Happy birthday, Birthed! One year ago-- December 6, 2016, my first book was birthed into the world! Oh happy day.
I can remember the emotions of that week so clearly. Friends and family who'd heard me talk about "that book project" for years finally held their hands on a real life copy. All of my worst marriage moments, darkest nights of doubt and depression and failed attempts to get and stay pregnant now belonged to every reader who picked it up-- not just me (a bit scary!) And all the while, I felt jazzed up about marketing and promotion with a strong belief that I could sell books if I gave it my best effort (and I did!).
In the 12 months since that launch, I've lived into what it means to birth and be birthed. Like any watershed moment in life, I've learned so much.
I've learned the best book events happen when you are hosted by those who believe in your words and seek to create experiences for those in their circles of influence. One of my favorite book gatherings happened around this beautiful table in Birmingham, AL at my friend April's house. She even bought each dinner guest of hers a book-- how amazing! I've learned that infertility is still a topic that we don't want to talk about in our churches, mom's groups or even in our families. I can't tell you how many times I've asked to connect with a church or a group about Birthed and heard, "Oh we can't talk about that here." (Deep sigh).
I've learned that your book's success is not based on the number of copies you sell (honestly I avoid knowing because I don't want to obsess) but on emails you get from readers who say, "Thank you. Your story is my story. I'm so glad you wrote it." But the truth be told, publishing is HARD and NOT for the faint of heart. There are parts of me that feel really sad about how the book has been received. But I move on.
I've learned that publishing opens up speaking opportunities in the most unexpected places-- like this time this spring I got to speak to a group of Marriage and Family Studies students at Samford University. Who knew that college students and professors would want to talk about my book and plan to use it as required reading?
Most of all, I've learned I want to write and publish again. The kind of ministry I was able to do as result of publishing Birthed, (ministry like leading retreats, speaking to groups and hosting round-table heart-to-heart discussions among groups of friends) IS the work I see myself doing long-term.
And this writing more will look like another memoir-- a book on the topic of orphan care and my own journey of adoption-- that I've been drafting since 2015 as well as a spiritual formation resource for congregations (I hope) as a guide on how to talk about other hard topics. So keep hanging with me for the ride. I promise I've got more in me.
But, there's one more thing I need to tell you about this birthing day . . .
It's also the day that we "officially" became parents forevermore to our baby girl. On the day the book about our struggle toward parenthood was published, our adoption was finalized as well. The court just assigned us the date. I don't want to believe this fact is coincidence. Can you feel my goose bumps?
For you see, as much as Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility is a story of grief, loss and hope, so is adoption. Adoption is a beautiful and pain-filled occasion all rolled into one. Our girl lost her first family before she became a part of ours. December 6, 2016-- oh the birthing day, you were!
And I wouldn't take anything for my journey now.
For many of you who follow me online you might know that I made a big deal out of my birthday last year. I was turning 33. I called it my Jesus year for I'd reached the age in which Jesus was when he died. Big accomplishment for my geeky religious soul. Right? My sister even got me this t-shirt to mark the occasion.
Birthdays, in my opinion really aren't that exciting after 30. You start to realize that you aren't that young anymore (like you were at 23) and there's so much you want to do (or haven't done with your life) and time is ticking. Is there really anything good about turning a year older when you don't get something cool out of it like renting a car for less or getting to drink?
So for me, naming my birthday last year was my way of trying to make it more fun.I didn't go as far as to make a project out of it like this person did, but still it was something I thought about through 2013. It was bound to be a good year I thought or at least a real transformative one. Wasn't that the case for Jesus? I joked with my friends that my year wouldn't end in death.
But now it is over. I'm still alive. I made it to 34 last Friday.
So what I do I think about it all now? Was 33 really all that special?
Last year, I found myself jobless (at least in the traditional sense) for the first time in my adult life. I found myself spending time in a state where my husband and I had no friends. I found myself having to re-sort everything I thought I knew about life as entered what felt like an intense spiritual wilderness experience. I found myself with a large mass causing infection to my entire abdominal region requiring emergency surgery. I found myself on my back, forced to rest and heal for 2 months. Then, later I found myself re-emerging from these and other intense experiences with greater clarity and drive than I've had in years. I got glimmers of light in the darkness.
If I were to pick a theme text for 33 it would be this one from Philippians: "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and share in the fellowship of his sufferings." This is what a Jesus year is all about. It's about pushing through. It's about slowing down. It's about seeing what in life matters. It's about feeling your own pain and that of others too. It's about walking through fire and coming out on the other side as something new. It's about gifts that only suffering can bring.
And so this is all true: I've made new friends in unlikely places. I've been forced to open up myself up to new ways of seeing the world. I've found a centering place in the mystery of God. I've not crumbled completely pieces when I got the worst possible news as I was carried by love and hope.
What will 34 hold? I got several birthday cards this weekend wishing me the best year ever. Will it be such? Who really knows. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift; that's why they call it the present."
All I know for sure is that I am grateful to have another year to learn and breathe and be in good health and to walk alongside companions on this journey who love me as much as I love them. 34: bring it on! (I always liked even numbers better anyway!)
Back by popular demand is a blog post that I wrote in February of 2007- an experience that was my first year as a full-time pastor. Please laugh along with me (though it wasn’t funny at the time).
As a means of background, Ash Wednesday fell on my birthday this year: a day which should be a joyous celebration of life but instead I was in charge of the prayer meeting service about this occasion – a day to remember our mortality. This was troubling to begin with, but whatever. Secondly, the senior pastor of our congregation was in Hawaii celebrating his birthday (the same day as mine) during Ash Wednesday; thus, leaving me in charge of the service (totally not fair, right?).
It was 6:10 p.m. before prayer meeting/ the Ash Wednesday service began at 6:30. I was on the phone with Kevin on my way back to church. I knew I was running late and trying to get back to church as fast as I could. Yet, in the course of our conversation I remembered I had forgotten one important element for the service: the ashes!
Kevin offered a suggestion. He reminded me that it wouldn’t take very long to burn some more ashes. All I would need to do is go outside with a metal trash can and burn some paper in it for a few minutes. While I could see the logic in this activity, Kevin’s idea sounded a little risky to me. (My vision of what could happen is much like the picture to the left!) I thought I had a brilliant idea. Our fellowship hall has a fire place in it. I decided I’d just burn some paper in there. No big deal, right?
Wrong, because I forgot to open up the flue. Before I knew it, smoke began to fill the fellowship hall. It was just my luck that the smoke sensor was right beside the fireplace– so the church fire alarm began to immediately sound. That awful loud noise began to fill the walls of the church along with the smoke.
I quickly began to pour water on the paper burning I had begun (not thinking that I was in that moment totally defeating the point of exercises as I was soon to have soggy ashes). I thought if I could get the smoke to leave the fellowship hall, then all would be well and the fire alarm would go off.
In a few minutes, the fire alarm did indeed go off thanks to my fabulous pastoral colleague, Lonnie. He had just walked in the building when the alarm sounded and soon thereafter began calling the security company telling them that everything was ok as well as doing crowd control for me upstairs. But the first person I saw after the event was one of our most faithful deacons, Tom.
Tom, an older gentleman who came bursting down the stairs trying to see what was wrong. With panic in my voice, I admitted that I was the one who had started the fire. Yet, everything was ok; the fire was out. I felt bad for making Tom run through the church with such a sense of panic.
By the time that I cleaned everything up and make my way upstairs, I found that the fire department had already made its way to our church. Thank goodness Lonnie was there to deal with them– taking them to the fireplace downstairs, letting them know that all was well because by this time I had lost it. I was so embarrassed. I didn’t think I had it in me to go and lead the service. I wanted to go home and find some joy of this 27th birthday of mine.
But, I knew I was a professional and professionals must act as they must, not as they feel. By some grace, I wiped my tears and headed for the conference room to begin talking about the symbols of Lent, including the wet ashes. I told everyone the story of what had occurred earlier that evening and a roar of laughter came from those present (If you don’t cry, you laugh, right?).
Somehow the Joel 2 lectionary passage for the day had a whole new meeting for our group that evening: “Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming.” For our alarm really did sound! What a day!
Kevin did treat me to a nice dinner afterwards. It was the best part of this crazy birthday.
How hard it is for us strong, "can do anything types" to not be afraid of love! Love given and acknowledged always holds a level of vulnerability that sometimes we simply aren't willing to show. But, that our souls truly need.
This week has been a happy one around our house in particular. In October, there is the week of Kevin as less than a week separates Kevin's birthday from our dating and wedding anniversary. And in February, we celebrate the week of Elizabeth as a week separates Valentine's Day and my birthday. These celebration weeks became an intentional decision between the two of us when we planned our wedding date (and also the farmer's almanac said it wasn't going to rain the town of our outdoor wedding, so we went with a October date-- important too ) . In these two special weeks, we've thought of ways to remember and enjoy life together such as mornings of breakfast in bed or dinners cooked at home (all you city busy folks know what I mean when I add this on the list of a special treat) or sometimes a overnight get-a-way.
In this being "my week" including a special trip together last week (a writing retreat for me), dinner out last night and my super surprise gift this morning: an IPad this morning, I've felt the love. And, I'm grateful. How did I find myself with so many amazing people in my life?
Sometimes, though, we want tangible expressions of love, but we also don't know what to do with them when they arrive. I remember a fabulous birthday several years ago when I was literally on cloud 9 from all the gestures of support around me and felt paralyzed all at the same time. I think if I got one more birthday card, that year, I would have exploded. And, I know I am not the only one who has been in this place of bewilderment.
When lovely people do lovely things, it is easy to be stopped in our tracks and just not know how to respond. Sometimes we shut down, in the pain of the joy. For, we don't have the room in our hearts to take it in. The act of stretching our hearts to open to others can feel as painful as a long work out at the gym. When our souls have never felt loved in our deepest caves, sometimes love's arrival can actually sting a little. In fact, being loved, just as we are, by others can often be one of the scariest emotions in life.
While watching an Oscar special this week featuring the wonderful actress, Viola Davis, it struck me how authentically she described her own struggles with receiving love. Watch a portion of this interview here. Saying, how much of a radical transformation love became in her as she began to trust the man for the first time who would become her husband. Something as simple as allowing him to drive her somewhere became a symbol of abiding love-- love that was without fear.
I John 4 talks about love's relationship with fear in this way:
16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. . . . 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love
This is what I am learning about love-- there is no fear in love when it begins to truly seep into our hearts. But, such a fearless stance requires practice and people who are willing to stay in your life long enough that you actually believe them when they say to you, "I love you."
I'm just so amazed that I get this week every year to practice feeling loved and wish the same kind of experience for others too. Everybody has somebody who loves them. Everybody has somebody that they need to tell that they love them. The question on our shoulders, then is: will we love? Or will we be afraid? I want to love.