From “Should I?” to “What If?”: A Progression of Faith

By Holly

johnhain / Pixabay

If God recognizes our voices by how we start our prayers, He knows mine by “Should I…”

Should I go back to work?  Stay home?  Should I write more?  Quit?  Should I use my degree to make money?  Should I reinvent myself altogether?

These are my “Should I’s” from recent months, in anticipation of September 12th, my baby girl’s first day of kindergarten.  This milestone of motherhood, even when coated in layers of intention and acceptance, feels like the womb after birth, the fullest kind of void.  It also bleeds questions. For me:  What should I do with this new time?

God’s answers came in the way they often do:  whispery invitations that are incomplete but clear, leaving no room for me to claim confusion and take over the reins.  He didn’t nudge me to start a new career or fill up my schedule with volunteer work.  Instead, he asked me to keep doing what I am doing:  working from home, writing, being a mom.

And this is exactly what I wanted.

So, imagine my surprise when, as sun-tired maples hint of gold and late August breezes carry the promise of change, all I can seem to pray is, “What if?”

What if I am lonely?  What if I feel unproductive?  What if my business fails and I hate what I write?  What if I have too much time?

There. I said it.  Too much time.  Who worries about that?  As a mom of two school-aged kids, aren’t I supposed to be a slave to busyness?  Instead, I’m a skeptic of divinely drawn space in my life.  How can this be?  I’m tempted to think it’s just me, but don’t we all wonder what will really happen to us when we slow down?  Wouldn’t we all rather leave seasons of exposure to the brave, willing maple trees?

While a rhythm more in line with our souls is what we crave, we don’t really know how to do it.  White space on the calendar can become more fuel for our shame, a new invitation for productivity’s pressure to weigh down our worthiness, and a breeding ground for yeses born from unhealthy places.

Space – even when desired and divine – is unknown.  I don’t know what will happen when I spend six hours a day with myself.   How will I feel?  What might I discover?  I do know how to keep sixteen balls in the air, work hard, build a career, and be my own version of Superwoman.  But, parenting without knowing how it will turn out, working without a boss patting me on the back, writing without big, measurable goals – these are what draw me to my “What if?” knees.

Still, it feels like progress.  Not long ago, I would have met September’s uncertainty with controlling avoidance, the kind that looks like searching for jobs, roles or titles.   I would have crowded out the space before I had it.

Of course, I wish I had more faith about the unknown, and I would love to feel nothing but thankful for my answered prayers. After all, I did get exactly what I wanted.  But every time we choose, “What if?” instead of control, it’s growth.  Every time we act on what is clear instead of waiting for complete, it’s practicing faith.

So I keep on praying, “What if?”  And I imagine God smiling at my changing voice.

We Don’t Have to See Eye-to-Eye

by Kari

445693 / Pixabay

For a few years now our church has taken VBS off-site to an underserved area of our town. It is privilege to learn, share and grow in this amazing community of people where there are many needs and many hands helping to bring light, love and hope.

I am sometimes at odd with myself as I lament how some of us who love this community used to walk hand-in-hand together only to part ways over reasons not always understood.  Now we fumble, bumble and stumble alongside one another in service instead of doing it in unison.

And guess what?

I’m okay with that. I am learning to celebrate the mystery and the love and the grace as we serve alongside one another and not necessarily hand-in-hand.

biancamentil / Pixabay

biancamentil / Pixabay

Is there a redeeming work
in Christ’s body
when we don’t see
eye to eye
yet work side by side?

Alleluia, yes.

Is there still a heart beat
when I feel cold
and maybe you do too
yet wordless glances
speak love?

Alleluia, yes.

Is there forgiveness
when walls are built
built, to protect
but does not love prove
to seep through the cracks?

Alleluia, yes.

Is there love written
in graffiti beautiful
because much is there
that cannot be understood
about our mysteries?

Alleluia, yes.

Is there our Jesus
with you, with me
and someday
we will be made whole
forever hand-in-hand?

Alleluia, yes.

Dear Friend, I Want to Know

By Holly

Olichel / Pixabay

Dear Friend,

I used to believe Facebook posts matched real life and everyone around me felt fulfilled, content and popular.  But vulnerability is more than a just a buzzword now, and we really do share the struggle.

We’re stressed out moms who are tryingtrying to be real, not perfect.  When you ask me how I am, I never say, “fine.” We left words like that back in our pre-vulnerable days.  Instead, I tell you how I really am with connecting sighs and worn-out eyes that say, “oh, you know how it is.”  Between sips of Oprah Chai, I wonder out loud if that sentence I uttered at breakfast this morning will be the very one that sends my daughter to therapy when she’s 30.  Unashamedly, you show up at book club toting bags of store-bought popcorn, I pay people to clean my house and we both own taboo statements like, “The PTA is not for me.”

We’ve progressed from wondering to asking.  I no longer look at your weedless yard, gourmet meals or toned arms and wonder how you did it.  I simply ask.  And you answer.

We come as we are.  Instead of showing up at church with my mascara just right, I come with eyes a certain shade of red, cheeks still damp.  And you hold out your arms.

I say the things that I was sure no one else even thought.  You say, “me too.”   We learn that we are not alone.

Long ago, we established that life is hard, marriage is harder, and there is a fine, fading line between motherhood and impossible.

You and I, we’re part of the collective shift toward authenticity, members of the tribe that slayed Superwoman.

We’re the movement that rejects all pretense; we stand up for the cause of Real.

You don’t hide your fears and failures.  I share my precise flavors of shame.  You invite me to sit in your unvacuumed rooms; we rummage through our junk drawers together.

I love this about us.

And.

There’s something else I want to know about you:  Your secret wins.

How proud did you feel when they chose you for the promotion?  Will you trust me with these feelings, too?

What does your excitement look like, untempered and uncontained?  I want to experience your thrill when your son hits another home run or your daughter wins the spelling bee.

When did you feel like the World’s Best Mom this week?  I want to hear how you amazed yourself because you turned a chaotic Tuesday morning into a tender one with just a few slow words and a hug.

What do you love about yourself when you take a long, hard look in the mirror?  What was your fleeting thought made you feel absolutely brilliant today?

I believe there is power in sharing our wins.

So, will you tell me what went on in your head the moment before you stood up for yourself, how victorious you felt afterwards and what you did – just yesterday – that made you feel brave?

What was it about the way you prayed last night that made you know God was there?   And what about the moment you felt more loved by your husband than you’ve felt in months, how you talked yourself out of that gummy bear binge and how you felt invincible holding that Warrior II pose?  I want to hear about these, too.

Can we share the stories that write our happy tears, the shapes of our inside smiles and what lies behind our fist-pumping yeses?

I want to hear you take credit.  I want to help you own your wins.   I want to share your joy.

Friend, I never want to stop struggling with you.

And.

Let’s triumph together, too.

What If Trying Is Enough?

by Kari

geralt / Pixabay

My encouragement for you today…Don’t Give Up trying to make new connections with others. Don’t Give Up trying to make new friends or keep old ones. We are all hungry for relationship, though many of us deny it. Wherever I seem to look these days it appears people are trying to connect, but there are just so many stinkin’ barriers in the way. Let us not give up! We are blessed when we try, try again. Do you believe that?

Trying

I think we’re all trying
to find connection
in this compartmentalized world
this big-small orb
where we know much
want to know more
and don’t know how to wait
or just to remain puzzled

I think we’re all trying
to find connection
strategize, capitalize,
proselytize, franchise
yet we don’t know
the people who share
our concrete and fences
but we travel miles
to find belonging

I think we’re all trying
to find connection
so imperfect and messy
sometimes gives me headache
and we ask if it’s worth it

I think we’re all trying
to find connection
but have we just become
casualties of
our modernity
and lost something
we may never
be able to regain?

Well I say – we can!

And I think we’ll all
keep trying!

When Facebook Makes You Jealous

By Holly

JESHOOTS / Pixabay

There must have been a dozen of them.  Unified by perfectly curved smiles that matched their 40-is-the-new-30 figures, the group of women I barely knew posed for their Girls Weekend photo.  I could almost hear them screaming, “Having the time of my (perfect!) life…with all of my (perfect!) best friends!”

My scrolling thumb froze midair as the particular brand of jealousy that only social media can induce rushed through me. Thinner.  Younger.  Prettier. Richer. Happier.

It all happened so fast.  One minute I was happily crawling into bed with my Lisa Jewell novel on a Friday night, and the next I was questioning everything from my appearance to the quality of my friendships.  Ridiculous.  I can’t really be jealous.  I hardly even know them.

Having mastered the art of saying no to what’s going on inside me and yes to what’s going on around me, my thumb scrolling resumed.  Surely I could find a jealousy antidote in another post – a photo of someone, somewhere that would catapult me into a state of “more than,” one that would make me say to myself, “At least I…”

But, miraculously, a new awareness within me won.  What am I doing?  I thought I was past sticking “At least I…” patches over my real feelings.  With a nervous inhale and upward thumb swipe, I went back to the photo and decided to get curious about my envy.  First, I gave myself permission to feel whatever I was feeling.  Next, I asked my jealousy some questions:  What are you trying to tell me?  What are you – really – made of?

When I made space for answers, it was as if the lid on a container holding all of the relational losses of my life.  Out spilled a messy heap of pain that tried to reorganize itself as jealousy to be slightly more presentable.  But, sorting through the pile, I saw faces.  BFF’s from my school years who are strangers now.  College friends cut off by thousands of miles, decades and demands of the adult years.  I held broken bits of my heart – the still-healing ones and the ones that haven’t started – that were the recipients of unexpected rejection.  And I felt the energy of sadness, the kind that comes from years spent living from an unhealthy desire to feel chosen instead of known.

As it turns out, my Facebook jealousy wasn’t about their appearances or my assumptions about their lives.  It wasn’t even about my less than perfect life.

And, surprisingly, instead of feeling ashamed of my initial surge of envy or critical of my own superficiality, my soul was nurtured by acknowledging truth without judgment.  Suddenly, all of the other times I felt that same sinking feeling when “perfect life” photos flashed in front of me made a lot more sense.

I breathed out relief, one of those slow exhales of understanding that clears the way for a new breath in.  And I saw that truth without self-judgment is a nudge toward freedom from our tangles of pain.  It is a tap that feels slight, but moves us far.