The City No Longer Forsaken

"They will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of the LORD; and you will be called Sought After, the City No Longer Deserted." ~Isaiah 62:12

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Leaving things behind

When I moved to Japan, I worked on this picture over the course of a month as part of the process of letting go of my old life and embracing a new one. I drew all the things in the boxes "behind me" that couldn't come along. There was a Spanish dictionary, and my preschool Sunday school curriculum. I drew remnants of past activities: handbell gloves, a rapier sword, my baby bonsai tree, my ballet slippers. I drew photographs of family and friends, though these pictures came along with me in real life, as a reminder of the people I was leaving behind. I drew Ebony's toy bone. My favorite childhood teddy bear. I drew my college diploma on the wall behind me. The only objects in front in the picture were my packed bags and my little homemade alter, a framed "Footprints" picture on the wall to show that I was following Jesus now.

It was hard to put all of those things in boxes when I moved to Japan, but there was this rush of excitement about the whole thing too. It was so easy to love Jesus as I was taking off in this adventure with him--and so easy to feel his excitement and love at getting to bring me along with him across the ocean.

I've been thinking about this because the past few days my relationship with Joel keeps putting me in tears. I hate it when that happens. Joel is one of the biggest blessings in my life--and my sadness always feels like ingratitude. But I realized today that I think it is a normal part of the transition. So I've been trying to figure out what part of it is healthy.

This is what life has looked like the past few weeks: there are so many huge decisions to be made with Joel, and we approach major (and minor) decisions completely oppositely. In fact, we approach life in general completely oppositely. So, we end up having intense conversations about these decisions and life long into the night. Then, we manage to reach a resolution and find the way we're going to love each other in the midst of these intense differences--and it creates the sweetest love (at least emotionally speaking). And for a period of time we are mushy and inseparable with joy at the victory.

In the midst of that, I usually have about a 30 item to do list for Spirit Gymnastics--I've helped Doug make some major financial victories over the past few weeks, and the business is much healthier than it was. I have admin meetings three mornings a week now. When new people come into the office Doug introduces himself as *my* administrative assistant, and he's only half joking. I'm also still trying to create a healthy Christian community in the house I started, though that mostly involves fighting guilt because of how little energy I have for it most days, unfortunately. But, we now have a really nice time three mornings a week. We wake up at 7 on Monday and Wednesday to spend time with God individually together. And Thursdays at 7 we pray together. And I keep processing and praying about ways to try to lead the girls and myself deeper and further with Jesus. And then processing and praying about how leadership works in my head vs. how it actually seems to work in reality. Somewhere in the middle of my relationship building with Joel, doing admin for Spirit, and attempting to lead the House, I'm also finding and settling on a caterer, potential reception site, photographer, and florist . . . and figure out this whole cake / pie / whatever dilemma for the wedding.

Sheesh. I don't have nearly enough praying hours in my week to manage that kind of busyness. Having written all of that down, I'm not as surprised that I found myself researching plane tickets this afternoon so I could run away to India or Japan. Yes, of course the whole time I knew that I couldn't go, and that I wouldn't go, and that I didn't even really want to run away from everything right now . . . but I was still surprisingly and honestly disappointed when I realized that, even if I wanted to run away and just take care of sick people in India, or go process life with some of my good friends in Japan, I couldn't. My passport has been MIA for about two moves now. And the plane ticket would wipe out pretty much every cent I have.

But somewhere in the middle of my silly freaking out today, I ended up at an internet page talking about the emotional aspect of getting married. There were a few really freeing quotes (I've kind of pasted them together here):

Why would a bride feel fear and sadness in the months preceding her most cherished day? In order to answer this question, we must look at the wedding as a rite of passage. ... Simply, a rite of passage is a major turning point in life where we experience a change in identity. It is a time of transition where the old way of life ceases to fit and the new life has not yet taken hold. ... A change of identity involves loss; and loss always, no matter how beautiful and bountiful the gains, involves grief.
... The problem is not the sadness or fear; the problem is an ingrained cultural belief that equates these feelings with the notion that you are making a mistake. ... This realization of all that [you're] giving up is an essential part of the letting go and grieving process. In order to prepare the ground for the new identity to take root, the old identity needs to be weeded and grieved.

So, I was thinking about my picture from moving to Japan, and how it had been nice to draw it and acknowledge what was being left behind. It was a part of the weeding and grieving. The move to Japan was wonderful--and terribly painful. But it didn't take very long before I saw that the boxes behind me were things I was ready to leave behind, and was overjoyed at some wonderful new additions to my identity.

This time my boxes feel a little more abstract. It's "Pamela the Missionary" who feels like she's fading out of existence. And to put "Pamela the Missionary" in a coffin feels like it would mean not following God anymore. Needless to say, I would not be cool with that. But I also don't think it's true. At least, I don't think that giving up the job title of missionary has anything to do with following God or not. But I haven't figured out what following God is supposed to look like at this stage of life. And the tension between the old way of following him and this new, unknown way is painful and confusing, and is resulting in me feeling guilty nearly perpetually as I am not living up to my old expectations.

Regardless of how abstract the boxes are, though, it was nice to realize that all that's going on is that I'm moving again--only this time there will be no ocean to cross and no literal suitcases to pack. It's a time to sort out the old life from the new. A time to cross into just as much of an unknown territory as a foreign country was--existing as a person who is being made into "one flesh" instead of being a single person. If that were the only identity shift, I don't know if it would even be as intense as it is. But I suppose this has been a triple whammy. I've gone from living in Japan to living in America. From working as a church worker to becoming an administrative assistant in a sports institution. The past year and a half has been the identity lobotomy of a lifetime. Maybe I shouldn't be so hard on myself...I don't know.

But it was nice to read the article and finally feel like there is permission to cry over the self that I'm losing--and permission to sit back and contemplate which parts of me that feel threatened need to be protected and supported, and which parts I can pack up and put into storage or throw away. I may not really have as much control of the process as that, but it always puts me at ease if I can see my emotions in a context of healthy transitioning, rather than as a mysterious, destructive force. :) It's funny how looking at it that way seems to make me feel much more free to experience both sadness and joy in my upcoming marriage all at the same time.

1 comment:

Katie said...

You should read 'A God Dependent Life'!! by Joanie Yoder! Go find it at the's great!