I remember my last fall retreat as the campus minister at the WKU Wesley Foundation. We decided upon the theme "The Gospel According to Disney." I scoured the video store looking for rentals that could provide meat for discussion. One movie in particular stands out to me from that weekend. It was the new "Alice in Wonderland" starring Johnny Depp. It tells the story of what happens in Wonderland when Alice returns. Of course Alice is no longer a child. In growing up she has succumbed to expectations that have robbed her of the vitality she once had. When she finds her way back, many of her former Wonderland acquaintances simply cannot believe it is her. In commenting on the change the Mad Hatter explains, "You're not the same as you were before. You were much more...'muchier'. You've lost your 'muchness'."
That quote has stuck with me. I know with certainty that I was there. Running the campus ministry while trying to keep up with and please the demands of the leadership of the greater church seemed to be draining the life out of me. I had lost my muchness.
As painful as it was, when the Bishop ended my appointment at the Wesley Foundation, it was like the captives being set free. The worst had finally happened. In exercising his authority to move me, ironically he moved me right out of his arena of power, putting me in a place where I never have to worry about what he thinks again. Some gifts are hidden in the strangest wrapping.
I've spent the past year remembering. In its truest sense re-member-ing, putting myself back together again, allowing the disintegrated parts of my heart, mind, soul, and body to reweave themselves into a coherent unity, feeling deeply my own depletion so that I could celebrate the sweet infilling of Grace. At last I feel whole, once again. I feel like I belong to myself again. I feel like I have something to offer.
But at the same time I feel restless.
My husband and I have been wondering what is next. I thought for sure I was supposed to return to the university and teach college freshmen. I prayerfully, ardently, carefully applied for a full-time teaching position. I felt in my deepest heart that I was being led, that my efforts were my faithful response to God's promptings, that God was going to open a new door for me, for my family's provision, in answer to the door that the Bishop had closed. I received a phone interview. After weeks of wondering . . . I also received a face to face interview. It went so well; it felt so good. I could not have done any better, and still been me. I had such a sense of God's blessing, God's smile, God's consolation. I felt so sure. Never in my life had I allowed myself to feel sure of anything. I know well the price of disappointment. It's just that the Hand of Destiny seemed to be so prominently arranging my life in Mysterious and Wonder-full ways. I emptied myself into trust, trusting that He would move, that He would open, that the year of drought would be over.
As I look back it seems appropriate that the rejection letter came on Friday the 13th. Come to think of it, perhaps the mail carrier was wearing a hockey mask.
I still feel restless.
When I received the news, I was perplexed. It wasn't as big a deal that I didn't get the job. The bigger deal was that God was speaking so consistently into my life about opening a door, birthing something new and glorious, lavishing my steps with love and hope. And I wasn't the only one sensing something new, a glorious shift coming. Trusted intercessors, dear friends, felt it too. I have been praying for God to redeem His word, to show me how its Truth is still true. In my praying and perplexion a blanket of sadness and defeat settled over my heart. Now what?
My interview for the teaching position was just days before the ladies retreat that I participated in. Our ladies retreat was so amazing. Oh my it was amazing. I could feel the Holy Spirit coursing through me as I spoke like the torrents of a River, ebbing and flowing, surging and gushing, speaking a Word to hearts that needed healing. In the speaking my own heart was healed too.
I have to confess that coming home from that weekend I told the Lord that if I had to choose between teaching University Experience full-time and leading retreats, speaking passionately about Jesus, giving voice with wild abandon to the hope that is within me, that it's no contest. I would choose wild abandon every time. Even in the face of my deep love for college students, my passion to see them safely through the turbulent waters of transition, I would choose to tell boldly the story of God's grace breaking through our human experience and into our wobbly hearts. When I do this, every part of me lights up.
For years now I have sensed God has given me a deeper, truer vocation . . . to write. And also for years numerous fellow pilgrims have encouraged me. But I've always been to chicken to heed the call. Yet I cannot get away from the fact that it is in writing and speaking the Truth that holds me that I am most alive, most myself, most available to God. Having been rejected so many times it's hard for me to believe that I could ever be more than I already am. But the call never goes away. I kind of believe that God isn't interested in whether I BECOME a published writer or not, just whether I give myself to heeding His call, even if it means I must TRY to become a published writer. Oh messy obedience. I hate trying without assurances. I hate giving myself to life experiments without the foreknowlege of success.
Is this experiment risky? Oh yes. It scares me to try. It's not just my future that is on the line here. People I love so deeply will be affected if I fail. But then I guess they will also be affected if I never try. They will have to live with a woman who never really said "yes" to God, who always stayed in the shadows of Grace, but never stepped into the Light. How can I teach, ask, expect my own children to chase the Light if I refuse to do it myself?
Here is what Henry David Thoreau, says about messy obedience in his book Walden:
"I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings."
It seems to me that the whole point is to pass the invisible boundary, to live a life larger than the capacity which we now hold. God never lets up in wanting to enlarge us. I hate it about Him and love it all at the same time.
At the end of the movie Alice discovers her destiny in Wonderland. She must slay the Jabberwocky. She alone can do it, and Wonderland's existence hangs upon her agreement to be it's champion. As the white queen says, no one can make the choice for her. It must truly be her own, because facing the Jabberwocky will demand everything from her. What Alice discovers is that in fighting the Jabberwocky she secures not only the survival of Wonderland but she receives back her "muchier" self, enough so that she can return to the real world and face down all those who would put her in the box of prim and proper.
I have a Jabberwocky to slay, as I suspect we all do. It's not so much about whether we succeed or fail, but whether we are willing to give ourselves to the fight. Ultimately we are fighting for the person God made us to be, that glorious, beautiful, exquisite self that only we can be. Without that person, the world is a darker place. And like the citizens of wonderland, I suspect someone out there needs to see our light, or rather His Light shining through us.