Do you believe your life has choices?
A couple of weeks ago, a girlfriend of mine reminded me of a fun trip we took together over 10 years ago.
We were in our carefree 20s and living the dream of cheap motels, eating crackers for lunch and save our money for proper dinners with good bottle of wine and buying a train ticket the next day to somewhere fabulous.
It was a privilege to be able to travel of course, but a gift to ourselves and our friendship that we both worked hard to make happen.
Over text, we reminisced about our ease of being together on that trip and all the experiences we shared and then she said we should go back.
"Maybe for our 60th birthdays?" she offered.
"60th? Really. That seems so depressing! We're not going to travel again till we're 60?"
"Ok, maybe our 50th, then? Maybe our kids will be well situated by then."
(I'm still in my 30s, you know. Deep sigh).
Of course, I get it. We're not in our 20s anymore. Our lives are filled with more bills, kids, family obligations and of course work.
I've come to believe in the wisdom of "Your life doesn't really change when you get married. It changes when you have kids." (Or I might add it also changes when you add in major responsibilities).
For it's true in this season of my life, I can't do what I want to do when I want to do it. Any trip out-of-town (or even just a night out past bedtime) is a well-organized and executed planning process. All of this on top of the financial demands of life as a parent when another human being is dependent on you. So, I get it. Life is full, for my friend. And for me too even as much as you love your life at home.
BUT, here is something I know for sure no matter what stage of life you're in.
Even if we have to save our money a dollar bill at time . . .
Even if we only have 5 minutes to give . . .
Even if our we plan adventures on a low budget . . .
None of us need to wait 10 years or 20 years to really live our lives (because who says any of us have 10 or 20 years to live?).
For every day, we get to say with our time, our money and our expressions of care what is important to us. And of course, when we're in a busy or stressful season of life, it's true, we might have fewer choices. But we still have choices.
We have the choice to be intentional about how we care for people (if we want to).
We have the choice to bring about good in the world with our money (if we want to).
We have the choice to care for our body (if we want to).
We have the choice to show up the moments that count for our children, our friends, our family (if we want to).
I believe in our go, go, go, overstimulated, you better answer that email before tomorrow, knowing each other by our Facebook statuses alone, has taken from us the gift of intentional choice making.
As much as the texts of Advent, invite us right now to "stay woke" . . .
With our cell phones constantly in hand, we’re awake to everything. So, we're not really awake to anything at all.
We've forgotten that we're co-creators in our own life stories. And our choices matter. Our daily choices and apps we most visit on our phone tell a lot about what matters the most to us.
Instead could we make more intentional choices?
Choices like: could we make person relationships a priority? Instead of only text-based ones.
Choices like: could we give ourselves pockets of time for rest and reflection in silence? Instead of being thrown about based on ebbs and flows of today's news cycle.
Choices like: could we teach our children how to say yes and no to activities with care? Instead of approving of an after school schedule based on what all the other kids do.
Choices like: could we manage our money carefully so we can give to others who need it more than we do? Instead of simply nursing our retirement accounts.
Choices like: could we invest in community-building in centers like our churches as essential parts of our week? Instead of attending when we don't have a better offer.
Our intentionality is our spirituality.
Oh I know the ease of the "I can't" crutch, playing the victim card in your own story.
But I want to say again, even in the worst case scenarios seasons-- you and I have choices of how we live.
We have the choice to put relationships over our own achievements. We have the choice to give back. We have the choice to rest in place.
If you find yourself stuck and can't seem to get out of a life pattern, might I offer three suggestions?
I am a cradle Christian.
My name was on the Sunday School roll in the church nursery before I was born.
The stories of scriptures and words of the Bible have always been readily accessible to me when I was just a toddler (as seen in this picture).
I could recite the books of the Bible by the time I was 7 and could name the fruits of the spirit from the book of Galatians by age 9. The Christian school my parents sent me to in junior high challenged me to read the Bible through in the 7th grade (and I did!). I had a working knowledge of church history high school. I really don't know another way, for good or the bad.
But, the older I get, I realize, my story is an anomaly.
We don't teach our kids Bible stories, Bible facts or even stories of faith like I was taught in the height of Southern Baptist evangelicalism of the 1990s. As stiff structure surrounding the institutional church dies, fewer and fewer kids are growing up as I did including my own daughter.
Instead, the folks that fill the church pews of the congregations I'm most drawn to pastor aren't people who would call themselves cradle Christians. Or if they do, they'd say they are "recovering from it." I also hear a lot of "I'm a Christian but not that kind . . . "
Maybe cradle Christians are a dying bred?
If this is true, then how then do people arrive at faith, then, if not by osmosis from childhood? Isn't that how most people chose a religious tradition?
Recently, while I attended Wild Goose Festival in Hot Spring, NC I had the opportunity to meet a fellow author with a story that answers such a question. Kate Rademacher is a recent convert to Christianity is the author of a new memoir called, Following the Red Bird: First Steps into a Life of Faith.
In her book, she describes how after years of living in a social conscious, yet secular home and marrying a practicing Buddhist husband, she finds herself hearing the voice of God for the first time.
Though her childhood idea of the Trinity was "reduce, reuse and recycle" she found herself saying "Hello" (literally just like that) to God. The conversation took off from there (how amazing!). Within months, Kate found herself on a Christian path learning more about Jesus then seeking baptism in the Episcopal Church several years later.
Kate's prose was refreshingly honest and engaging. You never feel like Kate is telling you what you want to hear but what actually is her experience of God. Once I started reading Following the Red bird, I couldn't put it down. I finished it the next day.
When I got to the last page, I felt grateful for the way that Kate calls out cradle Christians like me for our privilege (even if that was not the main focus of her story).
Seeing the world through Kate's lens, we, cradle Christians, have no idea how scary it is to walk into a study group with no working knowledge on the Bible.
We have no idea what it feels like to be drawn to a life of prayer without what to say.
We have no idea how discernment feels like without any spiritual tools to know if you're a helpful track or not.
So, as a pastor, I'm so thankful to have Kate's story as a resource for spiritual seekers who find their way to my inbox or office.
But even more than this, I'm grateful for how Following the Red Bird opened up my spiritual imagination.
We, as cradle Christians or even as professional ministers, can get so stressed out on God's behalf (or so we say).
We invest in lives, hoping for spiritual growth, but nothing changes. We preach our hearts out and it feels like no one is listening. We expect a particular trajectory for the spiritual formation of our children or grandchildren. And we feel sad when it doesn't happen.
I even saw that with the baptism of my daughter several months ago. Several well wishers remarked on social media that they wish she grows up to be a "God-fearing woman who takes to the teachings of the faith early." While I know it came from a loving place, my first reaction was "What pressure! Don't put that on her."
Here's the thing I believe about spiritual journeys (which Kate's story helped to me to see all over again): we can't control them.
The best conditions for spiritual instruction can't make a person find a personal conviction. Nor can lack of religious education keep a person from God when it's the right time for the journey to begin.
Openness is really the best gift we can give each other, especially to our children.
Isn't that what faith is about in the first place? Letting go and trusting in a power beyond what we can see?
I'm glad, as a cradle Christian, for the gift that Kate's faith story is to the world.
(Check out Kate's book on Amazon if you're looking for a faith memoir!)
Life feels so different around our house these days.
Bottles, diapers, wipes and cute hair bows are everywhere. We are up every morning usually at 3 am.
Though the days feel long, we can't but smile at the face of our daughter who loves music, laughing and naps beside her Daddy on the weekends.
(For those of you who followed our infertility journey I want you to know that these dear moments with her have been worth ALL the wait. Life is really so sweet with her in it. I'm so glad we kept holding out hope.)
As a new parent, you learn very quickly that EVERYONE wants to give you advice and comment on your choices. When we first brought baby girl home, I felt like I heard a broken record of statements like this:
I don't imagine you'll travel much anymore (and so far not true: we've been on 8 flights, going on 9 this week! with her already on 2 train rides!)
I guess you'll just stay at home and keep her all the time now, Elizabeth (and so far not true: in this post I told you recently some of things I've been up to as well as being her caregiver).
Say goodbye to movies and date nights (and so far not true: I think you make time for what's important to you and we've seen movies and gone out to dinner alone since baby girl entered our lives).
In these comments, I felt beat down for even entertaining a life that still felt like mine.
But my friend Rebekah said it best. She told me early on, "Don't listen to the critics. You and Kevin will find a path that works for you."
And she was so wise!
So what I want to claim about parenthood: each of us make the journey your own.
I am not going to parent like you. You are not going to parent like me. But, we've ALL each get to find the balance works for us when it comes to feeding, bedtimes, childcare, you name it! And in living like this, we teach our little ones what it's like to be authentic. We teach them how to show up for their lives too.
I sat in my spiritual director's office a couple weeks ago and she asked me, "How is parenthood going?" I told her what was on my mind for that day and then she replied, "It sounds like you are being you."
And to me this is the best compliment anyone could give me.
I believe we don't need to loose our identity or passions for life when we become parents.
My daughter needs to see me participating the things and visiting the people that bring me joy.
My daughter needs to see me rest.
My daughter needs to see me lean into the support from others-- like babysitters.
This year, I'm so glad that I was able to connect with a new friend via Twitter, Hilary, the founder of a movement for parents called the New Mystique. Over at her website, Hilary writes about re-defining parenthood in this way.
Giving yourself grace.
Making the choices that work for you and your family.
Tuning into your heart as much as you try to tune into the hearts of your kids.
Check out her Community Manifesto to learn more. If you have interest in showing up for your own life as mother, she can be a great guide.
No matter if you have children or not, let us keep encouraging each other to show up for our own lives and to not loose ourselves in caregiving.
Hear me say beloveds: you are worth it! Keep finding YOU no matter who comes in your household.
I spent 8 years wondering what it would feel like to be a mother of a particular child.
I thought of it every time I picked up drugs at the pharmacy for one of our IVF procedures.
I thought of every time I signed my name to a background check for our adoption paperwork.
I thought it every time I couldn't manage to avoid the kid clothes aisle at Target.
First of all, would it ever happen? And if it did, then . . . What would it be like?
What would I name him or her?
Would I look him or her in the eyes for the first time and magically fall in love? Or would bonding take much longer?
After the birth, would I work part-time or full-time or not at all?
Would motherhood morph me into Betty Crocker with spreadsheets for what we ate for dinner every night? Or would I be the mom who ordered groceries online and dragged my kid to restaurants too?
Would I function on little sleep, little free time, and little alone time with grace? Or would I become grump in chief?
8 years is a long time to wonder about questions like these. 8 years can go by so slowly.
In all my waiting, I know I made up lots of stories in my head. I began to believe that moms are somehow a different breed of people, people who are suddenly look nothing like the women they were before they welcomed children (and so this of course would happen to me and I wasn't sure how I felt about that). I began to look past my friends with kids only seeing them as people who had something that I didn't. I began to bulk all moms into a solitary category thinking there was only one path forward when the word "Mom" gets added to my name (if it did at all).
But now that I am here this place where I go to the pediatrician (like I did today) and the nurse says to me, "Mom, will you place your baby on the scale?" I'm both in shock that this is ME but also in awe that in some ways it's nothing like I ever could have imagined.
For as much work us planners can do in our heads about how something is to feel like when it happens, none of us ever really knows.
You could read and study the details and look at pictures about what Grand Canyon is like for years and years. But in the end it's all a misguided, isn't it, until you SEE it and EXPERIENCE it for yourself? The Grand Canyon is an majestic experience, not a thing of textbooks.
Such is true, I believe, of this waiting I've been doing for parenting.
It's nothing like I ever really imagined. It's both harder and more beautiful than there are really words for (but you know, though I'll try to find some in the future!). And there was no way to prepare for it than to just be present when the moment came and let my intuition and wise voices around me help me find the next steps. Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. I've got much learning to do by living it.
Such is true, I think of anything we anticipate or look forward to in life.
Oh, what good energy you and I can waste on putting our mind so much in the future to the point that we can't be all there with the life we actually have NOW.
If I were to go back and tell myself anything-- that self that had to wait 8 years for this moment to come-- it would be to life to the fullest in what was (not what would be).
I would say, "Elizabeth: Live the pain. Find the joy. Cherish the gifts of this time. Trust God to see your desires to be as only God can. Because when you get to "that" moment you've been waiting for 8 years, you'll look back and truly say in the words of the spiritual Wouldn't Take Anything for My Journey Now."
All of this, of course, is easier said than done. Some of the hardest soul work any of us can tackle is being present in the moment, but when we do, I believe, joy is on the other side. For life becomes a gift. All of it-- even the LONG waits.
Don't give up hope.
If you've read my book, Birthed, I believe you gleamed from the pages that no matter how many times Kevin and I got beat down in our fertility/ adoption journey, we never gave up hope to be parents. Never.
There were times when we wanted to-- for the pain of our broken hearts was just too much to bear.
There were times when for our mental health it would have been easier if we let the dream die.
There were times when we had to re-imagine what parenthood looked like for us.
In this longing, sometimes Kevin held the hope banner for the two of us-- for I was just too exhausted. Other times, I held it for him when he was just so frustrated he didn't know what to do. But never, could either one of us say we weren't meant to be parents. So we kept going. The next step. The next step. And the next. For 8 years.
I ran across this quote this week and I couldn't help but savor it.
I've known my whole life I was meant to be a mother. And ever since I met Kevin, I knew he'd be the best father.
You say because something is hard then "It wasn't meant to be." You stop trying to proactively live your dreams when the cost is great. You blame God for not giving you what you think we deserve. And you stop living.
All of this is normal because life can be oh, so brutal, my friends. It can kick us down in the deepest pits that we think we're never going to crawl out of! It can take from us all our strength, making us believe that we're simply finished. It can totally snatch away all of our comforts. It can.
It buries itself deep in our hearts and won't let us go. It encourages us with teachers-- teachers that appear when we least expect. And it looks us in the eyes and says clearly: "Oh my dear, your longings aren't stupid. Believe!"
Hope is life's great calling, I believe.
I'm so thankful that when we were ready to give up last summer . . . to say that what we had was good enough . . . to say that we had so many blessings to count . . . why ask for more?
And we did it. We kept holding space in our lives and our home for a child. A child, young or older, a child of any nationality and or race, a child from anywhere really, that was meant to be in our family.
And this is the big news I have to tell you today: almost a month ago, a little girl from the US found us.
It will be a couple of months before everything is 100% final but all the most important steps have been completed. I am a mother of a daughter who lives in our house all day, every day, now.
So know this: when the time came for this girl to join our home, I was in awe of the speed in which it happened. All we had to do was hold on for the ride. Grace surprised us with its pace.
And when we knew it was official . . . that this great thing was really happening . . . Kevin and I felt so much joy (and still do). So much joy that we held each other tight and felt so much pride that we overcame what could have broken us. (It really could have!)
As for you, my friends, don't give up hope whatever your dreams are! Listen to your longings. Keep praying. Keep working. Keep believing and listening to those voices that say "You can."