I haven’t sat down to write like this in so long. With the publication and release of my book, life seemed to speed up to about a hundred miles per hour and those hours were incredibly emotional! If there is one thing writers need, it is time and mental space to, well, write. Every morning I sat down to journal the answer to the prompt: Where I am. Almost every day something came out in my writing that showed my need for quiet time and space.
So here I am. Pondering something I have been reading and living lately. I am reading, for the third or fourth time, the classic written by Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. He talks about the Quaker belief that when you are praying for and seeking guidance for your life, “way will open” in many ways and you will see the path appear ahead. But perhaps just as importantly, he refers to the other side of this proverbial coin: “way will close”. He shares that we can consider the way that closes behind us to also give us good information and leading as well. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I consider the trajectory of my own life, and more specifically, my calling and vocation.
As I shared in my book, I left a long held staff position as a worship pastor in 2009. This was deeply painful and disappointing to me and I have struggled with the circumstances surrounding this transition in my life and career over and over through the years since. Although I sensed God was leading into a new arena, I still felt so discarded and hurt. I spent several years following this involved in non-profit work, training indigenous church leaders in developing countries. And then my world imploded….
When Phil died I was not involved in ministry or even church in any shape, form or fashion. After his death, I prayed and prayed about what to do, where to go, what the direction was for my life. And I felt, for the longest time, absolutely nothing. No desires of my heart to try and interpret, no opportunities or invitations presented themselves to make a direction clear. In fact, when I thought of going back into a staff position in a local church, I felt what can only be described as a shut door in my heart. Like someone holding up a hand halting me from even considering that path. I did not know what this meant. Did it mean God was angry with me? Or done with me? I now know I was experiencing this Quaker idea of “the way closing” behind me. God - and LIFE - was leading me elsewhere.
In times of grief it can be hard to interpret feelings and to recognize our gut instincts. Grief just clouds everything, and made me question any feelings I had. I wanted to move, I wanted to stay, I wanted to run away. I felt, for perhaps the first time in my life, unable to trust my gut instincts because I constantly wondered if my feelings were valid or just grief talking. Additionally, as I have said before, a blank chalkboard might sound nice but it can be incredibly daunting and intimidating to start all over from scratch - a blank page is the hardest one to write on! So at first, it was difficult to see any “way will open” in my life.
In time, small things added up. I had a vision of a healing place for people post loss, a place for rest, respite, retreat. I decided to pursue my masters degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling while taking other training courses in order to pursue greater strengths and skills in working with those who are bereaved. I began working with online and local support groups for widows and made precious friends. And along the way, I wrote a book. With the release of Fighting Forward: A Widow’s Journey From Loss to Life, I began to gain an even clearer vision of the road ahead as the response to my story was positive and heartfelt. The “way will open” is now opening along pathways I never dreamed of or imagined. How strange life can be. And how true that our greatest pain can be the source of our deepest ministry and gifts to the world around us OR the source of our deepest bitterness. We get to choose.
I realized something else too. We can stare so intently at our past that we become completely blind to what is in front of us. For so long, my eyes were locked on the closed door of ministry and vocation as I had known it, as a staff pastor in a local church. I loved it so much. Additionally, I see now that I had a limited definition of ministry. I stared at what I knew. That is so much easier isn't it? We long for what we know.
While doing so I almost missed what was happening in front of me. This week I have reached a place of peace in the way closing behind me. I can almost see it as a picture in my head, a beautifully ornate door that is no longer mine to walk through. In front of me I see a wide open adventure, a spacious place to “minister”, to show love, to offer an encouraging hand to others. A place of ministry and work outside the walls of the church, with so many markers that this, is indeed, where I am to be planted and to work.
And I am thankful. Thankful that as my heart has taken this winding path through the hills and the valleys of pain and grief and loss, I have grown and been enlarged. I believe I am becoming my best and most authentic self. Thankful that I have met some precious friends along the way. Friends I didn't know I needed but who have enriched my life. Friends I might have never connected with in my old life and world.
I can honor my past without living there. I am thankful to simply begin again.
How have you seen the "way close" or the "way open" in your own life?
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