The turn of this new year has felt a little strange. It came about during an in-between season of my life. Often the Christmas season ushers forth a sense of conclusion or a wrapping up of sorts to the year. Those few days between exchanging gifts and ringing in the sparkly new year typically provide the perfect opportunity to reflect on the adventures afforded and the heartaches borne. Hope usually rises as I begin to envision a new start and wonder and anticipate what lies ahead. But this year was quite different.
The unexpected move-pocalypse of 2015 has yet to be fully unpacked and understood. We are each still wrestling and sorting out how this shift in location will continue to alter the trajectory of our narratives. And the uncertainty of how or when this new place will ever begin to feel like home is evidence of the in-between nature of our current circumstances. In the past, these kinds of narrative gaps, the vowels between the consonants, the spaces between what was and what will be – these have been difficult spaces for me to find rest. I’ve often tried to hurry through them, assuming that plowing through transition as quickly as possible is what is best for all involved so that a new normal can be established. On other occasions involving transition, I’ve simply busied myself or distracted myself, or self-soothed by employing go-to addictions – all likely an unconscious effort (most of the time) to avoid feeling the stripping away effect transition can have upon one’s sense of identity, or belonging, or purpose.
It became clear just before Christmas that none of those avoidance tactics were going to be adequate in this season of transition. There was no running away or side-stepping the ever-present sense that the losses needed to be felt and that the confusion that has ensued in the aftermath is inviting deeper levels of self-exploration. I’ve wandered into a gap between identities. I am once again living outside of the weekly rhythms of our extended families of origin. These tribes we are born into and formed out of carry so much power in the shaping and fostering of our identities (for good and for harm). We are sister or daughter or granddaughter or wise one or funny one or strong one or smart one or wounded one. Whenever we venture outside or beyond or away from our people we have a new opportunity to explore who we are separate from them. I’ve found this space to be especially terrifying. Who am I outside of the communities that have affirmed my existence, communities that have formed my own micro-world? What remains when those micro-worlds are fading into the distance?
A similar stripping away has unfolded professionally as I’ve nearly entirely walked away from my previously thriving private practice only retaining a handful of clients who wanted to continue the work via online/video sessions. When we transition vocationally we have an opportunity to explore who we are simply as human beings when we are not striving so hard to be human doings. I began working at the age of 12 generating my own income by way of babysitting thus beginning a 20+ year career in offering care to others in a whole host of different ways. This is the only substantial break I have ever been afforded aside from when I pursued my graduate degree (which I struggle to call a break given the intensity of the program I undertook while tending to three kids simultaneously). I know that this vocational pause is a luxury in our culture and in our world, but I am beginning to see why that is such a travesty. My body and brain and heart and health have been begging for some rest in the gaps all along.
So I’m not quite at the start of a new journey like I would have typically hoped for at the turn of a new calendar year. Instead, I’m in the gap lands and I’m coming to realize that I may need to be here for a little while. It’s clear that I’ve moved too quickly through this terrain in previous transitions. At times, I am certain, survival must have required only a quick pause in the gaps. But I must confess there were others that I unapologetically pushed through quicker than the speed of light. So there is lots of unfinished business in this place, lots of rest needed, lots of recovery for this compassion-fatigued soul. Ultimately it is where a patient grief must finally be allowed. Here’s to hoping that this intentional posture of sitting and staying in the gap as long as necessary leads to restoration and an increased capacity to listen well to the voice of a more stripped-down version of myself.
I have always loved the ritual of creating New Year’s resolutions. As my childhood friend Sarah can attest, I’ve jumped at the chance to recreate myself every January since we were in junior high together. I would always commit to something extraordinary like: “This year I will change my personality!” “I will practice perfect posture!” “I will memorize at least one poem every week!” I put so much emphasis on the magic of starting a brand new year, like a do-over, I thought the slate was wiped clean and I could remake myself. Back then, I wanted to be the shy, quiet type that the boys seemed to like. For those of you who know me, you immediately recognize the grand feat necessary for me to “change my personality” and the unlikelihood of which not even a miracle could supply.
Twenty-five years later, I still relish the notion of starting something new and fresh; re-examining old goals, naming new ones. But my “resolutions” are no longer plural. I followed the lead of a friend who challenged us a few years ago to bear in mind a single word or phrase to guide us throughout the year. I’ve adopted that habit and found it to be freeing and focusing at the same time. Not to mention, it’s easier to keep instead of abandoning by the end of the first month.
I was very intentional last year in declaring my word as “Abundance.” Tired of settling for the norm and what had become mediocre, I wanted to know the abundant life promised in Scripture (John 10, Ephesians 3). I spent a long time in January crafting a large art piece that would consistently remind me of what I had prayerfully set out in the beginning of the year to find.
I clung to that word “abundance” looking for evidence of it anywhere and everywhere. But by the end of October, I was beginning to think that God misunderstood my message.
2015 began with a colonoscopy in January and ended with a double ear infection and thrush in November. Peppered in between those health concerns the year held injuries and nutrient deficiencies. Job, asset and relational losses were also among the wreckage. I literally thought to myself that the signals of prayer to the heavens were crossed and the message was heard that I wanted 2015 to be a year of abundant…burdens!
I am still trying to make meaning out of the past 12 months. But there was a moment in August after I had endured a vocational crisis where I was able to experientially grasp the concept of Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” During that month of mourning, Karl was there at every turn to comfort me and literally hold me together. I would wake from terrifying nightmares at 2 or 3 in the morning and beg him to just put his arms around me tightly so I could feel safe again. On the weekends when I still couldn’t break the chains of anxiety, I would weep and ask him to rub my back. I called him or texted him numerous times each day asking for reassurance or the chance to process my feelings. In 15 years of marriage, I never needed him like I did then. And when I needed that desperately, I was finally comforted in an abundant way.
Never before have I ever been the touchy-feely type. I didn’t understand what was so special about giving and receiving hugs, or snuggling or hand-holding. But after a painful year of desperate need, I found comfort in the human touch. Now, Karl says with a wink that I’ve gotten a bit greedy in my need for his comfort. “Hold me? Snuggle with me?, Scratch my back?,” I say daily. I know where to find the soothing I need. And he offers it to me in spades. But it took an abundance of need for me to find the source of abundant comfort.
And as I look at other instances from throughout the year, what becomes clear, in hindsight, is that there was an abundance of trials, to be sure, but for the first time in my life, there was also an abundance of comfort. So, maybe the wires to heaven weren’t crossed all along and God understood my message perfectly.
My sister came out for a quick visit a couple of weekends ago. She visited us several times during the three years we lived in the vicinity during my graduate school training previously so we didn’t feel the need to do any of the touristy jaunts in the city. Plus she was here for exactly 48 hours and half of that time revolved around a speaking gig I had while she was out here (the focus of why she was here to begin with). During the remaining half of her time we attempted to give her a crash course in what our life and dreams look like now in this new chapter. It wasn’t enough time for that really, but it was just enough time to re-rip out our hearts when we dropped her off at the airport.
The week that followed was pretty brutal. Faith, our 15 year old, cried herself to sleep nearly every night. Her tears held both loss and resistance as she expressed her desire to “go back home” over and over again.
I’ve released a few similarly expressive tears in the months that have passed since we loaded up that giant yellow truck (read: I’ve cried more tears than I’d like to admit). On the surface, the longing presents as a desire to return to a red house that held our story for four years, our lengthiest stay in any dwelling we’ve had together. The girls miss having their own bedrooms. I miss my kitchen and my bathroom. I miss my floors. I knew every inch of that house, the places where the floorboards came unglued from the steps into the front room, where we had to patch up the holes from Briella’s baby gates, where the wall was dented from a water bottle that miraculously flew down the basement stairs. This house held some sacred stories too. Like when I ran down the stairs to greet Brian and the girls holding a positive pregnancy stick as they walked in from the garage. It held our family as we recovered from a couple of bouts with the flu, a broken arm, 3 concussions, countless sprained ankles and knees and of course my six months of recovery after Briella’s birth. Shortly after moving in, we finally answered the girls’ unrelenting requests for a puppy. Jaxson grew into a dog (for better and for worse) in that very house. There were Christmas mornings, family feasts, birthday gatherings, movie nights and family meltdowns.
As I tear up at the sight of any photos taken in our old house, I understand that it was how we filled the space and how we hoped to fill the space that made it what it was and what we hoped it one day would be. But spaces matter too. So the longing is about the house. But it’s also about more. It’s about how we’re not sure what stories this new chapter will hold. We’re not even sure about what kind of dwelling we’ll land in as we’re renting for this first year as we get familiar with the area. So there is no real place to call our own, no defined space to hold our new stories yet. We are each feeling the lack of a physical and stable container and sustainer of our lives. We’re in flux, in transition. And that’s a really hard place to be, so we struggle with a desire to return home often. That’s part of moving. That’s part of leaving and now seeking for a new space to call home. It’s all part of growing through transition.
It’s been a little while since we let all of you sit in on one of our happy hour conversations. In this chat we explored the topic of transitions as each of us are STEEPED in change! Between my big move, Krista’s shift in jobs, and Sarah transitioning her 3rd child (who also happens to have Type 1 Diabetes) into kindergarten in the midst of undergoing treatment for her Lyme disease – we are certainly 3 therapists in major flux.
I (re)introduced the gals to a model of transitions by William Bridges explored in his book, The Way of Transition: Embracing Life’s Most Difficult Moments. Essentially he breaks down the experience of transition into 3 stages (we kinda like the number 3): The Ending, The Neutral Zone and The New Beginning. Listen in as we process these stages together…and laugh a little along the way too.
Immediately after I sent all but the toddler off on their first day of school with that giant smooch they secretly love but pretend to loathe, I felt a wave of emotion that I instinctively knew I’d need to spend the day unfolding. This was not a surprise arrival. I knew this emotional release was inevitable months ago when we first discovered that life as we knew it would be dramatically shifting in a nanosecond. Look at me trying to sound witty and smart. Confession: I don’t really know what a nanoseconds is, but it sounds super fast, so I’m sticking with it. You see, nanosecond life-shifts by nature don’t allow the time and space to dig into deeper levels of the emotional and psychological processing of our experiences. But emotional data left unprocessed is persistent and perpetually attempts to make its way to the surface. I’ve learned at this point in life that it is much kinder to myself (and SO MUCH kinder to any and all creatures who come in contact with me) to greet the (re)surfacing of emotions with arms wide open. So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past few days – holding space for all that needed to surface.
Perhaps I should back up and catch all of you up just a bit. At the very beginning of our summer, the time of year that I most look forward to for a host of reasons that do not include an affinity for the warmer weather, we discovered that the path my husband’s career was headed down was a dead end and we were in desperate need for some re-routing. Within less than a week’s time, the re-routing we were searching for came clearly into view, but like most experiences in life, it possessed a duffel bag’s worth of pros and cons. Greater financial freedom and advancement in Brian’s career meant another relocation for our gang of six and an ending of sorts for my five year old private therapy practice.
Our summer consisted of selling our house, purging through and packing up our belongings, finding a new place to live and trying to wrap all of our minds around this sudden and unexpected disruption and uprooting of our lives. I knew that the real process of grief likely wouldn’t occur until we had moved through all of the steps involved with the relocation.
By the end of August, the initial relocation process was complete: I finished unpacking and getting everyone situated in their new space, completed and submitted a gazillion forms to process new school enrollment for each of the big girls and registered them for a year’s worth of classes, did all the back-to-school shopping madness, and took care of haircuts all while distributing a multitude of hugs and wiping away many tears as they each continue to grieve and accept this new reality. So there I was, standing at the front door of our temporary home (we’re renting to buy ourselves sometime to figure out where we want to plant our roots) watching each of my terrified yet courageous daughters walk TOWARD their next chapters. And I just knew it was time for me to find enough courage to face mine as well.