Ministry - Friend or Foe?

As many of my readers know, I fell head over heels in love with ministry in my youth. It gave me a way to use my talents, honor God and give to the community in a way that fueled me. It compelled me to wake up and hop out of bed every morning. It defined me, in a lot of ways. I was addicted to helping others. It sounds weird and maybe unhealthy to you or maybe really cute and inspiring. It was all of those things. I meant everything I said and did in those days but I also had a real pride issue and an inability to receive what I was doling out. I also was not tuned into my voice and therefore, gave too much power to other people in my life. I lived out of a place that was without healthy boundaries.

I had a weird experience last weekend where I got to unpack our firing from professional ministry trauma a little bit more with someone who had an inside perspective. I have had many talks with people from all sides of that trauma over the years and it has been mostly helpful, though always triggering. This particular conversation centered around my ministry abilities and how that may have affected our firing. What was shared was somehow both infuriating and validating. I will not share the specifics of what was shared, but I do want to share how that information further helped me process how I feel about myself in ministry.

Ministry, in some ways, has felt like the beloved pet who got rabies and became very threatening and unstable not unlike Old Yeller. And so for everyone's sake, you put down the beloved pet and you grieved the loss both of what was and what might have been. But here's the thing, what was a burning fire within me has not been fully snuffed out. I'm not going to lie to you; that scares the shit out of me. How much easier would it be if I could stamp out that little flickering light and walk away? Given a choice, that would be the easier option. And I have in no way fanned that flame. What I do have is a shit-ton of church baggage, confusion about what it means as this new person I've become to use my gifts and also to hold space for healthy boundaries and my pain, and a genuine resistance to risk. Church is a very scary place for me. Miraculously, my new church (I've been there over 2 years but I hesitate to put down roots) is very safe, though moments of triggering come up from time to time. Mostly, when anything is ever asked of me. I'm like a guy who can't commit though he's with a marrying-type of girl. I know what I have there is special but my propensity to run is definitely present. I want everything on my terms. And that's not living in community. I am totally proficient at building community outside of church now, which is an incredible byproduct of our traumatic firing. I didn't know who I was outside of church before and I now I have the opposite problem. How do I use my gifts in a church setting without risking further damage to my soul and fueling the fire that is my ego, the anti-thesis of who I want to be in the world? I DON'T KNOW.

And yet, that little flame keeps burning. An easy way around the official church stuff is to recognize that there is a lot of good I do in my personal life and relationships and if you're looking to label things, you could call that ministry. I don't like to because it feels cheap to me, but you could. Calling something in my personal life "ministry" now feels like I'm using that opportunity, need, relationship as a project. That it's not equal relationship, but some sort of gift I'm bestowing upon the receiver. I don't like it and I find the implications of that insulting to the people I've come to know and love. I don't like the above/below dynamic of ministry. I know there are many humble people in ministry, but I was of the mind that I had something to give others and that that was my purpose. To give. The problem with that is that it stems from a dirty place that I have something others don't. And that can turn into thinking I'm better than other people. Here's the thing - none of that is true. Giving has no value if you cannot recognize that at any point, the tables can and will turn and you will need people to give to you. I do not having anything more than anyone else. Yes, we all have different experiences, talents and personalities. And I do live out of a place that there is work to be done in life by me specifically that would benefit the world. But I also believe that's true of every, single human. Also, I don't own Jesus and I don't dispense him at will. I think he's awesome but I also think there are many people in the world doing good things, living loving lives who do not claim him. And I'm ok with that now. In some ways, their motives are more pure because they're not motivated by heaven. Their reward is doing good because they are compelled to do good. That should and has always been more than enough. And I am definitely not better than anyone else. I'm not more deserving, more kind or more gifted. I am not "other", "special", "set apart" or "different." Yes, I know we're all special in our own ways and I don't say these things to degrade myself. What I mean is, if any of these ideas cause me to think I am better than someone who doesn't believe or live in the way I do, I have lost everything. There is no value in work motivated by pride.

I know what you're thinking - why does it matter what you call it? Ministry? Living your values? Being a decent person? It doesn't matter. Not really. But I'm like a dog with a bone; I can't seem to pry that damn idea from my mind. Ministry is like the harpoon that scarred me irrevocably. I survived the injury, but the imprint it made on me won't release me to deny its potential. Who knows where this processing will lead me. I am confident that the flame will not go out and there is a reason for that. Thanks for walking with me as I experience this crazy thing unfold.  

When Trauma Comes to Visit

Don't you hate it when you've done all you can to process a trauma and it still comes to visit from time to time? I wish there was a way to not be shaped by our traumas. I know that's not possible and probably not even good as terrible things often shape us in somewhat positive ways, if you're in a frame of mind to see it. Though I must admit, that's hard to do in the middle of the night when you wake up from a nightmare sobbing. It's been 5 and a half years since we left professional ministry. We've been through other traumas since that time that were even more severe and yet that one still leaves a mark. I think I must admit to myself that it always will. My ultimate goal is to not let my traumas make me a bitter, hardened person. Unfortunately, sometimes in order to get to that place, you gotta work through a lot of pain and anger.  

I am still connected to our old church through a weekly MOMS group I attend. Most of the women there are unaware of my history and the church has been through a major overhaul in both style and leadership since we left. Yet, I'm still walking those halls, seeing many of the people from our "old life" and everyone acts like nothing ever happened. I guess that's the only way to move forward. It's not like I want to spend my 2 hours of weekly free childcare sussing out old pain with people I don't really trust. And I know I've already had the hard conversations I needed to have way back when. The group has been a great source of fun and friendship for me (I feel I need to justify my attendance since being in that environment is clearly still triggering).  

Perhaps it is the perfectionist in me that wants to check "professional church ministry trauma" off the list and move on. And I have moved on in ways I am really proud of and genuinely grateful for. I know if the trauma had not happened, we would not be the people we are today. And I think we are better people. I am so much more humble, gracious and honest than I was before. I was always a nice person but leaving professional ministry helped me embrace my humanity, give myself grace and become an all-around kinder person. I've found my voice, my values and my own footing having had that formerly precious security blanket ripped from me. And yet, it's still hard. It's still sad. And sometimes, that trauma comes to call. Maybe that's how you know something you lost really meant so much. When that pain knocks, perhaps the healthiest thing to do is open the door, embrace the pain and let the tears flow.

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. 

Separation is Hard

I like to think of myself as a pretty chill parent. I let my kids lead for the most part. We still set boundaries with our children, as you should in any relationship, but I don't have a lot of actual "rules", more like rituals. Anyway, because of the whole one less car issue, I made the executive decision to have Macy ride the bus to school for the rest of the year. She's changing school next year (for exciting reasons I'm sure I'll talk about some other time!) and we are required to drive her there. So this is clearly a 5ish week change. But my darling daughter is me to a tee. She resists change. When I mentioned to her that it was a real possibility, she was upset. We were walking home from school and she essentially raced away and walked home without me. I figured she needed time to process her feelings and wasn't surprised. We had a bus incident (I'm sure it'll come up here eventually) when she was in kindergarten that I had in the back of my mind to revisit so she doesn't have issues with independence in this area and karma intervened. Here we are, taking the bus. 
So we're confronting some past trauma for both of us. We're also making an unexpected change and not really by choice. We're cutting into the precious Macy/Mommy time we have each morning and both of us share Quality Time as our primary love language. And yet, once Daddy explained through the emotional haze that this was a necessary step for all of us (it's really the safest, best choice for the family with one vehicle right now) and that sometimes being in a family means doing things that we don't want to do. Personal sacrifice is part of community and that's an important lesson (one I'm still really wrestling with on the church level) to learn. 
Waiting patiently for me to return after a potty break.
20 minutes, people!
Once I realized that on top of feeling like there's too much change for her (new school next year and getting glasses) that Macy's primary concern was not having as much time with me, I determined that I would get up earlier and make her lunch the night before. Of course, we were ready way early and rather than read together, which I was fully expecting, Macy was ready to skip to the curb and wait for the bus for TWENTY minutes. That kid. This, she also gets from me. Once the change is determined, you face it with gusto. We chatted with the neighbor boys and got the skinny on where to sit (and apparently where NOT to sit. Bus politics have not changed, my friends) and I introduced her to the bus driver. 
Lots of roadside hugs
I came home feeling sad and relieved. This time is different. When you revisit something that was scary, the fears start talking and shame voices gain traction. Sadness or grief pay a visit. If you don't know the word for this type of experience, it's called "triggering." I'm mostly nostalgic that my little girl is growing up and I'm proud of myself for making a hard decision that's still the right one for the whole family. Sometimes my perfectionist brain thinks that what is best for the whole family might harm the individual (this is a theme for me from the trauma of our post-partum depression experience). And sometimes, that's true. But in this case, I believe this is also what's best for Macy. If we can still get her need for quality time met, she will gain confidence and independence through this that will help prepare her to change schools in the fall. I guess all of that is to say, it's okay that "normal" adjustments are hard for you. I know so many people who don't bat an eye at this type of change and probably think I'm silly for feeling all the feels. But I do. Perhaps because I have so many feelings, it has made me the right mom for the daughter who is just the same. 

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.

What I've Learned in Therapy

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!!!!!

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.

On the Cusp of Something

I'm in that weird vortex between two seasons of life. We all are. I've got one foot in fall and one foot in summer. Macy starts 1st grade on Wednesday. In some ways, this is awesome! I love the fall and frankly, I'm totally over sweating. I want to break out the skinnys and the boots. I want to have pumpkins on my porch and my child in school all day. I love her, but she is my mirror. And sometimes it's hard to look at my precious firstborn and not see myself in all my glory. I see her pleasing. I see her perfectionism. I see her enthusiasm. I see her insatiable need for love and attention. I see her wanting more and more from her loved ones. I hear her voice talking on and on. I see her passion, her anger, her smile, her fear. Sometimes it's overwhelming. Sometimes for my own sanity, I want to set her on a shelf for awhile. It's terrible, but it's honest and there's no way I'm the only parent who feels that way. I'm just that person who always outs themselves in brutal honesty.
I'm ready to slow down. I'm ready to take more time and energy for myself. I'm ready for some quiet. But the perfectionist in me also feels let down. Summer is over. All the things I wanted to do this summer that I didn't get to do are scrolling through my mind like a parade of shame. All the hours I let my kid watch TV while I hid in my room, I remember. I really tried to cut myself some slack this summer, but I still wish I was capable of more, that I could just go on forever. There's a grace in me being unable to do and be everything I want to be (and everything I feel pressure to be). Because if I could go on forever, I would. I would not eat, sleep, rest. I wouldn't. And that is one of the beautiful things about being human. I don't have a choice. Thank God for that.
As a caretaker, I often pull up short when my own needs present themselves. I don't realize I need to eat until I'm starving. I tuck self-care in the nooks and crannies of taking care of everyone else. This is common for women in this "season of life" when you have small children. But when I have noticeable emotional needs, it surprises me. Gah!
When I was in college, my therapist mentioned to me that small transitions require extra self-care for me. (Yes, I'm in therapy now and I was in therapy then. Best time/money spent ever). I need to give myself a little extra grace when the seasons change, when my schedule changes, when my friends leave and when new ones come. The changes don't have to be "bad". In fact, they are often the changes that I anticipate that throw me the most.
This seemingly small transition from one season to another is greatly exacerbated by Labor Day. I know, weird. It's such a non-holiday. But in our family, it has served as a benchmark of pain the last few years. 3 years ago, it was on Labor Day that we walked away (not by choice) from ministry forever. It was on Labor Day weekend last year that I took my husband to the ER and had him admitted for pervasive suicidal thoughts, with 7 week old Penny in tow. He then went to a respite facility for 2 nights, finally with dear friends for 3 weeks in town. In those weeks, I was raising our newborn alone (with MASSIVE support from friends and family), caring for a traumatized 5 year old starting kindergarten, and myself in a frightening post-partum experience. It was, by far, the worst thing I've ever endured. I learned I was capable and that I need help. I learned that marriage is a choice and depression is not. 
Well, Tim had a minor surgery on Thursday that landed me in a medical facility waiting for his medication and discharge for 2 hours with 2 hungry, tired kids. We then ended up in the exact same ER as last year 90 minutes after he was home from the surgery because he was vomiting all his pain pills. I missed Macy's Back to School night because I was juggling my now very mobile daughter while my husband was treated. And since then, I've been racing around caring for the 3 of them on our final days of summer. It's all way too familiar. Tim will have to get a stent removed from the surgery sometime this week, which means there will be another procedure. I've found myself crying in parking lots, crying in my kitchen, crying now at my computer. This is an anniversary I wish to never revisit, a season of life I would like to bury forever. I wouldn't wish the way I witnessed my spouse a year ago on anyone. Sometimes life has a way of sticking it to you, right in your weakest places, making the world that I usually see with naively rosy glasses suddenly feel cold and untrustworthy. 
I know today is not a year ago or 3 years ago, for that matter. As familiar as this feels, it isn't the same. This weekend gives me an opportunity to continue to grieve the pain that was last year and previous years. But it also serves as a reminder that we've come a long way. I choose to sit in that rather than focus on how far we still have to go. But sometimes on nights like this, it feels heavy. I try to be present, to sit in the mess. As you can imagine, perfectionists don't like messes, particularly emotional, familial un-fixable ones! I have a savior complex. Being "in process" myself, not being able to control the processes of my family members, and waiting for simple moments that come more often now but not often enough is not an easy thing for me. 
I'm learning that we don't get to choose our life, only the way we're living it. I choose to live mine honestly. I choose to tell my story when I'm crying in parking lots and when I'm laughing with my kids. It's all part of my story. And I have to believe that ultimately, my story is good, that I'm part of a greater story that matters. Our suffering has value. It's not a punishment. It's a reality, a critical piece of our human experience. In some ways, it is what most greatly unites us. I want to connect with the people around me, with their humanity, with their compassion, with their story. I don't want to live in an ivory tower, rising above everyone else. Of course, I'd love to get out of the trenches for awhile. I don't want to stay here forever. But if being in the trenches makes me a more open, honest, compassionate and generous version of myself, is it worth it? I think it just might be. Luckily, it's not up to me to decide if I stay in the trenches or not. We usually stay in longer than we thought we would or intended to. We're antsy and ready to rise above the ground. I believe I will, stronger than ever, in time. But for now, I'll be down here if you need me, in the trenches.