Dinner is ready - pork tenderloin and sweet potatoes are in the slow cooker; cranberry-mandarin sauce is in the fridge. I should be changing loft bed sheets (my most dreaded monthly task), but I'm going to let my husband help me with that, so that while the kids have their screen time, I can have mine (not that I haven't already been online throughout the day). Yesterday I dumped 9 pages of rambling into my journal (the one pictured above). I felt like there were so many ways and angles to approach expressing the epiphany that came to me, but I had to just pick one, and in so doing, I didn't expand upon its every facet of meaning. To do that would have resulted in not just a very lengthy blog post, but an entire series. And frankly, just the thought of that overwhelms me. Rather than polishing my scrawlings into eloquently articulated prose, I merely transcribed them (okay, I ended up totally reworking it), and hopefully you'll find a diamond in the rough, or at least an intact shell amongst the fragments of my mind.
Sometimes just thinking deep thoughts makes me tired, let alone trying to craft them into something worth sharing with the world. And that brings me to my epiphany...(forgive the inconsistent tenses, as this is both past, present and future, but all at the same time)
For a while now, I have been questioning my calling as a writer, wondering if that's really how God gifted me, and if he did, if it was just for a season. About a decade ago, a major shift occurred both in the world and in my life, and it has intensified with each passing year. Some of you know it as Web 2.0, which interestingly coincides with my own metamorphosis. As the internet entered its next incarnation, now known as social media, I became a wife, mother, and homeschooler. I went from being a person who spent a lot of time alone and a writer whose online interactions were limited to a static website and occasional chatroom to being surrounded by people nearly 24/7 and part of a virtual world where I communicated with multitudes in real time. While I was making the transition in my identity, the thing which had previously defined me the most was being redefined by a new media world without clear distinctions between writing and written communication. I haven't the time or energy to do what I once lived to do (while pining for the life I have now), but my talents (if I have them) are certainly not missed in a world where everyone with a computer (which is everyone) is a writer. So I'm losing [a part of] myself and left wondering if that's who I really am anyway. Okay, I'm being a little dramatic.
There were some other changes too. I used to be something of a crusader, though my voice wasn't as pious as some. I liked to write about controversial ethical issues. My writing was fueled by standing up for what was right, for going against the flow - you know, all the usual cliches of a Christian girl growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area and immersing herself in liberal institutions of education and journalism. Some of my identity was in the facing the challenge of being the odd woman out. I'm still passionate about injustice, but I'm not as black and white or as judgmental (it's the old adage - the more you know, the less you know). So some of that fire that fueled my writing isn't there anymore - I've mellowed as I've been humbled. And I'm also not out there "fighting" because I spend most of my time at home - I'm the keeper and educator of my children now, not the literary Joan of Arc I sort of resembled before.
With this shift in my thinking, so little time to spare for writing and so many words inundating us, I feel even more pressure to say only what is worth saying, that others aren't already saying...and so I have been wondering if I really have a unique voice and meaningful messages that can help others. And if I do, is it even needed? The last thing I want to be is another onscreen distraction from people (including me) living life to the fullest.
It has been humbling to have these thoughts, but it has also brought on an identity crisis of sorts. Suddenly I faced the possibility of not being who I thought I was. And if I wasn't that person, then why did I still have the desire to be her? The compulsion to write wasn't gone - far from it - I'm on the catch and release program with ideas and insights, except that I'm not usually intentionally fishing for them. They come and I let them go. Always with a twinge of guilt. Though I remain convinced that the good ones - if there are any - will return at a time when I can fully grapple with them. So my passion to write has been stifled...or is it just being tempered? My mom (aka my muse) said something today about how when we're held back, God uses that to make it even better when it's fulfilled. But it's natural to also question the whole thing. Which is what I've been doing until now (yes, the epiphany is still coming - you didn't miss it).
On Thursday, I was washing dishes when it dawned on me (and no, I wasn't using that brand of dish soap) that my "identity crisis" was very similar to the crisis of faith I experienced in college. Having grown up in the church for the latter half of my childhood, I began grappling with philosophical questions now that I was out on my own: Was God who I believe he was? Was the Bible really true? There were so many belief systems that seemed to be saying so many of the same things. How was I to know that the religion I had been raised with was the right one? Maybe they were all (or none) valid.
C.S. Lewis to the rescue...I didn't even have to finish reading Mere Christianity before my doubts were assuaged. I continued to read apologetics and other books written by "thinking Christians." Underlying my intellectual struggles with my faith, though, something stronger was there all along. Actually someone. His name is Jesus. He had been with me through a tumultuous childhood (not the churchy one you might have been assuming) and brought me into a flourishing adulthood that would not have been the natural outcome of my upbringing. Prayers answered, provision supplied, path directed, comfort rendered, insights revealed - my life was a series of epiphanies, or theophanies, if you will, of my Creator and Savior walking with me, and carrying me when I most needed him.
That paragraph read like a Christian cliche - from C.S. Lewis to the famous Footprints poem. But there's a reason for cliches. They express universal truths. You can fault them just for being overused.
Jesus in my life and Jesus in the Bible might not always feel real, but he was true. Truer than me to myself or to Him. The thought of living without him was more than I could bear. Why would I feel that way if he were just a figment of my imagination? Losing my religion would mean gaining acceptance in the world in the prime of my life - recognition, praise, admiration and reward for my abilities and appearance. The temptation to turn away was strong, but the knowledge of whom I would be turning my back on was stronger. I could not simply forget what God had done for me, nor could I risk losing the fulfillment I had from following him, even if at times, the way was not clear and the guide was silent. He had proven himself over and over, though not in the scientifically observable ways tangible objects can be tested, so to decide it had all been a delusion would be to deny my identity in Christ...and who would I be without that? Without him?
Therein lies the parallel between my crisis of faith and my crisis of calling. I had been questioning my identity in much the same way I had questioned God's, though on a less fundamental level, but still involving both of us, because who God is, who I am, and what I am called to are inextricably linked. This time around, 20 years later, I am, predictably, much clearer about the fundamentals - I know I am a child of God (not that I don't still go through bouts of doubt), a woman (no doubt about that one!), a wife, and a mother. All of that is more than enough. In fact, the first is sufficient. And yet, there is one more defining part of me - my calling to write. God being Creator is enough, but he is also Savior and Lord, and because he made humans in his image, we, too, need to realize the full expression of him in our lives, so that we can use our passion and dreams to carry out his purposes. We are each an epiphany, a manifestation of his love, grace, and truth to the world. If we can do something, we should do it for his glory, even if we cannot do it as much or in the exact way we think we should.
What I realized about believing in my calling is not that I'll never doubt it again - just as I still have times of questioning who God is - but that I can't measure its validity by the state of the world or even my own life. While who I am is tied to what I do, it is not defined by it. Just as God is not defined by my spiritual experience of him. I am in a season of life where I cannot devote myself to writing or theology or contemplative endeavors. Yet those longings in me don't wither just because I can't fully pursue them. Knowing who I am and who God made me, I can trust that what I am doing now - raising and educating my children - will make me a better writer and help me to know God more, so that when this season shifts to a new one, I can bring my experiences, and my more mature self into the next season when, Lord willing, I can use the other parts of me that have been developing through mere living. That may look nothing like what I imagine now, but that reminds me of how it is with our deeper longings, which cannot be satisfied in this life. We envision their fulfillment in heaven but we do that with our earthly imaginations. There is so much we sense yet cannot grasp, so we must hold tightly to what has been revealed to us - who God is, his great love for us, who we are in Christ, and what he has called us to.
"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." ~James 1:17
"For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people." ~Philippians 2:13-15
"But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith." ~Philippians 1:22-25