Pieces of me

I remember the exhilarating feeling of the Summer after graduating high school.  I was 18, seemingly confident, and full of wonder for the future.  I can feel that ghost of a girl as I fondly look back.  Her identity would take some hits in the coming years.

I remember the trepidation and excitement as I spent the first night in my dorm room at the University of Tennessee alone. The lonely moved in that night, and a foreign reality set in.  The familiarities of life in a small town with the rhythms of predictable and warm people was traded for an upside down perspective where no one knew me or valued me. 

I remember getting a call from Delta Airlines offering me a job after graduating from UTK.  After training, I would be living in New York City with many people in an apartment.  Adventure called, and it sounded good but made me nauseated with fear.  My heart failed me, and due to health issues amidst training, I landed back at home with my parents unable to drive for 2 ½ months.  Talk about a pride crushing anti-climax. 

As I reflect, there have been a lot of times where I have been in a season with no plan, a timid voice and a questioning of my abilities. 

Transitional seasons in life have brought me right back to that scared, excited, lonely girl in that dorm room who mistakenly thought she knew herself.

Adult life can feel predictable, but the truth is, we are all being flipped on our heads all of the time with change, grief and conflict.  So, why don’t we talk about it? We isolate our inner turmoil and find ways to turn it’s noise down instead of sharing our fears with others.  Then, instead of exploring it, we self-destruct making asinine decisions that might destroy our families and our friendships in the process.

It’s funny.  In the last year, I have experienced high confidence in who I am and how I am growing in the aftermath of a really tough season.    Yet, Right now, I am plunged into a place where I feel my shortcomings, my selfishness, my lack of focus and how that affects the lives around me greater than I ever have before.  Who in the heck am I? As a kid, I had no idea adults were walking around feeling this way!

The Lord keeps giving me this picture of my life as pieces of paper ripped and piled up, unable to be made sense of by me. Since thinking and problem solving are my go-to activities, I have been frustrated.  I have this need to work it out and find a reason for things to be happening and how to solve them or spin them for a purposed good. And yet, He continues to remind me, “Show up right now, Jen.  You are not to figure it all out.  Don’t hide in your mind or your activities. Show up, and rely on Me.”    He is the One making the collage.  He knows the vision.  It is not my job to have the plan and piece the pile together. My purpose is to lean in, to know Him, and to trust Him.  It is there that peace is found.    

Empathy is one of my gifts but grieving is not.  So, I emote for others but I struggle to sit with and identify my emotions myself.  It feels too unpredictable.  It feels wrong.  I want to run from it, yet God does not let me.  Without the moments in my life where I am floundering and lack my sea legs to find a place and an identity (like all the situations mentioned above), I trust in myself and my abilities.    I stay on the surface. 

With each transition of undoing and being remade, I see the emptiness of life in Jen.  I see a shell of life with no pearl formed.  I see vacuous decisions.  Not that I seek it, but It is through pain, questions, annoyance, arrogance, loss, frustrations, hurts, and conflict that the grit has been rubbing my soul to form a pearl that reflects the glories of Him and not of my plans or my desires.  Good grief, what I would dream and desire would be empty and easy and so far away from the splendor of knowing the Creator of the Universe as my adopted Father.   So, I sit in the pieces, grieving the “not yet” and sitting in the “already” of redemption.  I am learning ever so clumsily. 

What did I expect?

It all started with a little conversation with a woman who embraces life with gusto. We found out our birthdays are one day and 11 years apart. She asked me what I had planned for my birthday. She had 3 separate parties planned. I said, “Wow! We don’t really have high expectations for birthdays.”

Then, I thought back to my 35th birthday when I took it upon myself to grab life by my rules. I was embracing the fact that we were at the end of our quest for fertility, and I said, “I am throwing myself a dinner party and will choose to celebrate!” After the prior conversation, I made a decision a few weeks ago that I would take charge of making something happen on my birthday this year instead of being passive. Life is what you make it, right?

Well, I tried to make it. I decided we would go out with some friends of ours for a birthday dinner. I sought out babysitters. One by one, no one was available. And then, I began writing this script in my head. (Spoiler alert: this is why you do NOT practice having unexpressed expectations .)

Expect: to consider probable or certain; to anticipate or look forward to the coming or occurrence of; preparing/envisioning for—Hope; anticipate, await

I said…”well, we can work on a girl’s night.” However, guess what I had envisioned in my head? It went a little something like this: Greg had really scheduled one of these babysitters “who couldn’t make it,” and we were going to go as planned but it would be a surprise for me. Y’all. We don’t really do surprises in our family. We don’t do manipulation (I learned this at 23 the first time I stormed out of a room and was not followed). We try to say what we mean. Why in the world, did I think the rules had changed?

I dared to expect, but I told no one. I tried to put it together, and I expected a different outcome when things did not go as I planned. Instead of dealing in reality, I kept basing my hopes on a script I had made up. As I was recounting this story later, my friend, Beth, said–“you normally do not do this!” Yep–but I did it with abandon this time.

Because we had planned to go to dinner earlier in the week, I told Greg to go to buy tickets for the Avengers movie on the morning of my birthday while I was with the boys. In an attempt to seize the day with my boys, I thought we could go downtown. I reached out to several people to see if they were up for tagging along, and no one was available. Most people I know plan ahead, so I could not fault them for my lack of foresight. Our plans were amended, and we went to Chick-fil-a for the boys to play outside, and then, Greg met us to take them home while I had some “me” time. Usually I am elated to have some alone time that is unscheduled. However, because I had set my expectation on the hope that my birthday would somehow be filled with people, I came up lonely and disappointed.

Y’all, I kept digging the hole deeper and deeper with the false narrative. “It’s okay because tonight…” I came home “in my feelings” realizing that I had set myself up. So, like any good 7 on the Enneagram, I took up a paint brush and painted a wall and changed around a room. I cannot control the other stuff, so, I chose what I could control. I was mad, lonely, frustrated, and it was no one’s fault but my own. I ruined my own birthday with my attitude.

As I was cooking dinner that night, I began to fight to take back the narrative. I began telling myself what is really true instead of my feelings. My feelings, based on a false narrative, had hijacked my joy. I had been riding a rollercoaster of self-imposed self-pity.

What did I remember was true? I have a beautiful family with boys that awakened me with flowers and a card (that their Daddy provided for them) as my birthday began. I have a husband that is real and true and faithful that doesn’t play games that joyfully gave me time to myself. He is a rock for me. I had a day of sunshine and warmth and flowers and the hope of Spring that I chose to ignore. I have a Mother-in-Law that thoughtfully sent a beautiful arrangement of flowers. I had the privilege of affording Chick-fil-a and watching my boys have fun and care for others as they played. I have hope in Jesus because of His work on the cross and life He lived. I have a home that I can be creative in. I could go on and on.

The last thing that was true? I had the privilege of leading a women’s growth series the next morning where we would discuss relationships, vulnerability, authenticity, and gulp, expectations. “I get it, Lord.” My life had been a lab for what we were going to talk about. My heart was tender, and I was reminded of this fight we have in relationships. We can allow our desires and our expectations to run rampant and to leave us in a constant state of disappointment, resentment, loneliness–poor me. We can write an impossible script that we are hoping will come true that is completely unrealistic and false. In doing so, we keep ourselves stuck, and we miss out on the true joys and the true growth. We can become a victim of our false thinking. Let me assure you of this, the control we have in life is in how we think and respond to things. With the truth of God’s word, the Spirit and the hope in Christ, we can live with a lens of adventure and expectancy that do not have our limited desires and narrative as the end all, be all.

Was I still tender and sad the next day? Yes. Did I have hope in something beyond circumstances? Yes. Did I get together with a few friends that Sunday night to pull away and celebrate time together? Yes. And, I appreciated the simple joy of doing so…

Part Deux…

        Challenge number 4 in being a pastor’s wife:  You r identity is not being a pastor’s wife.  As far as I know, only one person has refered to me as “that Preacher’s wife.”  We had a good laugh at that one with some friends because that is not “who” I am.  I am jennifer, redeemed yet flawed, growing and struggling, not yet arrived.  A “preacher’s wife”  to me has big hair and a lot of make-up  on the billboard with her husband, an untouchable, someone you cannot see as real.  If people laud you or your husband–or tear down you or your husband, do not believe the hype.  There is nothing that separates you from other people in God’s eyes.  You are called to the same obedience and given the same grace.  You are special in God’s sight, but you are not God’s gift to humanity!  He can do it without you or your husband–period.  When we start to think we are indespensible in any role–watch out because a humbling dose of reality might come our way!  I am thankful for this.  The pressure is off.

Challenge number 5 when your husband is a pastor:  Who do you talk to when you have had it with your husband and your marriage and your children are struggling?  That’s a good question.  I realize that many people feel very much alone in this.  First, you talk to God and realize that He is your One true joy.   Secondly, I think it is important to pursue friends that are in the same situations as you–perhaps friends in ministry in different places who understand that pressures that come.  There may be people in your congregation who are safe for you–and there are certain people who are not.  People who are not safe are those who are not “real” themselves–those who wear a mask of perfection or expect your family to wear one.  Look for older and wiser women–pray over time for this gift.  Being real doesn’t mean that you spill your stuff everywhere.  We know that there are women who are gossips and not safe.  There are many women who have been deeply hurt in these kinds of relationships.  Seek to be the type of person you want to be befriended by–real, honest, trustworthy.  I have found that you can be authentic and yet have boundaries.  There is a way for you to let others know that everyone’s life has challenges–marriage and child-rearing are hard no matter what your husband does for a living–we are all in process and God is the superintendant.  A very helpful thing for me has been that we meet as Pastor’s wives on retreat and for brunch within our body.  It is a safe place to share struggles and ask for prayer and just be.  This has been a gift. 

      Enough about what my husband does…I really love who he is!  I like that we can laugh together.  Hopefully in a month full of stress with school starting back and other weights, we can take time to laugh and enjoy one another purposefully.

Isolation Remixed

Well, it is always a good lesson to put into practice that which you share–i.e., the prior blog. Last Tuesday afternoon marked a time of sadness for me about infertility, and I thought a lot about the blog when I decided how I should respond. My first inclination was to isolate myself–“No one wants to hear this, they may try to give you advice, they will not understand, you will bother them…”
However, I realized it was a time that I really needed help by bringing it to light. Sometimes it is a burden to share with others (I know this sounds awful). When you are sad and tired, it takes energy and time to communicate that which is on your heart. The simplest thing seems to be to push it down, but it is not the best thing. I gathered up the courage to call my husband who prayed for me and loved me well (way to go, Greg). Then, instead of acting like an in charge Aunt, I sent a text to my niece asking for prayer. I also shared with my friend who had gotten good news that day instead of hiding my emotions to not bother her. They all responded in precious ways. I was not cured from hurt, but I knew they were praying and loving me just the same. Instead of feeling ridiculous for the way I was feeling (which is what I felt before sharing), permission was given to be sad in the midst.
Thursday I got the opportunity to eat lunch with a new friend and hear her journey with fertility. It was good to be with one another and be real. Friday, Saturday and Sunday were pretty packed with people. I sit here today utterly exhausted with no emotional reserves. I long for the hurt to go away so I can get on with life today and this week–chores, study, celebrations, taxes, leading, listening, preparing for Easter. My friend, Beth, is always good to remind me to take my own advice–giving grace and going to God in the midst of the struggle. Why is it that I am such a hypocrit? Maybe because the person I am is merely learning to become that which it is not naturally–dependent, trusting, resting, bearing, loving (all characteristics of Christ) instead of self-reliant, self-righteous, independent, critical, and straight up selfish (all characteristics of Jen)! I thank God that through Christ, he gives immense grace.
So, today I pray to put into practice that which I know is true–‘I am the Vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me, you can do nothing.’ ‘His yoke is easy and his burden in light.’ My niece reminded me last week that Jesus wept–he knew sadness. May I trust Him in the midst.

Isolation: The Devil’s Playground

The more I age and mature as a woman, the more I see we remain the same. By that, I mean, we have some of the same insecurities as that of a 3rd grade girl who wants to feel included, wants to feel valued, wants to be invited to sit at the table for lunch but does not feel that anyone sees her.
Looking back over my life, in each transition, there have been times of loneliness, self-doubt, and glowing insecurities. Whether it was a day camp my parents sent me to as a 5th grader at Ridgecrest conference center, the first year of college where I felt I was my own personal marketer of who I really was (ie. “I’m Jennifer, I love Jesus, I can be fun, and please be my friend–I’m lost here”), the first few years out of college where I felt totally lost without a plan or spouse, marriage and the isolation in friendships that may bring, to crossing over from young adulthood to early mid-adulthood where we are in the in-between of not having children where everyone else does.
In my studies of others, do you know what is crazy? I think women tend to feel that isolation in every season and think they are the only ones. They may even be surrounded by “friends” but not connecting from the heart. They may feel they are playing a role, but do not even really know themselves. Most of the time, as women, they sit in silence with their imaginations raging–“I’m lonely–no one ever told me having a child is so hard and isolating.” “I thought I would have my answers met in marriage–I did not know how much I would long for connection with other women.” “Does my husband even care who I am?” “Everyone is leaving me behind, and they do not understand or care.” “I live alone. If I choked on a chicken bone, would anyone care or know?” (aka Liz Lemon from 30 Rock) “I think I am the only one who struggles with ______, am I even a Christian?”
God has blessed me with women around me who are real–who have shared those thoughts about marriage, about children, about eating disorders, about lust, about temptations, about sexual disfunction in marriage, about jealousy. He has in turn, blessed me with being able to share those thoughts out loud. Do you know what happens when you share them out loud and ask for help? Their power is shattered. Satan, The Accuser, cannot steal us from God’s hand if we are in Christ, but he can isolate and accuse us. We are meant to live in community, in a body, but this world today is all about isolation (Facebook, Blogs, email, texting, tv, internet shopping, small families, etc). My greatest fear is the age when I have teenagers who want to retreat into text messaging and pseudo realities instead of knowing how to live, walk and struggle in real relationships. A whole generation is in college right now on the cusp of adulthood, and they have grown up that way.
I long to be real and teach others to cling to Christ in the midst of pain, struggle, and questions. It is only in Him that we are made whole. He, in turn, brings us into a new community that we can be real and struggle with. When you say it aloud, you never know who will speak up and identify with exactly where you are walking. Two are better than one. Speaking up allows for light to shine in the darkness of that isolation…for truth to shatter the accusations…for love to cover over a multitude of sins. Speaking up allows for others to follow suit. Where are you isolated and need to speak today?