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My ideal day, every day

My first two children were twenty months apart, and although I know they can be a lot closer than that, they were much closer than Tim and I wanted them to be. It was a rough transition for us to go from a party of 2 to a party of 3 and then 4 in rapid succession. And after baby #2 arrived, I actually went to see a therapist. Tim was worried about me for some reason, ostensibly, because he would leave for work and I would still be in my pajamas and he would get home from work and I would still be in my pajamas and he would leave for work the next day and I would still be in those same pajamas. You get the picture. (I really wish yoga pants had existed back them. I could have totally fooled him!)

So one day I actually did get dressed and went to the therapist, and through laughter and tears, told her all about what was going in my life and how I was feeling and she said, “Aw honey, you aren’t depressed. You are having far too many emotions for that! You are just exhausted. I don’t think you have any idea how tired you are.” And she gave me permission, it was more like a prescription, to just rest. For a little while at least, to just give it all up! And that was the nicest advice, some of the best advice anyone had given me. Just let it be. Stop trying to do it all, and be it all, on time and looking good. But most importantly, she said to me, “You know, it’s okay to acknowledge the season of life you’re in.” Yes, I was young and healthy and just on the cusp of motherhood, but I was also in a winter season. Finn was born in late October and this probably took place in mid-December, so it was literally a winter season as well. The days were short and cold and so were my reserves of physical, mental and emotional strength.

There are seasons and then, there are seasons. There are seasons of the year, and seasons of our lives and within each season of our life, we will experience different seasons.

And as far as seasons go, I am a summer person. I love the light and the heat and the warm ocean water, and the long days. I am also by nature a sunny, happy person. My mind gravitates towards a sense of wonder and possibility in almost every situation. I don’t like to focus on the dark stuff. So when I had my first two kids so close together, what the therapist helped me see was that I was a summer person, in the spring of my life, experiencing a winter season. No wonder I was confused.

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All the seasons, all the time

In Southern California, we use the word “seasons” loosely. Growing up here on the beaches, cold meant 60 degrees and the only days you couldn’t wear flip flops were the rainy ones, but even then you could probably get away with it, if you timed it right. I was operating on a completely different system. Winter was for occasional skiing and snowboarding. It was a recreational activity, not a way of life. And so, the weather of my daily life totally fed my optimistic, fun-seeking personality. Rain was supposed to go away in a day. Clouds only lasted until 10 am when the sun would burn them away. Actual natural hardship, or limitation was temporary, evaporating almost immediately.

So when I became a new mom, and entered this long stretch where my sunny self disappeared, it scared me and Tim as well. I didn’t know what to do with the darkness and sadness I felt inside; I didn’t know if the sun would ever come back, and I hated that thought. I had been through some difficult things before, but those seasons had passed when I was a child. Now, I was ‘adulting.’

adultingI was the “adult” in charge of a marriage and the emotional, psychological and physical well-being of two little babies. And I was searching for a way out of this darkness I was in. I was looking for the light and I wanted it fast, because that’s how I thought it worked. I wanted to be where I thought I should be already – in the glory days of summer, but it wasn’t to be. Let me give you just one story from the winter that blanketed the Kirkpatrick family for about two years in the late 90s.

Even the worst winter storms bring on snow days, where everyone drops their cares and worries and has a good time. There were moments of real joy and laughter, but Keara was a handful as a toddler – strong willed, and mommy-centric. Her naps and our tempers were equally short, but Tim often came home from work early to help me. One afternoon, I was sitting on the couch, nursing Finn and reading stories to Keara. I saw Tim pull up in front of the house, but he thought it would be funny to ring the doorbell and I thought it would be funny to let Keara get the door. It wasn’t. She opened it, saw Tim and yelled, “No daddy home!” and slammed the door in his face. That kind of puts a chill on a relationship. It might have happened between the two of them, but it is a perfect example of the frost that covered our home. I may have been the one in the winter season, but everyone was feeling it. We were trying, and often failing, to connect with each other. Too often, like our two-year-old, we were more concerned with protecting our own turf.

We have warmed up from that winter and been through all the other seasons: the spring when Molly was born, the glorious summer when all our kids were out of diapers and none of them were yet teens and another winter when the Great Recession hit and we struggled to keep our business alive.

At this point in my life, at 44, in another fall, I am far more comfortable with the language of seasons (though I would still never choose to live in any place that actually had them), because I have been through them over and over again. I know the truth they represent and the wisdom I can learn from them.

In one of my darker winter days, I asked my spiritual director, a wise woman in her sixties, “Where is God in this darkness?” and she said to me, “If you want to know what God is like, look out your window. Look at life; look at the seasons of the year; watch the pattern of your days. God is not other than what is created. God is found in the pattern of creation itself.”

And really what she was saying is: Life is change and transformation, death and rebirth, light and darkness. Nothing good lasts forever.

I know that now.

I know that no season can last forever, no matter how good it is, or how badly I want it to.

I know that no season will last forever, no matter how dark or difficult it is, even if it lasts longer than I think I can stand it.

I know that wanting what was, or clinging to what is, or anxiously waiting for what will be is the surest way to miss the beauty of the season I’m in, or to learn any of the lessons it has to teach me.

And when I understood that, I could stop clinging to a vision of life where only eternal summer – light and goodness – could make me happy. My efforts to always keep it light are wasted energy, energy that could be better spent getting comfortable with darker days, digging in the soil, and nurturing whatever new thing is trying to come to the surface. What is born in the spring is what the world needs, not what fades away when its natural time comes.

Rob Bell likes to say that things come into our lives for a season and for a reason and if we stay, or cling to them for too long, what was once joyful, becomes bitter. We have to let them go. The Book of Ecclesiastes reminded the ancient Hebrews that for everything there is a season and a time for everything under heaven.

ecclesiastes-3-1A time to give birth and a time to die;

A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.

A time to tear down and a time to build up.

A time to weep and a time to laugh;

A time to mourn and a time to dance.

I always heard that passage, or the song by the Byrds and thought it applied to farmers and hippies, not 20th century beach girls like me.

But now, whenever I sense a waning of the light, I can hear my spiritual director saying, “Look out your window. What do you see? What do you know is true?”

Reverend Nadia Bolz-Weber, pastor of The House for All Sinners and Saints, is one of my heroes. Someone asked her once in an interview why she keeps talking about the Resurrection, the fact that Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning, because she talks about that story all the time, not just in the springtime when it’s topical for most of us, and she said simply, “Because it’s the truest story I know.”

And what she was getting at was not just the fact that Jesus died and was raised up again on the third day, although that is of ultimate importance to her as a Christian and a pastor, but also that it is the truest story she has experienced in her own life. Over and over again, her plans for herself, her life, and her church have failed, or been disrupted and when it happens, she is desperately sad, or wildly angry, or probably both, because she has a temper, but over and over again, they come back to life. They are resurrected. Sometimes they push back to the surface, just slightly changed, but sometimes they are unrecognizable, a lot like Jesus after the Resurrection. No one, not even his closest friends – not Mary Magdalene, not Peter, not his apostles on the road to Emmaus – recognized him, because he was a brand new creation.

Pastrix-coverAlways, without fail, Nadia says, the things that arise from the death of her dreams are better; they are more life-giving for everyone. Even more importantly, she says, is the fact that every time she dies to herself and her own ego, her need to control and perfect, SHE rises again with more potential to Love the world – and everyone in it, from herself, to her family, to her community, to the stranger on the street and for her this is a big one, even a Wall Street trader. She says in her first book, Pastrix, “Every single time I fight it (the death, the loss, the disruption). And every single time, I discover more life and more freedom than if I had gotten what I wanted.”

I love Nadia and her insistence on the resurrection, because it is one of the truest things I have come to know as well, but I didn’t always. Even though I have always considered myself a Christian, or perhaps because of it, I thought Resurrection was a miracle that happened once, long ago to God’s son. I still do believe that, but I also believe that God appears to be resurrecting everything all the time and everywhere, as Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr says. 

Death is inevitable, but so too is resurrection as long as we have a deep commitment to Love and Faith and Life. Only in that soil is there an invitation and a space for the Divine to work in us. Life and Love will win out if we want them to and if we release our preconceived notions of what that life looks like!

Life is a constant repeat of loving something, and then having to let it go, not necessarily tragically, sometimes just naturally, because life is change. What we can trust, if we have a deep familiarity with the story of Jesus, or with the seasons of life itself, is that new life will come from what we have lost. If we don’t short-circuit the process through clinging, or denial, or impatience, a new season will flourish and bring new life. It won’t be the same as what we lost, but it can be even better. If we allow it, the soil of our lives can be enriched by the death of our fantasies about what we, or our lives, or our families should look like. And in that soil, we can plant deeper roots, and we can weather more storms and we can enjoy the autumns and survive the winters, because we KNOW that spring is coming and that summer isn’t the only season worth living for.

I’ve just finished reading Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and a Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran pastor and general bad-ass. This isn’t meant to be  a book review. I liked the book – okay, I loved it – but that doesn’t mean you will. She’s a recovering alcoholic and swears like a sailor. In fact, she reminds me a little bit of Anne Lamott (if St. Anne had gone to seminary and taken up Cross-Fit). The only thing more fascinating than Nadia’s 6 foot-tall, tattooed body is her beautiful and gritty theology.

Pastrix3Nadia, like me, like all of us if we admit it, are slow-learners. We might have gotten straight As in school, have college degrees, be able to complete the New York Times crossword puzzle (at least the first half of the week), but when it comes to the really important stuff, like life and death, change, anger, love and just general human challenges, we generally don’t rise to the occasion. Most of us (all of us really, but if you want to keep pretending this doesn’t include you, that’s okay) just keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again – whether its going out with the wrong guy, losing our temper, saying ‘yes’ to too many things to make ourselves feel better, or having “just one more drink” when we should have stopped two drinks ago.

Chances are that at one point in our lives, we learned our lesson well; we made the mistake, faced the consequences in an emotionally, physically, or fiscally painful manner, and thought, “I am never going to do that again.”

And we don’t.

For a while.

And then we do.

We let our guards down; we think we’re different people, or that the experience changed us on some cellular level. Sometimes it does, but often as not, when the pain fades away, the old scripts and habits resurface and we are back to where we started – dating the jerk, yelling at our kids, drinking the vodka, or handing over the credit card.

There have been seasons in my life when I have beat myself up over my apparent need to have certain “Life Lessons” repeated ad nauseam. They almost always have to do with how to love someone better (usually my husband, my kids or myself), or how to forgive more quickly and completely (usually my husband, my kids or myself). I seem to be continually enrolled in Love and Forgiveness 101.

Nadia’s book helped me understand that there is no shame in this repetition; it’s part of the human condition, but it’s not completely unavoidable either. We usually have a choice. We can race through life, insisting on learning our lessons the hard way, crashing and burning, leaving us, our loved ones, and even society scarred in the process, or we can watch for the warning signs and make adjustments. (Congress, take note. We’re in a downward spiral here.)

Now Nadia is not one of those crazy, “God directs everything I do” kind of people and neither am I. I do plenty of things that God isn’t directing and in fact, probably isn’t crazy about, but when I remember that I am still a student – that I haven’t, in fact, graduated to perfection just because I’m a grown up – I can be attuned to the lessons I still need to (re)learn. Throughout her memoir, Nadia describes the experience like this:

“God comes and gets us, taps us on the shoulder and says, ‘Pay attention, this is for you.’ Dumb as we are, smart as we are, just as we are.”

Unfortunately, it’s too easy to ignore the tap and miss the lesson. The universe is full of opportunities to learn, but we have to be open to the interruption. Every day, we hear and see things that could remind us who and how we want to be in this world. We encounter stories and people and problems, songs and articles and traffic jams and most of the time, we don’t pay attention to what they might have to teach us. We simply take them at face value, as entertainment, or annoyance. They go in one ear and out the other. They fly across our screens with a flick, or a click of a finger and they are gone, hardly registering. The moment is lost.

I hate that.

I hate that most of the time I’m too preoccupied to pay attention when God says, “This is for you.” Someone in my home loves to sing in the shower and I could share the joy, but instead I think about how much water is wasted.  Listening to Kiko play the ukelele could relax my heart and soul, but instead I fret about the homework that still needs to be done. When Tim stops me for a hug after work, it could remind me that I am loved, but it could also annoy me if I’m in the midst of something else. I wish I weren’t too busy, too anxious, too wrapped up in my own little world to see the very things that could get me to slow me down, so I don’t crash and burn.

But I’m trying. Nadia’s stories have inspired me to stay in the classroom a little longer each day. Whether I’m in Love and Forgiveness 101, Silence and Stillness for Beginners, or Holding Your Tongue for Dummies, I’m trying to take more notes and listen when the teacher say, “Pay attention, this is for you.”