Get Back in Your Box and Other Such Nonsense

One of the most difficult things for me to deal with as a woman is the social pressure to be less, smaller, quiet. I am none of those things. And while I've always cared about other peoples feelings and social pressure, I've never been those things. I am big. I am loud. I don't like to be behind the scenes. And I have lots of feelings. Unfortunately, because I am intelligent, I am often in conversations or environments where those things about me, particularly my big feelings, are treated as a liability rather than an asset. I cannot tell you how many seasons of my life I spent trying to tame the beast that is me. I tried to be quiet, to be small, to be less. I am, sadly, still given that opportunity from time to time and it is a difficult thing to resist. 
And yet there is this other raging voice that comes in and wants me to burn it all to the ground. It makes me want to throw in the towel and just rage at everyone and everything that might want to correct me, change me, reason with me, disagree with me, etc. This reaction to refusing to get back into the box is normal. It's part of how we deal with a philosophical shift. We react in a big way and lean hard in the other direction. I also believe this "box stuff" is triggered by my church trauma and so being reactionary also touches on an area of grief and loss for me. 
The problem with living in this world with a black and white brain is that I've come to the point in my process where my life is giving me opportunities for a middle ground. I will not get back in the box, that much is absolutely secure. And yet, can I live in community with people who are in those boxes but are not willing to get out, or who do not agree that they are a problem or who claim they love their box? Am I strong enough to resist the temptation to climb back in? Am I discrete enough that I won't jump in to their box and rip it from them? Can I respect their process?
I can't imagine that there are only a few boxes and we're all in them or out of them, but rather that each person has boxes that they stay in, burn down or reason with. So my box might work for someone else but it is bondage to me. Can I be shaped by or vulnerable with someone in my old box? I feel my life knocking on this door and I want to run so badly. I want to burn it all down. I am afraid to face those boxes, even as a stronger, more confident version of myself. I want to stop fighting growth because growth hurts and moderation is for suckers. Becoming more mature and healthier is so, so hard. I'm scared. And yet, drawing a line in the sand, and declaring "I'm done sitting in my stuff!" to the world feels like losing. I know that the more I go down this road of personal development, the more growth, joy, peace and freedom I will find. No one can put me in the box again. But being unable to be around my old boxes is just a new kind of box, isn't it? I will not let my fear dictate my life. I won't. 

You Never Left

Like most people, I've changed a lot over the years. I've lived in different countries. I've traveled quite a bit. I've been privileged to participate in many beautiful relationships with people who may or may not still be in my life. I've done professional ministry in a multitude of settings, which can be very intense and bonding. As a sentimental person, I've often missed stages of my life or versions of myself that I feel like I can no longer access as the time passes. For a long time I idolized my high school faith. No one was more devout than 1995-1999 Kristy Nystrom. 
It can be easy to compare your life now to what it used to be and to come up wanting for whatever reason. Even more so, I think I tend to compare my current self to my younger self and sometimes feel that my maturing process has at times, looked more like a slow slide into "less than." Yes, this is perfectionism in its finest. I see this often in my girlfriends body image. It's easy after having a few kids, to feel like your "maturing process" is not yielding the results you want.
This morning, I woke up at 5:30 to go to yoga. For those of you that don't know, I did yoga regularly during both of my pregnancies and found it to be very helpful, but have not maintained any regular exercise since I became a mother the second time. I'm busier and our family was in such crisis with the post-partum depression for so long that exercise felt like an "extra." 
But I went back to yoga last week and came home feeling amazing. So, here I was getting up at the crack of dawn after an incredibly busy day celebrating Tim's birthday, wondering was this really a good idea? How am I going to handle the kids all day when I only got 6 hours of sleep (that is way too few in the Sibley house)? On my way to class, I saw the most gorgeous sunrise. Just a bright orange orb in my rear-view mirror and I knew it was a good idea. 
As we were going through the poses, my teacher came around, put essential oil on my forehead, checked my alignment and graced me with this phrase, "You never left." Tears welled up in my eyes as the blessing of her comment washed over me. I never left. Yes, I haven't been there in 2 years. And my life has changed dramatically in that time. Possibly the most accelerated personal and family growth of any 2 years of my life. Trauma has a way of intensifying everything. And yet, my body knew what to do, my heart was open to the work and my spirit was at rest. 
Yes, we go through change. Sure, the maturing process can be painful and make us reminisce about days with simplicity and fewer responsibilities. But ultimately, in those moments where you check in with who you are and how you feel about yourself, you never really left. No one can take away from you anything about your life or yourself. Of course, most things in life are temporary. And loss slips through our fingers like sand, often unexpectedly. But there is a stability in us, a permanence that is refined by life but cannot be stolen. In trauma, it feels otherwise, but on the other side of it, I can honestly say, I'm still here.

Dabbles in a Minority Position

I've not had many experiences in being a minority. I'm white. I grew up in an affluent neighborhood. I was privately educated. My only real minority experience came from being a female who loved ministry in a church environment that preferred its ladies demure and supportive of male leadership as God-ordained and superior. But other than that, especially in my conservative church as an untitled minister (that darn vagina sure caused problems), I've never been on the receiving end of church rejection. I played by all the rules and reinforced them later as a leader. 
As I've sifted through my faith after my husband got fired from ministry, a lot of my traditional church values have been through the fire of loss, trauma and a desire to not tolerate anything that doesn't ring true in my spirit, regardless of the way I was taught to view everything. 
This process has turned me into a Christian who has much more progressive leanings than how I was raised to see God, the world and the Bible. I'm really, really happy about it. It feels like coming home. When I stopped going to church to tune into myself and to undo some of the messaging of who I was taught God is versus who I knew in my heart He was, I didn't know if I would ever go back. It started to feel irrelevant to my life (which was a HUGE turnaround from not knowing who I was outside of the church community). I no longer cared about church squabbles and politics. I wanted to be a citizen of the world, to know it, to love it, to participate in it, rather than shutting myself off from it because we're "so different" and it might sully me in some way. Embracing my humanity and the world we live in has been such a freeing and healthy thing for me.
To my great joy and surprise, I have found a faith community that supports and encourages my spiritual process. Rather than needing to translate the messages I was hearing on Sunday so I could maintain healthy boundaries and not wallow in shame and duty, I found a community that values what I value and challenges me to go further with it. It has blown me away. I cried the whole way home the first time I attended my new church. I couldn't believe something this good actually existed. Turns out, you don't have to be conservative in order to follow, love and value the messages of Jesus. It's been so healing and beautiful for me (and for Macy, who attends with me). 
This morning, I was watching Bruce Jenner's courageous interview with Diane Sawyer. (You should watch it. It's on Hulu). And as he told his story of hiding his transgender identity all his life out of fear of hurting the people he loved, I realized that I too am in a fear dilemma. While I'm happy to be a gay-loving, peaceful, simple living, advocate and believer in Jesus, I am running the risk of being ousted by "my own." I experienced a taste of this after I posted a simple article about Christians serving the gay community by providing wedding services when asked. I'm afraid that by following my heart and my faith and my true spiritual self I will be rejected by my people. My ministry comrades, my family, my childhood friends who have spent years totally "getting me" might misjudge me, label me, disrespect or patronize me. I've never really been on the receiving end of this. I always hung out in environments where I was the majority. It's scary and a little sad not feeling accepted for something that deeply matters to you. 
I'm learning the danger of labeling myself and others. As I happily label myself "progressive," that term might lead others to think they already know where I'm coming from based on assumptions of what it means to be a progressive. Likewise, I think my more conservative friends felt called out by some of the articles I've shared online, making them feel misunderstood or labeled in a negative way. I really want to create an online space that's safe. I sometimes unfriend people on Facebook for that reason, because dialogue requires a certain level of respect and human decency that not everyone is ready to give online. I feel an obligation to tend to my safe space by eliminating threatening people from that conversation if they can't be respectful of others. 
My faith process is so sacred to me and while I'm excited to share things on here, I am also not in a position where I feel comfortable defending myself or having to prove the validity of my convictions. My values are valid because they are true to my heart and because I really try to live by them. There are a lot of reasons and relationships and stories that have contributed to that process for me. And I like to tell my story when I feel safe and compelled to do so. But I do not owe anyone anything nor am I an expert on anything but myself. There are resources written by true experts on any number of religious and political positions. I've used them and everyone should read and explore any issue or faith position they want to learn more about. 
It's a new power shift for me to run the risk of being rejected on my home turf. It's helping me identify with what it must be like to be a minority. I know my experience is so small in comparison to true, live-long minorities and I fear by even using the term "minority", I'm dishonoring all the pain, grief and violence experienced by minorities that I'll never really understand. I guess I want to say, you never know when you're in a power position, if your life might lead you down a path that inverts that power. I'm learning so much from this experience. I'm reminded that I am valid and that I am "the least of these". I'm not better than anyone else, ANYONE else. But I'm also okay and I'm good. There is a place for me at the table. I have so much to learn. And I'm honored to be learning. I feel it is one of life's greatest privileges. 
I spent a lot of my life believing that conservative values were the only way to follow Jesus. That I needed to tune out my culture and my own evil heart, or at least beat it into submission, in order to be a Christian. When we find we can no longer do that, most of us walk away from faith entirely. And let's face it: we're leaving in droves and we're not looking back. What I have joyfully and humbly discovered through blind luck and beautiful friends, is that I no longer have to choose between my heart for people and my heart for God. That by tuning into my culture, my humanity and the stories of the people all around me, my faith is becoming deeper. I'm finding myself in the Bruce Jenner's and Eric Garner's. And my heart breaks. A lot. But my faith in God is not easily threatened. Being asked to prove its validity is still painful, frightening and very triggering for me. I'm learning to decline proving myself. I don't have to do that. What I do have to do is be true to the spirit within me that tells me: I matter. Kindness matters. God loves me. And because of those things, so does every single living, breathing person on this planet. And I refuse to tell them otherwise.

The Value of Failure

I've been reading a novel I picked up at the library recently. I find such joy in reading books and it feels like a special treat when one surprises you with a "truth nugget" right in the middle of an otherwise normal narrative. One of the characters is as nostalgic as I am. As she's processing her divorce, she comes to this conclusion. "It's funny what comes to mind when the worst possible thing happens. After Jim left, I thought my life was over. I had tried so hard, and Jim had stopped loving me anyway. But failing isn't proof that nothing matters or that we were fools to care. We fail even though things matter very much; it's the possibility of failure that makes them matter even more."*
Grief causes us to go back to what we lost and to reassess its value. Sometimes we overvalue what is was, living in the "glory days" and remembering everything from that time through rose-colored glasses. Other times, usually when we don't want to feel the pain of loss, we try to convince ourselves that what we had before was not as good as it really was. It allows us to squash the grief we feel so we can limp forward in search of something better.
I love what this character is saying. When something fails (loss is all failure of some kind: death is failure to live; divorce is failure to work things out, etc.) that does not diminish its value. In fact, we put more value in things that have the potential to fail. Relationships fail. And rather than saying that, in order to grieve that failure, we must carry it forever (rose-colored glasses) or devalue our experience (denial of pain) of it, she's saying that the very act of failure gives evidence of its meaning. 
This idea blows my mind. I often find myself so disappointed when something fails. As an achiever and a perfectionist, I try so hard to make my life (and the lives of those I care about, see: caretaking) work. And when things don't, it's so easy to want to reduce the value of that experience. The pain of loss is so great, and often I take on the responsibility for that failure regardless of the situation. So on top of grief, I add on a heaping measure of shame. It's so much easier to say that whatever failed was not worth the effort it required to continue. 
She goes on to say, "At fifty-three years old, I almost lost what I had somehow known from the time I was a small girl. I almost lost the knowledge that made my life work...the faith that made three decades of marriage possible and everything good that happened in those years: the family we had, the friends we made, the laughs we shared, the tears, the everything of it. At fifty-three, I almost forgot what Avis Briggs always knew. It all matters." 
She's saying that just because her marriage didn't last forever (and believe me, she's grieving that in a big way) does not mean that their thirty years together were a waste. Just because she's crying now, her years of laughter still happened and still matter. I find this idea so beautiful, so comforting and so, so true to my life. I want my experiences, both painful and beautiful, to have meaning. 
I have no control over how my life will go. I know everyone reading that last line will have a gut check reaction to that truth because we so desperately want that to not be true. We want our good behavior to control the future, that bad things won't happen to us if we behave ourselves, that we will not experience failure in the places that are the most vulnerable in our hearts if we just keep trying. We want to box in our world, our God, our choices, whatever it takes to know that everything will be okay. But the joy of this narrative, both in the novel I'm reading and in the life I'm living is that experiencing pain does not erase the experience of joy. 
As a black and white thinker, I often paint things with a broad brush. If the teen girl gets pregnant, then she shouldn't have had sex with that boy. No matter that she loved him, no matter that she wanted to, no matter that she learned something. She shouldn't have done it and now she's reaping the consequences of her choices. But this is life. The joy of sex and the fear of parenting. The safety of a thirty year marriage and the shock of divorce. The fun of loving your babies and the grief of them moving on. On and on it goes. We want to live in a way that we think we can foresee the consequences and learn to avoid them. Or that the foreseeable ones shouldn't hurt as much as they do. Of course, there are obvious high-risk choices and some of us are more prone to them than others. But there is no way to have complete foresight, no true security in life. 
While there is a lot of fear in acknowledging this, in some ways it comes as a relief to me. For one, it's true in what I've seen and experienced and when I stop denying my heart, I find peace. Two, it takes me off my high horse. It's a lot easier to judge people when you think you've got this life thing all sorted out. Three, it creates community. The lack of security we have in this life fosters dependence on each other in a way that is beautiful, sacred and ironically, security-giving. When we know we have hands to catch us, falling is not as devastating. Four, it takes the pressure off needing to figure everything out, being the one who always needs to be the giver. It levels the playing field, this acknowledging of our collective human experience. We have so much more in common with each other than the areas in which we differ. Five, if we know failure is part of life and therefore, inevitable, does that not make the victories more sweet? When things work out, isn't it almost an unexpected surprise? When we pick up a random novel off a shelf and we find hidden gems of truth, this is the sweetness of life. It's pure, unexpected and resonates with the truth in my heart. 
* For anyone who's interested, the novel is called We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride.

10 Years is Such a Gift and Not Nearly Enough

I'm trying to wrap my mind around the fact that tomorrow marks my 10 year wedding anniversary. 10 Years. For those of you who have been married much longer or even just lived many more years than I have, this may seem pretty small. But to us, this is a big deal. Not that we didn't expect to make it this far (hardly) or even that the time has flown by (though in some ways it has) but just because this day is almost here. As you may have already noticed, I'm quite the sentimentalist. I'm very excited and proud to be celebrating such a big anniversary. 
As I try to process the idea of 10 years, I can't help but think back to our wedding day. Of course, it feels like a lifetime ago, both because 10 years is almost 1/3 of my life and because so much has happened in that time. We're such different people. Our life is so different. We've experienced so much loss (3 grandparents, 1 parent, 1 friend as well as a major job loss and 2 bouts of post-partum depression) and so much joy (2 beautiful daughters, 6 1/2 years in full-time ministry, trips, friends, extended family). The depth and richness of our life together is more than I knew to expect or imagine at the age of 23. 
Sometimes being married feels heavy. It feels adult and it feels big. But most of the time, it is so natural. It's so right and it's so good. We've been through the toughest 3 1/2 years of our lives, with these last 18 months the most fierce. But there is permanence here. It's not our life that gives us permanence. We know that continues to change. It's not our relationship because I'm proud to say that continues to grow, not by accident but with faithful intention on both our parts. It's not even us as individuals because we are both always evolving, which I find thrilling and sexy and beautiful. Goodness knows it's not our family life! The only constant in raising young children is that every day is a transition. So what is that permanence, that thing that tells me I'm safe, I'm loved, I'm okay and always will be?
It's the reality that we haven't just survived the last 10 years. Surely there are days we only survived. But every year we've had we've LIVED not endured. And that is how I know we'll be together as long as we're both here. We'll be different. We'll get better. We'll be more honest, more our true selves, more brave, more gracious, more different and more the same. We'll be less as well. Less fearful, less selfish, less inhibited, less competitive. Maybe we'll be neither more anything or less anything at all. Maybe we'll just be better at accepting ourselves and each other. That would be more than enough for me.
I love the idea of a lifetime of pursuit. Pursuit of each other, of ourselves, of God, of life to the fullest - that we'll never be done or over. There is no arriving , of that I am sure. The more I've accepted that, the more relieved I feel. Married life isn't supposed to be a certain way or look like anything someone else constructs. Marriage is the joining of 2 entire people - all the personality, baggage, family, friends, exes, history, dreams, faith, talent, experience, hopes and quirks of both people. And you build a life on those things - the BOTH and the AND rather than the EITHER/OR. People talk a lot about compromise in marriage. I don't really connect with that. I think of it more in terms of accommodation. We carve out a place for each other. We make space for our other. It's not about finding someone to complete you - you are already complete. But someone who complements you? Yes, that is beautiful, this ying and yang.
Tim has an incredible capacity for kindness towards me. He has seen me at my worst, my most ashamed and spoken words of truth and mercy to me. He has the ability to encourage me while tempering my wildness, not in a limiting way, but in a stabilizing way. When I found him, I was a globe trotter who needed someone who could let me go, but who would also be there when I got home. He keeps those home fires warm for me, while I fly up into the clouds and dream. He makes me want to come home. He is home to me. He's not threatened by me but he doesn't minimize me either. He's incredibly intelligent. He respects himself, which is probably the sexiest quality on the planet, because he is not a pushover. He's not critical of me and thinks I'm a lot nicer than I really am. He believes in me. He loves our children. He's honest with me. He takes care of himself so he can engage in our family life. He works full-time in a job where he kicks ass doing something really important for a low wage (this to me, is the height of nobility). He has magical powers, I can attest, because I do not get sick of him, EVER. Honestly, it's really, really rare. I can't get enough of this guy, which I find baffling. 
I could go on and on, but I fear I'm on the verge of gushing. I will say this, 10 years is more than a lot of people are given, because let's face it, shit really does happen. People die. People leave. People lose their love for each other - whether they throw it on the ground and snuff it out or it slips through their fingers. I have no idea why that's not me, why the shit that has happened to us has somehow deepened our love rather than taken it. I know I should be grateful. And I am. Of course I am. I may be young, but I'm old enough to have seen this shit play out in the lives of people I love deeply and from whom I am no different. All I know is that I am not nearly done with this guy. I'm still hungry for this person, this life, this marriage. And that perhaps, is the biggest cause for celebration of all.