So I know I haven’t written in a while, but these past few months have been chock-full of changes and transitions and all the busyness that comes with adjusting to new life rhythms. (By the way, what is a chock? Can anyone explain this to me?)
I tried to come up with a unifying theme for this post to make it all nice and neat, but I figured that if I tried to hard to do that, I’d never actually write it. So, at the end of the day, I’m writing this post so that you people can know how I’m doing and remember that I’m still alive and trying to write something. For those of you who read my blog regularly, I suppose I’ll start where I left off. Hopefully that’s good enough for you. Maybe you can find a theme.
Back in July, I went on a personal spiritual retreat to The Hermitage in a remote town called Three Rivers, Michigan. I decided to go because I was experiencing intense anxiety and struggling in most areas of my life–I was in what many would call a wilderness period, spiritually, emotionally, relationally, mentally, physically. Everything-ly. God had showed me that in order to get out of the wilderness, I had to be willing to go into it.
So I did. Quite literally. And it was wonderful.
The place was so peaceful, with such natural and quiet beauty. I had really sweet times of prayer and meditation there, and in these times, God opened my eyes to so much truth. First, we all have dreams in our lives where God asks us to till soil, to plant, to water, to prune–but that we also have dreams where God asks us just to rest and let Him do the growing. If you mix these dreams up–if you keep forcing movement in places where God wants stillness, or vice versa–it produces anxiety. That was me. I obsessed over growth and movement in one life-long dream of mine and felt discouraged when life didn’t cooperate, while I ignored the other dream and let it grow stagnant. On my retreat, God showed me that I needed to do the opposite: let the first dream rest, but get moving and growing on the second. If I just switched my focus to the second dream instead of the first, I would be able to save energy, feel more encouraged about my life, and truly feel like I was in the center of God’s will for me. This second dream was writing a novel.
Which brings me to the next truth God revealed to me on my retreat. For several months, I had been praying for wisdom around the topic of seeking out a new mentor, and once I knew that I needed to prioritize my writing more, God confirmed the intuition I had had: that I should seek out a woman who could speak specifically into that part of my identity–the creative, the storyteller, the wordsmith, the book-lover (and the moody, tea-drinking, self-critical procrastinator).
But back to my retreat. The last thing God showed me (after prayer walks through labyrinths, silent meditations in one-room cabins, Scripture, oddly specific book passages, and yes, even the providential placement of insects) was something about contemplation. I say “something” because it still feels odd explaining, but I will say this–I am at the edge of the middle stage of my metamorphosis: the cocoon stage, where I sit, wrapped up and folded into God, and learn to wait while He works. What is the stuff that changes me and transforms me in this cocoon stage? Contemplation–what others may call silent meditation or contemplative prayer. It’s inward and outward silence that waits for God to be present, silence that is the very nature of God, that unites me with Him, allows me to know Him and be known, to let go of anxiety and worldly concerns and just be. I left my retreat determined to practice contemplation from then on as a way of experiencing God and allaying the anxiety that had had me trapped.
My retreat at The Hermitage was so incredibly precious to me, and I definitely plan on going back one day. And despite how incredible that particular place was, even just being able to go on a retreat by myself for a few days and get away from my daily life to be with God and trees and fields was so life-giving and soul-filling. Though it broke my heart a little to leave, I was determined to come back to Evanston with new focus on writing, clarified vision for mentorship, and determination to make contemplation a part of my daily walk with the Lord.
Unfortunately, contemplation is harder than it looks, especially when you’ve barely ever done it before, you live in a noisy city apartment with no space to yourself, and you’re about to go through a season of enormous transition. (For the record, now that I’m more settled, hopefully I can start it up again and making it a daily practice. Pray for me.) As soon as I got back from my retreat, it was time for Ashley and I to start looking for a new apartment. This was a big deal because not only had I not moved in two years (that’s forever in college-town years), but also because it would be my first time living out of Evanston since starting college. Though we hit a few snags with some flaky realtors, in mid-July we eventually stumbled onto an incredible apartment in Rogers Park, and signed the lease immediately.
A month later, after gleefully assembling Pinterest boards full of interior design ideas, packing for weeks and weeks, and saying goodbye to Le Chateau, we moved into our new place and dubbed it The Haven. We had a perfect first night as new residents of the city proper–sitting on a bare wood floor, eating Chinese takeout and talking and laughing and staring at the two eager succulent plants sitting in the corner of the otherwise empty room. And, now, months later, it’s finally come to the point where our place is living up to its name (still waiting on our “feminine mystique” gallery wall, but hey, it’s something to work for). We’ve really been enjoying getting to know Rogers Park–a million good dogs to pet, a cool coffee shop around the corner that serves amazing kouign amann, incredible murals and art installations, the new tapas place that is perfect for dressing up and drinking sangria with girlfriends, walks along the rocky beaches of Lake Michigan, and, of course, being closer to downtown Chicago: where we can visit cool bookstores and slurp mussels and go to incredible museums. It’s things like this that made the transition from one city and apartment to another so much better.
Another transition I went through was in community: both in mentorship and in my Bible study. A couple weeks after returning from my retreat with new clarity, I made the transition from being officially mentored by my dear friend and Ethos leader, Tammy, to the woman who is now my new mentor, Jenny. We’ve been able to meet up and talk about everything from writing to marriage to politics to motherhood–and, of course, how we can trust God with all those things. We’ve been reading through the book of Esther, which has been so empowering for me as a Christian, a woman, and also as an artist who so desperately wants to write something brave. The other part of this transition was switching Ethos groups–though I’d loved being in my original group for the past five years and had grown so much, I could sense God saying that He wanted me to grow in new ways and pushed in new directions by joining a new group. So this fall Jack and I struck out with each other and tried out a couple of groups, but in the end we settled on one led by our friends Andy and Virgil. This group is a lot smaller than our old group and has a very different personality, but we immediately clicked with it. It’s been so encouraging to see how authentic, encouraging, and vulnerable we’ve been able to be with each other already–especially since our sermon series has been on Song of Solomon: love, romance, sex, and marriage. To be honest it’s pretty hard not to get to know each other when that’s your topic.
The last major transition that’s occurred in the past few months is with my job–about a month ago, I received news that in June 2018, Pluralsight would be closing most of our stateside offices in favor of a new “footprint” (aka newer and fewer office locations). Most workers in the closing locations would become totally remote–including me. Now, because I already worked mostly remote, this wasn’t actually as big a deal for me as it was for other people who went into the office every day. But it’s still a huge change that potentially presents me with new possibilities for where I could live in the future, which is actually kind of exciting. But work has also been more exciting for me lately because some of the projects and initiatives I’ve been working on for the past two years are finally taking off–in the last four weeks, I’ve taken two business trips to Salt Lake City to give presentations to large groups, which, to my delighted surprise, both went well. It feels good to know that you’re useful and that the work you do actually matters. And honestly, that you’re at least somewhat good at your job.
Which brings us to now–the end of October, and the beginning of a new season. Not only is it finally starting to get chilly and moody and crisp outside (thanks a lot, global warming), but I’m also talking about starting a spiritual season of waiting.
Honestly, I hate it (mostly). I’ve never been patient. With most things, I’m really more of a do-it-now, action-oriented, go-go-go type person. So waiting is really hard for me. Moreover, I’m realizing that waiting on God looks different in every area of my life, so that makes the whole idea extra confusing.
With some areas, like with writing, waiting means taking action while trusting God for the outcome. This is the kind of waiting I don’t mind as much because it helps me feel like I’m actually a little bit in control (which I’m not. It’s a nice illusion though). Which brings me to a largish announcement. A few days ago, I signed up to do National Novel Writing Month on a whim. Essentially, I have the month of November to finish a 50,000-word novel that I’ve been vaguely promising myself I’d write someday. I have no idea if I’m going to finish it, and it will probably kill me and remind me at least a thousand times a day why I hate writing, but I’m going to try. Because I love writing. At least it will be a productive distraction from all the other stuff I’m waiting for.
Unlike writing, when it comes to my future plans and my relationships, waiting usually means me slowing my brain down, chilling out, and clinging to the fact that God can do His good work without my help. It means doing nothing besides what I already know to do, right here, right now, while quietly trusting in Him. This is the kind of waiting is hardest for me, that requires that niggling voice in the back of my brain to say “Stop, Erin. Self-control. Patience. Be still.” I honestly think it will be a life-long struggle for me–learning how to wait well.
But I’ve already had some really meaningful times with God because of it–times where I find myself praying new and less self-centered prayers, praising Him for things I’d forgotten, finding wisdom and comfort in His Word and His presence. I’m pretty sure it will be worth it in the end, right? I’ll let you know.
- Patience for waiting on relationships and my future, turning to God and trusting Him when I feel like I want to take the reins
- That God would somehow miraculously grace me the discipline and the words to write my novel in November, that I’d get up early to write, that I’d feel encouraged and excited by my own writing
- That I’d continue to spend time with God (maybe even through contemplation!) as I move into a busy season of writing
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (J. R. R. Tolkien). It’s my first time actually reading the trilogy successfully and I’m almost finished, but tbh I’m feeling a bit like Frodo in the last miles before Mount Doom. So…long…almost…done…
- Swamplandia! (Karen Russell). Such a weird, magical, spooky Floridian delight. Also go ‘Cats and go fellow NU Creative Writing Alumni!!
- Wait and See (Wendy Pope). Reading this book on waiting during my devotional times–spreading it out over 40 days. It’s been really great so far.
- Story Genius (Lisa Cron). This one I’ve been reading forever. But it’s really helped me to think about writing and developing characters and stories in a deeper way. Hoping it will help with NaNoWriMo.