On moving and moving on

A couple of months ago Mark and I had a falling out with our third housemate, and decided to look for a two bedroom apartment. For those of you who don’t know, Mark is my good friend and long-time housemate. We lived in an intentional Christian community together for several years, and four years ago moved into a three-bedroom apartment and have been renting out the third bedroom. It was a good plan, I think. We needed to leave the community, and our incomes are both on the low side, and this way we’ve been able to rent out the larger bedroom and pay a little bit less.

I was in the Christian community for seven years, and it was a hard seven years. In many ways it was a toxic environment for me, though despite that (and maybe a little bit because of it) those were years of a lot of inner growth. But it was a community, a family, and hard as it was I was scared to leave, to go off on my own. I was so scared I kept putting it off, year after year, crisis after crisis, until the time came when the decision was taken out of my hands and I had to leave. Mark and I started looking for three bedrooms. We trekked around Boston with realtor after realtor and saw some awful places. Tiny apartments, filthy apartments, bizarrely shaped apartments. It was extremely demoralizing, and the days until we had to move were ticking down. Then we found this place.

This house, where we’ve been for the past four years — it’s gorgeous. It’s spacious and sunny, up on a hill on a tree-lined street, with two porches, a great view, and rabbits living in the back yard for crying out loud. The third bedroom is actually two rooms spanning the whole third floor, so we were able to rent that out at a higher rate than we paid for our bedrooms. I have no idea how it was in our price range, or how we were the only viable applicants. Just to add to the drama and the miraculousness of it all, the landlords didn’t accept our application at first but decided to have another open house — and no one showed up! So at the eleventh hour, just days before we had to leave the community, we signed a lease for Primrose Street.

This house has been such a place of healing for me. After years of struggling in the community and being afraid to leave I found myself spending glorious solitary hours sitting on my porch watching the sun set over the hills as the birds sang in the trees all around me. I rolled out my yoga mat in the large, wood-paneled living room, in front of the working fireplace, and felt my body healing as I stretched. In the winter I chopped garlic and onions, potatoes and carrots in the kitchen and filled the house with the smell of hearty soups. I bought viney plants and watched them slowly take over mantles and bookshelves. I chatted with Mark in the evening, grateful to have a friend to talk to and grateful when we went to our separate corners of the house, introverts respectful of each other’s need for solitude. I’d been so scared to leave, and look where I’d landed. My heart rose up with the words of the Psalms:

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
    you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    surely I have a delightful inheritance.

I felt God’s message to me in my very bones: “Don’t be afraid.” As Frederick Buechner has so beautifully expressed it in his definition of grace: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

But almost as soon as we’d moved in here I knew there would come a time when we’d have to leave, and I knew it would be really hard. I thought that time would be when our landlords decided to move into the house themselves, since that was their long term plan for the place. But after this last experience of disagreements and miscommunication with the third housemate, Mark and I both agree that we don’t want to have to keep finding and coping with a third person. For even as the house has been such a wonderful place of quiet and healing, there have been conflicts and struggles with our various third housemates. Beautiful and terrible things seem to always come together, don’t they?

It was a hard decision, but I know it is the right one. And I don’t want to be afraid of moving on to the next thing. I was afraid for so long before, and then when I wouldn’t take the leap of faith myself I was pushed, and landed somewhere wonderful. I don’t want to be afraid again. I want to trust that the same Spirit that led me here will lead me to the next place.

And now, right now as I type, we are in the eleventh hour again. We’ve given notice here for June 30th and we haven’t found a new place yet. We thought we found something but it fell through yesterday afternoon. Today is June 16th, officially less than half a month till we have to be out of here. Two weeks, if you prefer things in tidy sets of seven. Mark is in Connecticut helping with his grandmother’s funeral preparations. Right when things got crazy here with our housemate Mark’s mom broke her arm and his grandmother started failing, so he’s been down there for three months now while I try to handle things up here. We’re both struggling with health issues both chronic and acute. Everything seems to be happening at once.

Last night, in the midst of all of this, some good friends from my days in the community came to visit. They are a family of five and one of the things that made it so hard to leave the community, and I’ve greatly missed popping next door to hang out in their kitchen, or Shima stopping by for some of the iced coffee I always had on hand, or the kids knocking on my bedroom door to tell me about their adventures. They sat in my kitchen last night, amidst the moving boxes, and we caught up. They had just bought a house in Atlanta, and Steven shared with me how impossible everything had seemed. He’d applied for a promotion with a pay raise that he wasn’t sure he’d get, they’d been living in a rented house far too small for them, and buying a house seemed out of the question.

“All these pieces had to come together and it seemed impossible,” Steven said, “And I prayed and said, ‘God, you’ve got to make this happen, because it’s not something I can do. It’s all in your hands.'” And they did come together, all of them.

“Yeah!” I said. “That’s how it is for us, now. But you know, it’s better this way, because we see the reality of the situation. Everything is in God’s hands, but the people with all the money and resources don’t realize it. They think they’re in control, but that’s just an illusion.”

“Right,” said Steven, “Exactly.”

I’d been stressed out when they said they’d texted to say they were coming by last night, because everything was happening at once: We’d gotten word of that one apartment falling through just as I was loading the toddler I nanny into the car to pick up his sister from kindergarten, and Mark and I were trying to communicate about maybe appealing the decision and next steps if that didn’t happen. But what a blessing to spend time with old friends from the community I’d been so scared to leave, to hear how God had provided for them, and to exchange words of encouragement and hope. Shima said she’d pray for me, and I felt confident that God would hear her.

And how wonderful to have evidence of God’s redemption in the flesh, old friends who had been through the hard times with me, who have had hard times themselves, to embrace each other with forgiveness and love. Turns out I hadn’t left community behind — it came with me, and it will come with me on this move, too. I will set my viney plants on other mantles, roll my yoga mat out on other floors, and other birds will sing on other trees outside of other windows. There will be beauty, and there will be pain, because life always has both mixed together. I don’t want to be afraid.

***

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On resting well

restwell
Yesterday, after a Saturday spent in a familiar struggle, I wrote a letter to myself in my journal. I thought I’d share it here, in case some of you could relate.

Jessica,

Here are some things you’ll need to remember: When you’ve been pushing hard and are really tired, you’ll need to rest. You’ll be looking forward to that rest. But when it comes you probably won’t be able to enjoy it very much. It won’t feel nice and peaceful. You’ll feel bored and lonely. You’ll have a migraine and you’ll feel resentful that the migraines are keeping you from leading a normal life. You’ll wish you could be outside taking advantage of the beautiful weather, or at least at the gym exercising. You’ll wish you could be with friends and you’ll start to feel like you don’t have any friends. You’ll think you should be working more and you’ll worry about money. You’ll feel the depression edging in and you’ll start to worry that if you don’t do something it will come to stay. You’ll worry about eating too much or too little, and that if you spend the day lying around you’ll get fat. You’ll question every hour, and if you should be doing something other than what you’re doing.

All of that will happen, as it always does. And you’ll try to reinvent the wheel and reexamine your life and your game plan, every time. The problem is, that’s not restful. So here are the three things you need to know:

  1. You need the rest.
  2. You’re doing your best.
  3. You can trust God to do what you can’t.

Here are some other things to remember:

You used to eat a lot more. Remember those big bowls of popcorn with butter and Parmesan cheese, those variety packs of candy? The salt and sugar from those binges produced dopamine. Eating + watching TV lulled you and allowed your mind to rest. Without the food you’re more squirrely. It’s okay. It was a coping strategy when the migraines and depression were so bad, but it was bad for you. It’s good that your eating is healthier now. But it makes sense that it would take some time to re-learn rest without that coping strategy. Remember the lesson from centering prayer and savasana: Observe your feelings without judging them. And trust that the good habits you’re learning will continue to fill in the gaps left by the bad ones.

Also, don’t compare your life and schedule now to when you were running and exercising hard four or more times a week. You were only working three easy days then, and now you’re working four and two of them are quite hard (three small kids for ten hours). Plus, you get home later, and need to go to bed earlier to wake up earlier. You’re not going to be able to replicate 2011’s schedule of coming home from work and going straight to the gym for two hours. That’s okay. Do a little yoga. Maybe go for a walk — but it’s okay if you’re not even up for that. Your two ten hour work days are like a marathon, and the other nanny days take energy as well. Just listen to your body and do what you can.

And — You’re living well at work! You pay attention, take in the beauty of the days and the children. You have good relationships with the kids and their parents. You use your mind and your body. You laugh and make other people laugh. You exercise — lifting the kids, pushing the stroller, cleaning up after them. You get outside. You do fun things. It’s not a typical social life, but it’s a good life. So it’s okay not to do a lot on your days off — Your days on are packed!

Last thing: You actually do a lot outside of work, too. Just this summer you went to a writer’s conference, went to two of Glennon’s talks in Boston, and went to a Shakespeare play on Boston common. You spent time with Laura, Suzy, David, Megan, Gina, and the Lundquists. You went to Walden Pond, to Crane’s Beach, to Hale Reservation; you swam and kayaked. You went to the library and to the Arboretum, to Lars Anderson park, to Jamaica Pond. You went to church three whole times! You write a blog and are doing a flash fiction contest, you’re on Sarah Bessey’s launch team (#outofsortsbook), you’re in a writer’s group. You keep in good touch with your friends, you visit your parents often and you went to Connecticut to see your brother. You try to be a good friend to Mark and a good housemate to Jill, you offer support and encouragement to commenters on your blog, on Momastery, and on Facebook. You make soup. You do yoga. You keep your house clean and keep more than a dozen houseplants alive. You put out sugar water for hummingbirds and seeds for the other birds.

You read books, albeit slowly. You read articles and blogs. You think deeply about things. You sometimes pray.

You do a lot.

The resting is a part of the doing.

Rest well.

Love,

Jessica