Change of Life, Ministry, Sports, The Inner Landscape

Rewriting the Rules

On NBC Sunday afternoon, I heard an interview that included this exchange.

Jim Lampley: "Do you think you rewrote the rules for all swimmers, or did you only rewrite the rules for Dara Torres."

Dara Torres: "I'm hoping I rewrote the rules for anyone who wants to do something and thinks they're too old to do it."

Ever hear something you really needed to hear and then immediately wish you hadn't heard it?

It's been almost 11 months since the Conference Minister approached me about being a new church planter, beginning a period of discernment we knew would be fairly long, since it hinged on last week's New Church Leadership Institute. I went into the meeting hoping this all might work out somehow, and I left it feeling sure of God's call in this direction and spent the last day and the trip home doodling logos and contemplating branding, because we need branding in the 21st century.

And then I got home and looked at my house and thought about its upkeep. I looked at my children and contemplated the costs of launching one and educating the other two. And I came directly to the question posed by Rev. Dr. Donna Allen last Tuesday that bit me, hard.

She related her story of avoiding a clear call to start a new church, and asked us to consider, "What stifles me?"

In her case, a vision of radical inclusivity terrified her. But my fear is different. My fear is material, first chakra, losing everything terror. Can I really pull together the funds to keep the roof over my family's heads and start a new church at the same time?

Now, considering that some people get rich and sleek and even fat on the profits of a church start or a church resurrection, this may seem a funny question. Could anyone look happier than the Osteens or more prosperous than Rick Warren (who I swear looked like he could open his mouth wide and swallow both Obama and McCain whole)? Not that I want what they have, in terms of financial success. But I am afraid of losing what I have, and while I realize that some of my fears are irrational, this stifles me.

And, I guess there is something they have that I want, after all. I guess I wish that something I have to say could reach a lot of people, more than the 100 or so hits a day at this blog. I've dreamed of some sort of minor fame, what I like to think of as "safe" fame, since I was a kid. I dreamed of sitting on Johnny Carson's right, speaking amusingly about something, though I did not know what. My ideas of what makes a person successful may be a little different now, but the desire for success also stifles me. A voice in my head says, "Better to move everyone to a place where employment might be secure than to roll the dice on a new church plant."

Because at 47, while I don't feel too old in terms of creative energy, while I have a fount of ideas and a love for the work and a commitment to God (that part matters, too!), I wonder if I'm at the right place in my family's life for this? And then I wonder, will I ever be?

What stifles me?

Ten years ago, a year out from a divorce, struggling to manage three children and school, and only able to register for one class at a time, I decide to pull out of seminary. I feared a lot of things, but mostly this: I feared that I would always be alone, that I would never be loved again in an intimate way. My In Care Advisor told me my congregants would love me, and that would be amazing, and he was right, that kind of love is, but I craved a partner, and the fear of living without one for the rest of my life stifled me. I withdrew from school and made a stab at doing other work. My extended family felt good about it. They thought seminary was a waste of time and resources and I ought to be earning money selling real estate.

I didn't meet Pure Luck until I went back to seminary, until every other door closed in my face, until I woke up from a dream so powerful I could not deny its meaning and embraced my call to ministry, mostly, at least enough to get back to school.

I rewrote the rules the world had for me, rose beyond the limits my extended family wanted to set for me yet still managed to keep things together for my children. Yes, and to find love and partnership, too.

A few years ago I preached a sermon in the form of a letter to #1 Son as he entered his third year at Wesleyan (excerpted here). It included these words:

If I'm not for me, who will be?
If I'm only for me, what am I?
If not now, when?

(Words adapted from
Hebrew Pirkei Avot)

Today I am asking myself not only what stifles me, but if not now, when?

Perhaps it's time to rewrite the rules, again. Except this time they are the limiting rules I seem to have for myself.

17 thoughts on “Rewriting the Rules”

  1. There are some who say if you follow your dream the money will follow. Life is scary. Life is also short. What regrets will you have as you contemplate your life on your death bed?

  2. It is so hard to trust that our needs will be cared for, to just let go and know that we will be safely caught and carried. I’m sending prayers out in your name.

  3. I don’t have any great words of advice, but I will pray for you Songbird. I, too, need a certain level of safety before I step out on a new venture.

  4. a cheerleader is jumping up and down for you in this corner:
    rah! rah! rah!

  5. Oy! Just this week I was running the “I’m too old, let’s look at plan B” dialogue through my head. It’s what I’ve been doing over and over for years. That’s how I got this old (49 by the end of the year).
    I saw the Dara Torres interview. I heard those words…but I guess I didn’t really “HEAR” the words…until you wrote them out where my eyes couldn’t escape.
    Rewriting our own rules is the hardest, but I know you can do it.

  6. “what would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”… the paperweight stares at me on the desk. What do you really feel you can do? You know. You’re the only one who really knows. :c)

  7. Go, Songbird, go! I’ve radically changed my circumstances a few times as an adult. It’s always terrifying, and it’s ALWAYS BEEN WORTH IT.
    If God’s given this to you to ponder, I think the chances are pretty good that there’s a resonance in you that goes with it.
    The ripples just might be amazing. 🙂
    BTW, I’m a newly minted Torres fan after watching her swimming and sportsmanship over the last couple of nights. VERY cool.
    Go, girl. God won’t waste you!

  8. What would you do if you thought God had given you no choice? That is what so many of us considered in the days, months and now years after Katrina. I have watched folks all around me be forced to really intentionally consider what it is they are called to be and do….and all because a big wind and rain storm came through town. When everyone around you has financial insecurity it is easier to follow a call.

  9. Sherry, that’s such a good point. I guess I feel I carry the weight of both present and future for my children, and I worry that if I make a bad choice I will somehow lose them. Perhaps it’s a reverse twisting abandonment complex? Thinking gymnastically…

  10. I thinking that no matter how many time the rule is rewritten, in a most redemptive way, you will always be the exception to the rule. Isn’t that to be expected when you’re “Set Free”

  11. Thank you so much for sharing this! Mid-life change is hard; knowing how well things might turn out doesn’t make it any less risky.

  12. Songbird,
    I was a new church development pastor in a previous life (age 34 with two young children and a co-pastor spouse).
    It was a very interesting, stressful ride, for all the reasons you’d expect and some other surprising ones, too.
    If hearing about my journey would help you in discerning yours, I’d be happy to share.

  13. As stated earlier, no words of wisdom, you already have those, just prayers for courage to say “yes” or to say “no” or to say “not yet.”

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