As I look back on the last month of social distancing and
“Stay-at-home”, I realize this COVID-19 pandemic hits in waves—not only the
“curve” we’re rightly obsessed with “flattening”—but powerful, unpredictable
The first few weeks the waves were coming so fast, there was
hardly time to get back on my feet. Directives changed daily. “Functional”
meant I still had the ability to react to new information, follow new
rules and get through each day in survival mode (vs total paralysis). Shock, disbelief, and numbness are a mercy
and got us through those early days. Now we’re a few more weeks into this and
the reality continues to set in. You and I and our world is not going back to
“normal.” “Normal” as we knew it has ended, but we certainly aren’t on the
other side of this yet.
How long until we’re living in the new normal? We
don’t know. We’re suspended in a liminal space. The good news is, having
already navigated several weeks, we’re a little more steady amidst the waves, and
we have a little more margin to respond vs simply react: we’ve recovered
a little space to ponder our choices, and a little will and energy to execute.
We have choices about how we’re going to navigate this space.
I like to cook, and especially to bake. Even more
specifically, bake yeast breads. Early in this pandemic I thought to myself, I’ll
just make sure I have a good supply of flour and I’ll be set with a highly
rewarding way to “kill time.” I very quickly discovered, that next to toilet
paper and hand sanitizer, flour was about the most difficult thing to find. Anywhere. Including online. One day in
desperation I googled two words: flour + Washington. Up popped a flour mill
about an hour north of Seattle and miraculously, they had one kind of whole
wheat flour still available. I was able to order this flour (25# minimum!) and
got a message I would be contacted when it is “ready for pick up.” What does that
mean?…wasn’t the flour sitting somewhere in a bag if it’s available to
order? To make a long story short, a couple days after my online order—and a
short road-trip—I had 50# of 100% whole wheat flour that had been fresh ground just
I was so psyched to bake with this flour—and it did not
disappoint! This little adventure got me thinking about several things about
navigating life in this unprecedented global liminal space:
It’s good to take a break from the intensity.
It’s good to get a change of scenery.
It’s good to enjoy a hobby and simple pleasures.
At the same time, I begin to ask myself if making and eating
“comfort food” in this season is a healthy, self-soothing activity…or is it a
medication for the grief and anxiety the COVID-19 pandemic is leaving in its
path? Honestly, it’s a little of both for me.
And that’s fine. I’m not beating
myself up about it. Though I am noting
if my daily step count and weekly workout routine are roughly keeping pace with
my baking. J
The important thing is to recognize the gift in the
COVID-19 pandemic – that is the gift of the opportunity to grow. Grow in the
direction of health: mental, emotional, physical, spiritual. Grow in resilience.
Grow in character. Grow in hope. I need the comfort of small mercies and simple
pleasures AND I need to lean in, toward choices and activities that will result
in growth. Growth is the opportunity and gift of every liminal space.
In the summer of 1983, a tornado cut its way through rolling hills of Holmes County, Ohio. It only took twenty minutes to gouge 15 acres of land, destroying a forest of magnificent, 100-year-old hard woods. Trees weren’t the only casualty that day. Four Amish barns were also leveled. As though the tornado had been given a mandate to destroy them, these four magnificent pieces of Amish craftsmanship were turned into nothing more than kindling. For the Amish farmer, or any farmer for that matter, this would have been devastating. To lose a barn means also losing the livestock, hay, grain and equipment they housed.
What happened next was astonishing. Gene Lodgson, a local farmer and writer in Upper Sandusky, Ohio had this to say about what happened after the tornado:
…what followed in the wake of the tornado during the next three weeks was just as awesome as the wind itself. In that time—three weeks—the forest devastation was sawed into lumber and transformed into four big new barns. No massive effort of bulldozers, cranes, semi-trucks, or the National Guard was involved. The surrounding Amish community rolled up its sleeves, hitched up its horses and did it all. Nor were the barns the quick-fix modern structures of sheet metal hung on posts stuck in the ground. They were massive three-story affairs of post-and-beam framing, held together with hundreds of hand-hewn mortises and tenons.
The Amish farmer who was the recipient of this new barn smiled. The structure, complete with donated hay, grain, and animals to replace all that was destroyed by the storm, cost him “about thirty thousand dollars, out-of-pocket money”–most of that funded by his Amish Church’s own internal insurance arrangement. “We give each other our labor,” he said. “That’s our way. In the giving, nothing is lost, though, and much is gained. We enjoy barn raising. So many come to work that no one has to work very hard. And we get in a good visit.
I can just hear it. As beams are being raised and joined, the conversations are
So, where were you when the tornado hit? Hey, did you hear Jacob and Beth are expecting again? (Ishmael – More nails!) So, what do you think crop yields will be like this year?
This is so wonderfully weird. Something terrible happens to one and many gather for a bit of work and a visit.
How does this happen? How does a farmer who just saw his barn reduced to scrap seem to be at ease about the whole thing?
The answer is they relentless participate with one another in creating a future. There is this covenant among them that sounds something like, “When your barn is leveled, I will drop everything to help you rebuild.” Even before the tornado finished its work he knew his neighbors had his back. His life may have been threatened, but not his livelihood. He knew no matter the damage, rebuilding would be a group effort. And he knew this not because it was written down somewhere in some book on Amish life (though I’m sure it is somewhere) but because he had seen this lived out since infancy.
If you’re Amish barn raising is mandatory. Young and old, women and men – everyone rolls up their sleeves to help in some way. Though all you see in the video above are the men hard at work during a one-day barn raising, there are dozens of women and children present. Everyone has a task to do. Whether it’s feeding mouths or pulling nails out of old boards to be reused, or serving as the job site gopher – everyone participates. And to this farmer’s point, no one is utterly depleted by day’s end, for it’s not on the shoulders of a few, but everyone.
At the end of the day, a farmer get a barn. But really, he gets something better: a future.
There is this verse in Jeremiah that Christians love to quote: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Many are confused by this verse when unwanted change happens in their life. All kinds of unhelpful beliefs tend to seep in. Seven years ago, I feel off a roof and shattered my ankle. This event sent shockwaves through every aspect of life for me and my family. On several occasions, I heard people say to me, “Boy, God sure is trying to get your attention.” I remember thinking, Really? And he’s not yours? You think God needed to give me a hip-check off a roof to do that? Why do we so easily assume that God is authoring “tornadoes” in our lives? What if it’s just a powerful wind that destroyed a barn, or a wild fire that burned a neighborhood, or a tormented young man who ended the lives of 17? What if instead, God’s trying to do his best work in all us by embedding the learning and transformation we most seek for ourselves in the very acts that build a better future?
What the Amish understand is that tornadoes happen. But futures don’t. Those get made – one bulky beam at a time, which are best lifted by many hands. They know that it’s in the many hands lifting that beam where the mystery of their faith and love for one another is realized. They know that the best plans to become better humans – that being more loving, creative and courageous – don’t get rolled out for us like blueprints. God doesn’t drop a future in our laps. God invites us again and again into an experience, a relationship of participation with him and one another, to co-create something better. Given that each of us are creatures charged with the responsibility and freedom to create meaningful lives, it would seem to take away from that truth if we weren’t invited to participate in being that for our futures. You don’t sit and passively wait with hope for a future you wish you had. You help create it. What a gift, really, to not be robbed of that opportunity to participate in future building.
Imagine how a community like the one in the video above feels at the end of that day.
Community through Transition
Let’s say Amos, another Amish farmer, wakes up one morning to his barn engulfed in flames. Scratch that. Instead, let’s say the story is about abundance, not hardship. Amos is skilled in the art of organic fertilizers and his crop yields for the last several years have been extraordinary. Seeing the need for more storage space, he decides it’s time to build another barn. But Amos does not want to inconvenience his Amish brothers and sisters for help. He decides that they’re all too busy with their own work and families. So, he shares nothing of the need. In secret, he hires outside contractors to build a new barn without anyone in his community knowing. Instead, Amos keeps it to himself acting as though everything is normal at monthly meetings and social gatherings.
How would the community respond to Amos when they find out? What it would not be is congratulatory slap on the back followed by an, “At a boy, Amos! Well done!” They would be in confused. Shocked. Devastated. Angry. And, I think, quite hurt. Why? Because somewhere along the way Amos forgot that a barn raising isn’t for him; it’s a visceral reminder to everyone that no matter what characterizes the season – calamity or abundance – a life is best lived in relationships that relentlessly participate with one another.
In my work with those going through a significant life transition, I often ask them to put together a coalition – a community of mentors, friends and colleagues who will help them see and tell the truth, identify and follow clues, provide encouragement and accountability, show up and really help, etc. Hands down, the number one response I get from clients after introducing this idea of inviting others to participate in this way – and I’m not even talking about relentlessly, just occasionally – is,
I’m hesitant to ask. I don’t want to inconvenience them. They have their own problems. They are so busy.
I live in a region where if you feel stuck, aimless or in any kind of pain the only real option is to hire a pro (e.g. a therapist, coach, pastor, spiritual director, etc.). Commiserate with those who love you, but don’t ask them for help. That’s what professionals are for. Which, at times, hiring a pro is good and necessary. Certain locked doors need the help of an experienced key maker. I think what many of us are needing though is a barn-raising, an experience within a set of consistent and persistent relationships that roll up their sleeves and build a future together – during times of calamity or abundance.
We love the narrative of rugged individualism, the freedom to help ourselves out, choose our own way, and make a future. There is a gift in that freedom of choice. But somewhere along the way that gift gets perverted when we believe that’s something to be achieved without help. No one person’s future is really self-made. To be viewed as such is in my experience more a statement about what kind of person he or she has become in relationship to themselves and to those around them, and less about what they’ve accomplished.
The Amish have this strange and wonderful word to describe an activity that combines the following three things: the celebration of community, hard work, and common goals. Any practice that satisfy these conditions are called “frolics”. For them, a barn raising is the most prolific frolic.
To feel everything from stuck and lost to progress and growth, are ordinary things; it’s what comes with being human. Wanted or not, seasons of change come and go. Some bring good. Others a lot of difficult. And many seasons serve up both. These turbulent experiences aren’t to be avoid at all costs or moved through as quickly as possible. Since they are going to happen, what if they could become that “transformational experience” to be engaged and frolicked through together? Navigating through turbulent times isn’t something we need to fix or correct. It’s something we need to engage and anticipate just what will happen. The tornadoes and “high yield crops” are not the problem to be solved. But learning to frolic during transition – engaging community in hard work and common goals – is the solution. A good frolic best honors the challenging season by going into the loss, pulling out the beams, and building a desire future.
Given the times we live in with turbulence and uncertainty felt at almost every level of society, there lies a profound opportunity to build a better future. Imagine how this kind of relentless participation changes a person’s heart and faith. No, not the guy who got the barn. Who wouldn’t be engorged with gratitude if you’re that guy? The harder and more rewarding thing for us to connect with is how this kind of participation transforms the heart of everyone helping raise the barn.
When we choose to go through a life transition without the help of others, we steal away from those around us the profound joy of building up a future – real acts of hope, faith and love in the world. To frolic through them reminds us of how we were created to be in the world: in relationship with one another, always connected, through all seasons. For all seasons, wanted or not, hold valuable lessons to teach us about what it means to be human. And hopefully along the way, get in a good visit.
So many friends and colleagues I’ve spoken with have a common sentiment as they look back on 2017 – “I’m so tired.” It appears for many, this past year took a toll. When I look back on my year, by all accounts I should be cheering. But I, too, feel a weariness. Some of the exhaustion is like the thrill of crossing a finish line after a marathon. But some is because my soul is fatigued from the heartaches of “real life,” and the continued glimpse of humanity at its worst that 2017 offered.
And still, I’m very tired. Because in between all of that, the rest of life happened. I lost several friends too early in life to cancer. My older brother passed away unexpectedly. Both of my kids got very ill, and they live thousands of miles from me where they are in college. As a world, we faced unprecedented natural disasters that have left countless without homes, livelihoods, and care. Almost as if routine news, we saw headlines of leaders commit horrific abuses of power to exploit and harm others. And we continued to watch our nation further divide across political, social, and economic lines.
A few weeks “in between years” is hardly enough time to rejuvenate one’s mind, body, and soul. But it’s a start, and we all try and do it. For 2018, I’ve decided that rather than making “resolutions,” I want to make promises. To myself, and to others. I don’t want to be another statistic among the near 80% who make and break “resolutions” weeks after the New Year begins. Resolutions are something we intellectually decide on our own. Promises feel more sacred. And most importantly, they involve others. As kids, “pinky swears” were the most inviolate of commitments. You’d never think of breaking one once made. That’s the kind of promise I’m talking about. If I learned anything in 2017, it’s that having others on the journey may well be the most important thing we need to learn in life. To participate in the journey of others’, and to invite them to participate in ours. With a pinky swear.
Maybe like me, you feel like you went all out in 2017 but instead of momentum, you feel weary going into 2018. If so, see if some of these promises might help you shift perspectives, and think differently about digging deep to gear up for the year ahead.
I promise to take honest stock. The first principle of being reflective is being self-honest. 2017 was great and it was painful. In some cases, it was painful because it was great. I don’t naturally like to hold two paradoxical truths. I tend to focus on one or the other – either how great things are, or how challenging things are. But if I can learn to hold both truths at the same time, I will be more honest about what 2017 was and wasn’t, and I can honestly grieve what cost me, and celebrate what delighted me.
I promise not to confuse “not yet” with “not enough.” One of my worst habits is that I dismiss progress when it’s just that, and not more. I confuse milestones and goals, and disregard one for not being the other. So when all of the above professional accomplishments didn’t add up to the ultimate goal for which I began them, I felt discouraged. Inadequate. Resentful of others further down their path than I. I refused to allow them to be enough. And while I know this to be extraordinarily unhealthy, it’s always been my weakness. But I am learning to distinguish “not yet” from “not enough.” I know life, professionally and personally, is a marathon. The mile markers along the way give us our bearings and indicate progress. They are to be celebrated, not dismissed. I am realizing that an inability to celebrate the “in between” now and not yet not only makes me bitter, but constrains me from being able to celebrate the in between of others too. So in 2018, I will honor each milestone with joy and gratitude. I will learn to anticipate with wonder, the next milestones, and even the ultimate goals that they indicate I am that much closer to.
I promise to keep my love affair with help going. I hired a coach two years ago, and we’re beginning our third year of work together. When I look back at all I have learned, I feel giddy. At the end of many of the podcasts I was on, when asked what piece of advice I would offer, I answered with, “Get help.” Honestly, help from others is one of life’s greatest gifts. Why on earth would we EVER want to undertake difficult things alone? Yet, we all do. We fear being a burden. We don’t want to feel weak or unqualified. We don’t like feeling vulnerable or looking incompetent. We don’t want to admit we need others. (Oddly, we’re perfectly ok being helpers to others, expecting them to admit they need us). Whatever remnants of that faulty thinking I had are almost gone! Help is my love language. I can’t get enough of it now, and in 2018, I intend to find ways to get more! If you have one ounce of resistance to others joining you in places you need help, PLEASE get past it. I promise you won’t regret it. You can’t truly appreciate the honor of being needed by others until you embrace your need for others as well.
I promise to be formed by the crucibles. My first TEDx talk was in early November. It was “the talk I was born to give” according to dear friends. It was on a topic near and dear to my heart – power. My thoughts were formed by my book built upon ten years of research data. And the event was in my home town of Seattle. The day before, I flew in from Connecticut from my brother’s funeral. The dissonance was unbearable. Saying goodbye to my big brother, and the next day, walking into the coveted red circle to tell the world my ideas. As I walked on stage, I looked up, fighting back tears, and thought of my brother. And on the way to the red circle, all I could think of was the faces of so many friends and family who’d carried me that week, many of whom were in the audience. Inside, I knew digging deep to “show up” for this was forming me. Refining me like fire does dross. Though I still have no idea how. I was keenly aware that suffering does yield strength, empathy, wisdom, and resilience, and reveals supplies of strength we didn’t know we had (especially when we allow others to help). We can’t prevent life’s cruel parts from invading. But we can let them form us into better human beings, which in turn allows us to care for those suffering even more than us.
I promise to reach back and give to others earlier on their journey. When I look at the many people who reached back from further up ahead to offer me practical advice and support, encouragement and kindness, I’m astounded. So when I look back and see others earlier on their journeys, at places I was not that long ago, it makes me eager to offer them what was so generously offered to me. Thought leaders who lent me their voices. Friends who gave me time and compassionate ears. Family who cheered me on. Wise guides who gave me sage ideas. One of the best ways to truly savor the milestones of “in between” (#2 above) is to look back and offer the same to those coming behind me. If we all do the same in 2018, we truly will make the world stronger, together.
I promise to rest and play. I rediscovered the beauty of sleep this year. (As an aside, whoever said we need less sleep as we get older was an idiot). I took my physical and emotional health more seriously this year. I promise to keep playing (to keep these 30 pounds off – which we all know is harder than losing them in the first place!). I promise to play racquetball with my friend more. I promise to take longer weekends away with my wife. I promise to keep making better choices about food. And I promise to keep exercising regularly and not get complacent. (I’ve already gotten clothes a size smaller, so I have no choice). It’s so cliché, but we only get one body and if we don’t take care of it, it has ways of “giving us feedback” later in life. I’m praying “50 is the new 30” is really true. I’m going to act like it is until I learn otherwise.
I promise to remain grateful for the privilege. Down the hall from my office is a conference room and kitchen where I get my morning coffee. I have a collection of coffee mugs from all of the world, and from numerous special moments with people I love and regard. Each morning, when I pick which mug to use, I hold it in remembrance of the person it represents to me, remembering joyfully the moment it symbolizes, grateful for who they are to me and the parts of life we’ve shared. It’s my (some might say corny) way of reminding myself of everything above – that others in my life have shaped my journey, and that I need to remain grateful for the privilege (including the really hard parts) of being on the journey. Beginning my day with a reminder that my story is part of a much bigger, grander story keeps me grounded, and in 2018, will surely help me keep my promises.
However your story has unfolded in 2017, my hope is that you can make a few promises to yourself, and those that matter most; that the chapters about to be revealed can be full of all of life – the not yet, the milestones, the crucibles, and the wonder of others loving and cheering you on, helping you keep your pinky swear.
Think of a situation in which you’d ask (yell) ‘why me?’ It’s the unexpected cancer diagnosis, the loss of a job, car accident, singleness, divorced, underemployment and so many others. They are circumstances you feel are undeserved, mean, or if you look deep enough, maybe you think ‘you’re better than this’ or ‘I’m too good for this to happen to me.’
But why is a normal question to be asking and doesn’t always come from a selfish place, right? Who doesn’t ask it, especially after something disruptive has occurred? Amidst the sting of that kind of news, why is a holy, guttural cry.
The search to answer ‘why me?’ comes from a deep place that just wants to understand. It’s a good desire and an unstoppable inclination. But, I think it gets too much airtime and traps us in an inescapable cul-de-sac. What I think we’re really trying to understand is the what. What does this mean for my life now? and … Now what?
When we approach transition and change with not only the question ‘why me?’, but also ‘now what?’, we may be able to grapple with our circumstances in a healthier, more functional way and see hope in the new unknown future.
When someone is stuck in the why me?, struggling to figure out the now what? of their life, it is best not to barge in with advice like, “Follow your dreams. Just figure out what you want and go after that.” If they could, they would. What they need is real help. And what they want is what they lost. Until that’s acknowledged and engaged on some meaningful level, we’re only slapping them across the face with hope.
Emily’s Now What?
A while back I opened my office door for an initial consultation with a woman – I’ll call her Emily – who I had never met before and knew nothing about. There, in a wheelchair, sat a young woman in her late twenties. The wheelchair was motorized with a fairly sophisticated remote controlled by her left hand. Her pleasant smile accentuated a scar rounding her chin.
Several years earlier Emily was driving with her family when a vehicle struck their car squarely, instantly killing her parents. She and her siblings suffered various injuries including broken bones, punctures and lacerations. Emily’s injuries were the most severe; she broke her back making her quadriplegic.
Here is a young woman in the prime of her life and in an instant EVERYTHING changed.
As she spoke of the devastation it was everything I could do to keep from weeping. The injuries she sustained to her body and family, along with the death of her parents, seemed too much. How can so many calamities find one family?
She continued. It got worse.
She went on to share that prior to the injury she loved her job as a teacher, something she wanted to do since childhood. She shared about the children and what she loved about teaching. We touched on something I knew was so dear and precious—her felt reason for existing.
Loss of body.
Loss of loved ones.
Loss of career.
Loss of agency.
Loss of identity.
And there she sat, smiling.
Emily’s smile did not hide the reality of her circumstances. There was no real way to do that. The wheelchair gave that away every moment of her life. Her face was radiant and this came from a much deeper place. At 29 years old, she has drunk more deeply from the cup of sorrow and joy than most people do in a lifetime. I’m left undone by the defiance in her words and smile. She was determined not to let this injury steal and destroy her future.
In spite of rupturing change, she wants a life; and not just any life. She wants all the possibility for her future she felt prior to the accident to be true and worth pursuing. She wants work that provides income and allows her meaningful impact. She wants the loving pursuit of a man who’s willing to sign up for all that would be required given her circumstances. She wants experiences of adventure and play. She wants to live, not merely exist.
She has dark, dark days. But here she was, not seeking death, but answers to now what?
Now what? helps us understand what it means to moving forward. We are trying to recover a future that suddenly has become compromised, even if the change is good. Life is not going to go as we thought it would, but we must find a way forward.
It’s a difficult task to reconcile when a future has changed forever. For many, it’s an even more difficult task to reimagine a meaningful future knowing that ultimately it too may be lost.
Can you think of a change of life circumstance in which you asked why me? or now what?
Do you see the difference between the two questions?
In future blogs, I’ll be exploring the different between the two questions and how together they can lead a person to more courageous and creative living.
Dante famously begins his Commedia with these lines:
In the middle of the road of my life
I awoke in the dark wood
Where the true way was wholly lost….
These words provide a strikingly accurate description of my life over the past few years. I recently wrote in some detail about the experience of getting lost in life, and now I find myself reflecting on what has happened since I awoke in that dark wood and engaged in the process of finding my true way…of becoming found.
There’s something comforting about having a clearly defined life story with beginning, middle, and end. Life doesn’t really come to me like that, however. Instead, I find that I’m always in the middle of things, in medias res as literary theorists would put it. I think the stories we tell about our lives should reflect this important aspect of being unfinished, perhaps most especially stories of getting lost and becoming found. As existentialist philosophers are quick to point out, we first find ourselves existing in the world and only later define or understand ourselves. My story is not complete or resolved, but here is a brief account of my current journey in the middle of things.
“True love will find you in the end,” sang the late Daniel Johnston, “don’t be sad I know you will…don’t give up until true love finds you in the end.” Having spent a good amount of time getting lost, I have a great deal of interest in the promise of being found by so many different aspects of life: love, work, purpose, etc. I’ve learned the hard way (as if there is any other way) that becoming found is not quite as straightforward as I had originally hoped.
Depending on the circumstances, more often than not rescue experts suggest that when you are lost in the woods you should not attempt to move at all, but rather stay put and make yourself visible for those who are looking for you. This strategy, of course, assumes that someone is coming for you. I had hoped that my own becoming found would happen along those lines. I had wished that I could just sit very still and my life purpose would come find me, followed by true love, and financial abundance. It seems to me now that this is an important characteristic of being lost—the absolute immobility that comes from being completely disorientated. That immobility is, of course, completely understandable although it took me a while to give myself the space to just be unmovable. A significant shift happened when I could finally relax into the disorientation, as being disorientated provides a fresh perspective on the world where everything is new, even if a little blurry.
“This is a promise with a catch,” the song continues, “only if you’re looking will it find you. ‘Cause true love is searching too. But how can it recognize you unless you step out into the light”? This last line has been on my mind for several years without ever really noticing the profound insight. It was only in the process of getting lost that it dawned on me that central to my becoming found is the continual intention to step out into the light—to be seen. It’s not merely a hunkering down and self-protecting, although there is that too. Rather, becoming found is mainly a paying attention to how I show up in the world with and for others, and showing up is an exercise in becoming visible in more authentic (and frightening) ways.
There is a strange tension in the process of becoming found. It involves holding the realization that no one is coming to find me in the way I had hoped, along with the understanding that everyone is searching for me in a very different way. As the poet David Whyte puts it, “creation is waiting breathlessly for each of us to take our place…to begin the one journey only you can take…to occupy that one complexion of creation that no other element in creation can occupy.” Becoming found, then, is the ultimate opportunity to be seen in my most authentic place; in the most vulnerable way…as if my life depended on it because of course MY life does depend on it. Interestingly, we function as search and rescue teams for one another. We are on the lookout for the true selves of everyone we meet—constantly hoping to greet the lost ones, the hidden ones, and the marginalized selves as they step into the light.
There’s a sense in which getting lost and becoming found are the very same stance in the world. For me both began as experiments in being seen, even if some of those experiments happen to be visible only to myself at the moment. Finding my true way is a kind of evidencing, manifesting, and illuminating even when I find myself in the middle of the dark wood. Being lost had exposed the ways in which important aspects of myself had been covered over and kept in darkness. In a surprising way I had to be found by myself before being found by others. As the song indicates, there’s a kind of faith involved in this process, a belief however small that what I am seeking is seeking me. A belief that as I step into the light I will become found because I will at last be recognized for who I am…and true love, work, purpose, and who knows what else will find me in the end.
For the past three years of my life I have transitioned into something new each September. In 2013 I packed up my bags at the age of 18 and I moved to Ethiopia. In 2014 I started school as a freshman at Northwest University, a school 10 minutes away from my house. And this year, I moved to LA to start school at Biola.
That’s a lot of starting over. And the first time was by far the most exciting and crazy. And progressively it has become a little more normal. I know this past fall was the last transition for another three years…I say that now and can’t imagine what God is thinking. Nonetheless, this is my plan for now.
I like new places. Transitions are not hard for me. I don’t naturally miss people. Trust me, it is not lost on me that this isn’t normal. I have to believe that this unusual trait of mine will be used for some good in this lifetime. What is hard for me is not knowing what is in my future…and that’s where I’m at.
With my latest move to LA, I’ve been trying to figure a lot out. I have my feet…and hands and eyes and heart in many places right now: Washington, Albania, Ethiopia, and now California. How do I not spread myself thin? How do I adjust healthily while respecting the fact that I love many people in many different locations? How do I know my boundaries and my limits within relationships that are not in LA? I am trying to figure out if I truly have feelings for a guy in my life. I’m trying to figure out what I want to do with my major. I’m trying to figure out how to stay connected with my family. I’m trying to figure out how to make LA my home.
It’s a lot, these questions and these things I’m trying to understand…
So I asked the Lord to give me patience. To allow me to see the sweetness of the unknown and to enjoy the mystery of this new season. I’m still struggling. So today I asked my professor to pray for my mind. I asked him to pray that I wouldn’t overthink my life.
I’ve been pondering a lot about how previously in my life the unknown became the known. So that maybe I could recognize some sort of pattern and figure out when my current state of uncertainty would suddenly become certain to me. And this is the pattern I found…in the past I never saw it coming. A trivial example is my senior prom. Never in a million years did I think that the guy who asked me would ask me! I cried once prom was announced because I thought it would be just like every other year where I went unasked. And in a second everything changed, as I sat in my social justice class drinking bad drip coffee I heard his voice on the inter-com and what was once unknown became known. The same goes for how I got to Biola. One day in February, as I was walking the aisles of Safeway, Biola popped into my head. I didn’t know at the time why I began thinking about a school 2 states away but 7 months later I am here. The mystery of the next season of life is just that until it is not. This truth doesn’t offer much condolence, but it does lend a taste of excitement that the known just can’t offer.
A line from my favorite poem comes to my mind when I battle this idea of the unknown, and living in the now, and the awfully hard balance of planning and being free…
“Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.”
I know I have time…but soon that time will pass. And then I will look back, like I look back at prom and how I made it to California, and I will see the moment where all the unclear stuff in this season suddenly became clear. And while I look forward to that moment very much, Lord help me to enjoy this season. Help me to find and taste that excitement that is hidden deep in the unknown. I am young. I have a body that works. I have sweet friends and a bed and I am at a really great school. Help me to see the good things. Help me to see the now. For all that it is. And not what it could be, or what I want or who I want. Give me the patience and the courage to accept the now, right now.
I’d say many of us don’t like surprises. Sure we may like the odd ‘happy’ surprise – a surprise party, a surprise package on the doorstep, or maybe, depending on your situation, a surprise pregnancy. But, all in all, there are a lot of surprises we encounter that aren’t ideal.
“Surprise! You’re day is ruined because you lost your keys,” Or,
“Surprise! I’m divorcing you.” Or even,
“Surprise! You’re being promoted and you’re not ready.”
Wanted or not, when these things happen, we often ask ‘why?’ or perhaps ‘why me?’ But what if instead, we asked ‘now what?’ That seemingly simple question holds a lot of weight and it can lead to a place of hidden treasures.
Before I explain, I want to share a story of when, not all that long ago, I found myself asking that very question – now what?
I’ve walked on hundreds of roofs, but only fallen off one. And landing on my feet, breaking my ankle, and losing consciousness for a few seconds wasn’t something I had planned for that day. In other words, I hadn’t set out that morning prepared for my life to be drastically changed.
This paint job was the last of the summer, and urgency was the message of the morning. The rain from the night before had turned the decades-old cedar shake roof into a moldy slip ‘n slide. Rather than immediately tell my crew to get off the roof for their safety, I said, ‘hey, why don’t you let me try?’ My deluded confidence was blind to the signs of reality.
As soon as I stepped on the roof and my foot slipped a bit, I said, ‘We’re going to wait till this dries out.’ But as I made to get off, a single shingle gave way under the strain of my weight. My legs kicked out, my rear slammed onto the roof and I began to slide. My body curled over the edge and dropped 10 feet onto concrete. I landed on my feet, but then I rolled and came to a standing position.
I took my first step with my right foot, but there was nothing to hold me up. I fell to the ground instantly and things went dark and quiet. When I came to, I knew my ankle was broken.
I was seized by a searing new reality that my story was changing drastically.
Choosing the ‘Now What?’
I didn’t see it coming. Who does, right? That’s what surprises are. They sneak up on you. They say, “I’ve got you and I’m taking you for a ride!”
It’s “We need to let you go” when you’ve been a loyal employee.
It’s “I want a divorce” coming from the person you’ve raised kids with for the last decade.
It’s “You have a tumor” when you eat healthy and exercise 6x a week.
It’s “I’m turning 48 and just waking up to the fact I hate my career and the life I’ve built,” but you have no idea what to do about it.
Before you could see a future, but now, the future is filled with uncertainty. Your vision is blurred by confusion, worry and fears. Life is not going to go as we thought it would.
What we’re really trying to understand is not the why, but the what. What does this mean for my life now?
… Now what?
I believe that by God’s design, surprises of every kind hold treasures, if we go find them. I’m convinced they can be found. When you ask, ‘Now what?’ you’re daring to look past the immediacy of the surprise and look beyond to what your future might hold in light of your circumstances.
I will expand on ‘now what?’, changes, and transitions in future posts, but for now, I want to ask you:
Are you on a glorious and grueling journey to your own “now what?”
How has the ‘why?’ kept you from facing the fear and potential of “now what?”
Have you been able to catch a glimpse of the treasures that may be awaiting you?