Finding Our Sabbath

When we knew Lee was leaving the ministry “we will find a church!” was our battle cry.

We unloaded the U-Haul, with the help of three paid college guys, on a Saturday. We had all boxes properly dispersed between home and storage unit, beds were put together and dinner eaten. My parents looked shell shocked, my brother looked ecstatic, and the kids were just done. Right after we swallowed our ibuprofen Lee and I looked at one another and said in unison, “We will find a church!” and promptly passed out.

Bright and early the next morning we were at church.

It was the right one, I just knew it.

Until we knew it wasn’t.

The next one was the same.

There was more of the same for many months. We liked the preaching every where we went. We loved the people. But we found ourselves in our old pattern of doing and serving and going and dragging the kids along with us. The exact pattern that had been part of  the reason we felt a need to change things.

We had gotten stuck in the ‘have to’ and ‘should’ trap without even realizing it.

As soon as we walk in the door to any church we spot places we could serve, begin looking for places we might fit.

I realized too late that we have begun to see church as a machine, a man made apparatus into which you must fit and find your place. 

It’s not the church’s fault we feel this way. The people in the church aren’t necessarily the problem. Conversations with other families who have left ministry clue me in to the fact that this is not a Shepherd family phenomenon. This is what happens when you give too much of yourself without filling back up.

This is also what happens when the church is unable to help when you are empty.

I think that because our family always looked okay, as in, we were professional at looking okay, no one realized the depth of our suffering. When we finally asked for help it was too late. The relationship was too broken to go back to it.

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Honestly, I don’t even know what church is anymore. What is the function of the church? For us it became all about doing – there were a lot of shoulds and have-to’s attached to everything involving the church, and we were doing that to our kids. Those are things I’m avoiding in my life now. So we are re-learning church.

No more shoulds or have-to’s.

I think I was afraid of what would happen to our faith, to my faith, when my husband wasn’t a pastor anymore. So much of my theology was formed in church. I found a relationship with Jesus in church. I fell in love with hymns at church.

I worried about what exactly I would be leaving behind when we took a break from church.

The depth of my relief when we didn’t go to church that first Sunday shocked me.I wasn’t expecting to feel unburdened.  I was not surprised at how sad I was. It was like not going gave me permission to really feel how let down I felt, how overlooked and left behind we all felt. We were each able to share our feelings because we weren’t putting on a brave face anymore.

I took the kids and dogs on a long walk at a nearby park. I read aloud a psalm, we prayed, and I even went homeschool on them and made them sing a hymn with me. Lee was at work so that was weird, but otherwise it just felt good and right. I felt the weight of those shoulds and have-to’s rolling off of my shoulders. I felt delight in watching my kids play and laugh and thought, “This is what God feels when He watches us worship.” and then I thought, “THIS is worship.”

I did not expect to find our Sabbath when we took a break from church, but we did.

We’ve had house church with a couple of other families and that has been another step in our healing. It’s interesting learning to trust and navigate relationships without the have-to’s chasing us there.  We are still tentative about reaching out, still nervous about rejection, but we have hope, and that’s something I haven’t been able to say for a long time. 

I’m not saying we’ll not be returning to church.

But this time, instead of forcing it, we’ll wait until it’s not a have-to or should.


I have to say that writing this feels risky. I’m revealing a wound that has not been healed and that makes me and mine vulnerable. Then I remember that we’re all broken, no matter what it looks like from the outside. I’m just putting a name to some of my brokenness. I want to always remember that people are important, and not for volunteer opportunities and bake sales. I also want to remember  that people need people even if it doesn’t appear that way.

Relationship with each other is vital to relationship with Christ.

Even if it’s messy.

Invite each other into the untidiness of your life, brave misfits.

Don’t wait for the other to go first.

Be messy, be real, and Jesus is sure to do the rest. 

Wonderers

My kids have been making fun of me because every day I look up beyond the trees and exclaim, “Can you believe how beautiful the sky is?”

No matter what is going on in my life I am enchanted by the clouds, by the blue, by the infinity that waits beyond. I often find myself wondering, ‘If this world holds the kind of beauty that takes my breath away every day, what will the next one be like?’

I can’t help it. I’m a wonderer. 

My hope for my kids is that they never lose their sense of wonder, and if they do misplace it  I hope that they remember to look up to find it again.

Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.

                                  ~ E.B. White

It’s not like anyone every purposely loses their sense of wonder. Really, it’s not as though it CAN get lost. It just gets buried, I think, underneath too much stuff we think of as grown up, or real life.

We forget to watch a sunrise, or a sunset. We forget to marvel at the magnificence of the night sky, the moon and stars getting lost in city lights. Our to-do list replaces boredom. Every waking moment can be filled with podcasts, audio books, movies, music, sermons, or television.

Photo Credit: .: mike | MKvip Beauty :. via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: .: mike | MKvip Beauty :. via Compfight cc

We let busy-ness take over and accidentally surrender our God-given natural curiosity.

I think this is why I am so drawn to children. Even if I didn’t have my own (awesome) kids, I’d be spending my day hanging out with them. They are the best conversationalists, the best at comfortable silences, and the best wonderers. Kids don’t care what ‘science’ tells us – they’d rather figure it out on their own. Right or wrong doesn’t matter so much. The more fantastical the better.

Summer is the perfect time for wondering. The colors are just right, it’s hot enough that laying around doing nothing is acceptable, and there are bugs everywhere. I never realized how important it was to just sit around and think, watch, and wonder until I forced myself to do it regularly.

Wonder is the beginning of  wisdom. 

                                      ~ Socrates

For the last few weeks I’ve been allowing myself to lay in bed in the mornings, pondering the stuff of life. I’ve given myself permission to sit in a chair in the backyard dozing to the sounds around me. You can call it the practice of being present, focusing on the now, meditation, or what it is: wondering.

The stuff to get done can wait.

Giving myself the freedom to get lost in amazement for what is around me has loosened my tongue to talk to others about it, too. I find that I am surrounded by fellow wonderers, other brave misfits who are comfortable with unanswered questions. They’re also just as comfortable with my absolute belief in something that they may disagree with, and I am the same with them. We can sit back and smile and wonder at how we each came to our own conclusions, no anger, just amazement that we’re each so unique.

May you always have room for wonder in your heart, friend.

Garden!

We have a garden! My boy, Spencer, and I, we have a garden!

Spencer has been interested in living things for a lot of his 12 years and recently became interested in growing things. It started with Youtube videos of people eating hot peppers. So then he wanted to grow peppers. Even though he doesn’t really care for hot things too much. He and Laurel did some hot pepper challenge that caused both of them to vomit, which ended his career as a hot pepper taster.

I’m not kidding.

Anyway, my future naturalist and I discovered the book Grow Great Grub by Gayla Trail at the library, which led us to her  yougrowgirl.com website. Gayla’s approach to gardening is so far from perfectionistic that I fell in love immediately. Her ‘you can grow stuff anywhere’ attitude made me feel excited about gardening, not freaked out that I wouldn’t get it right.

So, off we went in search of containers and plants.

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Herbs galore, plus radishes and carrots.

The more we read the more we wanted to try growing.

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Beans, cucumbers, and why not strawberries?
Why, yes, potatoes CAN grow in trash cans.
Why, yes, potatoes CAN grow in trash cans.

 

It’s funny how when you let go of your fear of not doing something perfectly you’re free to just get on with doing something.

Every urban gardener needs a rain barrel.
Every urban gardener needs a rain barrel.

In fact, I daresay letting go of perfection allows you to have fun. Everything in our garden is an experiment. We’re journaling what we’re doing so that we know what works and what doesn’t work. We’ve got peanuts growing in an old tote, radishes and lettuce in an old baby pool, and hot peppers scattered around the yard. I love waking early every morning and surveying the work that is being done in our garden. I love that everyday there is a little change to be seen.

I am also enjoying the camaraderie to be shared with fellow gardeners. Trading tips and tricks makes me feel like I’m in the club. Spencer never ceases to impress people with his knowledge of growing all types of plants. I just stand back and watch as he explains how it is to people we meet at the plant stand.  We’ve learned that eggshells keep away slugs (although my friend Abigail really likes to handpick them, says she loves the slimy little buggers), and that earth worm castings DO make the soil nice and rich. 

I’ll keep you posted on how things grow around here. I cannot wait to not have to pay for tomatoes!

I’m curious if you enjoy growing things of your own. How does your garden grow?

The Parable of the Yard Sale

I woke up bright and early yesterday morning in anticipation of the annual neighborhood yard sale.  As a kid this was a day looked forward to second only to the last day of school. I would wake early and pedal around on my bike rummaging through glassware, lamps, and old toys. You know, all the good stuff.

I’ve groused on here about the scarcity of children in the neighborhood. As the kids and I wandered the streets, though, I wondered if was my dour mood that had made me feel that things had turned unfriendly.  Maybe I was just waiting for someone else to make the first move. We crossed the street and introduced ourselves to our newest neighbors and found our first treasures of the day.

A few blocks away we laughed with someone over the rain, rejoicing together that the sky had cleared so nicely. “It rained buckets!” I said to one lady, and she dumped water out of old phone she was gifting my son with in agreement. I ran into an old friend from the neighborhood. We met each others kids. When we parted ways I was flooded with memories of him from kindergarten – he was one of the funniest kids I knew.

We quietly pilfered through the unwanted items laid out on tables. Candles never burned, artwork no longer cherished, and mismatched china tell the stories of our pieced together lives. It doesn’t matter what life looks like from the outside, we all get bogged down in the same trappings that eventually we have no room for. 

 

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Kiley’s $5 find.
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My $3 deal. It reminds me of the beach.
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Liam’s $2 was well spent.
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Spencer got this for free. It’s a bobble head.
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This was a must because my Mamaw had a black Kit Cat clock.

Yard sales are cool because people put all their stuff, the stuff they can’t keep anymore, out for everyone to see.  You know that’s a theme in my life. I’m pretty sure it’s a parable.

I love that we left the house yesterday morning with no expectation other than adventure, and even if we had come home empty handed we each would look back on the day fondly. How could we not? We weathered a storm (okay, just a nice spring downpour) with our neighbors then got to smile in the sunshine with them, WHILE we bought their stuff. What’s better than that?

I swear it was one of the best days I’ve had in a really long time. I just loved the whole day. It didn’t bug me that at some point everyone got hot and sweaty, full of complaints. I just smiled and reminded them we wouldn’t die before we got home. I enjoyed the day more because I wasn’t forcing expectations on myself, or my neighbors, about who I should be and what I should be doing.

It felt so good to connect with people I share a zip code with that I feel encouraged to do it again soon. I’m not expecting anything from my  neighbors, though, because I get that their lives are just as complicated as mine. Maybe more so.

If life isn’t meeting your expectations, maybe it’s time to lower your expectations.  I’m not saying don’t expect the best, but maybe redefine what you think of as the best. Feel free to cry or be pissed off or whatever feeling is getting crammed down inside where there isn’t room and then remember that everyone has stuff they don’t want. Then LET IT GO. You don’t even have to lay it out on a table and sell it.

Take a walk in your neighborhood.  
Be the first to smile.
Look up at the sky and revel in how little we know about what lies beyond the big blue dome.

I know you’ll find what you wake up looking for.

 

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Liam’s photo bomb. All photos by Kiley Shepherd. 🙂

 

Be brave, misfits, and be hopeful of adventure.

Phase 4

I love watching kids at the playground. It’s a great picture of how the world could be. One kid may bounce around alone, talking to herself in her imaginary play.  Two or three may stay in a group not letting others in, while another group may start a game of tag inviting all to play. Children have no problem walking up to another child and saying, “Let’s play,” and they have no problem telling each other when they’re mad. There’s no hidden agenda or subtleties.

Oh, to be a kid again but know everything that I know now.

Photo Credit: Matt Observe Photography via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Matt Observe Photography via Compfight cc

 

Onto Phase 4 of  How to Find Friends…

I thought I’d always been good at the whole  ACCEPT WHO GOD PUTS IN YOUR LIFE AND LOVE THEM phase. Friends have always come easily to me and as a kid I would often take up with the difficult child in the room. I could spot the outsider in a heartbeat and draw them in. I had friends in all types of circles and have never believed in cliques.

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Somewhere along the way, probably in my twenties, I got uncomfortable with disagreeing. I began avoiding it like the plague. I would give my opinion but only if I was sure I wouldn’t have to debate. I loathe debating. It makes me feel stupid and uneducated and those are two feelings I do not want to associate with. So I dodged them by dodging people who didn’t think and act like me.

Even worse, I started to change my thinking and acting to be more like those around me.

Slight shifts along the way in my parenting and theology led to a monumental modification in how I thought about myself.

I tried to force myself and my family to fit into a box that was fabricated by the world and it wasn’t working. I was unhappy, my people were uncomfortable, but people thought we had it going on! Or at least that was my goal. I felt like I was hiding a big, dark secret: we weren’t perfect, we didn’t have it all figured out and there was no portal leading straight to Jesus in my closet.

What if people knew the truth?

There were a couple of things that forced me to be open with my struggles. We went through a very difficult job transition, my husband’s dad was killed in a car wreck, and my children weren’t reading as well as I knew they should be (have I talked to you about dyslexia yet?). Like a microwave I was being cooked from the inside out. I was exhausted from keeping it all together so I quit keeping it all together because keeping it together was slowly killing me. 

You know what happened? My friends didn’t run away. In fact, they came closer. They opened up about their struggles and that didn’t make me run for the hills. In fact it made me love them deeper. The miracle  that happens when people share stuff that’s been in the dark is that there’s more room for love. For real love.

I had somehow come to think that the more I knew Jesus the more exclusive I should become.

The more I read the bible, though, and the more I delved into who He actually is  the more I understood that Jesus is the king of accepting people and loving them where they’re at. Change is not required to get to know Jesus. He takes you right where you’re at because he’s cool like that. 

My closest friends and I do not agree on everything, and we don’t have to. We can discuss religion, women in church, predestination, race, creationism vs. Big Bang, life after death,  the refugee crisis, and/or the state of education in our country without agreeing, because we’re in Phase 4 and we ACCEPT WHO GOD PUTS IN OUR LIFE AND LOVE THEM.

This has carried over into my parenting and wifery, too. I accept who my kids and husband are as people and don’t worry (quite as much)  what others think. We are who we are.

I  do worry about how polarized our country is when I watch the news or read my Facebook feed. When I turn all that off, though, and start having real conversations with people it forces us to take at least one step toward each other. Talking may not change our position on how we think and feel but it does allow us to see the other persons vulnerability. We need to be able to sit down and have a cup of coffee with someone we don’t agree with and still feel love and compassion for them. There’s memes all over the place about that, which  means it’s science.

If you find yourself unable to talk about your personal thoughts or feelings with your friends you may need to take a look at your friends are. On the other side, if you find yourself bristling when people disagree with you that’s probably something you need to address, too. I’m not saying a heated debate isn’t a healthy thing. What I am saying  is this: don’t change who you are to please friends and don’t expect friends to change in order to please you. 

I’m learning that the brave thing to do in this world is to accept who God puts in your life and love them. It doesn’t always look like I think it should but I always like how it feels.

Photo Credit: icemanphotos via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: icemanphotos via Compfight cc

Here’s to embracing Phase 4, Brave Misfits!

How to Find Friends

So, I’ve shared that I’ve gone through lonely times. Sometimes I’m happy being in that place, but other times I need people. Everyone needs people.

Just how do you go about finding your people in the world?

Trial and error, man. Trial and error.IMG_2824

 

I look back on 2015 as our year of seclusion. We were adjusting to a lot of newness and I think we probably couldn’t handle a lot of outsiders. We did try, though.

The library is a great place to spot fellow homeschool people. You just go during regular school hours and look for the kids and parents. I’d go up and introduce myself, tell another mom who was equally loaded down with science or history books that we were new to the area. I don’t know what I was expecting but it wasn’t the vague engagement and mumbled welcomes before they returned to what they were doing before. When I’m approached by people who are new to the area I give them my phone number and try to hook them up with like minded people.

I don’t know if I was giving off a ‘I’m desperate and will never leave you alone’ vibe or what, but I was not making contact.

Some of it is that people are busy. They have their circle of friends. At my age I get that it’s hard to add more to your already heavy load.

It was hard not to feel brushed aside, though.

If APPROACHING PEOPLE WITH AN OPEN HEART was Phase 1 of finding friends, Phase 2 was DO NOT ACCEPT WHERE YOU’RE AT also known as BE MAD AT THE WORLD.

I was mad that I didn’t have people, mad that my kids didn’t have people, mad that we hadn’t found the perfect church, mad that things were not going according to plan.

I started glaring at people at the library for letting me down. I started writing mean letters to all the people who had let me down in the last 10-15 years (in my head).  I even began driving slightly more aggressively.  My anger colored the whole world different, made everyone else look angry, too.

Phase 2 wasn’t pleasant.

I moved on, not suddenly but gradually,  to Phase 3, which was ACCEPT WHERE YOU’RE AT.

As my anger began to unravel I was able to see the people I was with a little more clearly.

We started playing board games regularly, hanging out at the fire with each other, and reading books together. I spent a lot of time in my kids’ rooms, laying in their beds while we chatted or played video games. Sometimes I took naps in their beds. There is something really cool about being in your kids’ room and looking at their stuff from their bed. From their perspective things were good and safe and that helped change my perspective.

I have to say, my kids are pretty cool, and their beds are really comfortable.

My husband and I caught up on some movies that we wanted to watch, spent a lot of time talking, and a little time hashing stuff out. We wrote a million cover letters and only semi-considered sending in resumes as surgeons a couple of times. I talked to my parents a lot, and fell in love with their BBC shows on Netflix (hello, Midsomer Murders).

I also accepted that my people, for that time, were working at Kroger and Walgreens. Both stores are really  close to my house and since we didn’t have anything else to do (besides glare at other homeschoolers at the library) we frequented those stores daily, sometimes twice daily. It was so comforting to have people ask me how I was, how my kids were, and smile in recognition when they saw my face and I won’t take that for granted again.

I know it’s part of their job but they made me feel like part of something and that’s a big deal.

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Accepting where you’re at breeds contentment and that’s attractive, which makes people want to approach you. This leads to Phase 4, which is ACCEPT THE PEOPLE GOD PUTS IN YOUR LIFE AND LOVE THEM, which I’ll write about tomorrow.

Have you ever found yourself in one of these phases? What helps you move through?