What is My Fair Share?

I was recently told that my family is not "paying our fair share" in taxes. Sadly, this was said by someone who is really in our life and I had wrongfully assumed, understood that our circumstances of underemployment are hopefully temporary. That being said, after the shame voices faded (more than a week later), I'm ready to process the idea of what we all owe each other as a society and how we choose to "pay" it. And if we have a choice in how we give or if our contribution must be mandated.
I remember when I was in college and my ministry partner had to give the "Communion Talk" at church one Sunday. In the church of Christ tradition, we always pass the collection plate (which is viewable for all to see...never sat right with me) after we pass the crackers and juice. It was the first time I heard someone encourage people to give what they had to the community (and in this case, to God) no matter what that was. He encouraged all these college students who weren't particularly flush with cash to find other ways to give. Give your time. Give your talents. Give a listening ear. And I remember thinking, "the money guys are going to be annoyed" and "huh, that's kind of cool." Little did I know what a progressive I would become!
I was always taught that giving was financial. And obviously, that's the first way to give that comes to mind and should not be underestimated (I know you can't pay the light bill with warm fuzzies). And yet, how reductionistic is it to assume that finances are the ONLY way a family can contribute to their community (and by extension, their local and national government). Once again, my true response to what was said to me only came after I calmed down the shame voices.
This is what my true response told me. 
1. My husband and I both work and both pay taxes. 
2. We have our taxes returned to us and we receive a refund because I have a small business that allows me to write off expenses and because after that, we don't make a lot of money and have two dependents. 
3. We don't make a lot of money on purpose. Not to leech off the government (again, hopefully we will outgrow the programs we're gratefully using) but for exactly the opposite reason. We value our community SO much that we willingly take non-profit work for poor pay in order to benefit our community. We just haven't found that "home" yet in this transition. 
4. I have sold over half a million dollars worth of wellness products since I moved to this community. I've contributed to the local economy as an individual in a fairly big way and have helped an important industry grow. In turn, the building of the wellness industry has SAVED a ton of money in medical expenses. My source says for every $1 spent on wellness products, $28 are saved in medical expenses. Theoretically, I've single-handedly saved $14 million in health expenses in the last 11 years and I've done it at home with my children part-time. 
5. I've chosen to be a stay-at-home parent. I believe that brings value to my children and to my community. I've been able to teach my children our values of tolerance and love at home in hopes that when I launch them into the community, they will make it better. * 
I'm sure there's more. But the point is, we contribute. We matter. We've made a difference. We need to be careful how we judge someone's contribution to the community. We need to check our privilege if we've never been in their position. If we're reducing everyone's contribution to taxes paid, we've got a lot of corrupt corporations to thank for being good citizens. Let's start passing out gold stars to big pharma, big oil, Wall Street and Monsanto. Sure, these are the people poisoning our food with chemicals, sending jobs overseas, and not giving their employees livable wages but hey, the economy benefits! Thank you for your contribution. 
What would happen if we expanded our view of what social contribution looks like? Yes, putting the money you can into the communal pot but also living with our hands outstretched to each other? Being willing to give our time, our energy, our resources to our neighbors on either side of us? What would it look like if the government didn't have to pry money out of our cold dead hands to help single mothers go to college and  keep our roads paved and our fire stations functioning? I understand we don't trust our politicians. That is a huge and legitimate issue and I don't toss that aside easily. But, do we trust each other? Can we have enough integrity to take from the pot what is truly needed and know that there will be more if we need to come back rather than grabbing everything we can just in case? Scarcity is a real thing when you're poor so I don't mean that as a judgment. I actually mean that for those who lack compassion for the poor. By reducing our contribution to taxes, you're diminishing our value, silencing our voices and ultimately, missing out on the fullness of true community. In our obsession with money, we're actually short changing ourselves.

* I wanted to be careful with this one. While I find stay-at-home parenting worthwhile and the right choice for us, I know many women who contribute to their community and their families by doing important professional work as well as good parenting at home. This is by no means a judgement on them. I admire you.

Be a Joiner

One of the values Tim and I both are enjoying living into so much is what I'm going to call Participating*. I was sheltered as a child from the world around me, including my neighbors. This was not intentional, per se, but we lived in a wealthy neighborhood and everyone pretty much kept to themselves. We went to private Christian schools, predominantly outside of our neighborhood and participated in daily bus trips or carpools in order for my parents to live into one of their highest values, private education.
When it became time for Tim and I to decide how we were going to educate our children, we decided to go with public school for a number of reasons. Financially, we were in the same position as my parents were. We could afford to privately educate our children but it would hurt. A lot. If that was a high priority of ours, I know we would find a way to make it work financially, just as my parents did (we had a very leaky roof when I was little. Luckily, it rarely rains in San Diego!) What we decided was that we really wanted to participate in our neighborhood life. What better way to do that than to put our precious children alongside theirs to learn at school every day. I know a lot of Christians who care very much about assimilating into their neighborhood and being a real presence there. Do it! This is one of the ways we chose to participate. If education isn't where you want to do it, there are other ways for sure. Be home on Halloween for Trick or Treaters. Host block parties, holiday parties, garage sales, whatever sounds fun. There's no wrong way to be a good neighbor. One of the best ways to be a good neighbor is to be home and to answer the door when people knock. (This will probably be another value discussed in the future).
We've lived in the same townhouse for 9 and a half years. We love it! Our cul de sac is tiny and most of our neighbors have been here as long as we have or longer. Our kids ride their bikes in the street and everyone looks out for each other. I called the fire department when our neighbors smoke detector didn't turn off a few years back. Our next door neighbor called the cops when one of our teen girls was getting beat down by another high school girl in the street. We all came out. We got involved. We all stand up for each other. We've got each others backs. I can't help but wonder if part of that is because we aren't wealthy. This is probably my own prejudice speaking. But there's a certain group mentality that comes from actually needing each other, asking to borrow things we don't have, sharing our resources and being in each others lives that I did not experience growing up on an affluent street as a child.  
One of the teachers reading to the kids.
As you can imagine, this has greatly affected our public school experience. Our school is a Title 1 school, which means we get extra funding because we're considered poor (this was a funny realization for us since we've always felt incredibly blessed). The teachers are committed, well-educated and just all around kick-ass at their jobs. Macy's first grade class is 50% ESL students. It's a great, close-knit, diverse school environment. Macy's education has been fantastic (I've found that often Christian schools are more focused on protecting children in a "safe" environment than giving them a better education). I've been impressed by the moral values emphasized in the schools behavioral expectations as well as the consistency with which they deal with infractions. Everything is clear, streamlined and fair. At Curriculum Night this year, I was blown away by the Class Pledge Macy's teacher had created with the children's input. It read, "In our class we try our best to be respectful to each other. We are nice and kind and think of other peoples hearts. We are friends with everyone and we try to share. We help each other out and cheer each other on. This is our promise to ourselves and each other." Can you imagine if this was posted on our streets, in our stores, in church, on government buildings...This would change the world. And you know what? It is changing the world, with these 21 1st graders who read it every day in class.  
Waiting to sing!
When you go to a school event after hours, the PTA is there, the principal, many teachers, the community liason (she helps families with financial needs) and a gang of parents and kids. In the 15 months we've been involved with our school, we've participated in fundraisers, book fairs, a family dance, Thanksgiving feasts, Back to School nights, Curriculum Nights, conferences, performances, skate nights, bingo nights - you name it. Last night, Macy and I attended the school Barnes & Noble Book Fair. Barnes & Noble hosts the whole school (during normal business hours) and they give the school 20% of all purchases made by participants back to the school. The children display their artwork. Many classes sing and dance. There are trivia games between parents and kids. We even had a renown illustrator there to speak and sign books for the kids. As you can see from the photos, this is not really a conducive environment for such an event. But we don't have an auditorium at our school to accommodate all the parents and kids. So, for our school Seuss-themed holiday night, we sat on the floor of Barnes & Noble with children standing on blue tape lines 3 inches in front of kids sitting in the audience. 
Sorry it's blurry - trying to inconspicuously capture the parents.
We had a boom box playing the accompaniment. We had children in sweatpants, fancy gowns and everything in between. Faces streaked with cheesecake samples from the baristas, these beautiful, messy children sang their hearts out about the Grinch, Christmas, family and love. I gotta tell you guys, I was a freaking mess. What a beautiful experience! All of us crammed in together celebrating community, love, life and children. Turns out, the accommodations weren't amazing when Jesus was making his way out of teenage Mary's birth canal either. But his entrance was grand in all the mess and beautiful chaos that I can only imagine ensued. (Mary AMAZES me but that's a side note). 
Macy proudly showing the gift she made to decorate the walls.
This is my community. I wouldn't trade it for the world. Participate in the world all around you. It's ripe for the taking. It's easy to think, "they don't need me. Last night would have gone on even if I hadn't come." That's true, except if every person there had the same idea, those hard-working music teachers, art teachers, principals, children and awesome Barnes & Noble workers would have done all their work for nothing. No books purchased on behalf of the school. No one to impress with Seuss-themed artwork. No one to clap while they danced and sang. Your community wants your participation. It's the better for it. And so are you.

* If you're unfamiliar with my series on personal values, see my previous posts on honesty, kindness, sharing, giving dignity and decency

Give Dignity

As a perfectionist, I struggle with separating my actions from my personal value. Most perfectionists either under-perform or over-perform. The under-performers contemplate a task, feel overwhelmed by their inability to do it perfectly and choose not to attempt it at all. Over-performers do too many tasks, often thoroughly and then project their high-achieving personal expectations onto others all the while feeling resentment and exhaustion because they have to "do everything themselves." Both of these life approaches seriously suck. I get to say that because I'm talking about myself. (I'm the latter, by the way, and waffle between judging and feeling jealous of the former).
I bring this issue up in the midst of my series on personal values because I think it touches on the core of my next value. I'm calling it dignity. For me, part of my reasoning for removing myself from the church environment, at least for now, has been about an inappropriate connection I've felt in church between self and actions. When we condemn people, rather than choices, I think we've made a critical error. We've chosen not to give dignity to the human being in question. 
I firmly believe that human beings were made in the image of God, that we are intended for good, that we are capable of great things, and that ultimately, we are good. Are we also capable of self-destructive patterns that can harm others? Of course. But is that who we really are, in our heart of hearts? Is that where we are happiest, most fulfilled, free and full of love, joy and peace? No. *
Because of this belief, I reject any cultural pattern that uses shame as a way to control behavior. This very much includes the evangelical church. Children are not "bad girls/boys" when they make bad choices. They are precious people who are doing something wrong/unhealthy/harmful/bad, however you want to frame that. But they are not bad when they make bad choices, have a bad moment, feel big emotions, or make the "lesser" choice. They need guidance, tools, encouragement and dignity to make better choices. They don't need shame.
I cannot overstate how important the difference is between these two approaches. When we make someone feel bad about WHO THEY ARE based on WHAT THEY DO, we're often perpetuating the exact reasons why people make bad choices in the first place - because they feel like shit. (I'm also really working on not framing everything as "good" or "bad" in the first place, but that's another conversation. I'm using good/bad framework to make a greater point here).
Using this lens, I see the people around me, my children and myself very differently. I'm working to no longer pressure myself to behave in order to make others approve of me, that their approval somehow makes me something that I'm not without it. It's revolutionized the way I approach my faith. I'm beginning to learn what grace really is! And guess what? It's AWESOME. I'm replacing the idea that I'm terrible and He's so great with I'm great and He thinks so too. He's my source and He's my friend. While I tend to be hard on myself, He's soft towards me. In my personal experience (which I understand is wildly subjective), He is always sweeter, kinder, gentler and more patient that I am with myself. After all this time, I'm still blown away by Him.
It's taken me awhile to identify shame and its destructive nature in me. If you're not entirely sure what I'm talking about, check out Brene Brown's extensive work on the subject. She has done amazing research and her descriptions of what shame feels like and how to combat it have been really helpful to me. When you shut yourself down because your feelings are "stupid/dramatic/dumb/overreacting", that's shame. When you decide not to communicate what you're thinking and feeling because "they probably won't listen to me anyway/it's not important/it'll just make them mad", that's shame. When you don't want to do something but you do it anyway because you feel like you should, that's often motivated by shame. When you don't communicate what you need because "it's too much/not worth it/silly", that's shame. 
We have GOT to give ourselves dignity or we'll never be able to extend it to others. We don't give ourselves dignity so we can dole it out (also an important distinction). We give ourselves dignity because God put it in us when He made us. Humans are inherently valuable regardless of belief, age, sex, race, sexual orientation, nationality, socioeconomic status and political party. We are worthy of respect and dignity BY NATURE. We need to acknowledge that within ourselves and within the people all around us, especially people we don't love or agree with. It's so insanely easy to assume ill motive of others who come from a different perspective. But they deserve dignity and their views are valid, even if you disagree. 
The lack of giving others dignity (I also see this as giving people the benefit of the doubt) is so clearly seen in how conservative Christians treat Barack Obama. Yes, apparently I'm going there. He's a person, guys. He's not the anti-christ, terrorist, Muslim that you say he is. He's a person. You may disagree with him politically. That's fine. We're lucky to live in a country where that is perfectly acceptable. Use your voting power and your influence to make change. In your disagreement, don't forget to acknowledge that he is a human being and therefore, has inherent dignity that needs to be treated with respect. (My husband next to me would like to add that this disparaging treatment, of course, happened to George W. Bush as well. Unfortunately, hatred runs on both sides of this partisan river. This is one of the many reasons I try to stay out of political arguments - says the woman who probably just started one).
When we focus on sin elimination in the church (always working on some sin area in our lives) we completely miss the point of grace. God is not in the business of behavior modification. Of course, we are not entirely separate from our actions. But neither are we the sum of them. The story of the adulterous woman comes to mind. The Jews bring before Jesus a woman they caught in the act of adultery and ask if she is to be stoned (according to Old Testament law). Not even going to start ranting here about where the eff the man is in this scenario, but seriously? WTF? Jesus gets down on her level, writes something on the ground (we don't know what) and asks the crowd to stone her if they haven't sinned themselves. They all walk away, he looks into her eyes and tells her she's safe ("I don't condemn you") and she can make different choices ("Go and sin no more), not because she's a bad person and needs to shape up, but because she is loved! She matters! He is giving her dignity. 
This is a huge deal for a number of reasons. He had every authority to lay into her. Man, he would have been fully qualified to condemn her. The object of this gift of dignity is a woman. Seriously, in this culture, especially an "impure" woman was of very little value. He spoke to her. He got on her level. He defended her publicly. He did not condemn her. He also empowered her to do good. If he can give her dignity, how can we not give it to her and to ourselves as well? 
Who are the "adulterous women" in our modern culture? Certainly, women are still struggling to be given dignity. Definitely anyone in a racial minority. There is certainly a lot of angst among the various religious groups in our country right now. Homosexual and transgender individuals most definitely. Poor people, yup. How can we give dignity to them? How can we stop seeing them as "them" and begin to see them as "us"? Because let's face it, folks: every human has inherent dignity given to them by God. Don't take it away. Be in the business of giving it back.

* As a side note, I will say that I believe there is a point in a person's life where they can cultivate their evil leanings, leading to a very active, purposefully destructive lifestyle. While I believe this goes against our intended nature, it is clearly evident in those who take great pleasure in hurting others. I'm more speaking to us normal folks, not the sadists in the world.

Living Honestly

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. 

Righteous Indignation or Hatred?

I'm wrestling with something. I've always struggled to sit in my anger. I feel like I have to apologize when I'm angry. In some ways, I think this is because I'm a woman. Our culture seems to value male anger as authoritative and female anger as bitching. So I tend to repress my anger, partly because it's difficult for me to advocate for myself (see: caretaking issues) and anger tends to draw negative attention. It also does not appear "nice" which I think our evangelical culture pushes on women a lot in the name of "service". 
I say these things because I am angry about something. There have been Facebook threads again this week highlighting the intensely bigoted statements of a well-known evangelical pastor, Mark Driscoll. The statements are old (10-15 years) and they are highly offensive. You may think that because they are old, he should not be held accountable for his words. But his theology is very present both in his old statements as well as in his current ministry. He's genuinely anti-women. He sees us as lesser, weak, temptresses in need of being lorded over by men. He preaches these ideas in the name of God. He's also incredibly mean about it. Feel free to read up on him. He's unapologetic. 
I responded to a thread recently where a friend of mine posted this article, stating that he should not be in church leadership. As people were agreeing with her, I posted a pretty angry, name-calling agreement venting my frustration with people who follow this guy. It's more my theological grievances coming out again and it's further exacerbated by my own sexist church baggage and my long history with taking on causes (again, caretaking issues). 
A man responded by saying that we were only fighting hatred with hatred and that this was sad. I felt him shaming my anger and I almost agreed with him. I have a long-standing conditioning that says when questioned about my feelings, they're probably too intense or even completely misplaced. But then I really sat in why I was angry. I was angry at the bullying that theology like Mark Driscolls fuels in church culture. I'm angry at the way this theology makes people feel about themselves, about their inherent value (or lack thereof) and most importantly to me, about how God sees them. This theology perpetuates exactly what I'm fighting: that who we are inherently is not enough, that because I'm a woman with a voice or because my friend is gay and loves God or because my husband is a tender, loving father, we are warped, wrong, less, invalid. And not just according to some extremist in Seattle but according to the God who made us! 
I'm going to let you in on a secret, the conclusion I've come to in my anger. I believe my desire to advocate for the bullied, to come alongside the marginalized, to find my voice, to listen to the stories of others, is not in fact, hatred but obedience to the voice of God within me. He tells me to be brave, to speak out, to listen. I know my theology is under construction. As a perfectionist, I want an "end date" to that process, but as an earnest seeker of truth, I hope I remain under construction til the day I die. But even if I don't have a lot figured out, I've figured out that anger can be holy. 
I know God doesn't need me to defend him. I know that even my fellow comrades in condemnation (according to Driscoll) don't need me to be their voice. But that outcry comes from within me. And I will not be silent. 

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.