Quiet Epiphanies

sharing the everyday stirrings of mind, heart, and spirit

Tag: encouragement

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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Courage: Turning Up the Volume

I’ve been thinking a lot about my “Overcoming” post the past few days. Mainly regretting that I put it out there, because I feel vulnerable.

The truth is, I judge myself harshly for how I have responded to my more recent struggles. Mainly, I feel that I shouldn’t struggle at all. What happened to me is mild in comparison to the myriad tragedies that could have happened. I know so many people who have or who are dealing with more dire circumstances. We all know someone who “has it worse” than us, right? Even if we don’t know them in-person, we’ve heard the story of the baby in the NICU, the young mother diagnosed with cancer, the town ravaged by natural disaster.

That is why I usually don’t allow myself to cry. I stuff down my feelings. I invalidate them, saying to myself, What’s your problem? There are people dealing with so much more than you right now. Suck it up. I compare myself to others and I feel guilty for not simply being thankful for all my blessings.

It feels virtuous to ignore your own pain and instead focus on those who “have it worse.” But is it truly based in humility and kindness for others? Or is it because you don’t love yourself enough?

If you saw a dear friend who was weary and hurting, would you say to her the things you say to yourself? Stop it! Your problems aren’t that big a deal. So many people are worse off than you. Get over it.

Would you make her feel ashamed? Or would you offer her a hug? Would you sit and listen to her when she needed to talk?

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What I Should Want

Picture a lunch conversation between two women, co-workers, on the verge of becoming mothers. Talking about plans. Plans for after the baby is born and the maternity leave is over and you have to decide. Do you want to work or do you want to stay home? Indefinitely, it is assumed. Because resume gaps become walls that box you in, become doors that close in your face.

Only two storylines are presented to us. Either you become the stay-at-home mom who gives up her career, gives up her security, gives up herself, to pour love and discipline into buzzing children with sticky hands and trails of toys and mountains of laundry, or you become the working mom who is the champion of feminism, fighting to have “it all” and prove she loves her child as much as the stay-at-home mom and is as deserving of her salary as the breadwinning man who sits next to her in the office. In one story you are fighting to have an identity, in the other you are trying to navigate multiple identities.

There are some women for whom the choice is clear. They throw themselves into their new role and embrace the challenges, because they know this is me. But for others, for me, this choice feels like attempting calculus in the fifth grade. The answer is… question mark.

I talked with my co-worker about choices, when really, I felt like I didn’t have one. I was talking about what I wanted, but I wasn’t listening to my inner voice telling me what I really wanted. I stopped listening to her long ago. I was listening to the inner voice telling me what I should want.

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Joy In Trying: A lesson from a boy learning to walk

Joy In Trying: A lesson from a boy learning to walkMy son just learned to walk. His methodology for learning fascinated me. One day he stood at the rail of his crib and started dramatically falling forward onto the mattress. He reached his hands out and caught himself, giggled and looked up at me with a cheesy grin before doing it again. And again. And again. He kept climbing up to the rail, facing inward toward the mattress, then falling forward and laughing.

He became more and more focused on his task, holding his breath for a moment then huffing and puffing, like he had to remember to breathe because his brain was working so hard on other things. He stood in the corner of his crib like a boxer on the ropes, eyes narrowed, staring down the center of the mattress as though it was his opponent. With a huff, he raised both of his arms straight above his head and took two shaky steps forward before falling onto the mattress in exactly the way he had been doing repeatedly. After a brief fit of giggles, he was up and ready to do it again.

It was at this moment I realized: at one year old, he knows he needs to practice.

My son learned to walk in his crib. Although it seems more difficult to learn to walk on the unsteady surface of a mattress, he needed the security of a soft landing to give him the confidence to try. When we tried to get him to walk independently on hard surfaces, he would go floppy and fall to the floor or cry in panic and cling to our pant legs. He walked only in his crib until he could walk all the way across the crib, from rail to rail, with a sure step.

When I see my son’s methodical nature in moments like this, it takes my breath away. Where did he learn to think ahead to prevent himself from getting hurt? He’s methodical. That’s his personality coming through.

I’m the same way. I want to see several steps ahead before I take that first step. I want to make sure I have a soft landing. I don’t take a risk unless I can see how it might play out. And while that can be a very useful trait, it can also be stifling. It can mean missing out on a fun time because I was afraid of wasting my time. It can mean settling for something that’s “good enough” rather than pursuing something that seems too good to be true.

Sometimes you can’t see ahead. Sometimes all you have is a gut feeling that something needs to change. Or sometimes the change just happens and you’re forced to take some risks in finding your way to a new normal. How do I prepare my son for those moments? How do I prepare myself?

A voice whispers in my ear: let go of fear. But how? It’s always there, like the ground beneath my feet staring me down, waiting for me to fall.

When my son falls, I cheer him on. I realized through him that we all need to know that people we love are watching us, cheering us on, even if we fall. We need people there when we fail to say, “You’re doing great! Keep at it!” We need to know from the beginning that we are loved whether or not we “succeed.”

How do I let go of fear? Instead of looking what I have to lose, I must start looking at what I have to gain. How can I live a life of joy without some spontaneity? How can I truly love others if I’m not willing to risk heartbreak? How can I embrace my passions if I’m holding on too tightly to stability?

My son laughed after falling onto the mattress. What if I found joy after each of my failed attempts? What if I looked at life like a practice session, knowing that each little fall would help me figure out how to walk? Maybe if I place my value in how hard I try instead of how little I fail, I would have more of a child-like joy.

Step One: Write

Step One: Write!

I’ve been a writer since I was a kid. I remember making my own books using cardboard covered in wrapping paper, using string for binding. But even back then I was apprehensive about others reading my writing.

One day when I was maybe nine, my parents took me along on a visit to some of their friends. I brought my little handmade book and some other activities to keep myself entertained while the adults socialized. My book was accidentally left behind we returned home. When my parents’ friends returned it to me later, I saw they had written a note of praise on the last page of my book. I was inwardly proud, but a flush of embarrassment also lit my cheeks. I had written that story for myself. I didn’t think anyone would read it!

Over time, writing became something I did for others. It stopped being an outlet for my creativity, for my own pleasure. It became something I did for a grade or for approval. At some point, I started reading my words with a critical eye toward the quality of my work and the errors of my writing became all I could see. I read the stories I had written and thought of how juvenile and unoriginal they sounded. I also began to see writing stories as one more thing that set me apart from everyone else. Adults are always looking for the things that make them different because it makes them feel special, but when you’re an awkward pre-teen or teen, differences feel more like a liability than a gift.

Looking back now, I think about what it must have been like to come across my little cardboard-bound book. If I stumbled across a book like that today, it would probably make my day to see the raw creativity and care put into it. (Do children even come up with their own crafts like that anymore?) I wish that I could see my writing now with that kind of delight. I wish that I could approach it as a precious outpouring of my individual creativity that should be treasured and encouraged.

It’s easy to feel that my voice has no place in the world. It’s easy to think that everything I have to say has been said before, and probably better. That may be true. But I think about that little girl, binding her own books with yarn and cardboard, and I think, “How dare you stop her?”

So I’m going to start writing again. It may not seem good enough. It may not be the most original content ever put to (digital) paper. But I’m going to do my best to look at myself with compassion, to nurture that little girl inside me that wants to create.

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