I ran off. I’m sorry. One of the basic tenets of a good blog is an implicit contract between the writer and the reader that they will both show up. It’s been almost a month since I posted last, and that post was, ironically, a bold ask for readers to provide support. And then I left. I’m sorry. I got a little confused.
I am six months into a new life and it started feeling a little dark. Most of you know, but to recap – I was laid off in January from a career I had spent 20 years building. I was very successful by cultural definitions of success, but over the last couple of years, my definition of success began to take a wildly different turn. By the time I was laid off I was certain that I needed to follow the neon lit road signs that had been falling in front of me for quite some time. I wanted to devote the second half of my life to things that I believed could make a difference in people’s lives.
To that end I’ve been busy:
1. I launched a photography business – I had spent my whole life taking pictures and learning the art of photography. I had worked semi-professionally for a while, so I knew that is was one of the things I could do both to earn money and to follow my heart. I set up a new Facebook page, I revamped my website (www.juliagrace.photography), I established the ability to sell prints and created new pricing. I got my contracts together, my business licenses, and started putting together some marketing ideas.
2. I went to work part-time with my church. We have a beautiful faith community here in Springfield called The Commons – Church for Everybody. I love the people, the mission, everything. I am so incredibly thankful to serve alongside some creative and thoughtful people who are like-minded. I get to teach on a regular basis and I am responsible for establishing our community groups.
3. I completed Civil and Family Mediation Training in March and Conflict Coaching training in June. These are practices and processes that I’ve been interested in for years, but I never had the time (I thought) to pursue them. I am very excited to launch these services in the coming weeks. To that end, I’ve established business licenses, created a website, developed marketing materials, contracts, business cards – all the things needed to begin. This is a key focus for me, and also a very challenging one. The processes around mediation and conflict coaching provide such amazing results and are incredibly powerful, but woefully under utilized. So part of my challenge is to get the word out about what these services are and how they can help someone live a more peace-filled life.
(A quick description of each:
Conflict Coaching is a one-on-one focused series of meetings designed to walk someone through a specific conflict or problem they are facing, provide the ability to see the conflict from multiple perspectives, develop a preferred outcome, and then a plan to get to that preferred outcome. This could be conflict with families, the desire to request a promotion or raise, conflicts with peers/neighbors. The process can apply to a variety of situations. It is targeted, so you don’t come to a coach for years on end, typically 3-5 sessions depending on the situation.
Mediation is an alternative and well-tested method of resolving conflict. In mediation, all of the parties involved in the conflict come to the meetings and work together to find a solution that satisfies both. The mediator is trained in communication tools that can guide the parties from emotion to understanding – something we all have trouble doing many times on our own. The beauty of mediation is that the power resides with the people who are having the problem. Rather than going to court and being handed a decision by a stranger, or even worse, just living with the stress of an unresolved conflict, the parties find a way through together. This too is a focused process so everyone knows that there is a clear end goal of resolution. These can take 1-2 sessions or more depending on the complexity of the conflict.)
4. I launched this blog – my heart project. I’ve told my story. I am contacting agencies and organizations that have people who may find some comfort in my path and I’m working to reach as many people as possible.
And then I got confused. I was working really, really hard, but everything seemed to be taking forever to move forward. The support, and doors opening, I expected to find, were frighteningly absent. Things were not going as I expected.
By the time I lost my job, I felt like I was reaping a big harvest from all the hard work I had done the previous few years to come to terms with, and decide to share, my story. I didn’t panic when I lost my job, rather I felt an eerie peace – which I’ve never lost. It really has felt like a gift. The problem was that I was expecting a spring right after that harvest. I expected to go straight from reaping the results of my hard interior work, to enjoying the beautiful new growth that comes from planting. I confused autumn with spring….mashed them together. Only I didn’t have any idea that is what I had done.
When late May/early June rolled around, I started feeling like nothing was working as it should have. I started to think perhaps it wasn’t peace I was feeling, but denial. I felt abandoned and alone. I am an optimistic person and I want to be uplifting, so my social media presence and most of my interactions with people is upbeat. I loved talking about all my different projects and I had a genuine enthusiasm for life. But at the same time, I struggled with the two false gods of our world – pride and shame. Who was I to try and do something so radically different? Who was God to not pave the road before me when I had done all He had asked? Who was I to question God? Who was I to think I mattered, I could make a difference? How did I so misinterpret what I felt was so true?
So my light just kept getting dimmer, but I didn’t say a thing to anyone….or, I would throw out a casual, ‘this is hard’ and when I got little in return, I would add it to my pile of things to ruminate over.
Then I got angry. As is so infuriatingly the case for me, I started to cry. I thought I might cry constantly if I really let myself go, so I stifled it as much as possible…you know how icky that is? To walk around fine and be broken inside? I saw people around me planning fabulous things, doing fabulous things, and felt even more abandoned. I thought of people I expected to reach out, to care, during this incredibly crazy transition, and realized that they were busy with their own lives. I just wasn’t showing up on the radar. I felt abandoned…alone…unknown.
It culminated with a call to my mom – tears and hurt pouring out. Honesty and ickiness. I have a good mom. She gently reminded me of perception via social media, the need to tell people what is going on, the challenges in changing everything, and the confidence that she shared in my path. I hung up feeling different, not better – because I didn’t want to let go of the hurt yet, but I was opening up a bit to the idea that I might not be seeing things clearly. I happened to be on a 3 hour car drive at the time, so I turned on my favorite podcast. Rob Bell was interviewing Alexander Shaia. God didn’t waste that little opening. Alexander was talking about what comes after a spiritual transformation. He said many amazing things, but the thing that jumped out the most was what he said about seasons. He pointed out that many people want to come out of a transformative time and walk right into spring. The reality though, is that winter follows a harvest. There must be some time of darkness, dormancy, and even death after a big harvest. To get from the harvest to spring, requires winter.
I took my first deep breath in over a month. It is oddly satisfying to find out – not that things are going to be better – but that things are supposed to be hard. So I had my mom reminding me that it would be hard, then I had a podcast affirming that point. I finished my drive and had a lovely day with friends. At the end of the day I had a little time with one of my closest friends. I poured out my heart and she gently walked with me. As we were talking she ordered a book to be delivered to my house in two days. (Isn’t technology grand?). In two days, I opened Gifts of the Dark Woods, by Eric Elnes. Wow. Had I asked God to write something specifically about what I was going through, I’m sure it would have been this book. And it said, that sometimes things are hard….and that can be good. That it is good.
One message, four different deliveries, within two days of asking. It is hard. It is supposed to be hard. There will be good things that come from this.
So here I am, ready to fulfill my end of this journey we are on together. I’m still a little dark. But I know I will be ok, even more than ok. I’m exactly where God would have me to take the next step. I’m re-posting something from my Facebook page that captures my thoughts well.
I am learning good hard lessons on what it means to step into the unknown. I am learning that the cycle of life, joy, death, fallow; life, joy, death, fallow – they continue. To be reborn is not a one time event. No doubt there is a major rebirth into the life you were meant to live, but there will always be lies we must die to and fallow dark times when we must rebuild. Over and over and over. I am trying to learn to find joy in the fallow – joy in the loneliness of life when all you may have is your Abba and one or two to walk you through. These are beautiful in their own way – and can only be survived through a quiet embrace and a certitude that joy is coming.
There’s a dark, albeit engaging, story with the line, “Winter is coming.” People use it to predict the downfall of our society. It is an ominous, pessimistic phrase. But winter is when the next good thing is born. Winter, with its barreness and eerie quiet, can fill one with doom and isolate us with its bone deep chill, but there is one story being told over and over and over – it is this. Winter is necessary, winter is temporary. Joy is coming. Joy is worth anticipating. Joy is where your heart and mind can find rest and find warmth in the midst of winter.
Winter is necessary. Joy is coming.
I am learning to appreciate the dark woods of winter and look forward in anticipation. I appreciate the work being done, even that of which I am unaware. The work done in the deep, the dark, during this season. If you find yourself in the Dark Woods – step back, ask for help, entertain the idea that it might be winter…needed and necessary.
I had several writing suggestions on my Facebook page, so I’ll be focusing on some of those over the coming weeks. I’m also processing Orlando, guns, and dialogue, or the lack thereof, in our society – so those may find their way to the page as well. I’ll be launching my new conflict resolution endeavor and I’ll post that to my Facebook page.
As always – I am appreciative of your comments and shares more than you may know. If you have anything you would like to hear more about or any topics that you might like to read about – you can leave them in the comments, on Facebook, or via a private message.
Thank you for walking with me. Let people know when you need them.
You are enough. I am enough. There is enough.