I’ve spent the last two months immersed in a major life change—a move. My husband and I have moved to Hot Springs Village, Arkansas. I’ll share more about this later. As I finish unpacking the last box, I’m reminded of a piece I wrote almost exactly two years ago. In it I reflect on another major move—our return to the States after living almost ten years out of the country. For this month, I want to revisit that piece—for y’all and for myself.
TO BEGIN AGAIN…
“ALL LIFE IS IN THE HANDS OF GOD.” — The Rule of Benedict1
“Life is made up of a series of opportunities to begin again.” 1 I find hope, and a bit of excitement, in that thought. Looking back, I see that life has given me many opportunities to start anew. One of the most recent was leaving our ministry and life in the Dominican Republic and moving back to the United States. Our time abroad had been an all-out, all-in, out-of-the-box experience that lasted almost ten years. Returning is called reverse culture shock and that it was.
While there are no pat answers or specific steps one takes to begin again (and I so wish there were), I do see some life rhythms that have developed in those times of change and transition. They are not necessarily in this order, rather, they seem to be intermingled in my life pattern. Here are some stages I have passed through, not always gracefully, but always covered by God’s grace.
1. LETTING GO (People, Places, and Circumstances)
“It is hard to let go of the past, and yet, until we do, there is no hope whatsoever that we can ever gain from the future.” 1
It seems that all new beginnings bring with them an opportunity to let go (of someone or something) and to let God. The late poet Mary Oliver wrote: “This is a beautiful world so long as you don’t mind a little dying.” Life contains many deaths. As we recently walked through Holy Week and experienced the Easter Sunday resurrection, we saw that when one gives oneself to death/dying, beautiful things can come about.
I have been encouraged in this letting go process as I read…
“Everyone has to put down some part of their past sometime. Everyone makes a major life change at some time or other. Everyone has to be open to being formed again. The only thing that can possibly deter the new formation is if we ourselves refuse to let go of what was. If we cling to the past, the future is closed to us.” 1 These statements certainly give me reason to pause. I desire to see change in my life as a possibility of God creating something new.
2. WALKING WITH JESUS. PAYING ATTENTION. STAYING ALERT.
“I have a deep awareness of myself as a soul who is being led somewhere.” 2
I agree with this sentiment and am learning to trust that God is in control of my “what’s next?”. This stage involves paying attention to where God is and where He wants to take me. Listening to my spiritual longings, enjoying that which is God in the present moment, and attending to what God is opening up for me next. I can gently ask myself questions like, What animates me? and What do I want to devote myself to in this season of life?
“Do not ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive. Then go and do that, because the world needs people who have come alive.”– Howard Thurman
Questions that help me discern God’s leading are, “Is this person, this group, this place, calling out the best in me? Is this where I fit? Is this the place where I can most become what God created me to be? Is this the path on which I see the footsteps of God most clearly in front of me?” 1
All this takes some time and patience. I can look at what God says through nature. How does an apple ripen? It just sits in the sun. It gets ready to “bear fruit”. I like to think that I am always getting ready so God can move in my life. I want to be continually growing toward being deeply satisfied spiritually and bearing fruit that will last (John 15:16).
3. LIVING ON MISSION
“For this purpose, have I come.” — Jesus Christ
For what purpose have I come? What is my mission in life or, better said, what part of God’s mission am I to play now?
“To be fully active, fully awake, fully alive.” — Thomas Merton
This stage could also be described as “moving on with purpose.” My focus is to become the best version of myself3—to make moment by moment choices that lead me to celebrate and defend my best self. To do what I can, where I can, how I can, right now to make the world a better place. My greatest strength as a human being is my ability to make a difference in the lives of other people. To speak into the lives of others. Or as my spiritual director, Sr. Betty Jean, encourages me, “You be you, Cherry.”
“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” — St Catherine of Siena
My husband and I spent the first three months of 2019 visiting the Dominican Republic, an island bursting with God’s goodness—its awe-inspiring ocean, sandy beaches, majestic mountains, tropical flowers, and lush vegetation. Walking one day amidst all His glory, I felt God say to me, “Tend well what I have given you.” I love the words tend to and cultivate. Maybe it’s my farm background, but these words carry a lot of weight with me. They have value. Tending and cultivating that which God has gifted me includes caring for myself, my health-physical, emotional and spiritual– my marriage and family, and my unique gifts, such as writing, recovery, and bicultural living.
I believe that we do best when we know ourselves, our strengths, and our limits in the moment, and take good care of ourselves. When our lives are too full or we are living too fast–what my husband’s mentor calls “going over the speed limit in life” — we don’t take the time to reflect, ponder, or really put ourselves in another’s shoes. We can’t truly love well. And, “the role of committed Christians is always to grow richer themselves so that they can give richly to others.” 1
“My work is loving the world.” — Mary Oliver
As spring comes to visit us again and we see evidence of new beginnings all around us, may we drink it all in, open to the new in our own lives, and simply pray…
“God, grant that I may love you always; then, do with me as you will.”—Stations of the Cross prayer
1 THE RULE OF BENEDICT: A Spirituality for the 21st century by Joan Chittister, O.S.B.
2 GIFT OF THE RED BIRD by Paula D’Arcy
3 PERFECTLY YOURSELF by Matthew Kelly