Lent

If you have been around here long enough you know that Mardi Gras is my favorite holiday, and Lent is my favorite time of year. It’s about a week away and I have been thinking a lot about what I’m giving up this year. I definitely settled on something, based on experiences the last two weeks. And I’m hopeful this will be the last blog post specifically on this topic.

Purposefully blurred for effect. “…does not make you ‘too much…’ ” being the clearest part.

An Open Letter

This is a letter I could never send. You’d see it as petty, and dramatic, and you wouldn’t take it seriously. But writing it is still cathartic to me. And so, here we are. I need you to know that I’ve woken up, I’ve seen through a lot of what happened, and I am choosing me. At the end of the day, the gaslighting, which I don’t use lightly, was not okay. And it wasn’t in just one area. Trying to convince me that I am fundamentally not who I am was not okay. Trying to convince me that interactions were precipitated in ways that were so different than the truth was not okay. I realize we are allowed to have our own perspectives on a situation. But you aren’t allowed to tell me my reality didn’t happen (because, honey dee, it did). So here is what I’ve decided, for me:

I’m giving you up for Lent. Do I realize how silly that sounds? Yes. Is it important to this time and place and does it hold deep meaning? Also yes. It’s proof to myself that there is no turning back. It’s proof to myself that even though Lent starts on your birthday, there is no need to reach out. It’s proof to myself that I can disappear for 40+ days (and never return). It’s a very real metaphor for me: walking in the desert with my own temptations. Part of me wants to “stick it to the man” but none of this is actually about you. It’s about me, and my growth, and standing up for myself. And you aren’t worth it.

You’re savvy. You’re sneaky. You don’t like to be called out. You don’t actually want accountability. Your emotional capacity is nonexistent. You manipulate. So I’m also giving up: trying to crack your code, trying to understand the secrecy, the backlash from calling you on your shit, battling the gaslighting, giving and not receiving, being taken advantage of for crumbs. I recently said to someone “know better, do better”. And that is my new trajectory I am claiming. I see more. I learn more. And then I adjust and act accordingly. I do more. Giving space for others is important. Forgiving is important. But you can do that without keeping someone in your life. Not my typical MO, and obviously not something that is easy for me. But it starts now, today, in actuality and perpetuity. No turning back, no turning back.

Shook

I’ve never had to question how my faith and belief comes off to others. I feel comfortable in what I believe and how I live my life accordingly. I don’t spend much time worrying about whether others have an opinion on how/where I commune with G-d, how I pray, the ways in which my intuition and spirituality are sprinkled in. It’s all mine, and defined by my being, and I think radiates from my core. I don’t hide it.

But today I had an interaction that shook me to my core. Literally dumbfounded me in a way that hasn’t happened since I met our cousin Luann for the first time. A friend was sharing with me that their father is having open heart surgery on Monday. Me being me, I asked what time. “I don’t know,” they said “Monday morning?” And I asked that if they find out the specific time for them to let me know so I could be in intentional prayer for their father—something I try and do in cases like these for my nearest and dearest. And their response floored me. “Ha! But why? You don’t believe in God!” My jaw dropped. “Excuse me; what? Come again?” “Shannon…” “um, I don’t believe in God? WHAT would have ever given you that impression?” “Because you don’t. You don’t believe in God”. And that’s where it was left. Because they hoped off the phone for another call and I was left in the wake of someone who, for whatever reason, felt they knew something about my being that is utterly not true.

From a stranger on the street, perhaps that response would have felt justified. From someone who knows me at all it seemed like they’d just ignored who I am. I’ve had faith conversations with this person. I’ve told them I’m praying for them. I’ve shared a book of blessings with them for their grief (written by on of my favorite Methodist minister poets). I’ve talked to them about my former position as a youth minister. I’ve shared about getting back into the habit of attending church. I’ve shared intimate details about my struggles with organized religion and various calls God has had in my life.

Where then did I give the indication I didn’t believe in God? I’m sorry, but who exactly do you think I am?

Trying not to take it to heart. Remembering that people maybe don’t always know us as deeply as they believe they do—or maybe they don’t know us as well are we previously thought they did. I still feel confident in myself and my beliefs. But boy if that didn’t throw me for a loop.

Convenience

I’ve been thinking a lot about why we do what we do. How we choose one thing over another. Why we prioritize what we do. And much about it is due to convenience. Whether in our daily lives, the work that we do, or the relationships that we create. We live in a world that has slipped into instant gratification. We order our groceries online to be picked up at a time that we are available. We order food to go, or to be delivered directly to our doorsteps. We respond to texts and emails and phone calls when we “have” the time. We choose where we put our energy. Don’t get me wrong, you should be picky and choosy with where you put your energy. But what you choose says a lot about you. There is no shame in the chooses you make. And what conveniences you allow into your life. Because you do what you think is best for you. Convenience has its place. But inconvenience, that says something too. It shows where your priorities lie, what is truly important to you. The inconveniences are the things that you fight for, sacrifice for, truly align with on a deeper level.

And so I am choosing to find joy in the inconveniences in my life. The reminders that to get something worthwhile and substantive I often have to dig deep(er). That I am unwilling to be a part of a friendship or relationship that is merely built (or dictated) by how convenient it is for the other person. That my choices and my alignment is driven by my core. Sometimes its okay to give in to the conveniences in our lives. But most times, I seek to live a life of meaning. And that means constantly assessing what is important and takes precedence in my life, putting those things first and working with my whole heart and soul to commit.

I am meant for more:

  • more than just quick fixes and instant gratification, I need long term plans and goals.
  • more than the on/off convenience that someone else choose, I need consistency and reassurance.
  • more than just a “sure” or “I guess” or other forms of apathy, I need to prioritized and be prioritized.
  • simply put, I am meant for more than some are willing to give, I need to stick around those unwilling.

I want more than convenience. I want to choose things and people because they make my heart sing. I want to show dedication and commitment and love. I want to value and be valued. But in order for that to be true, I have to stick to my boundaries (it’s hard, it’s really hard). There’s a sweet spot in life. A place where you continually figure it what you want, what’s important, what’s not. It changes as you change. But there comes a point where you won’t put up with the same shit as you used to, but you also won’t settle for the boring. You wade through what’s in front of you and keep looking for the sweet spot. And one day, you find it. You find it more each day, little by little.

No Beginning, No End

I’m not sure I know what I want anymore. Yes, life is an endless circle of finding and refinding yourself. But I have to remind myself often to pause on that journey. Because if you only focus on growth, you won’t leave much time for living. And what is life if you aren’t living?

At one point, even recently, I was sure footed in what I wanted out of this life. Now I’m not sure. I’ve taken a moment to just breathe, to look at the things I’ve pursued or am actively pursuing. And I’ve wondered if any of it is still serving me. I don’t have an answer for that just yet.

I think the lesson here is that it’s okay to change. It’s okay to grow. It’s okay to not know what’s next. It’s okay to feel like you have no direction. It’s okay to be uncertain if what you are getting is enough, or is what you want. It’s okay to be confused and question. It’s simply okay.

And maybe, just maybe, for the first time in a long time—I’m just supposed to lean I. To the unknowing. Maybe this is the first time is so long that my faith and spirituality is supposed to lead me. Perhaps that is the lesson.


And though I feel lost at times, I am learning more and more what I don’t want. I am learning to trust my self. I am learning that love means so many things. I am learning to not turn a blind eye.

Words from the Wise

  • It may not happen the first, or second, or hundredth time. But it will happen. -SWS
  • Your safe place and person will find you if you keep yourself open. -SBS
  • Doesn’t matter how it got there, just being there at all is exhausting. -ABJ
  • You do deserve to be a priority. -CSL
  • It is hard but you deserve so much better and to be treated and cherished for the wonderful person that you are. -MK
  • If [they] can’t make it work at the beginning when it should be sunshine and rainbows, what’s going to happen when the shit gets real?! -BH
  • It can hurt and still be the right choice. It’s okay to walk away from someone unable or unwilling to give you the basics. -SMS

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

I’ve put myself in therapy. I’m not sure if a I’ve written about this yet, or only crafted words mentally. But here we are nonetheless. I absolutely adddddoreeee my therapist. She’s real and relatable. And just such a good fit for me. And for this, I am thankful. Here’s why I think it’s important to share I’m in therapy:

  • As a helping professional in the counseling field, sometimes folks think we have all the answers. We don’t, and we need space to process as well.
  • I talk a lot about my struggles on this blog, or what I’m wading through at any given moment. It became time not to do that “alone” and I want to be transparent about that.
  • There is a stigma around therapy and I want to do what I can to help normalize that.

So why, why did I decide therapy was a necessary thing to add to my life? Well, first, there has been a lot of grief and loss in my life in the last ten years. Two uncles, my grandma, my mom, and two aunts all passed. and in there has been many family dynamics that have been heavy to sort through on top of the grief. Couple that with an uncomfortable work environment that I stayed at for way too long. And add in a dash of a roller coaster dating experience over the last two years and it all just felt like too much. I was overwhelmed and really needed help processing and moving forward. Thankfully the job aspect worked itself out on its own. But the grief and the dating are daunting and emotionally charged to say the least.

Much grief never goes away. It sticks with you and you learn how to deal with it. I like to say, and tell others who need to hear it “you get through it, you never get over it”. And it’s so true. You live with it your whole life. And sometimes it feels less present, or you forget for a moment. But it’s still there. It’s a part of your story and you’ll carry it forever.

The same is true with relationships: romantic or platonic. They enter our lives and some are short and some are long. But all are important for the time they are with us. One of my biggest flaws is that I hate goodbyes. I’ll let people stick around (or I’ll stick around rather) for much longer than I should just because I don’t want to let go. I’m working on it. And I admit how difficult it is, and how I’m learning boundaries because this flaw has affected my own well-being and mental health on more than one occasion. I’m trying to be clear about my boundaries. Because if others don’t know, they can’t accommodate or act accordingly. But here’s the thing, boundaries don’t work unless you stick to them.

Mind. Blown.

And when people can live inside of the boundaries you set, and you can communicate, and compromise—it’s wonderful. And when they can’t, we’ll damn. You better assess whether you need to move on (likely) or compromise the boundaries you put in place. For me the recurring theme (though I don’t like it, and sometimes don’t listen) is to move the eff on.

These things I’ve learned, and I am continuing to learn. And learning is all a part of the growth journey. and I believe in growth, I believe in us becoming more and more ourselves. I believe in mistakes and failures and heartbreak and grief. Because it makes our stories ours. I believe that how we deal with our brokenness shows our true character. And I believe none of us go it alone, whether we realize it or not.

I don’t regret any of what I’ve been through, though sometimes I wish I had acted or reacted differently. But I am who I am because of each moment and experience. And for that I am truly thankful on this day.

Grace, Under Fire?

If you’ve been following along for any amount of time you’ll know there are certain themes that come up here often: grief, faith, relationships, honesty/vulnerability, etc. But recently I’ve found my mind circling (and circling and circling) back to the idea of grace.

I offer the people in my life a lot of grace. Sometimes admittedly maybe more than I should (meaning I sacrifice bits of me in the process). But my faith tells me to have grace (because God gives me grace every day of my life). And I was raised to have grace toward others as well.

But here’s the thing. There is a limit to grace. Or maybe rather, you can have grace and still have boundaries. This is admittedly difficult, for me at least. It takes me a while to figure out what my boundaries need to be with others (they are usually not the same). And then it can be a bit before implementation. I’m getting better. Mostly because I’ve let others mistreat me enough to know I don’t like that for my life trajectory. I’m better at saying “no”. I’m better at expressing my needs. And better at walking away if those needs can’t be met (or just blatantly aren’t). I’m not perfect. But I’m better. Because grace and understanding where another is coming from is important. But making it clear people can’t walk all over you or take advantage is essential.

But Where Is She?

I don’t like November. I don’t like March. I don’t find that ever changing. I’ve been distracted, and to some extent disconnected. I admit it, even though I don’t like it and it feels uncomfortable. Work has been hectic (and stressful–but not in a debilitating way). I’ve been trying to navigate a relationship that came back around briefly (and I put more effort into it than it was worth). I have been swamped with school work and projects and having a lot on my plate to complete before the end of the semester. And if I’m completely honest, it’s the first time in a long, long, long time that I haven’t felt her all around. Well, what does that mean??

There are many things that I have chosen to take a hiatus from through the end of the year: church, dating, Facebook…Have I somehow also lumped her in with the others? In no way has that been my intention. The last few years have been so strange, I can’t imagine what she would have been like through this whole pandemic, whether at home and thriving, or in her care facility just getting by. So for that, I am thankful…that this hasn’t been her experience.

I’m afraid she is slipping through my fingers, little by little. I’m afraid my job, and my friends, and my dating antics, and my school work are taking over all of my brain power and pushing her out. November is a heavy month. And it feels heavy because: there is endless testing for our students, it’s cold and rainy, people are navigating (yet again) what the holidays and their traditions look like in this pandemic world, I’m navigating what my faith and faith community looks like or needs to look like, I’m figuring out relationships or the absence of relationship and if/how I’m okay with that. It’s a lot. It’s heavy. But the usually heaviness of her birthday right around the corner hasn’t hit me. I haven’t embodied that like the previous years. And I’m not sure if I’m sad and appalled by this, or if some how I’m grateful and relieved by it. Nevertheless, it is strange.

Perhaps I just need to do a a full life assessment/evaluation. Am I where I want to be? With so much growth in the last two years, where do I want to head next? What should my focus be? How do I want to keep her central to me? And what else takes center stage along with that? I’m not sure I know any of those answers in this moment. And that is okay. I am more and more okay with the unknown. But I also need to have a skeleton of a plan. And so, it’s time to get to work, dig deep, discern. It’s time to bloom.

Credit: The Avett Brothers

Brutal Honesty

**I reeeealllly hesitated posting this. But as I often remind myself, this blog is for me. It’s healing and cathartic. And so, I think this post deserves to see the light. Some things need to be spoken to be lifted from our shoulders. And speak it I will.**

This is one of those things I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to write down, let alone share “publicly”. But sometimes the Universe picks and picks and picks at you until you finally cave. And so here we are. Maybe it’s most appropriate to start with a quote. I’ve been reading a lot of Mandy Hale recently. Mostly her Instagram posts. But I traversed down “You Are Enough” and very much enjoyed it. Certain things just resonated.

I served and served and served the church because that was what was expected of me. And in the process, I lost sight of what it meant to simply serve God”.

Mandy Hale

That hit home. I’m a cradle church-goer. My parents actually met at the church I grew up at and they were married there as well. That place was so formative in who I am today, and so many connections have been made there over the years that are priceless. I found my first calling at that place. I fell in love with serving youth and children there. I had what felt like an unshakeable faith and was deeply connected and committed to the religion. But then college hit. And though my major still kept my faith life afloat, and I connected with Christian and Methodist clubs and activities, I was quick to let myself sleep in on Sunday mornings. And I was quick to make excuses for why I couldn’t find a church home away from home.

My summers though provided much of the faith and spirituality I needed to ride me over for a whole year. Working with ASP reminded me of the love of Christ, the grace of God, and the magic of the mist over the mountains. I learned about prayer and deep love in those mountains.

When I graduated from college it took a bit to find a job in my profession, but thanks to the “old school” nature of my dad, I answered a classified ad about a position and things fell into place. And as much as that place those people fed my soul, that place drained me and stole my own spirituality and belief of organized religion from me. If I’m honest, brutally honest, I stayed too long. I was there almost ten years. Those people became my friends, many of them became family. And it’s hard to see your friends and family act in ways you’d never imagine. It’s hard to see the home you’ve helped build and upkeep be stripped of its drywall when all that was needed was a few new coats of paint.

Some were shocked when I left. Others knew it was coming, that I had had 4-5 other job offers over those 10 years. But I’d always been too afraid of making that jump into the unknown (cue Frozen II sing-along here). I was too afraid from leaving my kiddos. I was too afraid of walking away from people I love. I was, simply put, too afraid. But there comes a time in your life when you realize you can’t live bound by fear. Or rather, you need to act on what God is calling you to despite of the fear. The last year and a half had been the biggest struggle. Not just because of COVID, though I’m sure that exacerbated things.

The last year and a half of my time there showed me how undervalued I was. And, yes, I am fully aware that I have a skewed perspective. Every story has more than one side. But this is my story. And I own that not everyone saw or experienced the same thing. I literally poured my everything into my job. I sacrificed who I was, and the time I had, because I loved the people. But that love was not often reciprocated in more than just words. I was given a title change after 8ish years. But not the added benefits of the title: no raise, no extra time off, no sabbatical time, no continuing education relief. Just more assignments and work to be done. I was mandated to be in the office at least twice a week when part time staff and my boss were free to manage their own time without restrictions. I was micromanaged and told how I was and wasn’t allowed to carry out my tasks and responsibilities: which seemed harsh and heavy handed when I had been doing this job ten years in the same community, a community I knew very well and has listened to and done ministry alongside of. I watched as a place I loved and valued lost their collective sense of autonomy, creativity, and passion. They were told how to dream, they were told how to respond, they were told that everything they’d built could be scrapped for the vision of a leader who had little care to invest deeply and meaningfully in their lives. I watched, sometimes silently and often with a bleeding tongue, as the wool was pulled further and further over their eyes.

I think there were many things that led to me wanting to needing to leave. I was raised to use my voice, but too long my voice went unheard, rather unlistened to; my complaints and concerns fell on deaf ears. I was unhappy. My mental health was constantly being challenged. I was not excited about the work I was doing—the joy had been taken away, the opportunity for creativity and collaboration and growth were long gone. Without my voice and my creativity, I feel like a shell of a person. And it all felt fake. I began doing and acting what/how I knew was expected of me merely to get through the day and collect a paycheck. They had stopped investing in me long ago. And it was time I stopped investing in them. I truly didn’t understand how we got to that place. But I knew there wasn’t anything I could do to change it. And I would never again find joy in that place.

I’m not sure that I’ll ever go back to worshipping in a church. I’m not sure that’s how I want to find community. I don’t know that I trust the aspects of organized religion that have repeatedly burned me. Let me be clear, I allowed myself to stay in an unhealthy (for me) environment for too long and that colored my experience. I blame myself for not getting out sooner, for not having the guts to leap. I’m not pointing the finger at anyone else. But I feel secure in knowing I can connected with the divine in my own way. I can still continue in my own spiritual journey. I don’t need an intermediary. The things that are important to me (mission, community, etc) can still be richly a part of my life. I can make it so. Because I’ve been doing it for the last 15ish years.