What Happened After My Husband Quit His Job

God often gives a vision of things before they actually come to be. That’s been my experience anyway. The vision isn’t necessarily focused or clear. It doesn’t come with steps or money or sure-things.

my husband quit his job

But it does come with hope, and that’s what keeps you going in the fog.

For months I’ve been looking forward to writing this post. Back in March I shared it in e-letter form with my newsletter subscribers and now it’s time to share it here on the blog – what happened when John left his job as a youth pastor.

Almost two years ago, (in a post I wrote here called Why My Husband is Quitting His Job), I quoted these words from Ann Patchett:

fc9cbbf0-df4d-4b2e-8f29-834bc40144c6

When I first shared this quote, John and I were living in our own what now? kind of moment, preparing to leave his position at our church of six years (after a total of twelve years in youth ministry) to . . . well, that’s just it.

We didn’t exactly know.

But we did see arrows, faint as they may have been. So we followed them and here is where they have led so far.

The Arrow of Grief 

After John’s Dad passed away during the summer of 2011, we knew things would never be the same for a lot of reasons, the main one being that John was broken open by grief.

After the funeral, John went back to work, back to routine, back to his regularly scheduled life. But his soul lingered with the grief. It wasn’t long before the disconnect between the pace of his life and the state of his soul began to show itself in the form of panic, sleepless nights, and intense fear.

That was Fall 2011.

He was unable to keep pace with the demands of his highly relational job as a youth pastor so the church gifted him a three month leave to catch his breath and to simply be human.

During those three months, he didn’t check his email, meet with students, co-workers, or parents. He completely disconnected from the demands of work. This, I know, is a rare gift. We are ever grateful to our former church for allowing him this time.

I promise this post will not be a recap of the last four years of our lives. I go back that far only to communicate that this transition has been slow, deep, and far-reaching. And it has been about more than simply quitting a job.

The Arrow of Desire

Long before his Dad got sick, John and I had many talks about the future.

After years in youth ministry, we began to notice the parts of the job that brought him life (relationships, small group discipleship, connecting with students on a soul level, teaching deeper life in Christ concepts) and the parts that wore him out (traveling, games, programs, hype).

I would try to initiate dream talk, you know the kind: If you could do anything regardless of income or location, what would it be?

While I was able to chatter away about moving to a big city or writing books together or traveling the country for a year with the kids, John was always more hesitant.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

Even in hypothetical conversation, he was unable to take pretend risk. His mind simply wouldn’t allow his heart to dream.

Logic and limits often get in the way of longing.

It’s important to be able to answer the question: What do you really want?

It can be scary, but it was only when John and I began to honestly explore the answer to that question in the presence of God that we started to get a hopeful vision for his vocation. But it didn’t come the way we thought it would.

The Arrow to Each Other

During those few months away from work, John traveled to Colorado Springs to participate in a week-long course in spiritual direction taught by author and psychologist Dr. Larry Crabb.

We both thought his time there might bring some kind of vocational clarity.

What actually happened surprised us both. God met John during that short time away, his Spirit traveled into the deepest parts of John’s soul and poked around, turned some things over, and woke some things up.

This awakening didn’t come like a glorious sunrise or a blooming flower. Instead, it arrived more like a summer storm: dark clouds, thick air, rolling thunder.

But here is where we learned that desire often lives next door to grief inside the soul. Access the grief, you wake up the longing as well.

As a result, John came home more alive as a husband and friend than I had ever seen him before. There was still a long road of healing ahead, but now he had a focus – he wanted to be fully available as a husband and father in ways he had been previously closed off. 

Looking back, I remember hearing myself telling people in the months following his return that it wasn’t so much that John had changed, more that he became more fully himself. 

We thought we needed clarity, a good next step, a vision for whether or not John should stay in his current job as a youth pastor or move on to something else. Instead, all God offered was an arrow pointing from John to me and from me to John.

We wanted to know the way and instead, he showed us each other. 

For the first time in our marriage, we began to cultivate a respectful curiosity for our mutual desire as a couple. And the only thing we knew for sure is we were to move toward one another. And that was it.

john and emily freeman

The Arrow to Nowhere

After many months of conversation, prayer, and counsel from trusted mentors, we finally knew it was time to move on from youth ministry even though we didn’t know what was next.

The first six months after he left his job were dedicated to rest, recovery, and home. It was during those six months that my book A Million Little Ways released so the timing was nice. He maintained our home rhythms while I worked, traveled some for the book, and began preliminary work on my next book.

We started to attend a small church, quietly getting to know a new community, re-adjusting to our new rhythm, re-learning how to sit together on Sunday morning (!!) as well as how to relate in a church where he wasn’t a pastor. 

Those six months turned into nearly a year before we actually had any clear indication of what the second half of John’s career and ministry would look like. We walked through some hard days, some hopeless what-are-we-even-doing kind of days where it seemed like the arrows led nowhere.

But we kept coming back to the promise of God, knowing he wouldn’t leave us alone.

We also often revisited what we knew for sure, that John’s desire was to somehow serve our local community, to enter intentionally into relationships, to do small group discipleship, to connect with people on a soul level, and to teach about how the Gospel intersects with our daily life.

The Arrow to Community

After a time of listening, waiting, and resting, we decided to gather a small group of people together who we called our “Co-Listeners.” 

We invited them into our living room, fed them dessert and coffee, and were grateful as they listened to John’s desire and our fears and then helped to discern what might be next.

It was during that meeting that long-time friend and mentor, Mike Moses, spoke up.

“John, you know I’ve had a non-profit ministry for a long time here in Greensboro.”

In fact we did know. Mike’s ministry had a huge impact on John’s life and the life of our extended family many years ago. He’s been a fixed point in our Greensboro community for years, a trusted voice that always points to Jesus.

“And you know I’ve retired . . . “

Yes we knew this too.

“I haven’t used the non-profit for several years now. It has no money, no place, and no director. It’s basically vacant. But I’ve kept the name active with the IRS because Carol and I have been praying, asking God to bring someone along who might take it over.”

This we didn’t know. 

This was interesting.

And though it would be many months before all the legal and administrative details were taken care of, I knew in my spirit that very night as I sipped my coffee and ate my cake that this might be the next step in the journey.

And in fact, it was.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset

John is now the director of Grace Discipleship, a 501c3 non-profit ministry here in Greensboro that exists to connect weary souls with the Gospel of grace.

What does that look like?

You can find out more about his ministry here.

I know I could have simply given you a link to John’s ministry website and sent you straight over, but I wanted to give you this background stuff for a few reasons.

First, many of you have prayed, sent emails and notes asking about John’s transition. This was so meaningful to us.

Second, I know a lot of you are in the midst of your own transitions, looking for arrows in your own life. I wanted to share what it has looked like for us to believe God often gives a vision of things before they actually come to be.

We still have lots of questions, new kinds of fears and hesitations. But we’re thankful his work now has a name, a shape, and even an office space!

Sometimes it looks like you’re going nowhere, or that you’re headed in the wrong direction. But maybe none of that is the point.

Grace Discipleship Greensboro

I’m convinced God is less interested in where we end up as he is in who we are becoming.

Whether we’re employed or unemployed, encouraged or discouraged, filled with vision or fumbling in the fog, more than anything, our Father just wants to be with us.

He loves us, wants to walk with us, and as we follow the arrows, they’ll always lead us close to his heart.

If you’re in a What now? kind of place these days, maybe it will help to remember Ann Patchett’s words, that “what now? can also be our joy.”

May it be so for all of us.

Learn more about John’s new ministry Grace Discipleship here or learn a little more about who John is here. He’s pretty much my favorite. You can sign up at his website to receive monthly updates directly from John.

If you would like to read more personal stories from me like this one, I tend to share those in my monthly newsletter – you can sign up here to get those each month in your inbox, as well as first-word news, my current reading list, and more encouragement to help your soul breathe.

I’m So Glad You’re Here

Results are rolling in from our 2015 reader survey and already I’ve learned so much from you! (By the way, there’s still time to let your voice be heard – simply fill out the survey questions here.)

Here’s one result that doesn’t surprise me:

men and women

(Insert cry-laugh face).

But one interesting outcome so far is that 60% of those who responded to the survey have been reading here less than 2 years. I’ve been writing for over 9 years but most of you haven’t been around that long. I thought today would be a good time to give an introduction (or for some of you re-introduction) to who I am, who my family is, and what jazzes me these days.

the-Freemans

This is our family – our son is 8 years old and in 2nd grade and our twin girls (this photo is from Halloween when they dressed up like hippie fairies) are 11 and in fifth grade. Next year they’ll begin middle school which is bringing all sorts of excitement, angst, and decision-making conversations around the dinner table these days.

john and emily

This is the most recent photo I have of my husband John and I, taken 2 weeks ago. We’ve been married for nearly 14 years and he’s my best friend. He worked as a youth pastor for 12 of those years and, 20 months ago, quit his job without a clear idea of what would come next. In May 2013 I wrote a post about why my husband quit his job but I haven’t given much of an update on that here since then.

Part of that is intentional. We’ve needed some time to gather, to huddle in close, to listen and simply be. But there has been movement in the past several months and tomorrow I’ll share that with my newsletter subscribers and probably in several weeks I’ll put it here on the blog as well.

By the way, you can sign up here if you’d like to receive that Note From The Bench, a slightly more personal monthly letter I send out with updates on family, books I’m currently reading, and other first-word news and encouragement.

painted brickWe live in Greensboro, North Carolina and have lived in the house where we are now for seven years. It was built in the early 1960s and we’re slowly bringing it into this century. We started with painting the brick on the outside and haven’t regretted it for a second.

When we first moved in I wrote a lot more posts about our house because 1) it was fun at the time and 2) it’s all I thought about because of course we were just moving in and getting settled. You can read more house posts by browsing the house category but a lot of those photos are outdated.

I think it will be fun to post some more photos soon of what the house looks like now. Here’s a few more updated shots.

my house

I started college as a piano major at Columbia Bible College in South Carolina. That’s where I learned how to study the Bible and also where I learned that piano was not something I wanted to major in. I transferred after my sophomore year to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro where I graduated with a degree in Educational Interpreting for the Deaf.

John and I were married after I graduated from college and he finished seminary. After receiving my national certification in sign language interpreting, I worked as an interpreter for several years until I had the twins. I started this blog in 2006 and re-discovered my love for writing.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset

I’ve written four books by now, three of which are available in bookstores and one that will release in August. I am, this very week, working on my second round of edits for my newest book, Simply Tuesday, and absolutely can’t wait until it’s available to you.

Most of all, you need to know that I’ve been stunned by the Gospel of Jesus. John and I are building our lives on the foundation of hope that can only come from him. Everything I write or speak about comes from my deep conviction that every need, desire, and expectation is ultimately met in God even though it may take a lifetime to work out what that looks like.

Writing helps me work that out. And I hope something of what I offer here might help you work that out, too.

I’d love to know what you’d love to know, if anything. If you have any questions, ask in the comments! I hope to write a few more posts like this so if you give me some ideas of what you might like to know more about, I’m happy to hear it.

I would also love to know your answers to the survey if you haven’t filled that out yet. I’m so glad you’re here.

When Your Dream Begins to Change

They had a dream to create a place where they could take the old, beautiful things – the wooden chairs and side tables and other broken pieces people tend to throw away – and give them new life. They wanted a place to do what they had always done: make the used into art.  

when your dream changes

I shared their story here before, how they wanted a shop, how they dreamed of a name and came up with Chartreuse, a word they thought of separately in the night and realized it in the morning, their oneness showing itself in the simplest, most surprising ways.

And they opened that shop and sold their wares, both the ones they made and re-made with their hands and the various finds and work of others.

Then, a month or so ago, they opened their doors for the last time, had their last big mark-down sale, and cleaned out the back rooms — both the crannies as well as the nooks.

Our community said goodbye to the shop called Chartreuse.

I can see how that might seem like sad news, that our friends who had a dream have now closed down their shop. If you only looked from the outside, you might lose hope. That story was too good to be true in the first place.

Steve and Paula at Chartreuse

photos from the Chartreuse Facebook page

But looking again, paying attention to the full story arc, I remember they had a dream and they didn’t let fear keep them from making it come true. The dream was about more than let’s have a shop.

The shop was simply evidence of a couple brave enough to move toward what makes them come alive. It was one piece of proof that these two are together becoming more fully themselves.

The art lives on simply because the shop is not the art. Steve and Paula dreaming together, moving toward one another, making plans for their future – this is the true art. The shop was just the proof.

They closed the shop for a reason. Now, they have a new dream. They found land just outside of town with space to host weekend sales of all their goods. This will allow them to not have to staff a shop for a certain number of hours a week but will give flexibility to their schedule.

This dream that fits them even better than Chartreuse.

the new dream

When you hold your dreams with open hands, you let them breathe, grow, and have life. This can be scary because living things move, change, and take shapes we can’t predict or control.

But what good is a dream if it doesn’t grow along with us?

Watching Steve and Paula make this newest transition, I’m reminded that the true art isn’t the thing we can point to – the shop, the barn, the book, the song. The true art is listening to a living God and relating to real people as the person I most deeply am.

And sometimes that means letting go of what I thought the dream was supposed to look like and opening up to a new idea.

I’ve been thinking a lot about change and transition recently as John  and I continue to watch his vocational landscape shift and move and take new shapes – some we planned for, some we didn’t.

I think about another dream, one our family has to work together to combine our unique passions into one voice. It started with our first Barn event last year and continued with the launch of Hope*ologie in April. Our theme for Hope*ologie in September is Change & Transition – and starting this month, we’re making some changes of our own.

Introducing The Hope*ologie Podcast!

The Hope*ologie PodcastStarting this month, The Hope*ologie Podcast will be available for free on iTunes. On this episode, Dad, The Nester, and I talk about transitions in our own lives. It’s light-hearted for the most part, a little silly, hopefully relatable. We’re thrilled to be able to share a piece of Hope*ologie with everyone.

To listen: We’re still working through some of the technical things (and when I say we I mean Dad). For now, you can find the podcast here on iTunes. Then click ‘view in iTunes’ and you have to click ‘subscribe’ to listen.

I think in a day or so you should be able to listen without subscribing but I’m the baby sister and too impatient to wait for those tech issues to be worked out so you’re welcome and I’m sorry.

hopeologie

Incase you haven’t yet heard, Hope*ologie is a membership site co-created by my Dad, sister, and me where we hope to help you overcome chronic discouragement by finding delight in your right-now home, family, and soul.

If you’re considering signing up for Hope*ologie but haven’t yet, here’s something you might like to know:

Instead of having the monthly collections expire after 30 days, we’ve decided to give our members unlimited access to the content. That means if you subscribe today, you’ll have access to nearly everything that’s been available since the first month. Visit Hope*ologie to learn more.

On Taking a Break From Being the Grown Up

We load up the car and drive half-way to Charlotte, straight to the crowded parking lot of a Chick-fil-A. It’s mid-July and that means it’s time for Grandy Camp. Years ago we decided this exit was the half-way point and so this is where we meet my parents, trade sleeping bags and children for an empty car and several days together, just John and me.

John and Me

Not used to this kind of spacious time, we re-aquaint ourselves with one another in the form of him taking a nap on one end of the sofa while I read a book on the other. We leave our empty house for an early dinner at a little Greek restaurant right near our house and marvel at the space and the quiet that has now descended upon us.

After dinner we go shopping for him some shirts, spend exactly 20 minutes in the store from the time we walk in to the time we leave, including dressing room time and checkout.

Man-shopping at its finest.

We browse through the Whole Foods, a place we rarely shop, and buy not one necessary thing – not one egg or gallon of milk. Instead, we leave with individual slices of over-priced dessert and a bottle of wine. We head straight to his Mom’s house to eat our fancy cake and watch Tiny House Nation on her cable TV.

When the kids aren’t around, we turn into kids a little bit.

john and meIn a way I don’t think about until later, I realize it’s good for the parents to have some time away from the kids for lots of reasons, not the least of which being so we can remember how to be kids ourselves.

And I think of how Jesus tells us grown people to become like little children, always inviting us downward with gladness, always pulling us closer to Him, welcoming us to the small places we sometimes forget to go when we are so busy being the grown ups.

“I would not choose to become a child again but I am looking to children and searching in them for a simplicity and ordinariness that makes being an adult easier to accept and miracles easier to see.”

Macrina Wiederkehr, Seasons of Your Heart

My Husband the Pastor

John graduated from seminary and got a job working in youth ministry right before our wedding. For the next twelve years, he took the trips, led the studies, planned the games, taught the lessons, scheduled the concerts, met with the parents, baptized the believers, prayed with the doubters.

steeple

He celebrated the graduates, grieved with the dying, and sat with those they left behind.

A lot of the job was hard. Some of it was life-giving. The best part for John was the people – his fellow pastors, the students, the volunteers.

That’s the part we miss the most.

Eight months after John left his job, I’m sharing at (in)courage an update of where we are now, along with two important lessons no one ever thought to teach us. Join us there?

On Marriage and Learning as We Grow

I watched Trista and Ryan renew their vows Sunday night. Yes, that’s what I said. Let me go ahead and get the rationalizing and defensive arguments out of the way.

It’s true, while the rest of the country watched the Seahawks beat the 49ers, I watched Ryan give Trista an unreasonably large diamond anniversary ring to celebrate ten years of marriage even though the traditional material for ten years is tin. He may have modified it to diamonds because tin is lame. And I’m sure ABC and Neil Lane had nothing to do with that decision. I digress.

To paint the full picture, I did spend four hours with friends watching the Broncos and the Patriots in the afternoon, though when I say “watching” I mean I was in the room while other people watched. I ate carrot cake and played Spot It and had conversations about church with friends who were also only mildly interested in football. But still. It was a football event at which I was present.

11028257084_b0451077de_oWhen we came home, we put the kids to bed and John headed out to spend time with a friend. So I had the house and the Oreos to myself and flipped around our seven channels and there they were: Trista and Ryan, the first couple to get married after meeting on The Bachelorette, celebrating ten years and two children and a life together.

For a few minutes I put aside all I know and assume about the whole Bachelor franchise and paused to appreciate the simple fact that marriage between two people was being celebrated on TV – not just the marriage they were promising to have on their wedding day, but the marriage they were already working hard at for the past ten years.

Sometimes I avoid talking about my marriage here because (surprise!) I am a private person when it comes to such things. I know, I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words about my own personal faith journey here on this blog and in three books, but when it comes to John, I don’t know. I have wanted to keep him to myself. That’s one reason why I didn’t use his name for so many years here on the blog. Well that and my irrational fear of killers (since everyone knows a killer can’t get to you unless they know your husband’s first name…?)

But ever since we realized John’s time in youth ministry was coming to an end last year, I knew I was going to have to write a bit more freely about our experience as a couple in order to be able to effectively process this major life transition. I would be unable to write here anymore if I continued to keep him to myself, and not just him but our experience of life together.

And so I introduced you to John, my favorite unfolding story (to borrow the phrase from Ann Patchett).

I shared with you why he was quitting his job.

I was honest about how mystery is becoming our home.

Today we are not close to a milestone anniversary, unless twelve years and seven months is a special milestone.

It isn’t technically.

But it is practically.

11996634945_3c40349219_oBecause the only way we can get to the fifteenth or the twentieth or the sixtieth anniversaries is if we learn how to live thankfully, humbly, and respectfully in the midst of the twelfth year and seventh month.

What I thought I knew for sure about marriage before I got married has changed over these few years I’m sure it will continue to change for the rest of our lives.

I’m learning how our union is a gift, not just to the two of us, not just to our children, but also to those we encounter on a daily basis.

I’m learning to respect my feminine voice the way John does, to agree that God created us in his image, male and female.

I’m learning what it means to discover more of Christ as he comes out of John’s unique personality and I’m learning to trust the movement of Christ within me.

I’ve decided to stop feeling guilty about stupid things.

Instead of being overly nostalgic about times past or impatient about what is to come, I’m beginning to settle in to the different seasons of our lives together and to focus on what is important about that – not necessarily the particular season but the fact that we are together in it.

Sometimes we walk into a cloud of misunderstanding and so desperately miscommunicate that it’s caused the room to spin. On any given day, one or both of us may be distracted, selfish, thoughtless, or defensive. There have been tears. And silent treatments. But we always come back to forgiveness. Eventually.

marriageWhen it comes to the daily rhythms of our life, to connecting with one another in meaningful ways, to forgiving when we have been hurt, and learning to relate with grace, we cling to John 15, knowing Christ is our home; we stand firm in Galatians 2:20, believing He lives within us; we hold fast to Colossians 1, accepting Jesus as the image of the invisible God, agreeing that He is the beginning who comes first and holds all things together.

Even us.

Especially us.

when the mystery becomes my home

“Expectations are our subtle attempts to control God and manipulate mystery.” Fil Anderson

I spent last weekend at The Cove in Asheville, serving the Renovaré community alongside Fil Anderson and Nathan Foster. I came away with a lot more than I offered, and these 11 words Fil said on our first night together have been rolling around in my mind ever since.
the Cove

Don’t ask me to interpret them for you because I can’t. Maybe that’s the point?

What I can do, though, is share a few loosely connected thoughts I’ve been having which, for a writer, can be both exhilarating and terrifying. Exhilarating because when thoughts connect, it means there is something worth exploring; terrifying because when those thoughts are only loosely connected, you know the exploring will take more work.

But blog posts aren’t necessarily for completed ideas, so I offer you my partial ones this morning.

I.

I’ve been reading in Matthew 11, not the lovely verses at the end we love so much – Come to me, all you who are weary. Rather I’ve been reading the beginning, the part where a jailed John the Baptist questions Jesus, sending a message through his disciples: Are you the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?

I tear up every time I read his question.

It doesn’t seem to me that John the Baptist is angry or suspicious here. As I read it, it just seems like he is feeling tired, lonely, and small.

How Jesus responds to John’s question feels important to me.

He doesn’t get angry or become defensive. He doesn’t reprimand him here for lack of faith. Instead, he simply tells the disciples to listen, look, and then tell John what they observe – blind people see, lame people walk, deaf people hear, sick people are made well. As John’s disciples walk away to report back, Jesus turns to the crowd and begins to talk about John.

Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist.

II.

Reading Jesus say that about his friend, John, makes me cry.

III.

At dinner last night, our youngest reads a riddle with the world journey in it. I ask him if he knows what it means and he says no.

His older sister speaks up, ready with a definition. “It means to go on a journey.”

I challenge her to define the word without actually using the word in the definition. She has a hard time coming up with a different answer.

Going to Jesus when you doubt Jesus seems kind of like using a word in its own definition. Why would you ask someone you doubt to confirm the thing you doubt? Shouldn’t you go to a different source?

Are you the Expected One or shall we look for someone else? If John didn’t think Jesus was the one they had been waiting for, it doesn’t seem to me he would go to Jesus to confirm it.

But he does.

IV.

This morning when I came downstairs, I walked through the living room where my John sat on his corner of the sofa, blanket on legs, bible on lap. It’s the same every morning.

I smiled at him on my way to the kitchen, came back to the living room and sat down next to him, only half awake.

“I have an image of where we are right now. Want to hear it?”

Of course I do.

He began to describe how he feels like we are looking over the shoulder of  a painter, watching him work. We know the artist has in mind a fuller picture, but all we see is a vague vision.

We see the canvas is a rectangle, we see the strokes are light, we see there are blues and greens rather than reds. But we see only in part.

Ever since John left his job, we have had a vague vision of what is to come. And when I say vague, I mean first-layer-of-paint-on-a-canvas vague. I mean puzzle-pieces-without-the-picture-on-the-box vague. I mean vague vague.

V.

As I make space to settle in to what is most true, as I reject all sense of urgency, as I remember who I am and who Christ is in me, vague is becoming okay with me. My own expectations of what I need to know in order to believe are changing. The vague vision is beginning to feel like home, not in a comfortable or predicatble way. Maybe not even in a familiar way. More in a where else would we go? kind of way.

I don’t know any other way to say it – I am more at peace with what I don’t know than I have ever been before.

I feel most fully myself when I walk together with John into the mystery, when I release my tight hold on the way I think things should be and instead embrace Christ as I know him to be in this moment.

What Now? (and why my husband is quitting his job)

The book return slot was out of order at the library so I had to walk in to return my books. Since I was already inside, I decided to browse around a little, just to see if anything caught my eye.

library books

I walked out with a stack of books I didn’t plan on, one of them by Ann Patchett called What now?

The small book is actually a commencement speech she gave at her alma mater, Sarah Lawrence College, and it seemed short enough to read in one sitting. (Two, as it turns out, but close enough).

The main reason why I ended up taking this book home was because of these words from the dust jacket:

“What now? is not just a panic-stricken question tossed out into a dark unknown. What now? can also be our joy. It is a declaration of possibility, of promise, of chance. It acknowledges that our future is open, that we may well do more than anyone expected of us, that at every point in our development we are still striving to grow.”

sky

John and I are living in a What Now? kind of moment, so this book seemed fitting.

If you go to our church or receive my letter every month, you already know this. But I thought it was time to go ahead and share the news here on the blog.

After 12 years as a youth pastor, my husband is quitting his job.

And after his last day at work on June 30th, we’re not sure what we’re going to do next.

There are so many angles I could share this news from – I could tell you of our finances, our hope for the future, our life stage, our thoughts about church and community.

My rational good girl side wants to over-explain myself and assure you that we are not stepping blindly or making any spontaneous decisions.

But for now I don’t want to talk about those parts of this transition. I just want to let you in on what is happening in my life. And here it is, in four words: We are dreaming together.

whenever

In the mornings, after we take our three kids to school, we talk about what it means to have the Spirit of Jesus Christ himself living within us. And if you don’t know him, I realize that sentence sounds insane. But if you do know him, maybe you’ll agree that Christ himself is the most spectacular gift.

As we talk, we consider our individual personalities and our mutual desire to contribute to the spiritual conversation in our local community.

We toss around ridiculous ideas about what we might like to do, what shape our vocational dreams might take, what context there might be for me, a woman who comes alive through writing and conversation about the deeper life and John, a man with the training and heart of a pastor.

We consider how we long to listen and be spiritual friends with others and what that even means.

For the first time in our marriage, we are cultivating a respectful curiosity for our mutual desire as a couple.

We laugh.

We roll our eyes at ourselves.

We take notes.

We make plans.

We pray.

Sometimes we worry.

Other times we tear up.

We tear up because we are beginning to catch the tiniest glimpse of a vision and what we see both delights and terrifies us, depending on the day.

We also embrace the distinct possibility that we might be a little bit crazy.

john and em

But here is what makes this crazy ride worth taking: I’m watching my husband come alive in ways I never thought were possible for him. And I feel courage growing inside me in the place where fear used to live.

I’m telling you this because in a way I’m sure you’re not aware, you are part of this transformation.

Writing at Chatting at the Sky for the past seven years has served to wake up part of my soul. I sincerely hope that makes sense and I apologize for my inability to explain it further than that right now. But perhaps you know what I mean?

I know we aren’t the only ones in the midst of transition. This time of year represents transition for a lot of you – graduations, weddings, the end of school, the beginning of something new. Maybe you’re grieving a loss, a move, a heartbreak. Maybe you’re asking what in the world is going on in your own life.

One way to ask that question is with a frantic soul, a furrowed brow and two tightly clenched fists, What now?!? Admittedly, that is always a temptation for me.

But there is another way to ask – same words, different posture. In the midst of the waiting, of the wondering, of the time of transition, we can rehearse the things we know for sure.

Our lives are hidden with Christ in God.

Nothing can separate us from his love.

We will never be alone.

And so we ask with hopeful expectation, with open hands and a willingness to sit with our questions as we whisper these words before God. What now?

For us? We don’t know. But we’ll be sure to keep you posted.

“Sometimes the circumstances at hand force us to be braver than we actually are, and so we knock on doors and ask for assistance. Sometimes not having any idea where we’re going works out better than we could possibly have imagined.”

-Ann Patchett, What now?

introducing you to my favorite unfolding story

When I first started this blog back in 2006 (what?! I know) I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to put on the world wide web. You know, because of all of the stalkers and danger and things of that nature.

john and me

I attended a few blogging conferences during those early years and privacy was a big topic. Everyone was concerned about how much was too much to share. We all have to decide what we’re comfortable with and at that time, I decided to use my name but not to use the names of those in my family. When I referred to my husband, I called him The Man because he is one and that just seemed to stick.

But now it’s 2013 and I have two books in bookstores all over the country and those books all have his name in them. And in my next book, The Man shows up even more often and I use his name because he’s a person and that’s what you do.

john

But here on the blog, I haven’t yet made that transition. I am doing that today because “The Man” doesn’t feel necessary any more and is actually starting to feel clunky.

Besides, if someone wants to kill us, they are probably going to do it even without knowing my husband’s name.

reading

His name is John.

He writes in journals and wakes up early and drives me nuts when he drinks the milk from his cereal bowl. He is slow to speak, quick to embrace, and strong in the midst of trouble.

He plays tennis and reads commentaries and believes in the goodness of God.

I’m watching as he learns to move into the chaos of life even when he’s afraid. His movement inspires courage in me.

He doesn’t just love me, he sees me. And when he looks at me, I see his delight.

Ann Patchett says we are, every one of us, someone’s favorite unfolding story. John is mine, and I just wanted you to know.

why I stopped feeling guilty about stupid things

There is a small tree growing between our neighbor’s side yard and ours. Every year around this time, that tree spits out tiny pink buds, whispering the promise of hopeful things to come. The buds are only pretty for a short time, and yesterday I realized I missed their prettiest days this year.

My first instinct was to feel guilty about that. Oh no! I’m missing my favorite small gifts! I’m not paying attention in life. But that’s simply not true. I am paying attention. I’m just not always able to pay attention to everything at the same time.

pink tree

Here’s the thing: I’m thankful for the small gifts of the every day, the tiny reminders that life is not all about me and my big self. But I can’t always roll around in them. I value the practice of celebrating small gifts – but that practice doesn’t look the same from day to day or season to season.

***

When our kids come home from school at 2:30, we jump in the deep end of homework and projects and juggling food on the stove. We eat together at the table, practice spelling after dinner, referee sibling fights and snuggle on the couch before bed.

During the hours they’re in school, I have a job to do. I am committed to finish this third book. So far in 2013, my writing efforts have been entirely focused on re-writing large portions of my manuscript (this is not ideal, by the way). Last Friday, I finally turned it in (for the second time). But that was only after 9 hour writing days, early morning wake up calls, lots of reading, thinking, praying, and waiting for the message to make sense.

I’m also committed to write blog posts, guests posts, and articles, to communicate with my editor and agent, to plan marketing and promotion, to do interviews and prepare talks for events. This is my job, one I love and sometimes want to hide from, but I’m always committed to doing it – not to mention all the other responsibilities of being a mom, a wife, and a dependable grown up.

bike

My husband wakes all of us up every morning. He makes breakfast and does the laundry (washes, folds, and puts it away, people. I will never leave him). Frankly, he does a lot of the household work I used to do – and he still has his own full time job.

I felt guilty about that for about 7 minutes once. And then I woke up and smelled the fresh laundry, realizing I can’t waste my time worrying about stereotypes and expected roles. This is our life together and we both make it work.

We are learning new rhythms, flexible schedules and shared responsibilities. We plan downtime and date nights and squabble about timing and dinner and who’s picking up the kids. Sometimes I get it all wrong, work too much, and have to reset things.

There are days when I still fight every moment with guilt over not going with them to the park or the movies, over feeling distracted even when I am with them. It’s important for me to enter into that fight, but it’s also important for me to recognize this is a unique season and it won’t always be this way.

It’s also my responsibility to make sure that’s true.

laptop

Here are some things that have helped me release the guilt over the past eight months as I’ve been working more than usual:

  • My husband and I have decided together this third book is part of my calling as a writer. We decided this was the time to write it and we both knew what that meant, from the proposal to the marketing and all the things that come in between. If you’re entering a season of focused work on a big project, it’s vital to have your family on your team.
  • Sometimes being fully present to my work and my family means I will miss the pink buds on the tree in my side yard. We choose what gets our attention. When it’s time for margin, enter in fully. When it’s time to work, do the same. Missing the small gifts sometimes means I’m simply caught up in a bigger picture.
  • Doing the risky work of hyper-focusing on a project now means my mind and heart will be free from the burden of having to figure out how to say it later.
  • The beautiful truth I’m thankful to know is this process brings its own small gifts. When I have something to say and I finally take the risk to say it, I become more fully myself with each word. That kind of courage is a gift all by itself.

***

I’m sharing this for a few reasons.

One, in the next few weeks I plan to tell you more about this book I’ve been working on. But before I did that I wanted to be honest with you about the process. I haven’t figured out “how to write a book” yet. But I’m at least learning to stop feeling guilty over the amount of focus it takes me to do it. I mainly have my husband to thank for that.

Second, I’m guessing most of you are in your own full seasons right now. And maybe you struggle with fear or guilt over not being able to embrace all the moments the way you either used to or want to.

Might I suggest that you take the day off from the guilt and see if it changes anything? You may realize the space all that guilt was taking up in your soul is now free to embrace more moments than you thought possible.

You’re juggling plenty of balls in the air. Don’t let shame be one of them.

Drop the guilty, wilty worry over missing out on the little things or not living up to made up expectations you have in your head. Be fully present where you are with what you have and trust that God is big enough to fill in the gaps.