When You Feel Ill-Equipped to Lead Others into a Deeper Faith

The year I turned 24, I spent an unreasonable amount of time debating what color my hair should be. I indulged a mild obsession with the TV show Friends and regularly debated the merits of a Ross-and-Rachel combination. I quit my nursing job with good friends, sweet patients, and flexible hours to accept a temporary desk job, hoping to make more money in a less physically demanding environment. In September of that same year, after a summer of swollen feet and watching sitcom re-runs from a side-lying position, I gave birth to my first baby…

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How to Face a Fork in the Road

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

~Robert Frost

We fanned the college materials across the kitchen table. Competing school colors and fresh young faces stared up at us, offering an invitation to a future full of unknowns. My husband sat behind his laptop lost in a world of spreadsheets and cost projections and numbers with too many zeros behind them. I sat lost in a reverie of little girl laughter and long-ago conversations about growing up. He lives for the spreadsheets, while I live for the story behind every promise bound up in those college letters. Our daughter, seventeen and on the cusp of forever, sat across from us. On the table, the road split and forked in every direction.

We’ve approached this decision from a great distance, enjoying the long road leading up to it. Our firstborn lines the path of her life with delight, like a path covered in yellow daisies. We knew the road would split and splinter away from us eventually, but most days it seemed more like a rumor than a reality.

Just as it should, our daughter’s daisy strewn path widened quietly, while alternate avenues tunneled away from our feet overnight. The paths appeared in all manner of directions: the foreign or the well-traveled, the mysterious or dream-like, the ordinary or the distinct. They appeared with every kind of descriptor, but none of them appeared with a sign pointing “This Way.”

So, we found ourselves around the table with our spreadsheets and our Rory Gilmore pro/con lists. We laid out our research and our preconceived notions, our arguments for and against, and our core beliefs. But, it’s our dreams and our tender hearts that want to lead the way forward into this future. Discernment is difficult when the heart longs to lead one way, and the head leads another.

I find myself facing these kind of alternate path decisions often, and I second guess myself, wondering what “other” life might wait for me on the reverse side of my decisions. I’ve learned to keep a few guiding principles in mind when my emotions run away with the should have/could have beens. As we take tentative steps towards our daughter’s future, we’ve kept these same thoughts present with us as we approach this fork in the road.

Few decisions are perfect.

Perfect paths don’t exist. If they did, we would look for the magic that would lead us to them without fail. Every decision will have drawbacks and rewards. We can pro/con our way to some of them, but in the end, only God knows the end result. Someday, we will too, but until then, faith will help us take the leap into imperfection.

Few decisions are permanent.

My husband reminds me of this all the time. With the exception of having babies, very few decisions can’t be undone. It may be painful and costly, but it may be the undoing that is our re-making. There may be more lessons learned on the return trip home, than lessons learned on the initial journey.

Few decisions predict the ending.

We can’t know the end from the beginning, and this is a gift. Few of us would choose the road less traveled if we knew exactly what pain, heartache, and rough roads lie ahead on it. We must make our decisions knowing there will be challenges, but there will also be wild beauty.

My daughter will choose a path soon. It may be strewn with daisies or weeds, but my hope is that it’s lined with roses. Thorns, while painful, help us grow, and by them we recognize all that is fragrant and soft and sweet in the blooming.

When the Results Aren’t What You Expected: A Labyrinth Walk

The first time I heard of a labyrinth walk, the idea peaked my curiosity. I filed it away in the part of my brain where I keep a small collection of things I want to experience someday–like photographing a hummingbird or growing a blowsy, lush rose bush with blooms the color of sunset.

I’ve yet to have luck with either the hummingbird or the roses, but my husband and I stumbled upon a labyrinth a few months ago while hiking on a weekend getaway. It sat tucked in the woods and wound around and around–a maze of brown and gray stone. The Lotus Labyrinth, so named for the inlaid lotus at both the entrance and exit, was set in a clearing, and surrounded by trees.

I pulled my husband towards the entrance, and we slowly wound our way towards the pile of stones in the center to the sound of the wind making music of dried leaves. Small signposts explained that upon entering, we should take note of any heaviness or emotional weight we carried. On reaching the center, we were to release the things that weighed us down, as if laying them down on an altar. Then, as we wound our way to the exit, with slow measured steps, we would symbolically leave behind the thoughts, fears, or false beliefs we had carried in.

My husband sped through the rest and sat down on a nearby boulder to wait for me. I took my time circling around and around, stopping to pray in the center, then circling back out again until my feet found the final lotus. I took a deep breath and surveyed my feelings. I felt exactly the same as when I entered the labyrinth. I had arrived carrying the weight of a few things, and I had carried them right back out again.

I didn’t experience a spiritual epiphany or feel God’s presence in any discernible way. My soul didn’t feel lighter, and my concerns followed me from entrance to exit to the hike home again.

My labyrinth walk comes to mind every so often, and I’ve asked myself if it was worth doing if I didn’t experience the peace it promised. It’s a small thing–inconsequential, really. But it brings to mind all of the small physical acts that I hope will bear fruit in the long term, despite their small beginnings.

The hug I give to my stiff and reluctant teenager. The quiet moments of prayer with no obvious answers. The folding of clothes that end up crumpled again. The pose of a warrior on the yoga mat with a persistent wobble. The chop and stir preparation for a meal gone in minutes. The phone call to an elected official who refuses to listen. The typing of words destined for deletion.

When the results hold no promise, these become small acts of obedience and resistance. We resist the urge to allow life to happen to us. Instead, we press on and create our lives out of these small acts strung together with purpose. We obey the needs of our bodies, our minds, and our spirits, and we acknowledge there will be disappointments. The act itself is rarely pointless, rather it points to something bigger.

If I walk a labyrinth again, I will enter it knowing that the action speaks more than the end results.

When You Don’t Want to do the Dishes

“A sign hangs on the wall in a New Monastic Christian community house: “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.”” ~Tish Harrison Warren in Liturgy of the Ordinary

I sigh when it comes time to pull something edible together for dinner–my recipes spin on an endless repeat. I huff over the chopping, the stirring, the clatter of dishes on the table. I exhale forcibly when the meal vanishes into empty stomachs after only ten minutes of spooning and plate-scraping. My sighs deepen when the kids stack dirty dishes in crooked towers next to the sink, while my hands prune in hot, sudsy water for the next thirty minutes.

My husband senses my dragon breathing may set things alight in the kitchen, and he offers to wash the dishes from his place on the sofa. I reject the offer because he worked twelve hours in the office and suffered a hellish commute in both directions. This is my J-O-B, I tell him. This is what I do “for a living”. My words leak sarcasm. He sighs then too, knowing this is a broken record I play when I feel particularly frustrated. He returns to his prone position in the living room, and I mumble under my breath while the water scalds and my evening’s work swirls and disappears.

This scene repeats itself  in various house-keeping, kid-raising situations in my home. The sighing, the offer of help, the rejection, the complaining. I’m not proud of it. I know my choice to stay home is a privilege–a choice many women would love to make. But, I still dream of the day when home management becomes a side gig, and my writing career takes center stage. There is a hole wormed out in the deepest parts of me that aches to be filled with something more “important” than the endless stream of household chores.

In that hole, lies a deep tension between my everyday duties as a mom running a home, and my desire to do more with my life than run a chauffeur service. I want the work of my heart to matter more than the daily work of my hands, and therein lies the problem. I have swallowed the lie that one is more important than the other, the lie that I must choose between this or that, when instead I should embrace both/and.

My home life and my work life hold equal value in God’s economy, and both require me to steward the gifts God has given me. Acts of service, whether through folding piles of laundry or writing words of encouragement, sculpt and shape me into spiritual maturity. Both home-keeping and writing hold weight in the world because I am created to serve through both, and neither form of work is holier than the other.

I wish someone had told me this when I struggled as a nurse in my twenties, as a young mother of littles, and later as a writer. I wish I had realized that my work changing the diaper of my own child was as holy as changing the diaper of an elderly patient. My work raising our kids while my husband finished his graduate studies was as holy and necessary as the work I complete for my own master’s program. My work feeding and keeping bodies alive is as holy as writing words that feed and keep souls thriving.

I wish someone had told me that in the tension-filled hole, I will find the holy.

The New Monastic Christians have it right. We all want to do work that is meaningful, noteworthy, and life-changing for God’s kingdom. But the real revolution is learning to see that faithfulness to the small, daily acts of service are the building blocks, the DNA, of the larger work at hand–to join God in what he is already doing through our lives.

In my life, the most revolutionary thing I can do right now is find the holy while I wash the dirty dishes and when I write stories, while I listen to my kids talk about their day and when I sit in the quiet and read poetry. As I shift my view to one of inclusion rather than exclusion, I find more joy and contentment in my daily life. God reveals himself in the daily liturgy of laundry and in the crafting of lines.

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Have you felt caught in this tension too, seeing one form of work as better/holier/more life-changing than another? You’re not alone. What would it take to reframe the way you think of your everyday work?

Bread and Wine: A New Year’s Eve Tradition

*Photo courtesy of (in)courage

I fell asleep at 11:53pm with a Harry Potter book nestled into the pillows beside me, the spine still gripped in my hand. My husband snuck into the room and snapped a photo of me sleeping in my New Year’s Eve party wear—a sweatshirt, pajama pants, and tousled hair—then he shook me awake. To celebrate…

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