The truth & beauty of staying in the process.
Towards the end of 2018, I heard many people saying that the year had actually felt like five. I found myself nodding, thinking about the roads that my dear friends and I have traveled over the last several months. Some of us still feel neck deep in uncertain waters, circumstances we would not have chosen if life had bothered to ask. There are so many situations where I wish I could snap my fingers or wave a magic wand and set things right side up again. In looking at my own life, I realized that attempting to maintain a breakneck pace was actually breaking me, and that the weight of my expectations was suffocating my everything I love about my life. My marriage, my creativity, my friendships, my faith, my sense of self worth, and my work were all fielding blows at one point or another as I wrestled with fear and pride. I had to reconcile the lies that I told and come to terms with the harsh reality that nothing I was doing in an attempt to fill myself up was actually nourishing me in any meaningful ways. By the end of the year, I found myself in therapy.
If I’m honest, I hate being in the process. The thought of being imperfect and unfinished, coupled with my own neediness, nearly sets my skin on fire with shame (a cursory glance into my Enneagram number would reveal that my greatest fear is not being worthy, and it actually scares me how accurate that is). Time and time again, I’ve come to the end of myself in an attempt to make myself presentable and prove that I am worthy of love. As it turns out, though, and as you may very well suspect, I am a work in progress. Perhaps it is something I will always struggle to love, but I hope not.
This month marks a whole year spent with our little church. It has been a year of opening up and saying yes to things I never expected. A year spent meeting Jesus during peace passing and pool parties, and who even knew that he would show up to a pool party, of all places, to start mending my heart? Perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve learned this year, though, is that when I begin to stay in and embrace the process and dare to get vulnerable about where I’m at, love finds me and stretches wide enough to cover my imperfections. There is so much beauty to be discovered here in the middle, but it is nearly impossible to see when my sights are set on proving myself.
I used to think that every new coffee shop or church I walked into was an opportunity to reinvent myself, a chance to wow everyone with the person I had become. It would be as easy as saying new place, new me. But of course, no new place on a map has the power to relieve us of the work we must do in order to build a life that is truly worthy of being called home.
The older I get and the more roots I put down, the more I realize that being impressive and impressed is not what makes us worthy. We can climb ladders and gain cheap follows all day every day, but that doesn’t mean that our lives are being nourished or are a source of nourishment for others. I’ve long suspected that, deep down, we are ravenous for the depth of the Real—but we’ve settled for feeding on and measuring ourselves by the numbers on a screen, duped into believing that width is what really matters.
It isn’t easy to lay down the masks and filters we cling to in favor of letting others see us as we really are, in the regular and unimpressive light of every day. It isn’t easy to choose honesty when we’re honestly wondering if there will be a mad dash towards the exit sign the minute people realize who we are underneath it all. But just like any muscle we stretch and build to become stronger, endurance becomes easier with practice, and the results are nothing short of miraculous. I get to see it all the time now—in Michael’s wit and care, in Kathy’s infectious laughter, in Monica’s kindness and hospitality, and in Julia’s excitement for the small things. When we come together, no matter what state we find ourselves in, we come away with more love instead of less. We come away full when we dare to forsake comfort and convenience for the beauty of connection—in other words, we go farther when we choose each other and go together.
Recently, I read a book in which the author found herself struggling with the process. Someone told her to pick up her Bible, turn to the book of Proverbs and circle every time the word path came up in the verses. Suffice it to say, the folks who penned those pearls of wisdom so many years ago did not want us to miss the necessity of staying the course. It comes up a lot. We have to starve the temptation we feel to present ourselves as having reached the finish line and trust that the mystery of staying present in the middle will be enough to nourish us.
My friend Julie once told me that after we visited our little church for the first time, she prayed that we would be back. She and others prayed that we would decide to keep showing up and eventually call it home. I haven’t forgotten that, and honestly, just the thought of it brings tears to my eyes. We were in need of a safe place to land, and they were ready and willing to make room for us. We were wanted from the get go, before we ever had a chance to be shiny or impressive.
So here’s to the moments that led us here. Here’s to putting down the should have been’s and could have been’s and picking up the hammer and nails we need to build a life that we love. Here’s to showing up and breaking a sweat when we’d rather stay home. Here’s to being someone who makes room, to loving and letting yourself be loved—even when things don’t look like you thought they would, even when you feel so far off course that getting back feels next to impossible. Here’s to being honest about where we are so that we can be found and brought home. Here’s to meeting Jesus where we least expect him to show up. Grace really is the most surprising of all.
And here’s to the harvest, because when we commit to tending the seeds, they will grow up right in front of our eyes, and it will be so much better than anything we could have planned.