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Standing on the Threshold

They check in, but they don't check out!

They check in, but they don’t check out!

My little brain is constantly amazed at how certain themes invade our consciousness at different points in our lives. It’s like we open a Roach Motel in our minds and a breed of previously unrecognized (and perhaps even unwanted) ideas from the Universe just march right in, one after another. As promised, “They check in, but they never check out!” This convergence of divine wisdom changes us; the new ideas find a home and we are never the same again.

A couple of years ago, I began to see #Signs of Love, every day, all the time. Apparently, Love was what I needed to know. By encountering hearts everywhere, I understood that divine Love animates the world. Recognizing Love in everything from stones to sunlight, I began to love myself, my family, friends, and even strangers more. I had more Love. I was more loving.

Opening my mind to the #Signs of Love changed my life.

Signsoflove

However, as time went on, I saw fewer and fewer #Signs of Love. At first I worried about the loss. “Where are my #signs? Where is the Love?” I wondered, but after a while, I got the message: Let go of what you think you need. When we are learning to walk, our parents do 90% of the work. As we get stronger and more independent, we need less “hands-on” assistance. In fact, too much help hinders us, making us dependent on something we don’t really need anymore, retarding our growth.

So I came to accept that although I would really like them, I don’t need daily reminders of the power of Love from outside of me. Rather, with every heartbeat, I am reminded that Love comes from inside of me. I also receive countless #Signs of Love from all over the world, from friends, family and even strangers. They see Love and share it with me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Truly, a divine economy. We share what we have in abundance, so please, keep them coming.

In the last year, new themes have arisen, but they aren’t nearly as photogenic, which makes them harder to share. I’ve mostly kept them to myself, but one in particular has haunted me. No matter where I go – in my life, my reading, my friendships, or my work – I’ve been brought to the same threshold over and over again. In a hundred different ways, in countless locations, in various tones, the question is asked: “What are you going to do with your life?”

It’s disconcerting, because I want to retort, “I am doing something with my life.” I’m raising a family; I’m teaching; I’m writing; I’m volunteering; I’m making a difference in my own little way. But it isn’t a silly, or insulting question, either, because frequently, I’m the one asking it.  My life may be half over, but that means I still have a whole half to live. That’s great, but here’s the rub.

When I was ten years old, I knew who and what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a wife and a mom. I wanted to read and write. I thought if I could do those things, I would be happy and I was right. I do those things and I am happy. But apparently, it isn’t enough, because the Roach Motel in my head says I can’t stay here.

The problem is that I have no idea where I am supposed to go. Thirty years ago, the goals were clear. Today, not so much.

For the last several years, I have modeled my search for work based on the quote by Frederick Buechner: “Vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.” I loved that idea and it has brought me this far, but recently theologian Howard Thurman disrupted my chain of thought. He wrote:

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.”

That statement floored me. When was the last time you thought about it? “What makes me come alive?” What did you say then? What would you say now?

We should think about it, because according to Brene Brown, it really matters. Meaningful work is a cornerstone of a meaningful life. We can’t be indifferent about it. Squandering our gifts, opting out of what brings us joy and purpose, deadens our souls and the souls of those around us. If we, as parents, bury ourselves alive, we are teaching our kids to do the same. I don’t want to do that. Keara, Finn and Molly are just getting started.

In my journal, I posed the question, What makes me come alive?” and this is what I wrote:

Loving God, my husband, my kids, my family, my friends; praying; reading and studying about humanity, our struggle and spirit, where we’ve been and where we’re going. Writing and talking about the things that fill my heart and mind. Sharing what I know, what I have, and who I am. Taking time to be well: spiritually, physically, emotionally, intellectually and helping others to be well too. Encouraging, listening, journeying with people who are ahead of and aside and behind me on the way.

Hmm.

Though I looked, I couldn’t really find a lucrative job description in there. If something occurs to you, let me know (really!), because so far, what I’ve come up with is spiritual director, or modern day monk and I don’t think either of those career paths is going to pay the kids’ car insurance, or college tuition.

That is the tension Tim and I haven’t worked out yet. How can I be truly alive, the center of a home that hums with energy and beats with love and contribute more significantly to the family’s financial stability? We’ve been stuck in a reductionist, either/or mentality, believing I have to choose one, or the other: get a job, or keep being alive. We are typically pretty smart people, which makes our lack of creativity on this subject so frustrating, but we are also stubborn, which opens up the possibility that an answer lies before us that we simply refuse to see. The Roach Motel keeps telling me there is a third way we simply haven’t discovered yet.

To that end, we are taking a risk. In the fall, I will be starting a two-year program at The Rohr Institute. It is called the “Living School for Action and Contemplation,” describing itself as an “underground seminary” which empowers students “to live out their sacred soul task in their homes, workplaces, and all relationships, within a more spacious stance that is at once critical, collaborative, and joyful.” The school is based in New Mexico, but most learning is done online, with two weeks a year on campus. I will still be able to teach, to parent, to be present to my life here, while “coming alive” in a more intentional way.

I haven’t shared our decision with many people, mostly because it feels a little foolish.  I won’t finish with an additional degree, or improved job prospects. I’m afraid people will think Tim is signing off on it for my sake, that our complex and heartfelt decision will be reduced to “Happy wife, happy life.” I doubt myself and wonder if I am just putting off the inevitable job hunt, buying myself two more years of “not-choosing,” two more years of putting my own desires ahead of those of my children.

They have everything they need and most of what they want, but there are many things left on the table. Some of them are silly like iphones; some are practical like laptops and some of them are so heartbreakingly beautiful, or simple, I want to cry. From attending art school without going into major debt to popping for a full-price movie ticket on a Friday night, I think, “If I could just die to myself, maybe I could make more of their dreams come true,” but then I take a deep breath and remember. My emotions might be real, but the fear is not. We live with an abundance of food, clothing, sunshine, education, opportunity, family and love. Scarcity is not our truth. When the Roach Motel says, “Listen” and I do, I come alive, thinking of all I will learn and experience in the years to come, the ways I will be challenged and changed and I pray that I bring it all back here to better serve the people I love the most (which includes all of you).

Once again, all these questions and doubts lead me back to the threshold and poet Mary Oliver’s wonderfully provocative question, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” to which I answer, “I am doing it.”

I am loving and learning, praying and teaching, reading and writing, kissing and hugging and holding. I am breathing in and breathing out. I am moving forward, and falling back. I am reaching high and falling low. I am dreaming big and coming up short, day after day. Meanwhile, I am alive.

And I have to ask, “What makes you come alive?”

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16 thoughts on “Standing on the Threshold

  1. This is SO exciting!! I can’t wait to chat with you after you get started and hear all about it. You know I’m a fan of more education – whatever shape it may take. Xox Holly

    • Hi Holly – I love education too, sometimes too much, which is why I am heading to the living school. It’s orthodoxy – what we believe and orthopraxy – how we live. I always have to remind myself “Education is not transformation,” so that I remember to work on both!

  2. I will be so interested in how the next two years with the Rohr Institute goes. Please let us know. Meanwhile I will be thinking about that quote that stopped you in your tracks. What the world needs is for more people to come alive.

  3. You are wise beyond your years. Having been the sole provider for my children for most of their youth, I know what you are saying. But for me, looking back, just taking the next step, wherever that led me, was what I needed to do, and I ended up in the best, most fulfilling, and useful place even though each step may not have been joyous and fulfilling. Another thought; why can’t you do all the above as a teacher? That to me is what the education system needs. Teachers who lead their students to learning by knowing, loving, and listening to them. Who sometimes just get out of the way. Keep going. We never get there in this life.

    • Joan, Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I am currently teaching and do find satisfaction in it, but as an adjunct college professor, it is not a lot of money. Still looking for a way to not give up the students or subject matter that I love. And I will keep in mind what you said, that whatever step you took led you just where you needed to go.

  4. After standing on this threshold and deciding what action to take, there will be yet another and another and another threshold after that…I try to just take one threshold at a time and see how my footing is on the other side! The key is balance and I strive to maintain it. I love the Thurmon quote!
    Love & hugs,
    Angie

  5. Ali – whatever direction you take, occupation choose or path, you walk – it will be lucky and enriched to have your thoughtful insights! Good luck.

  6. Ali, thank you so much for sharing your struggle. I am so thrilled to hear you will be attending R. Rohr’s institute, I have checked it out a few times, longing to go. I look forward to reaping what you learn in your studies. I read the art school sentence and so I share my experience. Art school saved my life, though I still pay on the student loans at age fifty! Art school turned into an MFA from Yale, which opened doors for me, and now I’m a science teacher? Yes, and I’ve made my non-art job a rewarding and wonderful life filled with friends and love and a safe place for my son to get a first rate education. Last week my principal informed me my job will include more art, though I can’t tell you much more. He said because I have my feet in both art and science, the school will need both parts of my experience. Wow! This is my god shaping my life in ways I never think possible. So go, be a happy wife, your happy life inspires us all to be radiant lives. And I’ll continue to drive my seventeen year old car while I pay off my art school debt and love every moment of my god-given crazy life!

    • Robin – Thanks you so much for your thoughtful and encouraging comment. What a great story! I love how schools are catching on and turning STEM education into STEAM, including ART in the more linear disciplines. I so appreciate your thoughts and life experience. I will keep it in mind for myself and for Keara. Take care!

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