Ask Where The Good Way Is And Walk In It

I will tell you straight up that I don’t have a thing for shoes. But then I consider how my husband would react to that statement, and I remember that I have three times as many shoes as he does. img_3165

Everything is a matter of perspective, isn’t it?

Shoes are utilitarian items, certainly. So when I tell you that I am not materialistic and that I don’t have a thing for shoes, what I mean is that I don’t fit the stereotype of women who spend thousands of dollars on high-heeled Manolo Blahniks (I even had to google that brand, because I HAVE NO IDEA). I do have more shoes than my husband, but what happens between me and shoes is more about dashed expectations and a search for identity.

Maybe I do have a thing for shoes. It’s just different.

I purchase shoes two or three times a year, and when I do, I’m always looking for something far beyond appearance. Lately, qualifications for purchases are about support for my arches and comfort. The floor of my closet is littered with disappointment.

All that to say this: I’m not the kind of woman who falls in love with high-heeled, glamorous shoes and spends lots of money filling my closet with aforementioned fancy shoes. I have tennis shoes and flats and boots and only one or two pairs with anything that resembles a heel.

You may wonder where I’m going with this; let me make an effort to unpack something that happened earlier this week, a moment that has caused The Great Shoe Contemplation of 2016. 

We were off celebrating our anniversary, my beloved husband and I. We did dinner and a night out, an overnight in the place where we married and spent our first night together. We headed northwest, in our annual pilgrimage to Ohio to ring in the new year with his side of the family.

And this year, we took our time, stopping to shop along the way, filling our bags with Christmas gifts we had waited to purchase until we were on our way to the recipients. We were at an outlet in Hagerstown when we saw a Clarks shoe store.

I love Clarks, I said. I have a pair. They’re comfortable. And your mom loves Clarks.

As we opened the door, I thought to myself This is ridiculous; I don’t need shoes. Because truly, I don’t; I’d purchased two pair in October and Tony bought me a pair of Adidas for my birthday in May. I don’t need more shoes.

But we ventured inside anyway. And then it happened.

(Cue dramatic music, the kind you hear when the boy sees the girl for the first time and knows that his destiny has arrived, that he will love her forever, that his future is sealed…)

img_3168 I saw these shoes, and that music played somewhere deep in my soul, and I recognized my destiny.

And I can’t believe I wrote those words about a pair of shoes, but I’m being honest. It’s ridiculous, but it’s the truth.

Something about the asymmetrical stitching and the worn leather and the thick laces and the downright, almost-ugly appeal of these simple shoes spoke to me. I picked them up and felt some long-ago stirring of the me that was 12 years old, coming of age in rural Pennsylvania, resonating with Carole King and Godspell and the 100 acres of wooded wonderland behind our house. These shoes looked like someone I’d lost, someone trailing far behind this life I lead at 53, juggling kids and career and family and obligations and health and the ever-present desire to matter.

I can’t tell you more than that; I don’t know. It’s simultaneously the dumbest thing ever and the power of a symbol, an icon, a well-crafted, utilitarian tool. It’s an invitation – almost a demand – to move back into the comfort of my skin, away from invisible pressure to shop at Loft and buy a well-made fitted blazer with some sensible heels. To slip again into flannel shirts and 501s, to put away the flat iron and stop trying on personas that I think might match my calling.

I’m at this interesting turning point, a slowing of sorts; a recalibration. Something is changing in me – I feel it, grinding surely and steadily. (And I’m wearing flannel shirts a good bit these days.) The fear and exhaustion is ebbing away and so my motion is settled; I am expectant, open. Not fearful or fear-filled. So perhaps this leather called to me so strongly because I’m leaning back into what I dreamed and dared in my adolescent soul.

I don’t know for sure; I only know that if I walked away from that store without those shoes, I’d regret it for the rest of my life. Again – that sounds like the dumbest thing ever; but it’s the truth. So I stood, looking at those shoes and tallying up the amount of money we’d spent in the past 48 hours, considering the gifts I’d just received at Christmas and the fact that I didn’t need another pair of shoes.

I picked up the right shoe; I slipped out of my boot and wriggled my foot into the clutch of the leather, wondering if this would be a size 7 that would be too small.

It was not too small; it fit, perfectly. I slipped out of the other boot and had both shoes on in no time flat, and a smile slid across my face. My adolescent self was affirmed as I looked at my feet and saw something that felt right.

I scooted down three aisles and found my husband.

Look, I said, Look at these shoes.

I was beaming and so he knew enough to look back at me without judgement. You like those? he said.

Yes. Yes. I know…you might think they are ugly. But I don’t know; there’s something about them…

He smiled. Okay. You want to get them? 

My face fell and I said, I don’t need another pair of shoes.

Well, how much are they? 

Like, $70 or something. Too much.

The next thing I knew, he said, There’s a sale – buy one, get one half off…and I like these… He held up a pair of shoes that I wasn’t really sure he liked because they looked like nothing he’d ever bought before, but he said, You have to get those, because if you don’t, I’ll have to pay full price for these.

He waved his shoes around, and that’s what love looks like, I thought – not for the first time – and so we took our boxes to the counter and told the guy we were celebrating our anniversary with shoes and he said, You’re a great couple and I asked for any deals he might have and he said Sorry, only the BOGO, but that’s a great shoe you’ve chosen there, and you ought to see the ones I put on hold for myself in the back, and the the next thing we know he’s scooted back to the store room to show us a pair of orange Wallabees and we ooo and ahhh over those and he rings us up and says, I gave you a discount, and we paid less for two pair of shoes than the cost of one pair because he was feeling generous or the universe wanted me to have those shoes.

Or something.

My eyes filled with tears right there at the register.

And now I have these leather simple brown shoes, and I’ve worn them every day since. I got dressed this morning and said, Baby – you know what? I GET TO WEAR MY SHOES AGAIN TODAY!!!

And I am filled with joy, inexplicable joy, and I really don’t get it. Shouldn’t I have some shame, being so filled with happiness because of a pair of shoes? Isn’t that materialistic and ridiculous and markedly unspiritual?

Perhaps.

But I am being gentle with myself, and recognizing that there are layers and layers underneath all emotions, and my primal, instinctual reaction to a pair of shoes is probably – strike that, definitely – about more than I realize at the moment. So I am simply going to go with it.

I’m going to relax and lean into these words from the prophet Jeremiah that are guiding me into the coming year.

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Something good is going on here; I feel it.

And I really like my shoes.

Advent: Courage

We have a  wild streak in our family.

That is a nice way to put it; the truth is, a strain of mental illness has wrapped itself around my family for several generations. Depression, mania; maybe some schizophrenia. The more I learn about mental illness, the more I realize just how close so many of us are to the ragged edge of what we regard as ‘normal’. My daughter is living with a bipolar diagnosis; I’ve told some of her story here (and here; she blogs about her own journey here.) We continue to learn about depression and mania, and she continues to live with fierce courage.

But it’s not just my family.

I am no longer surprised by how many folks I talk to every week who are living with mental illness in themselves, or negotiating a relationship with a loved one who is unwell. Parents shaken to their core by a new diagnosis. Friends at a loss to help. All facing each challenge with courage.

I have friends who have seen the disease do its worst and end the life of someone they loved. Courage in its rawest, most primal incarnation somehow provides breath in their lungs and blood through their veins as they get through each day, each night, another day, another night…

It is a vicious, powerful entity; this thing we call mental illness, this chemical manipulation of the brain that distorts reality and changes the essence of who we are. We say we ‘battle’ and ‘struggle’ and ‘fight’, all the while entangled in the very definition of our self, our husband, our daughter. Our son. How do you ‘do battle’ with brain chemistry gone awry when all you see is the face of someone you love? How do you fight against yourself?

It is no easy task. And of all the things I know and can strive to fix or make better, living with mental illness involves a lot of gritting your teeth, crying, calling for help, talking through it all just to process, crying some more, apologizing, wondering what you should have done differently, and then crying again. And repeat.

Ultimately, you make peace with what life has dealt you, and you take a deep breath and summon up courage that you never suspected you’d need, let alone thought you might possess.

And you live.

NAMI does good work. bpHope offers excellent resources. I am thinking hard about what we can do in our own community to facilitate conversation, to offer opportunities for folks to perhaps just sit in a circle and acknowledge that this is the truth of our life, and this is hard, and to simply be present.

It’s not much, and it doesn’t really fix anything. But sometimes that’s all you can do; you show up, and you live.

My daughter is an artist, and she has designed a calendar this year. It is a tribute to those whose days are often as dark as their nights. It is dedicated to her friend who could not find rescue as he fought this disease.

It is for all of us who need to be reminded of the light.

Visit Moon River Print Co to see the pages of this year’s calendar and to order. Sydni will donate 20% of all profit to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

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Advent: Identity

It’s the holiday season…so there are holiday concerts, and I attended and / or participated in several last week. Friday night found us in the high school auditorium for the combined chorus and band event. It was lovely, with nice performances and a couple of transcendent artistic moments. Smaller groups and solos were interspersed with the larger ones, and toward the end of the evening the jazz band reappeared, after having opened the show.

A sudden scurrying and fidgeting on stage seemed to delay the next piece. We were already about 85 minutes into the affair, and the crowd grew a little restless with the delay. The director appeared and it became obviously that there was an issue with the bass guitar.

They poked at the amp, at the guitar; the musician kept plunking the strings to no avail. The instrument was silent.

The director walked to the microphone.

“Is Tony Stoddard in the house?”

That’s my husband, by the way; my bass-playing, music-store-owning, can-fix-anything husband. Who didn’t hear the question.

“Hello – is Tony Stoddard in the house? Is Tony here?”

He sat in silence – probably stunned silence – beside me. He’s really an introvert, and being called out in front of 600 people is not a comfortable spot for him.

So I got in gear; “YES!” I yelled. “HE’S RIGHT HERE!!!” 

The director smiled. “Tony – any chance you have an extra bass in your car?”

And I’ll just stop with that – although the punch line is no, he didn’t have a bass in his car – because, as he muttered next to me, “It’s 38 degrees. Who would have a bass in the car?” But Nick just wanted to solve the problem, and so he thought of Tony.

I basked in that moment, briefly. My husband married me when I was Beth Brawley, mother of five outstanding kids, all close in age, all following me around like ducklings. I was highly visible in one of the largest churches in our county. My identity was in that reputation as much as it was anything else. My narrative supported my striving and I knew who I was and how I was known. In fact, it took me several years to change my name – to take his surname – after the wedding, because I clung to that Beth Brawley identity.

It was important to me. It meant survivor. It meant achiever. It meant redeemed and forgiven and born again. My name represented who I was– and the pride, ego, and self-importance that was entangled it that identity; because, of course, as a follower of Jesus, I also found my identity in Christ. That’s a basic part of Christian faith, this notion that you are a child of God – that you are loved by Him, created by Him, given purpose by Him.

All true.

But I’m human – it’s as simply as that – and I fought hard to stand on my own two feet, even as I knew that God had led and guided and protected me all the way. Yet there was still a huge sense of self and safety tied up in my name.

What a work has been done in me; how I have changed, and I can testify to you that there are ways in which we are made and remade by the very real slings and arrows of authentic relationships. Because what I established on my own when it came to identity has been reworked mightily in relationship – specifically, this own with my husband of almost seven years.

It’s not without challenges, for sure. We are older. There are children to parent and guide. There are issues of finances and such. But one of the most beautiful and unexpected part of this marriage and this friendship has been the gentle persuasion to relax my grip on proving myself, and instead to slip my tiny hand into his giant paw and be with him.

These days, surprisingly, I’d rather hear his name called than my own. I am grateful to be sitting at his side, or even standing slightly behind him, in his shadow.

For somebody who always thought she had to be first and best, this is a beautiful, grace-filled spot to inhabit. I am surprised by it. There is some deep level of trust here, one I have never experienced and did not expect.

Sometimes I don’t quite know what to do with it. However, I am thankful, and open to whatever may come. It seems that discovering who I am may take a lifetime.

I’m glad it’s with him.

*By the way – he took the bass home and fixed it within 12 hours. Because he’s Tony Stoddard, and that’s how he rolls.
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Technically, this photo doesn’t fit, as I referenced my hand in his, not the other way around. But whatever….

Advent: Just A Piano Player

I am parked on a squeaky kitchen stool, a stack of neatly folded clothes at my elbow (thank you, husband); a cup of hot coffee beside me (thank you, husband), a bright swath of sunlight poking through the dusty, pock-marked windows. Half a dozen eggs are boiling on the stove and Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God is streaming through the speakers. fullsizerender-64

Sing out with joy, for the brave little boy is our Savior

Thank you, God. Thank you, husband.

I woke up this morning to the smell of coffee; I swore a cup was sitting on my bedside table, it was so pervasive and powerful. The other side of the bed was empty and I knew from the settled silence that I was the only one home. Fridays are my Saturday, and I sleep right through David’s wake up, trusting that he’ll get himself out the door and on the bus (he does). I wake up slowly, visions of laundry and slow movement in my head. Tony often rises early on Fridays and sets the stage for my arrival in the kitchen – hence the coffee, and sometimes a little love note.

It is something special, knowing that someone has prepared the way for me.

It’s a little thing, for sure, but it matters. Every other day of the week I make myself two cups in the coffee press, and I rarely leave any for him because half the time he bolts out the door with no time for caffeine; and yet he always thinks of me.

Moving slowly this morning, I am surrounded by reminders of grace; the warmth of the sun on my arm, the sound of music familiar and deeply resonant, a hot cup of coffee, neatly folded blue jeans. I consider the incredible experience of a community concert last night; groups of 13 and 14 year old children playing instruments and singing – not just showing up for the required concert, but sincerely and powerful creating art, making music in community.

I couldn’t shake the feeling last night that I’d heard some sort of siren song, some call to my spirit, an invitation to look back and remember. I sat in the auditorium where I’d first experienced the grace of the faith community I now serve, when I moved to this town some 12 years ago. Our church was smaller and simpler then, with one location instead of four. PCC was meeting in the high school auditorium when I arrived, broken, ashamed, five kids in tow, clueless about the future. I look back now and cannot even imagine how we got through the days, the weeks, the months…

Grace. All grace.

My mom suggested we try this new mobile church, and one visit was enough. Grace leaked all over me and my kids, and the gentle leading of the spirit put us in a unique position. A year later, I was still a mess, but I was part of this movement, making music and experiencing daily healing. Honestly, sometimes it was like being in a residential treatment center; the counseling, the community, the honest conversations, the challenges to accept the grace in front of me. The transformation (still incomplete) gave me life. My job healed me.

Last night I had the privilege of accompanying the Eighth Grade Chorus from the local school. It was transcendent; beautiful, with a passion unique to adolescents who have nothing but possibility ahead of them. And I remembered when we made music like that every week, when every Sunday felt full of possibility and beauty. When I was just a piano player; when my soul leapt and expanded and burst with every note, every cobbled-together worship song.

Just a piano player.

There was a moment when my boss turned to my friend and said, about me, She’s more than just a piano player, you know. I’ve never forgotten that validation; I went on to preach, to lead, to sit at the table where decisions were made. I was ordained. My job grew to represent the presence of God in places where I’d never been invited. A career opened up and it was exhilarating, affirming, exciting – and incredibly fulfilling. I’d trained as a teacher; I had five kids. I taught private lessons. I did some remarkable things in the musical realm. But suddenly, I had a career in ministry.

And even as I type this, as Jill Phillips sings It was not a silent night and I remember the moment five years ago when I was part of the team who pulled together the musicians to present that entire song cycle, with incredible passion and excellence, and I sang that song…as I type, tears are streaming down my face and I am wondering if, in fact, I’ve been missing the point.

But for the girl on the ground in the dark / every beat of her beautiful heart / It was a labor of love

Last night, sitting behind the piano – playing a small part in what was the best concert of a certain conductor’s career, the culmination of weeks of work for a group of adolescents who have not a care about what the accompanist was thinking – I was so happy. No – strike that; not happy, but fulfilledContentFull. It was a familiar seat, one that has often felt not enough, because I am capable of so much more, because I can lead, I can speak loudly, I can direct, I can organize, I can cast vision. Yet there I sat, silent and content.

Just the piano player. But it felt right.

My “career” has led me further and further away from music; the demands of our organization and the challenges of a multi-site model of church requires leaders to lead and manage and do big things, and isn’t that the way it works? Shouldn’t we climb the ladder and sit at a bigger table and achieve success at the top of the heap?

And yet…

What runs through my mind – as tears stream down my face – is that the meek are blessed; that there is something life-giving and affirming and healing to being small; being quiet. 

There is blessing there; there is something holy and sacred in that small, quiet space.

Is it possible that the circle would made complete by returning to being just a piano player once again? Could I stop shouting and leading and making big decisions and let go the notion that the next, best step for me is a higher rung on the ladder?

Behold our broken hearts; fallen far, we need you

Son of God, Emmanuel; Son of man, we need you

I don’t know. I don’t know what I don’t know, I can’t figure this out, but the tears that have soaked my face as I process all of this out loud are proof that deep in my soul, there is something going on here, some deep emotional connection. I have no doubt that all things work together for good, and that most of the time the journey involves simply reorienting myself to what that good might be, and then moving in that direction. See where God is working and then get involved, as Henry Blackaby said.

Behold the lamb of God, who comes to take away our sin

What am I called to do now, in this season? What is this unrest, this stirring? What have I to offer?

Remember now His mercy – and sing out for joy….

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Advent: The Valley Is Deep

Life is a balance of holding on and letting go.fullsizeoutput_7ec7

The unexamined life is not worth living.

Both phrases come to mind today as I sit and think, process, work, wonder, cry, sketch, scribble, pray, process, worry, fret, ponder.

(How many words can I list to describe the swirl in my soul?)

Following is a stream of consciousness that will hearken back to the days when my writing in this space was much more prolific and raw; unedited for consumption, heedless of reputation or position. In short, I’ve clamped up a bit in the last few years, ever mindful of Who I Am and What I Do (and yes, I struggle with an 0ften-ridiclous notion of self-importance…) Not that some wild rebellion is at hand, but the editing seems to be less needed at this point, and the price I’ve paid has created a deficit in available resources. So I’m just going to write my truth here.

I’m having a hard time sorting things out.

I am known for this, to some degree; my boss and friend will testify to the fact that eleven years of working together bears witness to a remarkably consistent cycle of Incredible Productivity followed by A Great Falling Apart. My husband bears witness to the same. Usually every six to eight months, sometimes longer; the Falling Apart is generally just a loss of self, of purpose; a need for recalibration and somebody outside myself to remind me who I am, why I matter, where to stand. I’ve often chalked that up to the frailty of my identity, the remnants of a high-achieving, Type-A, deeply insecure self. I’ve established a routine by which I can be okay with not being okay, mostly due to an incredible support system and a handful of deeply trusted people who are willing to indulge me at my neediest and bear with me until I can stand again, until I can produce effectively.

I’m having a hard time now, and – as always – after a few weeks of pondering/processing/crying, etc., and some well-placed conversations, things are beginning to sort themselves out. My head is clearing, my soul is feeling a bit more alive. But this time has been different, in that I found myself in the depth of a reaction I hadn’t yet experienced in terms of my emotional response to Not Being Okay. Usually it’s just about me and my insecurities, my feelings of failure or not being enough.

This time, that road less taken led me to a clearing in which only one option remained, one sign, one conclusion: I was done. 

I wanted to quit.

Not life; this is not the despair of life itself, but the despair and exhaustion of living life at this pace, which is to say my life, my race. My job. My work.

There’s this phrase from a letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians, found in the New Testament of the Bible; it’s something I’ve heard taught frequently, particularly in the old days, the fundamentalist teaching of my younger self. It’s been lodged in me since then, and it seems to be an unspoken tenet of my ministry work:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

Run. Run hard. Win.

Surely there is context here; surely, there is a nuance to this text that makes room for seasons and situations. I know that to be true. But the bottom line is this; I have been running for the prize, taking to heart even the prior phrase, when Paul writes, “…I have become all things to all people…”

I have tried to be all things, to all people, running for the prize. Running hard.

And I am exhausted, empty-handed; offering pretty much nothing to anyone that is authentic. There is no prize in sight.

At least that is the way I feel right now. And I have learned this well; feelings lie. They must be tested against evidence. Feelings are not always fact.

But still, they matter.

For almost two years, I have tried to be all things to all people. I essentially took on three full-time roles at my workplace, which is not unusual. We are a church – a rapidly growing church. We take care of people. There is always, consistently, more work than there are people in place, and for my entire career here, everyone has pulled double or triple duty. It’s not a new thing.

(And let me add here, for clarity, that I place no blame for this on anyone or anything – not my boss, not my team, not my church. This is nobody’s fault; it is simply the recent reality of my life – and, I suspect, of others’ as well.)

I’ve always had more than one job to do. But this latest venture, for me, was different. It required more presence, more energy – and there was no room for stepping back. The leadership mantle was weightier – at least as I understood and interpreted it. I put my head down and worked hard and tried to do all that needed to be done.

A few months ago, that season ended; I handed over those leadership reins to an extremely qualified, gifted, anointed man. There is no doubt in my mind that it was the right thing at the right time. But the recovery process; the resulting shifting of tides in my soul and spirit – well, that has taken me completely by surprise. Something new unfolds every day, and I am caught off guard by just how great a toll was taken.

I’m not sure it’s necessarily worse than other work-surge experiences I have had, but I am different these days. In some respects, this year was filled with grief and sorrow, some of which has gone unprocessed. There are some things I learned about myself that shift the axis of understanding.

The biggest thing I think I am seeing now is this: That in these past few months, I learned what it means to not only follow Christ, but to live with His people. This may seem a ridiculous notion – I can see you rolling your eyes, DUH –  but hear me out; I am introverted, I am artistic, I am insecure, I struggle. I hate parties and small talk. I’d rather sit home all day and read than do anything else, and often I am tempted to do just that. If following Jesus meant a duet – one in which I got to play the piano and just chill in the corner – I’m totally, completely in, and extremely comfortable.

But this sacrificial, disciple life is not about comfort, and what I learned in these past two years was to embrace the messy discomfort of people who are, day in and day out, part of the fabric of life, as well as part of my responsibility in that as a pastor, I am called and ordained to represent the presence of God in a leadership role.

I learned to be a pastor in these past two years, and I learned that I could live in that place and feel woefully inadequate, markedly incompetent, and wildly full. The contradiction is, I think, the very essence of what Jesus means by offering an abundant life, because we can’t ever quite get away from the crappy parts of our existence here, and yet we can indeed live out of an abundance, a posture of receiving and redemptive gratitude.

Eugene Peterson says:

If we are going to enjoy and celebrate and live this gift of place in which the Lord God has placed us, we are going to have to embrace the people around us with the same delight as we do the hawks soaring above us and violets blooming at our feet. Men and women, children and the elderly, the beautiful and the plain, the blind and the deaf, amputees and paralytics, the mentally impaired and the emotionally distraught – each a significant and sacred detail of nature, of God’s creation. Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places

Yes.

I’ve been a worship leader – a musician; we stand on the platform and lead in front of the congregation. But as a pastor, I stood WITH people. I learned to live in this place, and I learned  to not be afraid of having people as community; I discovered what it meant  to be part of a tribe and to wear the pastoral robe and to be okay with failing in community, with others, rather than just in front of others. For the first time in my life, I walked into a place without my children in tow, without the identity of Oh, you’re Sarah/Shannon/Sydni/Daniel/David’s mom and your children are so wonderful and how do you do it all??  I walked in with nothing but myself to offer, and I was accepted and welcomed and I thrived and I felt at home.

There is another “DUH” element to this, isn’t there? This is probably a normal, accepted thing for most of humanity. But it was new to me; new and fresh and affirming and exhilaration – all the while, exhausting and disappointing. It was real. 

And obviously, this is part of what is necessary for healthy life, for a soul to thrive and expand and thrum with possibility. It is core to that abundant life, that we do it not in abstraction, but in truth and with daily discourse and conversation. It’s obvious; but in my line of work, it is a challenge, to say the least.

And so my transfer of roles, my changing position as a result of the growth and expansion of the organization and the ever-present demands of 52 Sundays a year, has resulted in so much more than new job, a new department, an altered organizational structure. There has been a very real loss to my soul, to an expanded part of what I discovered about living as intended, which – as Peterson says – should be to the glory of God, and cannot be done abstractly.

I don’t know who my people are now. They are there, surely; they have answered texts and phone calls and sent emails and hugged me. But the essence of a weekly gathering for a communal celebration of the fact that we made it through another week, that there is grace, that mercy found us again, that we are still walking in light, that we are loved, that we know one another; I have lost this.

It will be found again, I am certain. There is an unrelenting sense that God has tugged me into this place, that although I am distressed, I am not abandoned. There is something ahead of me, something that will require saying Yes to that thing and No to many others. I am not alone in this valley. I am secure in this wilderness.

Just this morning, out of nowhere – because we haven’t talked in weeks and she doesn’t know the state of my heart – a friend sent a song link to me in a text. She wrote, I double dare you to listen. The song is titled I’m At Peace, and it started with a woman standing alone in a field, and then there was a grand piano in the field with her, and that was a bit odd, I admit; but the point was made. The invitation was there. I am welcome to open my arms and claim that truth.

I’m struggling, with all that I’ve outlined here, and other things that weigh upon me; family, the future, finances, a broken oven, a pile of recycling that needs to go to the dump. My kids. My parents. Etc. I’m not okay at the moment.

But, in a bizarre paradox, I am okay. Because I am here, and I am working out my salvation with fear and trembling, and I am embracing the not okay with the firm conviction that whatever is stirring up the murky depths of my soul will find release. Upon its leaving, another layer of this ‘brutiful’ life will be revealed, and my soul will be grounded once again.

Until the next valley.

But that’s okay. There is peace to be found.

Fear not, keep on; watch and pray / Walk in the light of God’s highway…

I’m holding on You, Lord / You’re holding on to me…