Transitions: A Personal Story

Transitions come in a variety of flavors - some gradual and pleasant, some predictable, others more like drop-kicks from the end-zones of life. I pulled the full trifecta this year. You’d only have to go back a couple of months to find me in a radically different space than the one I sit in today. My heart is still catching up with the rest of me, and my stomach churns sometimes with all the twists and turns. I’m actually pretty nervous about writing this while I’m still sorting things through. But several folks have asked for the inside scoop on my recent adventures, so…here I am.

A SNAPSHOT

Today, I sit in my new home office, a few boxes still to unpack, in a brand new bright teal office chair. It’s my my first week “on the job” as a full-time writer, speaker, and teacher. That’s right - no more regular job. I’m wrapping my brain around the reality that I’ve been laid off from the staff at my church, my spiritual home, the place I came to faith and my location of vocation for the last decade. Three weeks removed from the announcement and it’s still sinking in, a transition I didn’t see coming among all of the other transitions rocking my world.

Meanwhile, my husband took a new job, his transition coming only a month ago. He merged his woodworking business with a colleague, a move that gives the family financial stability and takes a huge amount of pressure off of him while he continues to do the work he loves. On the family front, hubby and I will be “empty nesters” in one short year, with our daughter out the door already and our son close behind.

We’re doing all of this from a new address after selling the home we lived in for sixteen years. The ongoing financial strain of my husband’s self-employment demanded that we restructure our expenses. Thankfully, the house sold for above asking price within 48-hours of listing, and off we go to set up a new home a few miles away, paying off debts and shrinking our expenses to a more manageable size.

New stage of life. New roles as parents. New jobs. New address. You could say I’ve just been born again into a new life.

It’s all good…and yet…

THE PANGS OF NEW BIRTH

Any woman who’s gone into labor remembers that special phase called “transition”. These are the most intense moments immediately before the baby emerges, when a woman has little to no control over her own body, the agonizing contractions come like waves, and there’s nothing to do but keep going until it’s finally over. There’s a whole lot of joy waiting on the other side, but a whole lot of pain in the meantime.

I can’t imagine the trauma that the baby feels, and perhaps it’s a mercy that we don’t recall our own births. The infant goes from a cozy, cushy, warm, and safe environment that suddenly starts to crimp and cramp and squeeze. Soon enough, the squeezing moves her into a space way too small to stay, a state of transition from the womb to the world. Each contraction must be annoying at best, painful at worst. Plus, there’s the whole breathing thing. Her lungs are in for a rude awakening with the first rush of cold air. Everything about her existence changes through this transition, moving from the safety and rest she’s always known into a bright and brutal world. No wonder she comes in kicking and screaming.

Transition. That’s where I’ve been living. Right in the middle of the Big Squeeze.

On the one hand, I’m incredibly excited to see what this new life has in store for me. Folks have long encouraged me to reach out to an audience wider than my own church with my written and spoken words. They tell me I’m good at it, even gifted. I certainly feel more joy and more alive when I share what God gives me than at any other time. So the idea that I get to do this ALL THE TIME for a while makes me a bit giddy.

It also terrifies me. Because I might fail. People may not want to hear what I have to say. And the safety net of a regularly paying job just got ripped out from underneath me. But I know that fear is a liar, and I’ve been stomping on the platform of “brave” for long enough to not back down. I’ll give it the best “go” I’ve got. The rest will be up to God.

On the other hand, the shock of leaving the church staff hasn’t worn off yet. I’m alarmed at how often I have to remind myself, how many times I jot down mental notes that I would normally present to the ministry teams, but then remember I’m not part of those teams anymore. I’m retraining my brain, which takes work and intention and time.

Then there’s my spiritual enemy right here whispering in my ear. He views transitions as great opportunities to sow seeds of doubt, perhaps abort the new life before it begins. I admit I’m feeling vulnerable, emotionally weak, and generally topsy-turvy. And so Satan mouths the same darn thing over and over with each reminder of how different my life is now, needling me at the bottom of a very old wound:

“They don’t need you,” he says. “They examined you and your work, all of your efforts, and decided that you’re unnecessary. And so they rejected you, turned you out, cut you loose. Even your kids are leaving you. They don’t need you either. You couldn’t keep it together to keep their childhood house for them so why would they stay? This new place? Not their home. You’re unnecessary…unloved…incapable…not enough.”

Ouch.

A LITTLE CLARITY

Can I be super clear here? I blame no one and harbor no anger or bitterness towards anyone who played any part in all of these transitions. No one has done anything wrong. My church needed to downsize the staff, so nine positions got cut, including mine. My pastors and leaders went way out of their way to assure me my work has been valuable, I’ve done nothing wrong, and they’re taking care of my family with a generous severance. As for the rest, well, the goal of parenting is to raise independent children. They’re supposed to grow up and leave; that transition, though bittersweet, means something has gone very right. And while I’m sad about changing houses, the only real bummer was that it happened a year earlier than we’d hoped. Downsizing was always in our playbook once my husband started his business. It’s the culmination of all of these transitions happening at once, and the church lay-off being so unexpected that throws me for a loop.

I’m not alone in this. Life throws loops and curly-cues at us all the time. Transitions come and go, or else new life can never be born. But that doesn’t mean they come without pain or grief, and you and I would do well to not bury or deny the agony of our own “labors”. No one looks at a woman giving birth and tells her to suck it up, stop her whining, and just get on with life. No, we put her in the hospital, wipe her sweating brow, help her however we can with whatever she needs. We can offer ourselves and each other the same grace, whatever transition we’re in.

So I’ve cried a lot. I’m grieving what used to be and the dreams I had for being an insider on what God is up to in my church. God’s been pruning and reshaping our local congregation, and I’m starting to see the fruit. I wanted to be a part of the harvest. But it turns out, that’s not for me. I count that as a huge loss, a kind of death, and I’m letting myself feel all five stages of grief as they come, sometimes in a single afternoon. I have moments where I pray my church thrives because the team is leaner and lighter. I also have moments where I (shamefully) hope they suffer a bit without me, and moments when I’m angry. I confess those to God as quickly as I can, praying they’ll fade in the light of new dreams as I learn to breathe in this new air.

My friends tell me all this is normal, that the grief, disappointment, and anger is part of being human, and I know they’re right. One dear friend rightfully pointed out that though I’ve had a growing desire to “go public” with my writing and speaking, and the constant affirmation of others to do so, she knows I would probably have never left my safe church position on my own. I like to think that if God had made it clear it was time to go, I would have obeyed. But then again, isn’t that what He just did? And in His grace, He didn’t make me wrestle with a choice between my dreams and my church family. He made the choice for me.

I’ve always asked Him to give me brick walls and neon signs, showing me which path to take. I’m stubborn and need the assurance of clear direction before I make major moves. And now that my nose is flattened against the mortar and the bright light flashes overhead, how can I deny that He answers my prayers?

But that doesn’t mean the devil’s evil little whispers don’t land.

THE REAL ISSUE

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the devil isn’t creative, but he is persistent. He doesn’t come up with ideas all on his own to throw at us. His lies only work because they’re twists of the truth, not because they’re so original or convincing. From the beginning in the Garden, Satan acknowledged what God said, but then nudged it off target, questioning God’s motives and creating doubt. Now, he uses that same tactic on me, twisting truth into a barbed wire and wrapping all the pointy bits around my broken-but-healing heart.

It’s absolutely true that I’m not necessary or essential to the success of my local church, my children’s ability to thrive, or to God’s ultimate cause. No one is. But that’s not a tragedy, a rejection, or evidence of short-comings. It’s actually very good news.

If my church’s ability to spread the gospel and God’s love in our community depended on me, then imagine the pressure I would feel to be perfect, to never make a mistake, to not risk failure EVER. Imagine the high cost of the inevitable misstep or poor judgment call. Who can live with that kind of weight on her shoulders? No one, save God alone. Same thing with the kids. I can’t take full responsibility for every outcome in their lives, though I definitely take my influence seriously. Only God can be with them full-time, shaping and guiding their decisions if they allow Him. And so what if I don’t live in the same house I used to? The Bible that I hold so dear tells me I’m not even in charge of that:

From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. (Acts 17:26)

I’ll admit, though, I’ve long desired people to see me as necessary and essential as a means of bolstering my security. If they need me, I reason, they can’t afford to reject or abandon me. I’ve been abandoned before (haven’t we all?) and who wants to go through that again? I can remember setting my sights on becoming invaluable at an internship while I was in college, and can still feel the emotional high I went on when one of the managers said those exact words to me. I’m realizing now that part of my desire for excellence has its roots in a desire to do everything so well that others can’t possibly imagine doing things without me. To make them need me.

I’ve been trying to be a god for others. And blessedly, I’ve failed.

Instead, I’m getting the first clear tastes of freedom from being needed that I can remember for a long time. My kids are old enough and independent enough to not need me. My husband certainly is self-sufficient. And now, I’ve been let go from my job, not because I messed up but because they had to trim back to only the essentials they can afford right now. No one needs me. I don’t have to be perfect, get it right, or call the correct shots. I’m free to either fly or fail, whatever comes.

My enemy is absolutely right. I am not necessary.

But the twist, the lie comes in the fallacy that I have to be needed to be loved or valued or accepted. I am very much loved by husband, my children, my friends, and my church family. They’ve told me repeatedly how much they value me and my gifts, the hard work and whole heart I’ve given over the years. They are not chronic liars, prone to spouting off feel-good quips when the occasion calls for it. So I believe them.

God doesn’t need me either, but He’s proved over and over again how much He loves and values me. Look no further than Jesus’ sacrifice. But if we must have more evidence, then how about the millions of smaller blessings He’s dumped on my head in the last several weeks: the perfect home office to work from, complete with French doors for privacy and focus; a vacation perfectly timed when I need to get away and play instead of wallowing in the grief; my husband’s salary coming in at precisely the amount we need to accommodate our downsized budget; and certainly not least, a brand new Chic-Fil-A opening within a mile of my new home.

So yeah, I’m not necessary. But you aren’t either. No matter how passionate or important our work seems, no matter who depends on us, God ultimately doesn’t need any of us to accomplish what He wants in the world and in the lives of the people around us. He’s perfectly capable all on His own, but because He loves us, He chooses to do things through us anyway. We’re not so essential to His plan that if we blow it big time, the whole shabang goes down with us. Nor does He need us to be perfect for His perfect plans to come about. He’s the only One who’s truly needed and necessary. The rest of us are just here because He loves, values, and accepts us as we are however we are.

Jesus makes a point of this in an encounter with one of his dearest friends, the busy-and-oh-so-very-important Martha. She’s frantic trying to get all of the “necessary” things done because Jesus came over with all of his friends while her sister Mary ignores these “essentials” to sit at her Savior’s feet. Frustrated, Martha blasts her sister for not helping, and Jesus responds gently,

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:41-42)

Only one thing is needed.

Jesus.

The rest of us are free to be who and what we are, knowing we’re loved and valuable to Him even if we’re not critical to the cause. Without us, the world still spins on its axis and continues it’s orbit around the sun. I’ve decided that I’m okay with not being needed, that I’d prefer to be loved and accepted with all my flaws and failures instead of trying to carry the weight of the world that belongs on God’s shoulders. That also helps me not put pressure on anyone else, to admit that the only Person I truly need is the only One who will never fail me. They can be them, I can be me, and we can all let God be God. It’s what He does best.

WHERE TO GO FROM HERE

So yeah, this transition hurts even as I see new life born in me and the terrain feels unfamiliar and intimidating. I’m dealing with it and actually excited to take my first steps forward. Heeding God’s call and obvious opportunity to throw myself into writing and speaking, I offer those gifts to whoever might benefit from them, and I’m curious to see what the Lord has for me on this road. And I’m feeling more free than I have in a long time, which is both wonderful and scary.

Where will all of this land? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, you can expect to see more writing from me on this blog, and I’ll be around on social media a lot more, too. The “More Than Mind-Full” Bible study is already out there and I’ve got plans for getting that word out in some broader circles. I have eight more Bible studies to update, edit, and publish as resources allow, and I have ideas rattling in my brain for a new study that I’ll write this fall. And if I get some speaking invitations, I’ll hit the road, meeting a whole bunch of folks and seeing how God takes the real truths He’s shown me and applies them to the real lives of so many others. I’m expecting quite an adventure, even if I can’t quite imagine what it will all look like just yet.

Thanks for your prayers and your encouragement. This transition would be so much harder without you.