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Jesus

This is the third post in a series on vocation, marriage, and work.

So much of this story is hard to tell because of the deep shame I experienced when I made these discoveries about myself. And the pain we experienced as we made these discoveries in our marriage.

This next part is especially hard to tell because my deepest shame is in how I applied biblical teaching and interpretations of that teaching to my relationship with Damien. And I am hesitant to talk about it because I don't want to misrepresent the Bible to non-believers. But it's not up to me to filter and spin how people interpret my experiences and my failures. I am choosing to live in the freedom that allows me to recognize I clearly don't have my act together. I'm broken. I'm loved anyway. This is the gospel.

I grew up in and have spent my adult life in branches of the Christian faith that advocate complementary roles in marriage for husbands and wives, not related to the specific work we do (who earns the income, who washes the dishes, for example), but how we lead and/or submit to each other.

A simplified view of the complementarian interpretation of scriptures is that the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the Church. And wives are to be subject to their husbands as the Church is subject to Christ. The relationship is to be mutually loving and submissive, with each spouse submitting to a different authority. Husbands loving their wives, as Christ loved the Church, even to death, and submitting to the headship of Christ. Wives are to submit to the headship of their husbands, and love their husbands as the Church loves Christ.

The complementarian viewpoint is based on several passages in scriptures, most notably Paul's letter to the Ephesians.

I have struggled here at this point in the narrative. I have researched and read different points of view, I have written many words and then deleted them as I've tried to figure out how to explain and justify this teaching.

I'm not up for that type of writing, it's not my gig. I cannot attempt to do justice to this teaching in this blog post, nor is that my intent. There are many books, bible commentaries and debate within the Christian community about this. Just as the Apostle Paul says in the passage I linked to above, "This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all."

I don't want to get into any debate about this, though I'm open to respectful discussion. My purpose in this post is to share my experience. And the last thing I want to do is misrepresent the Bible.

Because "belief" (trust, faith, convictions, positions) is difficult for Sixes to achieve, and because it is so important to their sense of stability, once they establish a trustworthy belief, they do not easily question it, nor do they want others to do so. The same is true for individuals in a Six's life: once Sixes feel they can trust someone, they go to great lengths to maintain connections with the person who acts as a sounding board, a mentor, or a regulator for the Six's emotional reactions and behavior. They therefore do everything in their power to keep their affiliation going. ("If I don't trust myself, then I have to find something in this world I can trust.")
~ Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson (emphasis mine)

I am a traditionalist, an authority-respecting person. My nature is to value hierarchy and loyalty. These are my inherent ways of looking at the world. Unfortunately, one of the false beliefs I am susceptible to, that can drive my decision making, is the belief that I'll be ok (ie: secure) if I cover all my bases and do what is expected of me.

Throughout adulthood and marriage, I've held to the complementarian view of marriage. I grew up with that teaching, and to this day it has been the perspective of the (mostly charismatic) evangelical churches I've attended. I have read very conservative teachings on the subject as well as the more liberal interpretations that many Christians align themselves with.

As I applied this in my own life, my motives for following this teaching over the years were not so much to unravel the mystery of Christ and the Church in a marriage relationship as much as they were to "do the right thing". Respecting roles and responsibilities, managing and adhering to those is the way I naturally do things as an ESTJ. (Of note: I also have a strong rebellious, authority-questioning streak in me, especially against leadership that appears unjust and power-hungry.)

But as I started to feel more insecure in my world, my motivations to adhere to this teaching started to subtly shift, not that I could have verbalized it at the time but looking back I can see the change.

Remember, one of the largely unconscious forces in my decision making is the belief that "I'll be ok if I cover all my bases and do what is expected of me". So in a place of insecurity, if a complementarian marriage is what is expected of me (by God, by people I admire and trust, by respected Church leaders) and will achieve the outcome I want: security and safety, then I'm in. And I will work my ass off to do it well. I will hustle for that security.

Average Sixes want to reinforce their support system, to strengthen their alliances and/or their position with authorities. To that end, they invest most of their time and energy in the commitments they have made, hoping that their sacrifices will pay off in the increased security and mutual support.
~ Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson

The complementarian view of marriage, and no doubt, the dirty lens through which I understood it, encouraged me to step behind my husband and follow when I felt insecure. I'm not saying that is what is "supposed to" happen. I don't know what is "supposed to" happen, it's still a mystery to me. But that's what I did. And my misplaced allegiance, which you could call idolatry, made me look to Damien to reassure me that everything was ok. I could step behind him, follow him, and it would be all right. He would lead and I would follow. This was biblical, everything would be ok.

I'm not blaming the complementarian viewpoint for my errors and faults but how I interpreted and misinterpreted this teaching contributed to a breaking in my confidence and self-assurance. The way I applied this teaching to my life in the context of my inherent personality traits and my natural bent to insecurity and anxiety; in the context of our life circumstances and decisions; and in the context of my already weakening confidence and increasing reliance on Damien led me to conclude that when things didn't feel ok for me it was because something was wrong with me.

And of course, a lot of things were "wrong" with me by this point, in my mental and emotional health. But the essence of my personhood was not wrong, and that is where I was feeling mis-aligned.

I had come to believe that if it was ok for Damien, leader and captain of the ship, then it should be ok for me. And if it wasn't ok for me then I was flawed, deeply flawed. Not just flawed the way we all are flawed and recognize our private sins and inconsistencies in belief and action, but flawed in the very traits that make me, me.

I was so confused and hurt at this point because I do believe I was knit together a certain way and yet I'm called to growth and transformation, and marriage is part of that. And I wasn't sure where the line was in that process. I didn't know anymore which of my preferences, desires, and needs were essentially me, and what were attitudes, beliefs, perspectives that could and should be changed.

I needed things Damien did not need. I saw the world differently than he did.

And from there I jumped to the conclusion, not supported by biblical texts or interpretations (or reality), that I was the wrong partner for Damien, and that I would lose him. And that was the lowest point for me, and the most difficult part of this journey.

The reason Sixes are so loyal to others is that they do not want to be abandoned and left without support - their Basic Fear. Thus, the central issue for Type Six is a failure of self-confidence.
~ Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson

I reached this point in the summer of 2014, on the Appalachian Trail. No wonder I was so depressed that summer.

In my desperate attempt to do it right, to find security, I f&*($ it up, big time. That's what I thought.

The following metaphor provides a good picture for what happened. I imagine our marriage and family life as a ship and Damien and I are standing at the prow. We're on a journey and there are calm seas and stormy ones. And over the last few years, during the storms, instead of standing beside Damien, I tucked in behind him, again and again. And I would ask "how're we doing?", and he'd reassure me, "we're doing fine". And even when it was calm, I'd ask "how's the view?" And he'd say, "it's great!" And he, as captain, felt confident that we had what we needed to meet the challenges.

Now, to step behind each other every once in a while to take a respite and reprieve from the prow, that's a good thing. For one of us to be standing perpetually behind the other, trusting the other's judgement, perspective, and view of the situation, that's no good. That was us. That was me.

I needed to increasingly rely on Damien's sense of situations being "ok" because I had lost my confidence and my inner guidance. Because so much was unfamiliar and outside my comfort zone, over and over again (sometimes we make those choices and sometimes life brings them) I wanted someone tell me it would be ok. And I looked to Damien to be that person.

Earlier I talked about how my tendency is to find security in doing what is expected of me. Damien did not expect me to step behind him. He knew I was, both by my actions and my communication. But I was not doing so to meet his expectations. I was working to achieve a standard, a measuring stick, that I set for myself, based on a certain view of marriage.

Those holding to the complementarian view of marriage might say: you read it wrong, you did it wrong, you were really messed up woman (no need to remind me), Damien did it wrong, something was wrong here. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Was it a failure of understanding, a failure of application, a failure of interpretation?

I don't have firm answers, but I'm ok with the questions. I'm ok with the mystery.

I don't know what I think anymore about complementary marriage, but I'm not seeking clarity in defining marital roles right now. And I'm not seeking my security in doing the right thing, or what is expected of me. I'm seeking Jesus.

I am unclear about some things, but here's what I know. I didn't marry an idea of marriage. I didn't even marry a biblical idea. I married a person, Damien. And I am to submit to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, with Jesus Christ as my example and my Lord. This is what I know and it's good enough for now.

Did we push ourselves too far outside my comfort zone? Probably. Did we bring this confusion on ourselves in some way? Maybe. Should I have listened more to the still small voice of the Spirit? Yes. But life, the choices we make and cards we're dealt, take us through circumstances that allow us to grow. And this path has allowed for much growth.

In the tradition of pilgrimage, those hardships are seen not as accidental but as integral to the journey itself. Treacherous terrain, bad weather, taking a fall, getting lost - challenges of that sort, largely beyond our control, can strip the ego of the illusion that it is in charge and make space for true self to emerge. If that happens, the pilgrim has a better chance to find the sacred center he or she seeks. Disabused of our illusions by much travel and travail, we awaken one day to find that the sacred center is here and now - in every moment of the journey, everywhere in the world around us, and deep within our own hearts.
~ Parker Palmer

A lot of my shame about what happened to us is around how I responded to Damien's awareness of the situation. Damien could see I was struggling, he's a loving husband. He could see that I was cowering, and he would ask me, is this what you want to do? Is this ok for you? Should we pull back, steer into calmer waters? But I was so blinded by my own sense of loyalty, to him, the idea of his leadership, and the course itself that I couldn't be honest with him or myself. I would say and write Yes but my actions and insecurities communicated No.

If we are unfaithful to true self, we will extract a price from others. We will make promises we cannot keep, build houses from flimsy stuff, conjure dreams that devolve into nightmares, and other people will suffer - if we are unfaithful to true self.
~ Parker Palmer

Remember that Who We Are list I mentioned in my previous post? It was the list I've been writing, post breakdown, which catalogues the core traits, needs, desires, etc. of Damien and myself. One of the few things we have in common on that list is our shared value of accuracy/truth/honesty. I was not honest with my husband, because I wasn't honest with myself, and this also is a point of deep shame for me.

It was the perfect storm of circumstance, choices we made, personality traits, deeply ingrained beliefs, and unconscious motivations. And as we found out, when I'm in an unhealthy place, once I've lost that sense of self and my confidence, I'm more inclined to go down with the ship than I am to change course.

We have named personality type Six the Loyalist because, of all the personality types, Sixes are the most loyal to their friends and to their beliefs. They will go down with the ship and hang on to relationships of all kinds far longer than most other types. Sixes are also loyal to ideas, systems, and beliefs... they will typically fight for their beliefs more fiercely than they will fight for themselves, and they will defend their community or family more tenaciously than they will defend themselves.
~ Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson (emphasis mine)

But with God's grace my husband had the courage to listen to his intuition (which he could no longer ignore anyway in the face of my anger, blame, ambivalence, and disillusionment) and I had the courage to admit I was wrong and bring all that shame into the open rather than keep crumbling.

We started to confess our faults and failures to each other, our immaturity, and the false idols that had crept in and damaged our relationship with God and each other. We choose to bear each other's pain in that awakening. And then we decided to change course, to learn from our mistakes and to choose self-awareness and individual well-being (spiritual, emotional, physical) as a key piece to a healthy "us".

I had rooted myself in my relationship with Damien, looking to him to be my "sure thing" in life, which included my income-earning work, instead of finding security in my identity in Jesus Christ, who dwells in me, and is the Essence of my life.

After The Breaking, as the light started to shine through the broken places, we decided to return to our original division of labor. I wasn't going to be working in the world until I knew what it was I was supposed to do, and until I had built up my self-confidence. It felt like going backwards, a regression in our story, but it also felt safe. It was known. I needed to heal and Damien, seeing how desperately insecure I had become, sacrificed some of his dreams and goals for me.

He put aside what he had been building, an income-earning dream he had invested huge amounts of time into, to return full-time to work that yielded a better immediate financial return so he could provide me with some measure of security.

This is one of the most loving things Damien has done for me, he sacrificed something of himself to care for me. Yes, we have our faults and we've failed each other, but we keep turning back to loving and serving each other, to knowing each other intimately and choosing to walk alongside each other, to be each other's number one fan and number one friend. Right now, this is how we keep our marriage growing, our relationship nurtured. Not by following a specific guideline of roles and responsibilities (though I tend to love those) but by choosing to love each other in the knowledge of self-awareness and the life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It's time for the story to return to my individual work, calling, and vocation, to come into the present. But first, I haven't yet defined these terms, which was an important goal for me in digging deep into this series. So the next post is a glossary of terms and why I define these terms the way I do.

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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