Quiet Epiphanies

sharing the everyday stirrings of mind, heart, and spirit

Category: Faith

Church Is Weird. (Go Anyway.)

Before Matt and I started going to our new church in June, it had been a while since we had gone to church. Even longer since I really even felt connected to a church. I was nervous about joining a church. I didn’t want to commit. I was afraid of creating relationships. Because relationships are messy. And when they involve church, they’re even worse.

Church Is Weird. (Go Anyway.)

The worst part about going to a new church isn’t the first time, it’s the second, third, fourth, or fifth time. The first time, you may not know what to expect. You are on the lookout for signs that these people are cultish or out of touch. You look around to see if everyone has adopted the same hair style, like the Duggars or the Amish. You try to gauge whether you stand out as an outsider or whether they’re used to seeing new people. Generally you can blend in, observe, and be excused for not being overtly friendly. You know if this doesn’t go well, you don’t have to come back. No one has your phone number. They probably won’t even remember your name.

But if you dip your toe in and decide to get your feet wet, you’re opening yourself up to all kinds of awkwardness. You might see the same people two weeks in a row. You might not remember their names, even though you met them last week. They might not remember your name, but they definitely notice you now. Now there’s the decision of whether or not to say hi. Do you admit to not knowing their name?

Then, after you’ve been going for a few weeks, there is the question of whether you should get to know anyone better. Should you join a small group? Volunteer? Do you tithe here now? Like a teenager trying to decipher when exactly it counts as “going steady,” you waver, insecure, worried that if you really put your heart on the line it will get crushed.

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Don’t Fear the Dark

Don't Fear the Dark

I used to love autumn. I know I’m not alone in believing the beginning of fall feels more like a new year than January 1.

School sets up fall to be a time of new things: new clothes, new books, new things to learn, and maybe even new friends. As an introvert, I enjoy the coziness of fall–grabbing a warm beverage and reading in a cafe while rain patters onto the windows. I’m generally more comfortable with more clothes on, not less: soft, long-sleeved sweaters, a scarf swirled around my neck.

Summer is like an enthusiastic friend with a wide smile imploring you to go outside and feel the warmth of the sun on your face. Go for a walk–or even a run! Play in the back yard. Work in the garden. Eat outside. Summer is fun. But summer feels like a time to do things, even if they are mostly fun things, and sometimes the pressure to do things can wear me out. Fall beckons me to sit, read and write, reflect.

As the summer drew to a close this year, I found myself dreading fall. I was even a little angry about it. I wanted to slap pumpkin spice lattes out of people’s hands. Then I remembered I used to love fall and thought, What’s going on? 

I realized it’s not fall I’m dreading, it’s February.

I’m already looking ahead to the end of a winter that always feels entirely too long. In the fall, the darkness and slight chill in the air is just enough to let my spirit and body take a rest. By the end of winter, when the Christmas cheer and twinkle lights have burnt out, the darkness seems excessive. I want to feel the sun on my face again, to not have to check the forecast for rain, to go for a walk after dinner as the sun sets.

But I can’t live my life in fear of February. My tendency to live in the future (real or imagined), if I’m not careful, steals the joy from the present.

There might be some really difficult moments ahead for me, but I can’t let those be my focus. My focus should be on the long game, a lifetime characterized by both bright and shining moments of glory and everyday moments of faithfulness, joy and love.

Psalm 30 says “weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

Rejoicing is the light shining after every dark night. Rejoicing is what I should be anticipating, because it’s renewable.

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man. Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice. […] He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.

Psalm 112: 4-7

As we enter into fall, I want to focus on the right things: grace, compassion, generosity, justice–things that bring light to my heart. It can be depressing when it’s dark outside. I can’t do anything about that. But I can keep the darkness from creeping into my heart.


OVERCOMING - Quiet Epiphanies Blog

I held back tears as I left the chiropractor’s office. I willed myself not to indulge in a good cry. I’ve already cried about all this. Get over it and move on, I told myself. I should have seen the tears coming–I was already feeling fragile when I walked in. As I left the doctor confirmed: I shouldn’t be running. My attempt at getting healthy was hurting me.

Last week, pretty suddenly, I started having shooting pain in my lower back and right hip. It’s almost exactly where I had intense, immobilizing muscle spasms during pregnancy, and what led to me getting regular chiropractic treatment from then until we moved five months after my son was born. Worried the pain would escalate, I reluctantly made an appointment.

I dread doctor’s offices now because I am tired of rehashing the ways my body is not functioning properly. I’m tired of having to rate my pain. I would much rather keep ignoring it so I can do more important things, thankyouverymuch. I am also tired of the breezy advice to take better care of myself by just doing this one simple thing. Which I add to my list of One Simple Things that I wind up not doing because the list is so long. I have always been an A student and, likewise, strive to be a good patient. But since I became a mother, all my self care has been de-prioritized.

It’s not something I consciously do. It’s just that the inner voice telling me to take care of myself is a polite, quiet, hand-raising girl saying, Hey, um, maybe you should have a glass of water? And, um, maybe sit down a minute? Icing your back would probably feel good, right? And the voice she’s competing with is my son wailing “EEEEEEEHHHHHHHH!!!” and banging his head into the baby gate.

If it’s not my son, it’s someone else on my mind. It’s like my energy is controlled by a switch that says ME and OTHERS and it’s usually stuck on OTHERS.

Remember when I put taking care of myself on my THINGS I DO list? Yeah, I told you that was pretty aspirational.

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When Your Spirit Is Tired

I had the chance, the first chance in a while, to go out with a group of friends without my husband or my son. It was a college alumni event, a night at the minor league baseball game. I love baseball mainly because I love being at the game. It matters less to me what happens during the game than the conversations had (or overheard) above the organ music and crunching of peanut shells. A chance to sit outside on a warm, clear summer night and watch a baseball fly high into a bright blue sky with my dear college friends sounded like a perfect chance to relax.

As I half-watched the game, my friend and I talked about how life throws you the unexpected, and sometimes a season of your life can seem like it’s just one long string of challenges that wear you down.

I wasn’t expecting the way my life turned upside down after my son was born. My pregnancy and birth were so easily managed, so peaceful and gratifying, that if the hardest part of having kids was pregnancy and birth, I would give birth a hundred times. But that hormone-fueled radiant glow I felt after my son was born faded in the face of some real worries: breastfeeding trouble, emergency appendectomy, a fall down the stairs, mysterious fevers, returning to work, quitting work, my husband’s job change, moving in with my parents, fatigue, sleeplessness, finding a rental home and moving again, and–the cherry on top–moving into the home and discovering a flea infestation.

I don’t like to complain or focus on the negative. I had been pretty good at cultivating a spirit of positivity in the years leading up to my son’s birth. But as things kept piling on and I didn’t have a chance to replenish physically or spiritually, I began to lose it. I didn’t have the energy for anything but survival.

I remember the exact moment I realized I was shutting down. In the midst of the flea infestation, I sat on our couch nursing my son in a lonely new living room crowded with full moving boxes.  I couldn’t put my son anywhere lower than two feet off the ground or he would be bitten by fleas. Fleas had buried themselves in his stuffed animals. I was supposed to be doing endless cycles of laundry to get rid of the fleas, but once I took a load out of the dryer, I had nowhere to put it that it wouldn’t get fleas on it. I was supposed to be vacuuming all the time, but how could I do that around the towers of moving boxes and while I was afraid to put my son down? Should I be unpacking? But then more things would get fleas on them. And if we flea bombed again there would be nasty chemicals on all our stuff. But maybe fleas had already made their way into the boxes. It was too much to think about. I was done problem-solving. I focused on keeping my son alive.

My parents jumped in and helped us handle the logistics of the flea situation. They took in our elderly, now flea-bitten dog and helped me bathe and groom him every other day to battle the fleas that were weakening him in his already feeble state. My mother found a professional exterminator and both my parents helped us move all of our things once again, and eventually we were able to settle into our home. We unpacked and I set about trying to create a new normal, a sense of peace. But my spirit was tired. Tired from putting on a brave face. Tired from feeling incapable. Tired from trying so hard and feeling like it wasn’t enough to make everything hold together.

I kept waiting for things to get back to normal. Especially after the fleas were gone and we were finally (mostly) unpacked in our new home. I tried to create a rhythm to my days, some sort of routine like other parents said was so crucial for their wellbeing and their child’s. But nothing I was trying was working. In fact I felt like I was actively being worked against.

On one hand, I had this incredible, priceless gift in my son. I couldn’t put into words how much joy he brought me or how blessed I felt to have him. Yet at the same time, I was struggling and it reached a point where I thought about escaping every day because I couldn’t handle the relentless need and unpredictability. I spent hours trying to get my son to sleep for just 45 minutes. At night, after finally quieting my anxious mind and falling  asleep, I was woken in the night by my husband standing over me with a screaming baby who wanted to nurse.

I didn’t know what to say to God. I wouldn’t give my son up for anything. I’ve never regretted having him. But when I thanked God for my son, I also felt ashamed. Because if I was thankful, I should be happy. Instead, when I thanked God I felt a pit in my stomach that I wasn’t a good enough mother to deserve the blessings I had.

I knew a desperate, anxious, exhausted life wasn’t what God desired for me. I felt I should be praying better, doing better. But I didn’t know where to start and I was too spent to figure out another thing.

I haven’t recovered from that year quickly. Things have gotten better one at a time. One conversation, one request, one change, one rule, one hour, one prayer at a time. It’s the steady persistence of grace, and a Spirit working through me and through people around me to bring healing.

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

Romans 8:26-28, The Message

I’m still learning what it means to depend on God in situations when you’re thrown a curveball and you have a split second to decide how to react. It often feels like a full count and bases loaded, like everything depends on me.

The home team lost the baseball game by one point. But immediately after the last player stepped off the field, all the house lights turned off and the sky lit up with a fireworks show. Win or lose, if it’s Friday night, there will be a fireworks show at the stadium after the game.

I’d like to believe God’s kingdom is like that baseball field on Friday nights–that win or lose, the game ends with a celebration. That aching sighs are turned into oohs and aahs.

I wish that all along, in the midst of my tired waiting, I had been able to let my spirit rest, knowing my wordless sighs and aching groans were enough. But I’m still learning.

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