It Happened One Night

Growing up in the churches of Christ as a girl with a passion for God and leadership abilities was not as easy as one might think. Any time I expressed interest in leadership, it always needed to be in tandem with a(n often less enthusiastic) boy, after no boys were willing to do it or only if they couldn't find a tactful way of turning me down. This included leading prayers, reading Scripture in "mixed company", creating or heading any ministry outside of things specifically only for children or women and certainly anything involving extemporaneous speaking (teaching or preaching). I was treated as a threat by my faith community because of my faith. After years of having my motives questioned, I sometimes questioned them as well. Am I full of pride? Do I want to get attention? Who the hell do I think I am that I have any insight to share?It breaks my heart that the voices who spoke these shame-filled statements to me were not from the devil, but in fact, were the voices of the church.

That's not to say that I didn't have any encouragement along the way.  I had a few youth ministers who loved my energy and sought to mentor me. At my Christian high school that was much more egalitarian, I was fully supported in my ministry abilities and was in leadership for most of my high school career. And once I got to college, I was able to lead ministry as a full partner. Then, I married a youth minister. Tim and I were just speaking last night about how much our mutual love for ministry attracted us to each other when we met in 2002. It's ironic as neither of us are in ministry anymore. But the love of God and ministry was a critical piece to our story both as a couple and as individuals. 

I've found myself drawn back to church (my very "liberal" UCC). I've started reading more spiritual memoirs. I'm considering the activity of God in the world and within me. It's a little scary to be wooed. I'm not gonna lie. And yet, there's a certain coyness with which God draws me to himself, like He knows I can't resist. One of the things that has happened to me recently is that I got be ordained (by the internet) in order to perform my best friends wedding. It was such an incredible honor to do. And she and I giggled at the progressiveness of it (she chose me because of our relationship, but we snickered at breaking our childhood rules as an added bonus). It was such an incredible, humbling, heady experience. It just felt right. It makes me wonder if God's not done with me and spiritual leadership (not that I'm not using those gifts now as a "layperson." In some ways, I think Tim and I both feel freer to use our gifts outside of the constraints of an eldership).

She asked me to post the words I wrote for the occasion. In true Becky fashion, it was a very short, simple, sweet, beautiful night. So don't be alarmed - there isn't too much to read. But I thought I would share my words so you can share both in Becky and Ali's joy and also in mine.

Welcome to Ali and Becky’s wedding!

What a wonderful day to celebrate the life these two begin together today. Marriage is the craziest of the traditions I think we hold so dear as humans. It is sacred. It is incredible. It is undoubtedly a crazy undertaking. To willingly choose one person to share your life with, to build a family with, to love and die with FOREVER?!?! It is an absurd risk, this act of getting married. And yet, all the things we really care about require great risk. And that is what makes these things courageous. Because even though getting married is certainly common, it is more than anything - quite daring.

We’re here to celebrate this amazing thing that has happened, these two people who’ve found each other, fallen in love and are committing to being together forever in front of us today. When God made this incredible planet and everything in it, he called us his ultimate creation. I think loving each other in marriage, choosing to give each other grace, appreciating all the idiosyncrasies that make each of us unique and living life alongside each other as partners and as friends is the most incredible way to honor the creation God made. We take each other on as family and we do our best to love each other as we change and grow all our lives alongside each other. I’m warning you both now – you’re going to change. A lot. We’re typically sweeter when we date than after we marry J But we’re also more intimate post-nuptials, as we learn each other in every possible way. We get a sneak peek, we commit forever, and then we really, really get to know each other. It’s an incredible and weird order – how we humans love each other. But I think there’s a certain purpose to it – that we don’t fully reveal ourselves until we are completely safe. It is my desire to see the safety you’ve found in each other grow with each passing year, that it never decreases or remains static over time, but that as you reveal yourselves to each other more and more, your safety in each other only grows.

None of us know what awaits us in the future. Today, as Ali and Becky move forward, they are stating to the world that whatever lies ahead, they plan to face it together. May you cling to each other and to the family you’re making today as life brings you many unknowable challenges and gifts. For we don’t seek a partner to fill us and make us whole. We don’t seek a partner to walk before us or behind us as leader or property. We seek a partner to hold our hand, to walk alongside us and to face whatever comes together. That is what you are getting today – not just a lover or a spouse, but a lifelong friend. There is no greater gift.

My wish for you is that you continue to create space for your differences. For, I think, it’s in our differences that we learn what respect really is. We always talk about love when we talk about marriage and love is indeed, critical for success. But the goal of marriage, or how we claim “success” isn’t really in just “staying married.” What we really want even above love, is acceptance. In my experience, the key ingredient to a happy marriage is a bone-deep appreciation for your partner as “other.” We must make space for the other, whether it be in our closet, in our plans and dreams, in our decisions and life direction. We accommodate. We create space – not just for who your person is right now, but for who they may become. Hopefully all of us will continue to grow and change throughout our lives. Ali, Becky, if you decide to clamp down on each other and try to keep each other as you are now, frozen in time, you will stunt each other. And if you push and prod, trying to make one another into a better version of yourselves, one that you may think you prefer, you will quench each other. True marriage is respecting the other enough to let them evolve as they see fit, respecting their personhood before God, providing your support and encouragement along the way. People who achieve greatness of spirit often have a community behind them. May you be each others teammate through and through. And as your family and friends, may we cheer you on as you face life together from here on out.

While celebrating differences in marriage is important, celebrating your similarities is too. I think when Becky and Ali got together, many of us here focused on the obvious differences between them in culture and religion. But you know what’s funny? After meeting Ali in person and seeing these two together, it felt like the most beautiful surprise to see how incredibly the same they are. They share a love for the world, for travel, for deep conversation, for learning, for peace and kindness, for children and extended family, for exercise and the outdoors, for God and of course, for each other. These are the things that carry us through life’s difficulties – not just finding someone you can live with, but meeting the person you cannot live without. I believe that Becky and Ali have found that person and are just grateful and humbled to stand before you and before God today and make a lifelong commitment to each other.

I couldn’t be more pleased to celebrate your union today. Congratulations!   

And here are the gorgeous vows they wrote to each other:

 "In the Name of God, I, Rebecca, take you, Ali, to be my husband to have and to hold from this day forward. I will be yours in plenty and in want, in sickness and in health, in failure and in triumph. I promise I will laugh with you in times of joy, and comfort you in times of sorrow. I will listen to you with compassion and understanding, and speak to you with encouragement. I promise to learn with you and grow with you, to explore and adventure with you, to respect you in everything as an equal partner. All that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you. Whatever the future holds, I will love you and stand by you, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow."

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.

Why My Faith Has Led Me Out of Church

I've hesitated to write this post for awhile, though I think my ministry posts elude to a lot of what I have to say already. In my former life, the church was a big part of my identity and my faith process. I knew that my love affair with ministry fueled my own issues (my need for approval, my comfort zone of only being with fellow Christians, my need to be above reproach [this is Bible-speak for looking like a good person all the time], my need to be on the top of the heap [church is a hierarchy], and more) but I also knew that those ugly truths were in bed with the good stuff too (I honest to goodness cannot fake anything, so all appearances of commitment, love of God, goodness, belief in others, boundless energy for service were real). I didn't know how to separate my love for God with my love for ministry. Many people cannot see the absolute need to do such. I think we want to justify good behavior that comes from our own sinking holes of need because we think good behavior leads to good things regardless of motive. There's even something in the Bible to that effect (something about Paul saying that preaching Christ has value even if it's coming from a bad source). Plus, when we put all our hopes (and more importantly, the church's future) into our ability to do good things, how else can we move forward, knowing that all of us have coexisting good and bad motives?
It's hard for me to admit publicly that I'm not going to church. I fear, as all of us with ministry baggage do, that my story may serve as a discouragement or may be used as endorsement for all choices remotely similar to mine. I have secret fears of how this will affect my children. (I also simultaneously fear what the church would teach my child if she were there). I expect that some (many) will write me off as someone who has fallen away (lost their faith) or who does not keep my commitments (something I really disrespect). I want to clarify that within myself, I am really proud of my choices and am open to telling my story to certain people who I trust and respect, knowing that it's largely possible that they will understand where I'm coming from. But to admit this publicly, ONLINE, is a totally different thing.
I've worked hard to protect my "sacred space" (which oddly, sounds sexual, but not what I'm referring to). I define this as my soul, my theology, my self-concept, my heart. I am impressionable. I cannot be a part of a group and not identify with its larger story. Some of the lessons I am working to undo from my lifetime in church are essential to my personal faith process (saying no, embracing my humanity, putting myself in the shoes of the downtrodden versus the saviors, listening to my voice, taking risks, focusing on what I have in common with "the world", relinquishing anything that reeks of entitlement or consumerism, refusing to believe that everything has a solution or one "right" answer and that I know those things). This makes the church environment a great source of temptation for me. I immediately fill my calendar, gain approval, show my niceness, and find incriminating things in my heart to feel guilty and shameful about and set to work on self-improvement.
I live in hope that one day, when I'm MUCH less bitter and able to set firm boundaries in said environment, I will be able to be a part of a church. I have no idea what my future church looks like. For the last 3 years, my church has looked like my living room and my fellow parishoners are my female friends. I am very selective about who I allow into that sacred space now. I look for women who are open, honest and actively struggling in some shape or form. I am a big fan of people who are "in process."
I imagine some people would read this and roll their eyes. Like, what is the big deal? So you don't go to church. Most people don't. Why is this shameful or embarrassing? But with my background, this is a big deal. Is it possible that the church sound system is so loud that we can't hear God? Could it be true that the group mentality is speaking in direct contradiction to what I personally need to be doing in my life? I'm learning to set better boundaries to where the church may one day be a safe place for me to share my soul again. But for now, this sojourner is keeping company with just a few. 

The "Ministry" of Busyness

I was visiting with a friend today (I tend to do that a lot:) who is in ministry and I felt like I was looking in a mirror or maybe even the ghost of Christmas future if I were to have stayed in that life. She's much older than I am, with many more years in ministry under her belt. She's made different choices than I have, though I see similar hang ups between us. I'm not sure if our similar personal issues are products of being in church leadership or if they are what drew us to ministry in the first place. It's probably both. I'm confident that these things are fundamentally unhealthy and commonly reinforced by the church leadership environment. I see her people-pleasing. I see her exhausting herself. I see her floundering to keep up with the expectations placed on her both by her past behavior (over-activity) and by the community who hired her husband to serve them. 
I see her missing opportunities to be still. I see her mind racing frantically; her heart left unattended while she watches over the hearts of others. I see her telling herself and others that she enjoys all her service activities, while her spirit says she needs rest. Don't get me wrong; she is a LOVELY person. She believes she's doing the right thing, serving God, being fulfilled by it, even. While my ministry experience is limited in comparison to hers, I feel like I've been around the block enough to be able to identify care-taking, people-pleasing, resentment and burn out. I feel like I can see that without judging her because THAT'S ME! The church teaches us that "service" is the most important thing. That's how we act like Jesus, which is the ultimate goal. Service is defined by not thinking of (listening to) yourself but by putting others first. Yes is always the right answer. 
I'm all for loving people and going out of my way to be mindful of how my choices affect others. And maybe it's just me, as I'm the one who's therapist is hoping that the "others first" voice in my head would actually quiet down. That I wouldn't let my concern for others override my concern for myself. Even writing that, I know the over-churched will read that and think I'm a heretic at worst, or selfish at best.
Maybe I'm the only church-goer who has spent years valuing being nice over being emotionally, physically and  spiritually healthy. Maybe it's helpful for those "worldly" people who need to be constantly told that they're selfish; there's something wrong with them; and they need to fix it by serving others.  
For me, I'm in a detoxing process from this kind of theology. I'm learning to listen to my voice. As a highly sensitive person, I can very easily tell you what the voices of "God", my parents, spouse, friends, religion and country would say WAY before I could tell you what I really need to be doing, thinking and feeling according to my personal viewpoint. Again, maybe I'm the only one. But in my Christian process, I'm learning that listening to my own voice is part of me listening to God. (Again, heresy! What about how our hearts are evil?!?!) He made me who I am, and the ultimate form of worship to Him is to love myself, to have grace for myself, and to be honest. If I'm honest about my humanity and not trying to overcompensate for it (serving when my heart doesn't want to), I just might be in a better position to listen to the stories and journeys of all the people in the world around me. Believe me, when your soul, mind, heart and body are well-fed, you genuinely take pleasure in giving to your fellow man. The times that I have felt resentful, ungracious and stingy towards others are when I'm doing a "service" out of "the shoulds" or on an empty tank. This doesn't make me a bad, selfish, unloving person. This simply makes me a person. Embracing the reality of our humanity, that we really only have so much to give when we're not first giving to ourselves, is critical to true, honest living. 
When I stopped sitting in the theology that there's something wrong with me; I'm selfish and untrustworthy; I need to be what other people tell me I should be; that God is displeased with me unless I act in a certain way (that looks like every other believer); other people's salvation process is up to me; and that my work is never done; I FINALLY learned what grace really is. As good at church as I was, I still felt like I had no idea what grace really looked like as it applied to me.  
I think this is ultimately my problem with theology that over-focuses on sin. I understand that sin is a big problem, that it separates us from God, that Jesus died because of it. But if I believe that, isn't that all sorted out now? I know we like to debate issues of if we're "once saved, always saved", but if my Christian faith is a constant process of re-confessing, re-feeling guilty, and re-serving out of shame and a need to be loved, isn't that actually a slap in the face of the God who's already forgiven me, once and for all? I know Paul says that embracing grace doesn't mean we should pursue sin all the more because grace is abundant, I get that. But what if Christianity looked like ending the constant sin wrangling and instead focused on participating in the Kingdom of God NOW? What would our hearts be freed up to think, imagine, dream, and do if we stopped expending our energies on perfecting ourselves, constantly trying to figure out which sin we should work on next? Not hoping that we've said or done the right rituals in this life to make it in the gates of heaven when we die, but that our every moment can be about engaging in the world around us, with listening ears (not with judgment or even answers), with open hearts and minds? That we can change! That others can teach me something; about myself, God, the world. I find myself so much more interested in others when I take care of myself. I don't see their needs as a personal burden to me. I see myself growing through conversation, through reading, through writing, through changing my plans in the moment. I spent a lot of years with my head down, focused on my commitments and responsibilities, not able to be present, already thinking of what I needed to do to prepare for future moments. 
I guess what I'm saying is, be willing to be pleasantly surprised, filled with hope, inspired by the moment, and open to the world around you. Don't rush through life like it's a burden. Don't get me wrong; life is full of burdens!!! But take the grace right in front of you; whether it's a conversation with a friend, an afternoon in bed with a book, a great glass of wine, or taking something off your list today. I've found when I focus on working on my "stuff" and what God wants me to be (present, open, full of grace, hopeful, generous) then I'm too engaged in that work to be worried about what other people think my life is supposed to look like. Perhaps I'm not the only one whose main "ministry" is this. 

Pick Your Poison

It's been awhile since I've written. It takes me awhile to transition in short life seasons (from school to summer) and I'm realizing weeks have already passed! I got on here thinking I was going to write on one thing (sin), but am in fact all amped up about another thing (parenting). There was an article and then a response article floating around on Facebook today about parenting. One stating that we spoil our children and one saying we're not doing enough (do you hear my black and white mentality screaming yet?) I preferred the second one because I think kids (read: people) could always use more dignity and respect and let's face it; we Americans need some serious help with our emotional tool box, which might stem from how we tend to minimize children's needs and feelings. 
I guess what I want to say in all the fray is that perhaps neither option is right. As a perfectionist, I want to get it right, preferably the first time. But is there really a way to get parenting right? None of us really know what our currently small children will be like in 20 years, so we don't know whether our parenting philosophies will give us the results we're looking for. And even if we did, will our children turn out "well" (however you define that) because of us or in spite of us? This is the tricky thing about subscribing to one parenting philosophy and holding on for dear life. The second article mentions that our instincts tell us to pick up our crying children, so we should. I wholeheartedly concur. Is it overly simplistic to just follow our instincts? I love the exchange of ideas that I get from reading parenting articles and books. I have learned a lot from watching other parents and mentally reviewing the things my parents did with me that I liked as well. It's so helpful when your parents get some things right, since we usually do whatever was done to us. But at the end of the day, isn't parenting, above all, about balance? It's not about who's in control, who's more important, whose needs get met first every time. It's about realizing that children and parents are all people, and therefore, all matter equally. I just might be able to wait a little longer ("might" being the operative word here).
Children present needs often. I have learned skillfully to repress my needs (thank you, ministry baggage). So it would be easy for me to run around ragged trying to just put out the fires of my children's needs, all the while not resting, recharging, or having any fun outside of my relationship with them. I think this strategy can look like resentment and enabling over time. But the drill sargeant, hierarchical approach that I get from the idea that children are inherently selfish and need to fall in line or else really rubs me the wrong way. I think it could also lead to dishonoring and disrespecting the greatest gift I've ever been given, my formative, precious daughters. They're not sub-humans because they don't know how to advocate for themselves. And frankly, they're not sub-human when they throw tantrums either. At least tantrums are honest. How many honest adults do you know who can clearly communicate what they want/need and are willing to ask for it? Can't we love and respect both ourselves and our children? Do any of us need to be on the throne as alpha male? 
I was visiting with a friend today whom I don't get to see very often. I made the choice to arrive late (after notifying her) so that Penny could get a good morning nap. Yes, this was an important need for her to get met, but it also enabled me to stay longer and let her nap in the carrier while we were there, thus my needs for social connection (which I believe are as valid as her biological need for sleep) were met as well. It's not about ignoring or minimizing your children's needs and it's not about staying home when you're an extrovert because your entire life revolves around your little ones. It's a both/and situation. When I anticipate and meet my children's basic needs, I am also able to value and fulfill my own. 
My children don't own me and I don't own them. I get to raise them (God-willing) and I'm so grateful and excited about that. I don't view them as my adversaries or my bosses. They are the cats that I'm herding around in front of me, duh. And someday, when I'm old and delirious, it'll be the other way around. 

Setback or Opportunity?

This week our family has had a setback. When I got pregnant with Penny about 18 months ago, I spent 2 weeks in bed. I know that a lot of women have to go on full bed rest throughout their pregnancies, so 2 weeks probably seem like a breeze. But for us, it was really tough. Essentially, when all the hormones shifted in my body, my SI joint went out of place, which means that my hips were literally off-balance. My entire body was visibly crooked. Unfortunately, your hips are kinda critical:) Any kind of weight-bearing activity (standing, bending, twisting, even sitting) requires that your hips work. Mine decided to stop working, to the point that I could not even physically get out of bed without Tim helping me and even then, it was incredibly painful. He learned to wash my hair, which turns out to be quite different than men's hair. It was cute, really. 
In that process, I learned to slow down. If you've known me for many years, you're probably thinking IT'S ABOUT TIME. I've always been an opportunist. To me, why say no to an opportunity that you WANT to take? There is no guarantee in life that any opportunity will come around again. This attitude is what had me spending 6 weeks in Argentina at 17 as a full-fledged member of a mission team with 3 other "adults." I also think I have some sort of shame issue with the idea of regrets. I don't want to have regrets and so if I say no to an opportunity that I want to take and it doesn't come around again, won't I feel regret? Still figuring that one out. 
All of that to say, slowing down was entirely necessary and incredibly uncomfortable for me. I had a lot of regular commitments and rhythms at the time that I just couldn't do anymore. (Once I was able to get back out of bed, I still fatigued easily the whole pregnancy). I stopped working. I stopped going to church. I quit my chorus. The things I brought into my life greatly revolved around my physical health - chiropractic appointments, yoga, massage therapy. I had my first real bouts with anxiety. I got overwhelmed emotionally really easily. I learned to only do things that didn't stress me out and that list was short! 
Slowing down required me to sit in where I get my value from. At that point, our friend Ryan had just died; we were only a year separated from ministry; and I had just gotten pregnant. Being a performance-based person, not doing anything I didn't want to do (and just figuring out what those things were!) was super challenging for me. I had become a really good "yes man." Needless to say, pregnancy the second time around forced a lot of personal growth in me and affected our whole family. It was hard but also really good because it allowed us to re-prioritize and live into our developing values all the more. 
After Penny was born, we were in a bad place. Postpartum depression is really, really tough and in our family situation, it was really serious, really fast. That created a lot of family dynamics that were traumatic for all of us. It required a short-term separation. It required therapy for all 3 of us (Tim and I are each still in ongoing therapy). Our families and friends stepped in massively with staying with us, feeding us, helping with the kids, listening to us, financially providing for us, you name it. Very. Hard. Time. 
We've spent months working on our individual "stuff" as well as how our stuff affects our family dynamic. This is hard work, painful, and long. It is so difficult to sit in the tension that self-work creates. I'm so incredibly grateful to have the marriage, the friends, the family, and the therapist that I have. I've seen this go down in the lives of people around me with majorly different results. We are so, so lucky.
This brings me to last weekend. Tim had a workshop (big work event) all day Saturday and Sunday was Father's Day. Time to spoil daddy. I was so excited! Being a caretaker, I love this stuff and I get my jollys from taking everything on, obviously. Well, I was carrying Penny up the stairs while Tim and Macy were at the workshop and I felt my back spasm. I got Penny on the changing table and it continued to burn and pull. AGGGHHH!!! Not again! (Even though the pain is in my lower back, it's my hips again for sure). 
Here I am, home alone with a 19 pound baby, and I threw out my back. I spent the day doing as little as I could pull off with Penny and hit the sheets the second Tim got home. It's in my nature to be super bummed about Father's Day (completely canceled) and highly concerned about my exhausted husband having to take on all 3 of us when it was clearly planned to be the opposite. He had to miss work all week because I can't lift the baby. I've spent most of my time in bed. It's been lonely, depressing, discouraging, and exhausting.
Here's the thing though, and I think this is a result of a lot of good therapy: this week was an opportunity. I did a lot of escaping (I'm embarrassed to say that I've officially watched many episodes of Keeping Up with the Kardashians), as well as some great self-care (journaling, reading). But this week, though it feels like a setback, is an opportunity to practice the skills we've all been working on. And I hate to say it, me being completely obliterated physically is really the only dynamic we're willing to sit with this stuff in, at least to this level. It absolutely forces our hand. If I can keep my family going, I will, no matter the cost to myself. It grieves me to admit that. I'm really working on it. I've made some really great strides, but that is still my natural inclination and our family dynamic supports that. 
So I'm learning to rest. I'm learning to speak into my disappointment. I'm willing to cry and journal about my relationship with shame and how it comes knocking when I'm not able to fulfill my responsibilities. I'm not taking on my husband's stress (this is so painful for me). I'm holding my children who miss me and empathizing with them. Tim and I are communicating where we're both at and sitting in the fact that our feelings really differ from each other right now. It's awkward. It's hard. It's sad. It's beautiful. This is our life and this is what growth looks like.

"Lived in" Theology

I have many thoughts on theology and they're very different from what they used to be. But my life is very much "in process" and has been for some time. This July, it will be 3 years since Tim (and I) got fired from ministry. That was such a significant loss. If you've never been in professional ministry yourself, it can be hard to understand why this is so much more than a job loss. At the risk of sounding dramatic, we liken it to a divorce. Our church was where we spent the majority of our time. It was where we worked, where we learned, where we found support, where all our relationships came from, where we introduced our precious child to God, where we found purpose and identity. It was our life. Many people who attend church share some of these feelings. It's your "go to" place. Obviously, when you work there, this is taken to another level. And while it is a "family", for us, it was also our livelihood. Leaving your church, when you're as invested as we were, is very disorienting. Many people wanted to know "what happened" when we were fired, but to be honest, nothing happened. Like some divorces, it's a million little things that just don't add up to a marriage anymore. There was no major infraction. It's like, they fell out of love with us. There were things we were unhappy about in our relationship with the church too, and we're not at all claiming that we never made mistakes. But it's a painful reality to sit in that you can be dismissed from your "family." Your family can literally tell you that you no longer fit in it. After all this time, just writing those words brings tears to my eyes.
When we worked at church, our life was a lot more structured. We knew what we were about, as individuals and as a family. There were a lot of mission statements, tiers of leadership, committees. We knew where our life was headed. Our path was set before us. The weeks, months, years just flew by. We were so busy. There were things we felt God pulling us towards (reducing our consumer patterns, being present in our neighborhood, doing less, investing in deeper friendships) that just weren't possible in that environment. We were too distracted by the immediate tasks at hand and were trying to fulfill everyone's expectations of us. I haven't met a minister yet who didn't struggle with people-pleasing. There just wasn't enough space for growth in these areas. I think this is because when you get hired (marry your new church), they ask you where you stand on all sorts of theological issues. You get hired based on whether you and the church are compatible in these areas. The problem is, if you change at all and your church does not, you will eventually outgrow it and vice versa. So you either don't allow your theology to evolve or you try to drag the church with you. I'm not going to lie to you. Every single precious friend we know in ministry carries wounds from this reality. It's very painful. And no matter what anyone says, it most definitely is personal. I think what happens a lot, to quote an amazing Chumbawamba song (yes, I just dated myself), they just "get knocked down, but [they] get up again. You're never gonna keep [them] down..." You just keep going, keep praying, keep trying, keep crying, keep leaving. Until eventually, many of us just get too hurt or too tired to go on. Some of us barely escape with our faith, while others lose it entirely.
There was a new-found freedom to leaving ministry. We could hang out with whoever we wanted to! We had time to build a life for ourselves based on our personal values and needs. We could be in transparent, two-way relationships. We found out we weren't the problem or the solution. We were just regular people trying to make our way in the world and be decent to those around us doing the same thing. We got to ask the questions instead of having to give the answers. We realized we had a lot of unmet needs and a lot of theology to reevaluate. It was the first time in our lives that we were free to believe what we wanted, without feeling the weight of a bunch of other souls soaking up our influence. We gave ourselves permission to wrestle, to grieve and to change our minds, over and over again.
To be honest, we're not nearly done. But all of the things we wanted to be different in our lives are now. It's pretty amazing. And when the shit really hit the fan this year with the postpartum depression, we had the relationships we needed to keep us afloat. We could not have had that level of trauma in our old life. We would have had to stifle it or at least try to contain it. (Ever try to contain grief? Works great, right? Depression...sure, it goes away if you deny it long enough. Ha!) We probably would have lost the job then anyway. Churches don't like to employ openly messy people, especially if this includes their theology.
As a Christian, my theology is the lens through which I see the world, my life, myself. But there comes a point in your life when crazy, unreasonable shit happens. And the frame that you're putting around your life isn't big enough. Your life suddenly becomes an 11x14 and your frame is still an 8x10. What are your choices at that point? Either cut your life back down to an 8x10 (denial, shaming yourself, repressing your feelings, jumping into another situation without processing your loss) or you embrace the mess and get a bigger frame. I firmly believe in a God who's bigger than any frame I've used so far. He's not threatened by my broadening theology. And yes, I would love to pretend that I'm completely open now, living outside any proverbial box. But is that really a fair expectation for myself? I think we all have boxes regardless of our personal theology. Would it be cool to have none? Sure. But at this point, this perfectionist is just happy to know that mine is a bit bigger than it was before.