This is an excerpt from my memoir in progress. Presently it is titled, Labor Pains: Breaking Generational Patterns by Healing Maternal Wounds. I am working on the book proposal and hope to query agents, and subsequently publishers, this Fall. For previously published excerpts, please click here, here, and here.
Scene set up: Due to burnout, depression, and anxiety, the leadership of my former congregation granted me an emergency sabbatical. One of my first “assignments” was to spend two weeks at Quiet Waters, a pastoral crisis center near Denver. Eric and I were there together for one week; I was there alone for an additional week. While at Quiet Waters I received two hours of intense counseling and homework daily.
In the scene below, I am just returning from this trip. My family is en route to a weekend getaway at a nearby indoor waterpark resort. My husband drives our van as he and I talk about our unclear present and future.
I can still visualize the conversation heating up as we neared the resort. The girls’ movie was over, and the resort was within view, which meant that the volume level in the van had increased dramatically, due primarily to squeals of excitement. I had come to the conclusion that it was time to leave the congregation. This was not news to Eric, as we had discussed it together at Quiet Waters. What was news to him was that I was feeling led to leave upon returning from my sabbatical. This was about a year ahead of the schedule that he had in mind.
“What?” Eric exclaimed. “How did it come to this so quickly?”
His head whipped quickly between watching the road and imploring my face with his own expression of bewilderment. Road, me. Road, me.
“What are we supposed to do?” he continued. Eric’s question was both rhetorical and practical.
If we didn’t feel as if we were swimming in chaotic waters up to this point, my leaving the congregation would certainly plunge us into the deep end. I was the breadwinner in our family. Every cent we had came from my salary. Our health and dental insurance was 100% paid for by my congregation. Our home was tied to the congregation, as it had lent us money for a down payment in the healthy Chicagoland real estate market. The terms of the loan were that full payment was expected upon the end of my pastorate, and the church held a lien against our home. We didn’t have the money to purchase our home from the church in order to be able to stay. If I left this church, not only would I be unemployed, but our family would be without income, health and dental insurance, and a home.
My husband took a deep breath to re-center and approach our conversation from another angle.
“Okay, so God is leading you out of this church?” He spoke more calmly. “What are the next steps? What happens next?”
I sat and didn’t respond. My chin dropped to my chest as if led by magnetic force, and tears began to flow. (Frankly, I was surprised that it was still possible for moisture to flow from my eyes. I figured for sure that I’d cried every tear that I possibly ever could at Quiet Waters.) I tried to communicate nonverbally to Eric that I was embodying the only answer that I had. All I knew was grief and silence. God had given me a sliver of information thus far, and no more.
“Angie?” Eric now pleaded. Sincere concern for me was in his voice.
“Please don’t make me go back there!” I finally said. Now bigger tears hindered my sight, and my body convulsed as it involuntarily gasped for air. “I can’t return to church!”
“If not there, then where?” If the scene was an opera, Eric’s voice would have skipped a few dynamic levels, moving quickly from mezzo-piano to double forte. His words would have been punctuated with staccato, too.
“I don’t know!” I retorted with equal volume and vigor.
The girls were now eerily silent. I could sense their fearing eyes bearing into both Eric and me.
“Mommy? Daddy?” Sophia, our oldest, meekly asked. “Is everything okay?”
I turned around from the passenger’s seat to console her with my eyes. I reached for her hand and squeezed it. “Yes, baby,” I said.
“Look,” I turned back and started towards Eric, still crying, shaking, and blowing my nose. “I’m giving you all of the answers that I have. I’m not holding anything back, I promise! It’s like God has stepping-stones, and is giving them to me one at a time. All I get is the information that I need to stand on the stone I’m on. I don’t get the next stone until God sees fit to place it in front of me. I’m not trying to be passive-aggressive. All I know is that I have to leave church, God is taking care of us and will continue to, and that somehow we’re gonna be fine.”
Eric mumbled. I decided to wait and not prod him to speak up. Leave church…God will take care of us…somehow we’re gonna be fine… I made out.
He finally broke the confused tension. “That’s all the information you have? We’re supposed to turn our lives upside down with just that?”
At first I merely nodded. Then I fortified myself.
“Well!” Eric said and laughed sardonically. He’d finally found a parking place and pulled in. He shook his head, rubbed his face with his hands, ran his fingers through his hair, and chuckled some more. This is what my husband does when he’s processing thoughts that disturb him.
“We’re here, ladies!” Eric said, temporarily turning his gaze and attention to our daughters. “Let’s go inside and have some fun!”
“Yea!” they screamed in sync, and unhooked their seatbelts. I thought for a second that their innocent excitement and the diversion of the family activities ahead might end the moment on an upward swing.
I was mistaken.
Eric got out of the van, and then stepped back in to get his wallet. Just before moving out again, he looked at me with serious and angry eyes.
“That’s not enough.”
I lingered in the passengers seat of the van while Eric and the girls unloaded our stuff.
Breathe in, breathe out, I told myself. Deep breath in, deep breath out, just like the breathing exercises I learned and used when laboring to deliver my firstborn child. (Zoe, my younger, was born via Caesarean section.) Deep breath in, deep breath out.
And I understood.
Transition, with its darkness – it hurts. Like hell. But it is exactly that painful transition that opens the way to new birth. No, I didn’t know everything. Okay, I knew very little. But God had given me enough. Indeed, we were gonna be just fine.