Wise Old Woman Part Four

Recently, my work team did an exercise designed to reveal our ‘Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace’. Based on Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages relationship communication tool, this little test helps you and your coworkers develop effective ways to talk to one another.

Side note: Reading Five Love Languages was the primary pre-marital counseling tool Tony and I used, and it remains invaluable information. I highly recommend the book as a tool to make any relationship – but especially a marriage – better.

Anyway, my workplace results were only slightly different than my personal relationship  ones. My profile indicated that my primary languages of appreciation are words (no surprise there!) and gifts.

I celebrated my birthday the previous week, and I was not shy about marking the occasion.

It’s my birthday! I proclaimed in the office. I loved it when everybody sang to me. There were a few surprise gifts left sitting on my desk, and they filled my heart with joy.

Another side note: It bothers me a little bit, that I get so excited about unabashedly celebrating me. Somehow, the calendar date gives me permission to unmask my ego and loudly invite applause for my very existence. That seems rather uncouth, as my mother might say. It seems an ugly revelation of the extent of my self-absorption. But, you know what? I’m just going to accept it; because most every other day of the year I’m all up in my head about whether I’m doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons, and if one day a year I can let all of that go and just embrace the fact that I am alive! Yay!, then I’m just going to roll with it…

Back to the story and the languages of appreciation: I do like me some gifts.

Gosh, again – that sounds so egotistical and self-absorbed! But let’s just go with it..

Mostly, I get excited about little things that demonstrate that somebody heard me, and remembered. For our family celebration, one of the kids remembered that I mentioned wanting to draw hummingbirds to the house, so they gave me a bright red feeder and some nectar. Another kid latched on to a story about my college bar band years, when I hauled my Fender Rhodes suitcase piano in my little Subaru hatchback, with an inch to spare on each side. That child drew and watercolored a sketch of said Subaru and said keyboard (seriously? Who does that? My kid!!!!) Another kid sketched the prayer closet in the Richmond Hill garden, with a whole host of words on the back – because they knew how much it mattered to me.

Save the bling and the big, expensive stuff. It’s truly the little things.

(At this point, you’re wondering what this has to do with wisdom, since an exhaustive list of Beth’s Favorite Birthday Gifts is less than thrilling…)

Here’s the point:

On my birthday a few weeks ago, I rose before my husband and left the house before he was coherent. As the day went by, I checked my phone repeatedly for the Happy birthday baby! text. I waited for a phone call.

Nothing.

This, from the guy who calls or texts every single month on our anniversary date to say Happy anniversary, baby….

By the time I got home, I was pouting. He had mentioned, a few days prior, that we’d go out to dinner that night, but my mind was full of negativity and I expected the worse.

I walked through the door – pout and all – and found him fresh out of the shower.

You ready to go celebrate your birthday? He smiled.

I took a minute to indulge the pout, explained that I’d missed hearing from him – for which he apologized – and then got over it.

Let’s go see your first birthday gift he said.

We walked out back to look at the almost-finished raised garden bed – with a beautiful picket fence – that he and David had worked on for the past week. I smiled and rejoiced and thanked him.

Ready for number two? We were still outside; I looked around for a hint and saw nothing but the normal landscape of the back yard. He took my hand and led me towards the woods.

Last year, I remember you saying that you wished you had a path in the back woods behind the house…

I interrupt to tell you that one Saturday evening last fall, I decided to explore the woods behind the house. It’s thick and dense in places, but there are houses and roads in either direction. To make an exciting, dramatic story short: I got turned around and ‘lost’ and panicked. Quite claustrophobic, I couldn’t figure out which direction was home, and I could barely even decipher whether or not I was going in a straight line. Plus, the sun was going down. I got a little scared. Eventually, I got home, of course; it’s not like I was in the wilderness. As I relayed the story to my husband, I said I wish I had a real walking trail back there… That was months ago.

So, anyway, I remember you mentioning that… We walked into the natural clearing behind the fire pit and turned to the right.

….so I made you a path for your prayer walks.

IMG_1284He’d spent the entire day on a borrowed tractor, cutting out a pathway for me to walk and pray.

He’d heard me.

I still don’t have enough words; I still don’t know how to get over what it’s like to be loved like that.

Grace. Only grace.

If the story ended there, with Oh, my husband loves me so much and I’m so happy!!!, it might be enough. But the real punch line is what happened a week later.

Remember the arc of the narrative here? About my desire for wisdom, and the in-your-face encounter with the message from James, and the recollection of the prescriptive to ask for the ancient path and walk in it and the small print statement that I ignored (But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’)?

Still with me?

That Tuesday morning – one week past my birthday – it seemed that an exasperated, yet endlessly patient God was saying, I hear you. I know you want wisdom. Here’s how to get it. And don’t forget that I showed you those ancient paths and the good way. Don’t forget…

And it struck me: My husband, who repeatedly shows me the sort of of unconditional, grace-filled love that I believe represents a glimpse of how the Creator loves the creation; he gave me a gift, something I specifically asked for. He gave me a path.

And I had yet to walk it.


Here’s what I have learned:

God is a good father; the Creator does, indeed, love his creation. As our souls twist and turn and look for a place to stand, as we navigate our changing lives and struggle through our situations, we are seen. We are heard.

When our hearts bend toward real answers to questions of identity and purpose, and when we look inward and upward for revelation, we are seen. We are heard. 

The answers are quite often placed right in front of us. We are seen. We are heard.

For people like me, whose lives are caught up in taking care of others, being receptive and responsive to the spiritual and emotional needs of others, scrambling for awareness at all times, lest a ball get dropped and someone gets hurt – it doesn’t take much to push the compass off kilter.

There comes a time when everything you say – the prayers you pray, the counsel you offer, the wisdom you share – needs to boomerang back to bless your own soul. If your position is askew even slightly, the boomerang flies right over your head and into the weeds.

Wisdom, my friends, is not buried in the weeds. It’s right in front of us, in ancient truths written centuries before us, and in the honest love throbbing in the present tense.

It is in the words you claimed years ago, but forgot – or explained away.

It is in the places and people that settle your heart.

It is in the longings of your childhood, the time and place where your soul was free of cynicism and burdened by responsibility; where anything was possible, and God seemed to be all around.

Ask what the good way is. It will be revealed.

Don’t forget to walk in it.

You will find rest for your soul.

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Wise Old Woman Part Three

Let’s recap, shall we? (If you missed previous posts, you can read Part One here, followed by Part Two.)

  1. I meet the executive coach and articulate that I am craving something different; a life that is more about being than doing. The future my soul longs for has more to do with being still and being whole (my understanding of wisdom) than what has occupied my energy for most of my life. (Remember this phrase: I want to be a wise old woman. That’s important for future plot development.)
  2. A short piece of scripture speaks to me, and I claim it. I write it all through my journal and see things refracted through its truth. It’s about ancient paths and walking and nature, all which resonate deeply with where I am in terms of perspective and how my soul is nourished.
  3. I become depressed or tired or overwhelmed or lazy, and I forget about the path. I get whiny. I want to sell everything and move to a lonely place where nobody knows me.
  4. I read the scripture again and realize that I’ve conveniently left out the final phrase: But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ (Also important for future plot development.)

That last bit – the ‘We will not walk in it’ line? This seems like something only a rebellious person would say, or perhaps an attitude issue for a nation of people who kept turning away from their culture and their heritage and their God.

Or maybe it’s something relevant to those of us who simply suffer being human. Like me.

All I know is this; apparently, that became the cry of my rebellious heart. What I saw as sorrow, grief and depression was more likely an inability – or unwillingness – to see and remember and take note and put into practice that which had been told to me. And, quite frankly, that which I have told to myself – and to others, via this Instagram post:

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Sometimes, I just want to slap myself. I mean, honestly? How can a person be so oblivious?

Sigh.

Anyway….here’s how it all went down, now that we know that I was in a not-so-good, somewhat oblivious place. Here’s how the revelation finally came, my big ‘aha’ moment.


You might recall that I was with my trusted friends on a work retreat, where I finally said some things (my by-now-standard, “I want to be a wise old woman” refrain) and felt really vulnerable and raw. I didn’t sleep well.

The next morning, our first task was a spiritual centering exercise. Our boss had given us an outline of the agenda with eight scriptures marked. He walked around the room with a handful of paper strips.

‘Take one,’ he said. ‘Whatever number you get, that will point you to the scriptures you’ll read on the list. You have 30 minutes. Read, meditate, find something that speaks to you and is relevant. Look for a personal application; then come back and share what you discover.’ I reached out and grabbed a thin strip of paper. I got six.

I checked the agenda outline, and then I looked at the paper again.

‘Hey – is this a six? This looks weird…’

One of my coworkers spoke up behind me. ‘I got six,’ he said. ‘It can’t be six. That’s my number.’

My boss looked. ‘That’s a seven,’ he said.

‘Who makes a seven like this with a loop in it?’ That was me, being rude.

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Six or seven – YOU DECIDE.

I got seven. (FOR THOSE KEEPING SCORE, YOU MIGHT REMEMBER THAT MY ENNEAGRAM NUMBER IS APPARENTLY SEVEN. I DIDN’T EVEN CONNECT THOSE DOTS UNTIL SOMEBODY INTERRUPTED THE FLOW OF THIS STORY TO POINT THAT OUT. HOLY MOLEY.)

Seven.

Anyway…I grabbed my Bible (on my phone, because apparently I FORGOT TO BRING MY BIBLE, and who does that on a SPIRITUAL WORK RETREAT anyway? Lord, have mercy; slap me again…) and my journal and scooted back to a private corner to read the verses.

They were all in James, and I have no idea why he chose that particular book, except that it is filled to the brim with advice about how to live.

Well-timed.

I looked up the assigned verses, and – I kid you not – it began just like this:

“If any of you lacks wisdom….”

I stopped; it seemed there might something happening here. I decided to copy the passage from the app on my phone directly into my journal. Here’s what I wrote:fullsizeoutput_8c4e

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all…but when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea…that person should not expect to receive anything…”

Stop right there and tell me that if you had been toting around a mantra for eight months that declared a desire for wisdom, that you wouldn’t have sat there, stunned.

I did.

But wait – there’s more. The ‘7’ assignment was the only one that had two passages of scripture. I often cross-reference scripture with The Message version; I love the raw, authentic, contemporary poetry of Peterson’s interpretation. I adjusted the app filter, found the new verse, and read these words:

“DO YOU WANT TO BE WISE?”

I AM NOT KIDDING.

(Can we all pause here for just a moment? Because for some of you, this might be anticlimactic. It might appear to be little more than Bible-banging nonsense and coincidence. That’s fine; go ahead with your opinion – you are welcome to it. But there is NO doubt in my mind that the universe itself got fed up with my whining, that God took pity on my frailty, and sent me this message. It couldn’t have been any clearer.)

In my journal, there are two additional passages that I continue to return to, over and over. Because just in case I didn’t get the message – just in case I need something a little more obvious, blatant, and plain-spoken – here’s the complete statement from The Message:

“Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Life well, live wisely, live humbly.”

And then, for the bonus round:

“If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help.”

There’s one more part to this story, one that concerns an incredible birthday gift that brings everything full circle. That’s coming tomorrow, but here’s a hint:

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Wise Old Woman Part Two

If you missed Part One, where I talk about my executive coaching experience, it’s here.

My experience with the executive coach last fall was profound. It seemed to literally open my eyes; I saw things around me differently. Potential and possibility abounded; I didn’t feel boxed in or stuck. An adjustment to my work responsibilities synched up perfectly with this new direction, and it seemed that I had found my footing again.

I’m not one to lean on memes or flowery statements to live by, but I surely do respect the wisdom of the Bible. Whether or not you claim any religious faith, these ancient words hold a tremendous amount of history and insight regarding the human experience. So, when I read this verse in Jeremiah in December, it immediately clicked; so much so that I wrote about it (in conjunction with a shoe purchase.)

(Everything is spiritual, y’all. Even shoes. Maybe especially shoes.)

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‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’ – Jeremiah 6.16

These words captured the direction I felt I was headed; exploring older, ‘ancient’ paths of spirituality, looking beyond the evangelical experience to define my understanding of self and of the Creator, looking for rest for my soul. It was all there, and I can’t express how powerfully it impacted me, except to say that it was light in the darkness. Rain after a drought. Hope, out of despair. Again, I’m not much for pithy statements and life verses to define myself, but this really hit home. And it seemed to come out of nowhere (quite frankly, I don’t do a lot of reading in Jeremiah on a regular basis – so it totally surprised me.)

Things began to click into place. I felt like I had direction and a purpose and clarity, and it all felt sanctified, as if the entire Universe had signed off on it, by which I mean the vast care and knowledge of all that I understand to be God was saying, ‘You go, girl!’

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My journal from early 2017 reeks of that clarity – page after page of promise. I made some decisions and took action. I started seeing a spiritual director, I sent in the deposit to confirm enrollment in a graduate program. I carpe diem-ed the crap out of my new responsibilities at work, with an intense conference trip to California and new ideas and hours of planning and processing.

And then, apparently, I forgot.

Or I got depressed.

Or I got tired. And depressed. And forgetful.

And even now as I write and process, I’m asking myself What the heck, girl? I mean, really?

How can you be given the gift of clarity and direction that so perfectly suits you and then just….forget?

I’m giving myself some grace. I’m acknowledging messy relationships, and illnesses, and sudden loss, and changes in the work place. There have been challenges with my kids. There have been a lot of rainy days. I think I can even blame Donald Trump for some of this.

The bottom line: I got distracted. All the important, necessary things in the whirlwind obliterated the kernel of brilliance that was the truth I claimed for myself as 2016 closed.

I was at a crossroads, and in coming to it, I asked for the ancient paths, the good way; and it was revealed. I understood and believed that the rest for my soul was in the walking of that way.

And then, I forgot.

So for the past two months, I’ve been whining. I’ve been morose. I’ve been, as we say in the spiritual sense, “struggling”. In processing with my friends and my family, my co-workers, my spiritual director, I’ve cried and talked about how tired I am and how ‘over it’ I feel, how vast and desolate the landscape of my inner life surely is. My recent journal entries are littered with sorrow and despair.

All of this I carried up to the semi-annual retreat for the senior leadership at my job. Several of us on this team have done life and work together now for over a decade. We know one another well; we have birthed and raised and married our kids, lived through illnesses and loss, celebrated together. These are, in short, my people. I trust them.

So in a time of casual conversation and debriefing the first night of our retreat, I opened my mouth and told the truth about the desolation I was feeling. I shared the story of my meeting with the executive coach, telling this group of friends for the first time of my deep desire to claim wisdom, to stop doing and fixing and running and meeting and talking and scrambling all of the time, and to simply be.

“I want to be a wise old woman”, I said to my friends, with tears in my eyes. It felt vulnerable and risky; there was so much sorrow attached to a simple, authentic desire. It was  indicative of how far I felt I was from living into that desire as reality; it displayed the depth of my confusion.

They listened. They affirmed. But they were, perhaps, as confused as I was about the depth of my despair. My friends know me well; sometimes they throw up their hands and just remind me that they love me, and they give me space and time to get over myself.

(That’s why they’re such good friends.)

I slept fitfully that night. In hindsight, I wonder if the fitful sleep was part of the preparation for the blunt-force trauma I received the next morning.

Because here’s a secret: I didn’t really tell you the truth.

There’s more to that lovely scriptural encouragement to ‘seek out the ancient paths and walk in the good way’.

I left out the last sentence. I discarded it. I didn’t need it.

I didn’t want it.

Because obviously it didn’t apply to me. Because I’m so spiritual. 

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But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

And that is my problem.

And I’ll write about that tomorrow.

This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ ” – Jeremiah 6.16

A Wise Old Woman, Part One

I suppose it’s a midlife crisis of some sort, all the whining and nostalgic angst. I mean, really; most of the recent entires on this blog are of the emotional, soul-searching, “something’s gotta change” sort.

Yeah; I’m sort of tired of myself.

But it’s where it’s at these days, and rather than fight it and push it down and avoid the pain (another thing I’m learning in my current batch of navel-gazing study – apparently I’m a 7 on the Enneagram and that makes me a person whose prime motivation is avoiding pain. What? I need an entire other blog to start to unpack that one…)

I digress. With all the longing and nostalgia and job changing and empty nesting and such, I must state that I have, indeed, made some deliberate progress and learned some specific things. Indeed, I have. It’s just that a) I haven’t been sharing EVERYTHING here, and b) sometimes I forget what I have learned.

Which makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Sigh.

Case in point:

Last fall I met with a professional executive coach. She offered me a free session, giving a gift to our non-profit, and I somewhat reluctantly accepted her offer. I love me some therapy and counseling, but this seemed like it would be way out of my comfort zone. Seeing as how I don’t regard myself as an “executive”, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but my hopes were not high.

Any expectations I might have had were blown out of the water. In short, this intelligent, inquisitive, emotionally sensitive woman positioned me to answer her truthfully when she stood me up and said, ‘Stand here. Stand in this spot, look in this direction, and tell me: Who do you want to be?

Lord, have mercy; it was the right thing at the right time, in the right context, and my answer surprised me with its roar of authenticity and declarative claim.

Through unbidden tears and a clutch in my throat, this is the statement that came out of my mouth:

I want to be a wise old woman. 

That’s what I said. And then those tears shook themselves loose and I cried. I looked out at the beautifully framed landscape of her yard, the shore of the lake, the shimmering of the fall leaves tethered to the tall trees, and I said it again.

I want to be a wise old woman. I want time to look out and around me, above and below, and see – really SEE –  the trees and the lake and the birds. I want space to be present in this life. And I want to take all that I have learned and offer it to anyone else who needs it. 

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I’d never articulated such thoughts; in fact, I could not have told you that this truth was lurking in my heart. But there it was, and as the words shook themselves loose and swooped out into the air, it became my truth.

Tomorrow, I’ll write the next part of the journey; I’ll remind you of the time that God spoke, ever so clearly, and how I claimed another truth and got excited about the future.

Then, I’ll tell you how I totally forgot about ALL OF THAT, and whined for four months, and then went away to a work retreat with some of my most trusted friends, cried and whined some more about my confusion and instability, and then got smacked upside the head. Hard.

Stay tuned.

Longing

IMG_0775My primary identity used to be ‘mother’ – both internally, as I saw myself, and as others viewed me.

Mom of five incredible kids.

I’m still a mother; that doesn’t change. But now that they are grown (mostly), living independently (mostly), their existence doesn’t define me – at least externally.

I smile, remembering what it was like to have my five littles tagging along everywhere I went. I used to count – just a quick ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR-FIVE to make sure I had them all. Only if the count came up short did I have to stop and figure out who was missing.

Just me – the mom – and the five.

They grow up – children do that, you know – and one by one they started peeling away. It was different for each of them, both in a literal sense as well as metaphorical. It’s possible to leave home and still stay very connected. But one by one, the Velcro comes apart and they walk upright, without the need of a mama’s hand.

That’s not a bad thing. It’s what we are aiming for all along, right?

So I’m not complaining that my nest is empty or that my kids have abandoned me – not at all. I’m fiercely proud of them and grateful that this part of life is, at least somewhat, proceeding as planned. And I’m fully prepared for any of them to return to the nest for any short-term need of a place to rest.

But what I’m finding interesting and somewhat awkward about these current circumstances is that the peeling away seems to have also pulled some layers of my self -leaving behind something empty. Raw.

Not that cheesy A mother’s heart is always with her children! meme, but something different. More like the open, empty space that’s left behind is an offering from the universe.

A gift, to me.

Look; here is your self, worn and slightly used – but flayed open. Ready.

With it comes a sort of longing that I’m not sure I’ve experienced before. Mixed in with a recognition that, post-50, we’re on the downhill slope, I find myself confronting a longing, almost daily; one that I can’t quite name.

A desire for something different, unfamiliar, foreign.

Something deeper.

Still.

Quiet.

Sacred.

Honest.

Truth be told, I find myself pulled and tugged, between the comfort of Who I’ve Been and What I’ve Done, and something much more mysterious and unknown.

This is likely the stereotypical mid-life crisis, some form of the empty next syndrome. I’m okay with being somewhat typical.

But there’s a insistent – if gentle – pulse to this longing, a steady drumbeat that is not.going.away. A deep desire, a sharp craving that has little to do with settling down and everything to do with what feels like will be a deep dive into something.

My spiritual director says I should revisit my writing over the past two years; look for a theme. She seemed to feel confident that whatever is percolating has left some evidence.

I think she’s right.