Tag Archives: transition

The best is yet to come

My life has been turned a bit upside down recently by my mother’s death and my leaving the job I have had for the past seven years. Two big losses at the same time and lots of empty space in front of me.

No more dinners with my mother or shopping for her or calling or stopping by to check in.

And no more work emails or office to go to or meetings to attend.

I have to admit that it is a bit scary to stand in front of this vast empty canvas without the commitments that have structured my life for the past years. And yet…

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I have decided to view the coming year as a sabbatical, a time to pause after thirty-five years of working in nonprofit management, to reflect on and say goodbye to what has been, and to prepare for what is to come.

Almost as soon as I made that decision, two retreat opportunities presented themselves—one is focused on discernment for people in transition and the other is for writers. I had not been looking for either one, but both seem opportune, and I signed up for them. One is virtual, and the other is in Texas—my first flight since the pandemic lockdown in March 2020.

As a child, I had no idea what I might be when I grew up—no passionate hopes or dreams to be this or that. As an adult, I tended to fall into jobs more than selecting them with a goal in mind.

So here I am in the third third of my life, still deciding what I want to be when I grow up. Only now, I have lots of experience and a pretty good idea of my gifts and talents.

And that knowledge and awareness energizes me—standing on the precipice of the next chapter in my life is thrilling.

My friend Jim used to say, “The best is yet to come.” I am in total agreement, and I am looking forward to what the next chapter of my life holds.

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Check your ego at the door

I once belonged to a networking group of about a dozen people, all leaders in our field. One of the ground rules for our networking sessions was to “check your ego at the door.” We all claimed to be “servant leaders” which would imply that our egos would be kept in check, but the reality was that when two or more successful people got together, a game of one-upmanship often ensued.

Some of these people had international reputations; others were leaders in our local community. The “ego” rule made it possible for us to meet as equals. If someone started name-dropping or praising their own achievements, another member would gently recall the rule. It got to the point that only one word was needed to rein in an inflated sense of self. “Ego,” someone would say.

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I have often thought of that rule, especially when working with nonprofit boards which are usually made up of successful community leaders. I gently remind them that the most important thing about nonprofits is the mission, and I invite them to stay focused on advancing the mission of the organization rather than focusing on their individual contributions.

I am fortunate that my dad was not into hero-worship; he often said that everyone “puts his pants on one leg at a time.” No one was any more important than anyone else in my dad’s eyes. His attitude has stayed with me, and I think it has served me well. (I do have to admit, though, that I was somewhat starstruck the time I was standing next to Ray Charles at JFK Airport and when I was sitting just a few feet away from the Pope.)

Competition is a cornerstone of capitalism, and it is common to encounter successful people who love to tell you how they built up their company or scored some big deal. My eyes tend to glaze over during those monologues; I am much more interested in those who praise all the people who made their success possible.

My friend Ted was one of those people. He was a successful lawyer, well-known in his field and treated like a big deal at his work. He was very generous with his resources and often donated to the nonprofit where I worked—always requesting anonymity. “Don’t let your right hand know what your left is doing,” (Matthew 6:3) was one of his favorite Bible quotes.

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I think all of this has come to mind because I am leaving my profession to embark on the next chapter of my life. When I told my boss I was leaving, she repeated something she has said to me several times since our two nonprofits merged a few years ago—she is amazed that I gave up my job as executive director and set aside my ego for the sake of the mission.

Perhaps it is unusual; for me, though, it was remembering to stay focused on the mission and to check my ego at the door.

The path

Walking the trail through the woods,

leaves cushion my steps and gently rustle

as I make my way.

The sound takes me back to childhood,

to autumns long past,

walking to school through fallen leaves,

shuffling my feet to scatter them.

Lost in that memory,

the sound of a twig snapping underfoot

startles me.

I jump and apologize,

as if the twig were still alive

and I had somehow injured it.

But the twig had already been broken in its fall.

Like the leaves, its life has been given over to cover the ground,

to soften the way and

to call out to me to pay attention to my path.

Raising my sights

A local summer tutoring program offers middle school girls the opportunity to visit college campuses so the girls can see themselves at college—literally. These girls will be the first in their families to attend college, and physically being on a campus helps them to visualize college as part of their futures. These visits plant a seed and create both a memory and a dream.

Growing up, college was not in my future. My parents forbade it, believing that education was wasted on a girl. In their worldview, the best I could hope for was to marry and have children.

When I moved to Virginia after high school and people at work asked me about two well-known universities in Michigan, I had nothing to say. I did not even know which school was where, because those schools were not part of my life and no one had taken me to a college campus to help me see myself there. I had neither a memory nor a dream.

When I was twenty-six, after working at the FBI for seven years, I enrolled in college to get my degree so I could become an FBI agent.

After graduation, my FBI plan fell apart, and I felt I was back where I had started—without a dream of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I landed in the nonprofit sector, which has been a good career that drew on my talents and developed new skills.

Last week, I was talking with my spiritual director about my future—as in what am I going to be when I grow up.

Ok, so maybe I am already grown up chronologically, but since my mother is ninety-four and still independent, I figure I may have another whole career ahead of me.

Some of my friends retired in their fifties or early sixties, but that was not financially feasible for me. Some of them are spending their retirement volunteering at nonprofit organizations that serve people who are marginalized and vulnerable. My work has been about helping people who are marginalized and vulnerable, so I feel like I have spent my working life doing what they are doing in retirement.

My spiritual director is encouraging me to discern my next steps with an eye toward where God is calling me and to ask, “What is it that only I can do?”

I am starting to dream about my future in a new way. I want to raise my sights and be open to the vocation God is calling me to, even if it seems farfetched.

I have started to pay more attention to what catches my attention—new words, phrases or ideas that give me pause or that inspire me to follow up. I am exploring options with the awareness that I have nothing to lose by reaching out and asking questions.

It is exciting to think about my future as a blank page, just waiting for me to dream a new reality into being.

Tethered

Tethered to the past by memory and history,

moored to what will never be again.

Like a boat bobbing on the water,

rocking gently,

comfortable in its lethargy.

Time passes by.

I look around,

hoping to find what has been lost.  

Who will I be if I let go of what was?

Cut the rope and

let the current carry you to new shores.

Sacred emptiness

I recently returned to Pennsylvania, to the place where I spent most of my adult life. Everything was wonderfully familiar—streets, stores, restaurants, and most importantly, people. This is the place where I have a strong support network, created over a thirty-seven year period, where I have friends who know me, accept me and love me.

My five-day trip included lots of visiting, and each friend asked how I am doing in my new home and new job. “I am fine,” I would say, and then go on to talk about my work and friends and being near my family. Although I miss my life in PA, I have no regrets about moving back home. I love the daily interactions with my family that are now possible, and I shared stories of everyday experiences with my mother, siblings, nieces, nephews and cousins. My hopes for being near my family have been fulfilled beyond my expectations.

And yet, with every friend in PA, I found myself talking about the emptiness I feel because I am not in close proximity to them. I became aware as I spoke that my hands formed a circle, as though I were holding a beach ball. This invisible circle sat securely in my lap as I talked about how different my life is without them. The circle formed by my hands is the image of the emptiness I carry with me.

“Move back,” a number of friends suggested, but that is not the right move for me.

Some people in Michigan have suggested I become more involved, that I find more activities to fill the emptiness. But that does not feel right to me either. This emptiness is not one that can be eliminated by activity. It cannot be filled up or covered over. It is an emptiness that begs to be honored, to be held sacred. It is an emptiness I need to live with and move through on its own timeline.

This emptiness reminds me of all I had in PA, and it makes me deeply grateful. I have had a rich, full life—too many blessings to count. That life of old friends and familiar places still exists, only it is two states away from where I am now. I don’t want to forget what was; I want to honor my past.

The empty circle also holds the promise, the hope of what can be, what will be—in time and with patience.

Little by little, I know the edges of my loss and sadness are being softened, the circle of emptiness becoming smaller as I am gradually meeting new people, discovering new places and creating a new life in my new home.

In a few weeks, my church will begin the season of Advent, a time of hope and promise. But this year, I think Advent has come early for me. My awareness of this circle of emptiness is the sign that I am already waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled.

I was lost

The caller asked for me by a name I have not used in almost forty years—definitely someone from my past, I thought, but I did not recognize the voice.

It turned out to be a woman I had known in my twenties; we have not seen one another in more than thirty years. We had worked together and were even housemates for a while, and then I moved to another state and we lost contact. She said the Lord had placed my name in her mind and she decided to look me up.

“You’ve been serving the Lord,” she said.

I have, haven’t I? I thought.

As I reflected on that call the next morning at prayer, words from Amazing Grace flitted through my mind—I was lost, but now am found.

I was a lost soul in my twenties and it took me a long time to find my way. This woman had been with me through some of my darkest days and she saw me at my lowest— scared, hopeless, on the wrong path. I was still in a pretty dark place the last time I saw her.

Over time, though, my choices started to move me away from the darkness and toward the light. It took lots of prayer and God’s unending patience and mercy, but I finally felt like I was growing into the person God created me to be.

Then, two years ago, I moved to be near my family. Although I have returned “home,” in most ways I am starting over. As with many transitions, this one has left me feeling a bit unsettled. What was has been left behind, and what is to be is still unfolding.

I have been asking God, “What do you want me to do?”

“A new king, who knew nothing of Joseph, came to power in Egypt,” I read the other day (Exodus 1:8).

“Why are you telling me this, God?” I asked. What does this new king in Egypt have to do with me?

And then I thought about who is leading my life. In Exodus, the new king was fearful and set about to enslave the Israelites. Am I being ruled by fear? I wondered. Is fear holding me back? Is that what God is pointing out to me?

Upon reflection I can see that I have been feeling vulnerable and a bit unsure of myself because my life does not look like it once did. It does not have the activity level it has had in the past—friends and church and civic activities. My evenings and weekends are often devoid of scheduled events. I can go whole days without talking to anyone but the dog.

I sometimes feel like I am drifting through this time of transition.

My new house has a sun porch, the perfect place to read or just linger. Looking out over the flowers, watching the hummingbird at the hanging fuchsia, counting the lightening bugs at dusk—my summer is the summer of a carefree child. Little things bring great joy—hearing the owl on my morning walk or watching a squirrel grab an apple from my neighbor’s tree.

Transition time stretches out ahead of me, inviting tentative steps into the unknown.

Perhaps more activity will come in the fall. Perhaps God will invite me to a new ministry, but for now, I am trying to let go of my anxieties and fears and to be content with enjoying the summer, trusting that this unsettled time is temporary and certain that the Lord is leading me.

I have no voice

“I have no voice,” I said to myself. I would have said it out loud, but I literally had no voice—just a tiny whisper.

A sinus infection was probably the cause of this temporary loss, but I have had sinus infections in the past and never lost my voice.

Believing in the mind-body connection—that our thoughts, emotions, beliefs and attitudes can positively or negatively affect our physical health—I wondered if losing my voice meant something on a deeper level.

In the hours before losing my voice, I had been talking about some of the events that led to my moving back to Michigan—maybe losing my voice was an indication that it was time to let go of my life in Pennsylvania and invest myself more fully in my new life.

Then another possibility occurred to me. Years ago, I remember writing in my journal that I hoped I would get to a place in my life where I no longer talked—not because of a stroke or some kind of cancer, but rather that I would have said all I needed to say.

When I shared that reflection with a friend, he chortled, incredulous that I could imagine I would ever stop talking. I talk a lot; being an extrovert, talking is usually how I process things.

I can be quiet, though. Every year, I go on a week-long silent retreat and my dream is to go on a thirty-day silent retreat.

When I went to Poland for two weeks of language school, I pledged to speak only Polish. Being a beginner in my language skills, I rarely spoke outside of the classroom. It felt like a two-week silent retreat.

And, since I moved to Michigan two years ago, I have spent more time in quiet than at any other in my life. Whole days pass without my having spoken to anyone but the dog. Often, I don’t even turn on music or the television. I like the quiet. I find it soothing.

Is it possible that my journal entry was coming true, that I am at that place in my life when I had said all I needed to say?

I hope not, because I think that I am really just finding my voice. I resonate with the phrase winter artist, because after so many years of living and learning and gaining experience, I finally believe I have something to say, something that might actually be helpful to someone.

My voice returned within a few days, but the experience has left me mind mindful of my words—and more grateful for my voice.

Mending fences

Any farmer or rancher can tell you that fences need to be examined periodically, checked for downed poles or sagging wires, and mended. Through the normal wear and tear of daily use, fences break—perhaps because of animals rubbing against them or jumping over them or just wind, rain and snow.

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Relationships can be that way, too. Sometimes they get worn down through the small clashes and irritations of daily living. Sometimes busyness or distance or life changes can erode a relationship until it is at the point of breaking.

I was thinking about mending fences the other day when I visited an aunt I had not seen for more than five years. Nothing had happened to keep us apart, and it was an easy fence to mend—I just needed to set aside the time to visit.

That same day, I also got together with someone I had been close to in my last job and had not seen since I left. It was good to see her, and it felt like old times, like a fence that was precarious had been stabilized.

Repairing broken relationships is not always that easy. One of my most important relationships—a friend from when I lived in Canada more than twenty-five years ago—has been broken for many years and is probably beyond repair.

It happened in the way so many relationships begin to end—a small spat that never got resolved.

This was a person who was very important to me when I lived in Canada. She was a life-saver when I left l’Arche, helping me to find work and a home in a city where I knew very few people and had few options. Her friendship was key in my healing and growth, and I was deeply grateful.

We both moved east, but lived about five hundred miles apart. During this time of transition, she came to visit me. We were both going through tough times, and the visit was strained. I demanded an apology for something she said, and she was not willing to give one. She wanted to move on, as if nothing had happened. I was proud and stubborn. After that visit, nothing was the same.

It took me a long time to own up to my part in the disintegration of our friendship and then even longer to reach out and apologize. I did not expect her to respond or to try to pick up the pieces of this broken relationship; but, if I am being honest, I hoped she would. I still miss her friendship, and after all this time, it still saddens me to think of its demise.

One thing I learned from the collapse of this friendship is to be more proactive in maintaining friendships that matter to me and to try to mend fences while there is still time.

January may not be an ideal time for farmers or ranchers to mend fences, but the winter quiet is a perfect time for me to tend to relationships that might need some attention.