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Jesus

I've struggled with wanting to control situations and people my entire life.

It's complicated and I don't want to oversimplify the situation but part of it is simply fear-based management. I excel at managing time, space, and resources but when I am fearful (also something I struggle with) I can slide down the spectrum to the unhealthy end of management, into the red zone of control.

When I'm acting like a control freak, it's almost a dead giveaway that I am in a state of fear. Big fears, little fears. Fear.

I used to feel the controlling behavior was the problem, the thing I had to change. Over the years I've come to recognize the underlying fear is where the resolution needs to happen, anything else is window dressing.

Manipulating or managing my life circumstances to avoid feeling out of control is not the solution (but trust me, I keep trying!)

I am a manager/organizer type. This is one of my gifts. It's something I am really good at doing and when done in the right spirit, I feel great about myself when I operate in that space. And yet management on a bedrock of fear, or management as a hustle for worthiness, is not a life-giving application of that skill. It will get the job done, maybe, but it usually hurts me or others in the end.

I'm learning, painfully and slowly, that an unshakeable peace in my true identity, value and worth is the bedrock on which to build healthy management practices and expectations. Healthy management is when I recognize the wisdom of sound management principles but my trust is not rooted in good management or good decision making, my trust is based on my inestimable worth in God's eyes.

This feels harder to do than my default action of trusting in my own strength. But trusting in my own strength has a good track record for messing with me emotionally, regularly breaking my heart. And in the end, that's harder on me than learning where to properly place my trust.

Learning how to use the gifts I've been given but not rely on them for my value, or trust in them for my worth, is an on-going life lesson.

This spring, the pace of our life felt a little out of control, and this made me anxious. I felt like my gifts were a good fit in some areas (backstage management, for example) but I also felt I wasn't cut out for what was being asked of me. I felt clenchy, stressed, and frustrated.

It wasn't just the level of activity: out-of-the-house, lots of driving and traffic, social engagements, deadlines, other people's schedules that made me feel frustrated. That was part of it, for sure, but on top of that I was fearful about the margin being squeezed out of my life. I was fearful about losing myself and things I value (margin being one of them).

I've experienced sacrificing too much of myself for the sake of others, and that fear made the frustration even worse.

I like boundaries because they protect me and others. They provide safety, security. And I need breathing room in my life so I can see things clearly, so I don't lose perspective.

But in some seasons of life boundaries are pushed and breathing room is scarce. And what then?

For the last two months I've been at the edge of my boundaries with very little breathing room. I found it difficult to continue with two of the spiritual disciplines I had been nurturing this winter and early spring. Practices that, theoretically, would expand the breathing room, were very difficult to keep going. So I didn't.

I love these practices. These are not things I do because I feel a good Christian must or because I am guilted into doing them by the church, a guru, a blogger, etc. Bookending my days with morning meditation and an evening Examen is something I love to do.

Through most of May I continued the Examen, recounting the day's blessings and gifts and asking (begging) the Holy Spirit for the grace I needed for the following day; surrender, joy, gratitude, patience, presence.

But the long days of production took their toll and meditation stopped all together.

And then June arrived and the things we had set aside in May caught up with us and we had a tax deadline. And as we toiled through the days, dealing with unexpected problems and a looming financial deadline (finances and deadlines, a perfect recipe for stress) my frustration climbed through the roof.

After long days of tedious work, tears, and quite a bit of swearing, I didn't really want to invite the Holy Spirit to review with me the emotions of the day. "Hi, me again. I am frustrated, again. My heart feels murderous. How are you doing?"

Instead, at the end of the day, I watched TV with my kids, doing something relaxing, cheap, and fun, that we all enjoy (this is a huge win with three teenagers).

And then I would read myself to sleep to the lullaby of the oscillating fan and summer traffic through the open windows. I loved that part; a good story, the fan, cool sheets, the sound of traffic. A different type of evening mediation.

Disciplines are important to me because I feel secure in routines and daily rhythms. Being disciplined feels like good self-management. And over the course of time, discipline can really change things: eating habits, thought patterns, financial outcomes.

I have not been disciplined with my spiritual disciplines, and I had been feeling a little bad about that. And the swearing.

And then I went to the women's conference, with some reluctance. Life was so busy. I didn't want to leave the house, again, and I didn't want feel insecure around all those well-dressed women. But I went anyway so I could hug Sarah Bessey.

And it was in Sarah's preaching that she delivered this:

Living like you are loved is the most radical discipline of your life. Sarah Bessey.

I'm going to say that again, living like you are loved is the most radical discipline of your life.

Something I don't understand about myself is the internal resistance I have to living like I'm loved.

This confounds me because I am loved: by my husband, parents, children, extended family, friends. I grew up feeling I was loved unconditionally. And yet I still struggle with living like I’m loved.

Psychology says you must not have been shown love, you must not have been attached, you must have felt unsafe as a child. (Or something like that, I don't know exactly what the psychotherapist would say.) But that doesn't ring true in my life. What rings true in my life is that there is an enemy of my soul whose chief aim is to undermine the truth that I am loved, precisely because I am so loved. Because if I actually lived with that radical awareness at the forefront of my mind, I would experience a spiritual freedom that evil despises.

For me, that spiritual freedom is a deeper communion with God, a sense of security in spite of circumstances that would allow me to be a wellspring of life and liberty into people's lives, a conduit of living water.

I want to achieve that reality, to bring living water, through management, cost/benefit analysis, schedules and sound decision making.

The faulty thinking goes something like this: if I construct this (family, marriage, homeschool, schedules, the arrangement of furniture, whatever) just right, cobbling together the ducts and the pipes, just so, the water will flow. Phew. We did it.

Sometimes that faulty thinking is fear-based and sometimes it's simply well intended manager tendencies.

But God doesn't need the pipes.

God says, open your hands and give me those gifts I gave you, we'll use them together. And while you're giving me stuff, hand over everything you're carrying that is weighing you down.

Ok, now with your open hands (notice how you don't feel so clenchy, take a moment and breathe, ah, that feels good, doesn't it?), I'm going to pour in something better than the gifts I've given you, I'm going to give you my Spirit. I'm giving you love and life. Go share it.

Use the gifts I've given you, you'll need them, that's why I gave them to you. But honey, living water and my love for you is completely independent of how well you're using or not using those gifts. It's not the gifts, it's not your management, or your discipline, it's not your meditations that control the flow. I've turned it on, come drink; come wash yourself in my love.

The most radical discipline for me right now is to live in the love of Christ. To abide there, not just in the quiet of my bedroom before the day begins (though, oh how I love that) or in the stillness before bed, but in each moment.

I’ve had a lot of moments in the past couple months where I felt terrible. Not depressed, this isn’t my depressed season (Hallelujah!!). But I felt angry and frustrated and then shame that I - so blessed, so loved, so well fed - feel anger and frustration.

That's when I need to go stand in the waterfall, to practice the radical discipline of accepting love (and forgiveness) in those awful moments. In the moments of conflict, shame, frustration, exasperation, fear; in the moments I feel terrible for feeling terrible, especially those moments.

This was the spiritual discipline I was learning, and re-learning, to practice this month.

Before we can live like we're loved we have to believe we're loved and that's where the discipline comes: we make the choice to accept love. In this way, the Holy Spirit can minister to our weary hearts.

Emotional tension (I'm loved). Outburst (I'm loved). Hot flash of shame at outburst (I'm loved). Financial setbacks (I'm loved). Shame at failure (I'm loved). Feeling emotional distance from my husband (I'm loved). Overreacting (I'm loved). All angsty about the pace of everything (I'm loved). That nagging worry that I may have messed up my kids (I'm loved).

I'm loved.

This love is not dependent on my management skills. It doesn't depend on using my gifts well or using them at all. It doesn't depend on things going according to plan. This love is true when I'm a stressed out, swearing, control freak or when I am at perfect peace. This love is there when I feel overwhelmed and weak or when my confidence is luminous. Nothing I do or don't do can separate me from this love.

There is a barrier in myself (false self? ego? "the flesh"? pride?) to living freely in the love of Christ, to stepping under the waterfall, in all the moments of my life. I hope, and desperately pray, the more times I jump over that barrier the more worn down it will get, till it is no more. But until that day I keep having to choose to step over it.

And this is a discipline.

I had forgotten how big and shiny downtown Toronto is. It's been years since my last visit. Montreal feels downright homey, provincial and quaint compared to Toronto's towers, condo highrises and transit infrastructure.

I wasn't overwhelmed but I was a bit awe-struck. Travel and visiting new, or forgotten, places always shifts my perspective, which is traveling's primary selling feature: you see the world through a different lens and discover new stories.

Friday night with Anne and Steve (since I sat in the front row I'm now on a first name basis) was beyond compare. According to the introduction, this was Anne's first talk that she's given in Canada. And I was there! It felt like an historic moment.

I don't very often think of middle aged women as groupies but it feels an accurate description for the crowd gathered that evening.

The average age of the audience was probably 50. There was a large contingent of vivacious-looking women in their sixties. Women that looked like Anne herself, or my mom. There were the forty somethings like myself, and bookending our numbers were white and silver haired elders and a few fresh faces in their twenties and thirties.


my view from the front row!

We were a group of women, and a few men, who shared in common a hungering for spiritual honesty, stories to make us laugh and cry, someone to tell us "me too".

The evening was hosted by the Henri Nouwen society. Henri Nouwen was an internationally renowned priest and author, respected professor and beloved pastor. He was one of the most significant spiritual leaders of the late 20th century and his knowledge, ideas, and way of living (in service to society's marginalized) were instrumental in transforming many people's lives. Anne was speaking to those themes in her lecture.

I believe you can look at solitude, community, and ministry as three disciplines by which we create space for God. If we create space in which God can act and speak, something surprising will happen. You and I are called to these disciplines if we want to be disciples. – Henri J. M. Nouwen

I felt a little silly for how giddy, warm, energized, and understood I felt in that room.

I am fairly certain we all feel like we don't fit the mold; a mothering mold, a marriage/partnership mold, a homeschooling mold. I experience all of that, but I also feel I don't fit into the evangelical Christian mold very well either.

Where I'm at these days, in the expression of my faith, is that my corporate worship looks very contemporary evangelical, that's where I feel most at home in a gathering of believers. I am very expressive in group worship settings, a happy, clappy Jesus follower to the core. While my intimate spiritual practices veer hard towards contemplation, meditation, and solitude. To seek God in quiet and rest and to minister from a place of shared brokenness, not to fix people but to love them.

For these personal spiritual practices I draw a lot from non-evangelical traditions (Quakers and Catholics mostly) and non-Christian philosophies and ideas.

This is why Friday night was so profound for me. Steve Bell is a Christian pilgrim, he defies the mold; his music is rich with truth, beauty, and love that transcend religious affiliation. I feel closer to God every time I listen to his music, which means I listen often. Anne's northern California, left leaning, honest-speaking, social justice expression of loving and being loved by Jesus refreshes me to the core. And the backdrop for all of this is the transformational work of Henri Nouwen, Catholic priest and spiritual thinker.

I felt full of love, full of God's presence. I think I was drunk on the Holy Spirit. My mom, who I was texting during the early part of the evening, "I'm sitting in the same row as ANNE!!", said that she and Dad had prayed that this night would "pour life into my spirit". What a gift to have praying parents who love and understand me.

You can see why I didn't want the evening to end. Just writing about this now, the following Wednesday morning, gives me a sense of peace and wellbeing.

It never even occurred to me to bring my copy of Bird by Bird for Anne to sign, so I missed out on meeting her personally, a moment in which I would have no doubt mumbled something embarrassing in my excitement and adoration.

I suppose I could have stood in the book line, empty-handed and full-hearted, to say, like so many devoted readers, "I love your writing", when what I really wanted to say is "I love you". But that felt foolish, which maybe I am.

After Anne, in my drug-free intoxicated state, I managed to find the subway station to get to Anna's house where I was sleeping for the night.

Saturday morning I had the pleasure of getting to know Anna and to meet her family. There was not enough time to talk about all there was to learn about each other. To share our ideas and experiences on homeschooling, perfectionism, achievement, business and entrepreneurship, raising teens, adventuring and being rooted. The rush of words that we tried to fit in to roughly five hours was almost comical.

Everyone's life is rich with story. We have no idea how interesting our story is to other people because our normal is their uncharted territory and vice versa.

Dropping into someone's life like I did at Anna's house is a gift because like experiencing a new city, your perspective shifts. You see life from a different point of view.

I experienced this on the Appalachian Trail also. When we were hosted by people along the way we dropped into their lives for 24 hours or so. They would meet our very physical needs - feeding us, driving us to the grocery store, offering us a place to sleep and shower. And at every stop I felt there was not enough time to get to know these people, to get to know you.

I always have something in common with blog friends who I meet in person, it might be a shared education philosophy, a spiritual experience or understanding, a love of nature, views on family life, simple living values, etc. There's always a common thread but so much is different.

Years ago I read the following advice given to bloggers who want to grow their audience: create reader profiles or personas for the type of reader you want to attract to your blog. Basically, identity your target "market" and write for them.

As a memoirist it feels like I mostly write for myself, I need to get this stuff out of my head. And I invite, by way of publicly posting, people to share in my story.

In my experience of meeting people who read my blog, having the privilege to stay in their homes and meet their families, the people who read this blog defy reader profiles or personas. I don't think of you that way. I've met you, and you are so beautiful and interesting in your own right, the thought of mixing Lisa's homeschool story, with Melanie's faith, with Krista's homemaking, with Amanda's outdoor experiences feels like a strange game of Mr. Potato Head with people who's individual lives are unique and precious.

You, reading this post, are real, and that you visit occasionally or regularly is such an honor. And that I can sometimes meet you and sleep on your couch is such a gift.

After my too-brief meeting with Anna I was back on the Go Transit system out to Guelph to drop into my brother's life.

My brother and I have both experienced a late thirties/early forties breaking and rebuilding in our personal lives and marriages. We have both experienced pain in the last couple years that we did not see coming. Our stories are different and his is definitely not mine to share but Anne's enduring message of "me too" reverberated through our brief hours together.

I don't get to see Brad very often so we picked up right where we left off with the books we're reading, what we're learning about ourselves, places we're hurting and healing. Brad inspires me with his commitment to personal growth, self-awareness and steadfast love.

Again, so much to say and share and so little time. But a little time is better than no time.

Sunday was a day of transit, back to Toronto, back to Montreal. I slept a bit on the bus and had time to think about the stories of this weekend (and write the bones of this post).

And now I am back to being present in our family story, which is singularly focused on the preparation (rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsals) for next weekend's sold out drama production at co-op.

Celine will turn seventeen in a few days and we are trying to plan a party or casual gathering that we can squeeze into the one free day, which happens to be her actual birthday, between rehearsals.

We embark on adventures and we learn courage as we encounter challenges. We break and we rebuild with a deeper understanding of our true identity and purpose. We mess up and are forgiven. We forgive. We root ourselves in the love of family and friends. We work to put food on the table. We experience God in small (a deep breath) and profound (a night with Anne Lamott) ways. We raise our children. We live more stories.

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