It's been quite a week. I don't really intend to talk about Tim's job loss today, but I put it in the title to give context to the whole calling security thing. A lot of my thoughts have come back to, "I don't need this right now." This is not a typical thought for me, but it has applied several times in the last few days.
I never stole anything as a child (typical) but Tim did and he paid dearly for it. When Macy took something from Dollar Tree last year, I gasped so loud I scared her. She had to march right back in and return it. But today, my mommy radar was up when we were in a consignment shop. She had her eye on these hair clips and when I went back to get the one we'd picked, it wasn't there. I suspected that she had stashed it somewhere, but didn't want to show her that I doubted her integrity. I really do believe the best in people and was hoping I was wrong. When we got home from the mall, I found the clip when I started to clean out the car.
So, back to the mall we went (exhausted) where she had to return both the clip we bought and the one she stole. Tim had called the shop on the way and explained the situation so the security guard was ready and waiting. Macy and I had discussed the possibility that he would be there and the walk to the shop was nerve-wracking. She was scared she was going to get yelled at or punished. She was worried she wouldn't get any Christmas presents from Santa because she had been bad. I reminded her that she has made a lot of good choices this year, that she can't change what she did but she can try to make things right and do better next time. I assured her that I loved her but that she had done something wrong and needed to face the consequences of her actions. When she had to explain what she'd done to the shop owner, her voice broke and her eyes welled up with tears. The security guard explained that if she was older, she would have been banned from the mall for one year.
After we were done in the store, we left the mall. Macy was over-acting like she was happy and I was kind of annoyed by it. I was tired and had made a second trip to the mall in rainboots of all things. Shouldn't she still be crying? Why wasn't her tail between her legs? And then she said, "I just want to feel happy again." And so hand-in-hand, we danced through the parking lot.
The desire to feel happy when you've had a shitty day really resonates with me. It's part of being human. When you overdraw your checking account, you're just wanting to escape the realities of your tight budget for a little while. And so you have some fun, and then your stomach drops when you see the negative balance. Reality comes crashing down and you have to figure out what to do. And when you make a plan and figure it out, you feel relief. You feel hope. It doesn't make the consequences go away, but in taking responsibilitiy, the shame evaporates and you feel free to face another moment, another day, another month.
Macy reminded me of this tonight. That it's okay to dance through the rain after having a stern talk with the mall security guard. Life is hard sometimes. She wanted to feel good. She wanted to be in control. She wanted to get away with something for once. I totally get it. I'm learning to have grace for myself as a human being (shedding the baggage of trying to be perfect, better, a leader, a light, an example...hello, ministry baggage!) This, of course, has to inform my parenting. I can't be trying to practice self-love and then not extend that to my child. Her human moment was my human moment. And I am so proud of her. Grace is accepting the consequences and then releasing them to the wind. And if that means making a fool of yourself in a crowded mall parking lot, so be it.
I'm a big fan of therapy. I just had my last therapy session a few nights ago. I started weekly therapy 20 months ago when I had a 2 month old, a new kindergartener and very depressed husband. It was a dark time in our family. I cannot overstate how helpful therapy is. I recommend it all the time to people I love.
My therapist, Natalie, did such a great service to me in that she taught me how to validate myself rather than create dependence on her validation of me. As I process the ending of my time in therapy (for now), I made a list of all the things I've learned in these 20 months. Some of it coincides with my time in therapy as it relates to the circumstances I've come through during that time, but most of it is a direct result of my time with Natalie. I am so proud of my work and so thankful for her facilitation of it.
1. I feel confident in myself again.
2. I identified my care-taking tendency.
3. I've learned to not live by my care-taking impulse but to recognize when I want to take on someone else's "stuff."
4. I've learned how to set boundaries in my relationships.
5. I've learned to prioritize myself.
6. I've learned to identify my feelings and validate them without judgment.
7. I've learned to identify my needs and validate them as well.
8. I've learned to give myself grace.
9. I've learned to identify my black & white thought patterns.
10. I've learned how to get out of the box I put myself in and how to get out of the ones others put me in too.
11. I've learned the value of self-care and the teeth-gritting challenge and discipline it requires for me to give it to myself (see #2).
12. I've learned it's okay to try new things even if I don't know if I'm good at them or if I will even enjoy them. (Process versus product).
13. I've learned that I possess the gift of vulnerability. It is a gift I can give to whomever I choose and that I don't owe it to anyone, even if I've given them that gift in the past.
14. I've learned to have compassion without taking ownership of what is triggering my compassion.
15. I've learned that it's okay to be human, that it was actually God's intent to make us that way. I don't need to overcome my humanity in order to be as God intended but to embrace it.
16. I've learned that it's ordinary to not know stuff. The more honest you are about not knowing, the more you learn and find connecting points with others.
17. I've learned to climb off the ministry pedestal that I put myself on and that others insist I stay on. When I disappoint someone by doing this, it says more about them than it says about me.
18. I have learned how to decline taking tests others set up for me to prove my value.
19. I've learned that my personal growth can happen alongside my childrens. It's not them versus me. Moms learn stuff too.
20. I've learned to hold grief. I've learned to sit in pain.
21. I've learned to acknowlege my resentment while faithfully and strategically working to dismantle it.
22. I've learned to just keep waiting on and hoping for the things I can't control or change.
23. I've learned to walk away from safe places when they no longer feel safe.
24. I've learned the joy of surprise when new, unexpected safe places reveal themselves at just the right time.
25. I've been through a process of sifting through and fervently developing my personal values (see the whole series!), to stand by them, to defend them and to give myself grace when I can't master them.
26. I've learned that disagreement is not personal but judgment is.
27. I've learned to hold two realities when they exist rather than holding one and ignoring the other to do so (i.e. villanizing someone who hurt me in order to validate my pain).
28. I've learned to lower my standards for myself. My inner perfectionist finally got identified! (It's never too late, deniers!)
29. I've decided to take offense when others seek to tame me.
30. I've learned to hold perceived slights and triggering interactions for as long as I need to til I can respond rather than react. This often takes a long longer but leads to better conversation and fewer regrets.
31. I'm learning to extend grace to where I've been rather than just to where I'm heading.
32. I've learned the immeasurable value of friendship. I am very rich indeed.
33. I've found that learning comes when I practice asking questions rather than telling answers.
34. I've learned to stay for just awhile longer when I really want to run.
35. I've learned to let people tell me who they are rather than insist or assume I already know.
36. I've learned how to visit dark places without setting up house.
37. I've learned how to receive the love and care of my community, not as a sign of weakness, but as evidence of our mutual care and respect. Ex-ministers always want to be the helpers! It's not real love or community if you don't learn to receive without shame or reciprocation.
38. I've learned how to identify what drains my energy and to either avoid it (no is a great word) or account for that with added self-care as needed.
39. I've learned that I am an advocate and will engage in necessary conflict in order to create safety for victimized individuals.
40. I've learned that giving dignity is God's go-to response to shame.
41. I've learned that shit happens, that bad things aren't always a result of poor choices and that we are not in control.
42. I've learned that at the end of trauma, you're truly blessed if you find that your love has not been quenched by it. Even more so, if it's grown deeper because of it. This is truly a gift.
Of course, saying "I've learned" might give the impression that I have all these lessons mastered and in hand. Not so much. But I have grown tremendously and I am so, so grateful for the work I've done and for the support I've received. I can't believe the life-long impact 66 hours of therapy has had on me. These are gifts that I will re-open time and time again. Hug your therapist!!!!!
Disclaimer: many of my discoveries living outside of the church environment are based on my specific church experiences, personality, personal hangups, background, etc. My posts are not meant to be a full reflection of what American Christianity looks like or what I think other believers should be doing. It is purely my experience.
Last week, I posted about why I no longer go to church. It was a big move for me and not surprisingly, I received a lot of feedback. One of the amazing things about this season of my life and the experience of sharing my story is that I am learning to receive all kinds of responses without feeling required to react immediately or to respond at all. This is why it has taken me 10 days to post. I'm learning to mull and live out of an incredibly empowering place that isn't reactionary. That being said, I'd like to thank each of you who read my post and contacted me in some way. There was a lot of concern and kindness coming my way.
After careful consideration, I'd like to take the feedback from a very supportive friend and share what patterns and values I am building into my life as a result of leaving church (as opposed to merely presenting what I'm not doing). Getting out of the church environment, I've been given more space to carve out my own personal values and live into them. (Some of this is a direct result of being in professional ministry, rather than just being a Sunday churchgoer). I'm no longer pouring myself out at church, which leaves me with much more energy for the very real self-work this season of my life is about.
The first value that I have more space for now is honesty. Honesty is such an invaluable quality, and something that has required a lot of space and counseling for me to live into. Not because I am a big, fat liar, but because of my ministry baggage and the care-taking tendencies that ministry rewards, I completely lost touch with my feelings and thoughts. The ones I did experience were internally judged and put through the filter of what was God-approved or disapproved based on our particular interpretation of the Bible before I reacted to them. I could identify which thoughts were "temptating" or "selfish" or "Godly" and respond accordingly. When I took off the filters and began to listen to the stories of the beautiful people all around me, the thoughts in my own heart, and incorporate what I'd personally experienced, I found my place of honesty. And you know what? In my honest place there are a lot more "I don't know's" than there were when I thought I had an answer to most of the big questions.
I find a beautiful correlation between honesty and vulnerability. If we're unwilling to be honest with ourselves, our relationships with others can only go so far. When we all have our guard up, conversation remains superficial because we feel like everyone else must have their shit together. Guess what? They don't. So they're either hiding it too or they aren't ready to see their own mess yet. That's okay for a time or for certain places. Everyone starts there and some environments aren't a safe place for vulnerability. But I live in deep relationship with those who are ready to see themselves and the world with the humility and grace that comes from knowing things aren't as black and white as we wish they were. We sit in the difficult reality that not everything that happens in our lives is a direct result of our choices. We acknowledge our lack of control. Let's face it. Shit happens. To everyone.
This is where community begins, with honesty. When one person lifts their veil, they're giving you an opportunity to lift yours. This is an act of huge generosity. This is the beauty of giving and receiving. In the church environment, I felt that giving was celebrated and receiving was shameful. (Let's pretend that I'm not tempted to rant about Christians shaming those on public assistance right now.)
We cannot be honest when we view the world from a posture of always being the giver, the speaker, the one who knows. We are not in touch with our very real human struggle. We see ourselves as the ones who have and others as those who have not. That tragic perspective keeps us from being open. We are quick to speak but UNABLE to truly listen. I find this attitude is more pervasive in churches bent on engaging in American culture wars and politics. And I know without a doubt that I am not the only non-churchgoer who is vehemently turned off by it. We've got to embrace our humanity.
Living in "the world", I see tremendous value in receiving. You cannot receive the generosity of others if you aren't honest enough to show your need. It's a beautiful, frightening relief. Give yourself a chance to exhale. There's no reason why we all need to be independent. Independence is a high American value but to me, it creates isolation. We need connection! Instead of building higher fences in our backyards for "privacy," we should be engaging in the world around us.
Honesty requires an openness to being wrong, to re-think what you thought you knew, to listen to the stories of the people around you without judgment. It requires us to be willing to be uncomfortable. It gives us a chance to try to see things from another perspective, to walk in someone else's shoes for awhile. It also creates space for people to judge us, as we have possibly judged them in the past. Let people in. It's a fine line because I've let a lot of things in and I've also set some better boundaries by sending things out as well. The thing is, I get to decide what informs my values, my theology, and my faith, not my pastor, my husband, my church, or one interpretation of the Bible.
I imagine living honestly looks differently for everyone. For me, it looks like not cleaning my house before people come over (unless I actually want to) and not apologizing if it's messy. No one wants to visit with a friend so they can see how much they don't have it together in comparison. And if I pour myself out cleaning before they get there, I'm not able to be as present in our conversation, really enjoying that time in relationship. What's the point of getting together then? To impress each other? I'm wholly uninterested in that. (This is also why I didn't wear makeup for more than a year. It's okay to show your real face).
A big piece of living honestly for me was learning to say no. It begins with listening to my inner voice and then actually using it. I can't imagine how much of my self I've wasted on things I have no passion or gifting for because it was asked of me and I thought I should. The world would be a much healthier and honest place if we all did away with "the should's" entirely.
I could go on and on about honesty. It's one of the greatest joys in my life right now. But I'll conclude with this: I've gotten some great feedback from writing this blog and I'm really enjoying the process. The most common reaction I get from readers is a commendation on my honesty. It takes courage to be honest (courage will definitely be a topic in this series of posts) and the world needs more of that. We respond to what we wish to see more of. The world around us needs our honesty, no matter how scary it may feel to lift that veil. In lifting my own veil, I've discovered that people a lot more alike than I ever thought we were. What a beautiful gift we give to humanity when we focus on our shared experiences rather than on our differences. This is the kind of giving that I can get on board with, not the guilty, rote or obligatory tithe, but the gift of vulnerability, the decision in the moment to lift the veil and to take a risk.