How to Navigate a Season of Endings

As summer approaches, bringing with it big changes in the life of our family, I find myself feeling out of sorts. I am graduating from my MFA program, and I don’t know what’s next in my writing life. I will no longer spend long days reading books with a critical eye and writing papers based on them. No one will be waiting at the other end of an email for my next essay. I will have a new degree in creative writing, and no tangible way of putting it to use on paper.

Just as I graduate, so will my seventeen year old daughter. Her entire life spreads out in front of her like a blank canvas. Everything is before her, and this stands in stark contrast to my own experience. I often wonder what lies ahead for me when my own canvas is already full of color, spread in thick strokes towards the outer edges. So much lies behind me. So much of my canvas is already painted.

No one told me that releasing a daughter into the world makes a mother dig deep into her own story of becoming. It is both a rejoicing and a mourning–for who I could have been, for the surprise of who I am today, and for what my girl will be. I don’t think I have the words yet for what it feels like to let her go or how hard it is to set my younger self free in the process.

I’ve reached a season of endings, and I can only see the faint outline of new beginnings ahead. Perhaps you are out of sorts or in a season of endings too. I don’t have five steps to fix it, but I do have a few guiding principles I hope will keep us moving forward into the unknown with more freedom and less fear.

Treat yourself and your open-ended questions with kindness.

In his poem Unquiet Vigil, Brother Paul Quenon writes “Be Kind. Myself, to myself, be kind.” When I read those words, I was most struck by the punctuation. Be Kind. Period. No caveats, no qualifications. Be kind to myself no matter how complicated, effervescent, difficult, or joyful the feelings. Be kind to the past me, the present me, and the me who exists in the future. This feels impossibly hard some days, but with practice, it grows easier.

Learn to love the questions.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”~ Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet.

I want to place these words like beads on a length of string and finger them like beads of prayer. During a season of change, the questions I ask are more important than the answers I think I need. The answers rarely announce themselves, but rather they arrive in the quiet of living into the questions.

Hope and wait quietly.

“It is good that one should hope and wait quietly..” ~Lamentations 3:26. I often wait with fear as my loud companion. Fear drives away quiet, whereas hope invites it in. Living into the questions with a spirit of kindness allows for hope to have its way. I can ask myself questions about the future without giving in to the cacophony they can create in my soul. I do this by entering into a season of unknowns with a posture of open handedness rather than entering with closed fists. I can’t receive my past or my future when I grasp for answers or fight the questions every step of the way.

In this season of endings, I want to enter open, free, unencumbered by a need to orchestrate my own feelings into something like a mathematically correct, classical symphony. This is jazz, baby. There are no neat resolutions, but I’m improvising my way through the notes, receiving them as they come, with hope and kindness and love for unexpected melodies.

When the sign points home

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To reach the finish line at the Lucerne half-marathon, you have to run straight up to this wall of road signs. When all of those arrows stare you square in the face, you feel as if you are standing at the cross roads of the world. Shall I go north or south? Italian or French? Over the mountain or through? Choices, so many choices.

The sheer number of them used to cripple me. I feared making the wrong decision because what if I chose badly? What if I got lost or missed the detour or took an exit too early and missed out on my destination altogether? For a long time, I chose not to make too many decisions in the hopes God would make them for me. I limited my own journey with pessimism and fear. I assumed if God intended for me to travel in a particular direction, a single sign would appear pointing THIS WAY.

And then I grew up and had kids and moved countries three times and realized God created free will for a reason. Sometimes He leads us to one specific destination, but He is just as likely to hammer up a wall of signposts with exits pointing in every direction, and offer us the freedom to choose. His will becomes less a map and more a compass, and even in the choosing, He always remains our true North.

After many years, a number of bad decisions, and a few brilliant ones which deserve a champagne toast, I look at these road signs and I see endless possibilities. Endless ways to get lost and be found again. Endless detours and roundabouts and destinations. I rather like traveling through life this way.

I hoped the next few months would be more of the same, more freedom and more choices. Instead, my husband and I have experienced a narrowing of the road. A straight path beats its way back to a single destination. Gone are the detours and the exits. We are moving home and right now home doesn’t have a lot to offer. There is no house or perfect job. There is no publishing contract, no community, no grand plan, and no time to tie all of these loose ends up into a tidy bow. There is the road, and a single sign pointing THIS WAY–>, and so I resolve to pull out my compass and allow it to guide me home.

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Where are you in your journey? Headed in one direction or reveling in the choices?

When you feel anything but brave

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We spent last Saturday night in the mountains. More than anything, more than chocolate and cheese and a public transport system that always runs on time, more than all of this, I will miss these mountains. It snowed most of the day, and the sky remained overcast and star-less that night, as we joined a group of winter enthusiasts (I have another name for these people, which I shall refrain from sharing) for a snowshoe hike. Some folks wore headlamps, but before setting off, the guide requested we turn off all the lights. I prefer to walk in the dark, in the quiet, he said. And those with lamps clicked them off and the chatter hushed and we walked over snow under an ink sky.

The feel of skimming over the top of the snow made me think of walking on water, and how it must feel to rise above the very thing you expect to sink you. I’ve lived through many a day, week, even month where I expected this overseas experience to sink me. But God, ever gracious, ever-present and ready to stretch out His arm to save, helped me walk it through.

I am weak. I know this. Other women sometimes call me brave and they say, I could never do it–I could never leave my town, my friends, my ability to run to Panera when I don’t want to cook dinner. And I try to receive it as a compliment, but I always feel false because the truth is, I can’t do it either. I have many days when my husband flies away and the children lose their minds and I want only to feel solid ground beneath me. I don’t want the splashing of the waves at my feet and a Savior who calls to me, Come.

My faith is small. And yet, Christ has bid me to come, to walk, to grow this speck of a faith seed into a tree bearing good fruit. I’m learning sometimes He does this in the dark, in the hush, under cloudy skies with weird things strapped to my feet, so I might learn to rise above.

When we reached the crest of a hill before turning back, the guide had us gather round. The mountains rose up on every side, surrounding us in shadows, ancient witnesses. Our guide began to chant and the others soon joined in. They ended with a rebel yell, voices rising and falling into the valley of snow. A shout of victory.

Compulsory fun and the art of fearlessness

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This winter, I decided to end a tortured relationship with my snowboard. After my first season snowboarding, we moved quickly from a love/hate relationship to a hate/hate relationship. One filled with frustration, borderline rage, and more than a few cuss words. It is a fact:  I am not cut out for winter sport, or so I thought, until my husband got wind of my decision and decided I should switch to skiing. He wants to be one of “those families”, the kind who post cheerful photos of helmet-clad, pink cheeked faces on facebook. I ungraciously agreed, and we entered into a level of pre-skiing grumpiness I never believed possible.

Naturally, I refer to my grumpiness as well as my penchant for disliking any idea that I didn’t come up with first.

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My hang-up appears to stem from forced participation in group lessons with people who, quite obviously, are there to make me look bad. It might also be related to the falling. Good Lord, the falling. And then there’s the t-bar, which I lovingly refer to as the spawn of Satan. I also don’t have a lot of interest in spending my Sabbath taking part in compulsory outdoor fun. It just feels wrong, and I feel pretty confident Jesus agrees.

Yesterday, we had our third lesson and afterwards my husband insisted we give a “small” slope a try as a family. I put small in quotes, because the Swiss don’t do anything small when it comes to mountains. It’s go big or go home, which coincidentally is my man’s life motto. How I wish it was, Go read a book and don’t leave home, but alas it is not. The five of us stood at the top of the hill arguing about who would go first, and who would watch, and why is our thirteen year old whipping out her iPhone when near death is at hand? So, we stood having this discussion when the seven-year old made an executive decision and yells “I’m going!” and I caught the words “Watch me, Mom!” as they drifted by on the wind.

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Two runs later, I am done. We send the two youngest up the lift alone one more time, and I stand at the bottom of the slope wearing white ski boots and a worried expression. I keep asking my husband if they’ll be alright, and he assures me they will and he promptly leaves to retrieve our car. I stand at the bottom, and out of the vast whiteness I hear shrieking. Full on screaming, and I can’t make out if it’s the kind of screaming that sends chills up your spine or the kind that comes with water slides and roller coasters. My girl appears at the crest of the hill, mouth wide open mid-shout, and she is flying. Flying, with no regard for bystanders or mama’s weak heart or fear. My hand flies to my mouth as she sweeps by me, heading straight for the line of cars parked at the edge of the snow, and I give a little yell as I imagine her careening off into them. She shocks me when she pulls up short, and snow flings upwards at the touch of her skis. She gives another shout and raises her arms above her head in victory. And when the blood rushes back to my extremities, I realize–I have so much to learn about trust and fearlessness and wild abandon.

Where are you practicing fearlessness and wild abandon? Maybe you’re not, but you want to. Where might you start?

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Disclaimer: That last photo? We didn’t ski that slope. Only in an alternate universe or my husband’s dreams would a slope such as this happen to me.

Dear Me

Thirteen is messing with me. All week, I’ve thought about my birthday girl and growing up. Memories of my teenage years have risen to the surface like cream, and I skim them from the top, only to find more rising from beneath. I remember it in extremes–love and hate, faith and fear, all answers and too few questions.

Emily Freeman, one of my very favorite writers, recently released her new book Graceful: Letting go of your try-hard life for teenage girls. This week she wrote a letter to her teenage self and asked others to join in. As thirteen winds its way into my thoughts and old memories return for a visit, I’ve read these letters and I’ve come undone. I feel as if my teenage heart sits outside the safety of my chest, full of tender hope surrounded by adult regret. I decided to write myself a letter to let the teenaged me know that hope will outlive regret almost every time. Except when orange eye shadow is involved.

 

Dear Me at age 16,

When you’re older, you’ll want to live in regret. Don’t. You’ll think back to your hairstyle, aptly nicknamed “The Claw”, and you’ll wish all the photos were destroyed when the basement flooded. A friend will see them when he comes to help clean up the soggy mess and he will bend from the waist in laughter. You’ll be embarrassed until you discover he wore footy pajamas sewn by his mother in college. Regret is relative.

You may want to re-think the orange eye shadow and the matchy-matchy outfits purchased at Strawbridges under Mom’s watchful eye. And quitting the piano was a foolish mistake. You will make your future children pay for your decision by forcing them to take piano lessons for years. They will fill your home with complaints and the sound of pure joy set to sheet music. They will play more than one instrument, your home will be a cacophony of sound, and you will silently pat yourself on the back for turning regret into opportunity. You are still waiting for them to thank you.

When you grow up, you’ll think a lot about the things you missed out on in your youth. You’ll regret asking too few questions, and not seeking more answers. You’ll wish you’d said no to more dates and yes to more friends. You will remember how you followed the rules instead of seeking the path to freedom, and you will try to wish this one regret away. You can’t wish it away, but hold fast to hope, sweet girl. Because someday you’ll know freedom and it won’t look anything like you imagined. You’ll find it in the unlikeliest places–on running paths and airplanes, in red letter words, and college-ruled pages.

You see everything in black and white at sixteen, but know this–you live real life in shades of gray. Begin to look for the gray, where hope rings the clouds with a silver lining. The only thing that looks good in black and white is your favorite striped sweater and words on the page of a book. Right now, you find yourself in these words every weekends, when you stay home and read instead of joining in the fun. Don’t hide behind other people’s words, write some of your own, and then go join the party. You will always love stories and people will live the best ones out in front of you.

When you’re older, your sister will say she’s a recovering pharisee, and you’ll know you’re one too. If there’s one regret to hold on to , it’s this one. It will help you and your plank-filled eye to love better and judge less.

Speaking of love, remember the boy from Ms. Kaiser’s fifth grade class? The one who told you, at fourteen, he thought you would end up barefoot and pregnant? Resist the urge to hit him. He’s right. You will end up barefoot and pregnant–with three of his babies. You will have to resist the urge to hit him and also acknowledge he is right for the rest of your life. And you’ll never live to regret it.

Love and hope and few regrets,

Kimberly

I’m linking to Chatting at the Sky with my letter. Is there something you would like to say to your sixteen year old self? Won’t you join?