loved, and equipped to have the confidence to go out and start a new community of friendship and support is one of the most important reasons that we gather people at our tables.

And as a few beloved members move on to their “what’s next”, the members who remain are gifted with the opportunity to explore and express themselves is new and refreshed ways.

Resisting or denying change in our families as well as our communities eventually leads to smothering and withering the very things that are so good and lovely.  We have to be willing to let some things end in order to make space for beauty to grow.

In communities, and in families.

With our friends, and with our sons.

Trusting that hope is always springing up from old ground.

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