What Happened After My Husband Quit His Job

God often gives a vision of things before they actually come to be. That’s been my experience anyway. The vision isn’t necessarily focused or clear. It doesn’t come with steps or money or sure-things.

my husband quit his job

But it does come with hope, and that’s what keeps you going in the fog.

For months I’ve been looking forward to writing this post. Back in March I shared it in e-letter form with my newsletter subscribers and now it’s time to share it here on the blog – what happened when John left his job as a youth pastor.

Almost two years ago, (in a post I wrote here called Why My Husband is Quitting His Job), I quoted these words from Ann Patchett:

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When I first shared this quote, John and I were living in our own what now? kind of moment, preparing to leave his position at our church of six years (after a total of twelve years in youth ministry) to . . . well, that’s just it.

We didn’t exactly know.

But we did see arrows, faint as they may have been. So we followed them and here is where they have led so far.

The Arrow of Grief 

After John’s Dad passed away during the summer of 2011, we knew things would never be the same for a lot of reasons, the main one being that John was broken open by grief.

After the funeral, John went back to work, back to routine, back to his regularly scheduled life. But his soul lingered with the grief. It wasn’t long before the disconnect between the pace of his life and the state of his soul began to show itself in the form of panic, sleepless nights, and intense fear.

That was Fall 2011.

He was unable to keep pace with the demands of his highly relational job as a youth pastor so the church gifted him a three month leave to catch his breath and to simply be human.

During those three months, he didn’t check his email, meet with students, co-workers, or parents. He completely disconnected from the demands of work. This, I know, is a rare gift. We are ever grateful to our former church for allowing him this time.

I promise this post will not be a recap of the last four years of our lives. I go back that far only to communicate that this transition has been slow, deep, and far-reaching. And it has been about more than simply quitting a job.

The Arrow of Desire

Long before his Dad got sick, John and I had many talks about the future.

After years in youth ministry, we began to notice the parts of the job that brought him life (relationships, small group discipleship, connecting with students on a soul level, teaching deeper life in Christ concepts) and the parts that wore him out (traveling, games, programs, hype).

I would try to initiate dream talk, you know the kind: If you could do anything regardless of income or location, what would it be?

While I was able to chatter away about moving to a big city or writing books together or traveling the country for a year with the kids, John was always more hesitant.

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Even in hypothetical conversation, he was unable to take pretend risk. His mind simply wouldn’t allow his heart to dream.

Logic and limits often get in the way of longing.

It’s important to be able to answer the question: What do you really want?

It can be scary, but it was only when John and I began to honestly explore the answer to that question in the presence of God that we started to get a hopeful vision for his vocation. But it didn’t come the way we thought it would.

The Arrow to Each Other

During those few months away from work, John traveled to Colorado Springs to participate in a week-long course in spiritual direction taught by author and psychologist Dr. Larry Crabb.

We both thought his time there might bring some kind of vocational clarity.

What actually happened surprised us both. God met John during that short time away, his Spirit traveled into the deepest parts of John’s soul and poked around, turned some things over, and woke some things up.

This awakening didn’t come like a glorious sunrise or a blooming flower. Instead, it arrived more like a summer storm: dark clouds, thick air, rolling thunder.

But here is where we learned that desire often lives next door to grief inside the soul. Access the grief, you wake up the longing as well.

As a result, John came home more alive as a husband and friend than I had ever seen him before. There was still a long road of healing ahead, but now he had a focus – he wanted to be fully available as a husband and father in ways he had been previously closed off. 

Looking back, I remember hearing myself telling people in the months following his return that it wasn’t so much that John had changed, more that he became more fully himself. 

We thought we needed clarity, a good next step, a vision for whether or not John should stay in his current job as a youth pastor or move on to something else. Instead, all God offered was an arrow pointing from John to me and from me to John.

We wanted to know the way and instead, he showed us each other. 

For the first time in our marriage, we began to cultivate a respectful curiosity for our mutual desire as a couple. And the only thing we knew for sure is we were to move toward one another. And that was it.

john and emily freeman

The Arrow to Nowhere

After many months of conversation, prayer, and counsel from trusted mentors, we finally knew it was time to move on from youth ministry even though we didn’t know what was next.

The first six months after he left his job were dedicated to rest, recovery, and home. It was during those six months that my book A Million Little Ways released so the timing was nice. He maintained our home rhythms while I worked, traveled some for the book, and began preliminary work on my next book.

We started to attend a small church, quietly getting to know a new community, re-adjusting to our new rhythm, re-learning how to sit together on Sunday morning (!!) as well as how to relate in a church where he wasn’t a pastor. 

Those six months turned into nearly a year before we actually had any clear indication of what the second half of John’s career and ministry would look like. We walked through some hard days, some hopeless what-are-we-even-doing kind of days where it seemed like the arrows led nowhere.

But we kept coming back to the promise of God, knowing he wouldn’t leave us alone.

We also often revisited what we knew for sure, that John’s desire was to somehow serve our local community, to enter intentionally into relationships, to do small group discipleship, to connect with people on a soul level, and to teach about how the Gospel intersects with our daily life.

The Arrow to Community

After a time of listening, waiting, and resting, we decided to gather a small group of people together who we called our “Co-Listeners.” 

We invited them into our living room, fed them dessert and coffee, and were grateful as they listened to John’s desire and our fears and then helped to discern what might be next.

It was during that meeting that long-time friend and mentor, Mike Moses, spoke up.

“John, you know I’ve had a non-profit ministry for a long time here in Greensboro.”

In fact we did know. Mike’s ministry had a huge impact on John’s life and the life of our extended family many years ago. He’s been a fixed point in our Greensboro community for years, a trusted voice that always points to Jesus.

“And you know I’ve retired . . . “

Yes we knew this too.

“I haven’t used the non-profit for several years now. It has no money, no place, and no director. It’s basically vacant. But I’ve kept the name active with the IRS because Carol and I have been praying, asking God to bring someone along who might take it over.”

This we didn’t know. 

This was interesting.

And though it would be many months before all the legal and administrative details were taken care of, I knew in my spirit that very night as I sipped my coffee and ate my cake that this might be the next step in the journey.

And in fact, it was.

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John is now the director of Grace Discipleship, a 501c3 non-profit ministry here in Greensboro that exists to connect weary souls with the Gospel of grace.

What does that look like?

You can find out more about his ministry here.

I know I could have simply given you a link to John’s ministry website and sent you straight over, but I wanted to give you this background stuff for a few reasons.

First, many of you have prayed, sent emails and notes asking about John’s transition. This was so meaningful to us.

Second, I know a lot of you are in the midst of your own transitions, looking for arrows in your own life. I wanted to share what it has looked like for us to believe God often gives a vision of things before they actually come to be.

We still have lots of questions, new kinds of fears and hesitations. But we’re thankful his work now has a name, a shape, and even an office space!

Sometimes it looks like you’re going nowhere, or that you’re headed in the wrong direction. But maybe none of that is the point.

Grace Discipleship Greensboro

I’m convinced God is less interested in where we end up as he is in who we are becoming.

Whether we’re employed or unemployed, encouraged or discouraged, filled with vision or fumbling in the fog, more than anything, our Father just wants to be with us.

He loves us, wants to walk with us, and as we follow the arrows, they’ll always lead us close to his heart.

If you’re in a What now? kind of place these days, maybe it will help to remember Ann Patchett’s words, that “what now? can also be our joy.”

May it be so for all of us.

Learn more about John’s new ministry Grace Discipleship here or learn a little more about who John is here. He’s pretty much my favorite. You can sign up at his website to receive monthly updates directly from John.

If you would like to read more personal stories from me like this one, I tend to share those in my monthly newsletter – you can sign up here to get those each month in your inbox, as well as first-word news, my current reading list, and more encouragement to help your soul breathe.

The Kind of Surprise We All Want

Every time I am in an airplane during takeoff I am one part convinced the plane is going to crash and the other part stunned that my childhood dream of flying has come true.

Portland, OR

It’s the same event that causes both thoughts – fuzzy terror and breathtaking awe. Sometimes I feel them at the same time.

When our plane took off right at sunrise, lifting us up right along with the morning, I snapped this shot over Portland. And then we made a turn, and glory showed up outside the window.

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You know what I mean. It’s happened to you, too, hasn’t it? You are gripping the edge of your seat in an airplane or your kitchen or your church or your car, holding on for dear life because you don’t know what will happen next and that can be the worst part, the not knowing.

But then, a glimpse of glory you don’t expect – her perfectly timed phone call, his warm smile, a note in the mail, a kind word from a stranger, the sun rising up to kiss an airplane window.

And you see it even though you weren’t looking for it, you are given it even though you forgot to ask for it, a reminder that you are not invisible. A reminder that God has not forgotten. A reminder that glory is everywhere all the time, peeking out from behind warm eyes, tired hands, and pink clouds.

The best part is, we get to participate in the glory surprise, too. Created in the image of a creative God, we can show up for people in the same way that sunrise showed up for me.

We are the megaphones of glory.

If you’re like me and need something tangible to hold on to this morning, something to help you center and remember God’s presence with you, find a comfortable spot, close your eyes, and listen to this song by Sarah Masen, an adaptation of Psalm 139. It’s a lovely combination of quirk, whimsy, and truth.

“If I were to ascend to heaven, you would be there.
If I were to sprawl out in Sheol, there you would be.
If I were to fly away on the wings of the dawn,
and settle down on the other side of the sea,
even there your hand would guide me,
your right hand would grab hold of me.”

Pslam 139: 8-10

May the eyes of our hearts be opened to glory, to love, and to the comfort found in the presence of God. And may we be open to handing it out in abundance.

How to Stay Calm in the Midst of Big Projects

“Instead of trying to accomplish it all — and all at once — and flaring out, the Essentialist starts small and celebrates progress. Instead of going for the big, flashy wins that don’t really matter, the Essentialist pursues small and simple wins in areas that are essential.”

Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

If you’ve ever been guilty of biting off more than you can chew or of expecting too much too soon, then perhaps you will resonate with Greg McKewon’s encouragement to start small and celebrate progress.

In recent years I’ve come to value and even cherish the art of the small start in my work, my friendships, and even in cleaning the house.

But it’s a fairly new practice for me to begin to celebrate the progress that comes as a result, especially when that progress is unimpressive.

What does celebrating progress look like?

progress

Today for me, it looks like this round rug in my sunroom office.

I’ve wanted a round rug in there for, oh a few years maybe? I’ve waited because I didn’t know exactly where to shop, wasn’t sure what style I wanted, and I didn’t have the room the way I wanted it anyway. Besides, I already had a rug that kind of worked and I was convinced a different rug wouldn’t make much difference.

But I’ve been dedicated to making small changes in this sunroom over the past few weeks and the small changes are adding up to nice progress. I took some time looking online and found this simple jute round rug, ordered it, and it arrived on my doorstep this week.

Now, my tendency is to continue to look for the next small change I need to make or obsess over lists of what has yet to be done.

Instead, several times since that rug arrived, I’ve sat in my sunroom and looked around, snapped a few photos, and spent some extra time reading in my favorite corner. In short, I’ve celebrated progress by actually enjoying the room. And this simple act of appreciating the progress on purpose has brought a lightness and calm to my soul.

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These have been ways I’ve celebrated progress rather than looked in disdain at the still unfinished room. I moved my desk! I picked out a rug! Is it finished? Not yet. But I celebrate progress anyway.

This week at (in)courage, I’m sharing what starting small and celebrating progress has looked like for me in the area of personal health, both for my body and for my soul.

I also have a conversation with my dad and my sister on this month’s episode of The Hope*ologie Podcast about what celebrating looks like in our own lives and how we think it’s important to mark progress even if it’s small and even if it’s silly.

There are 3 ways for you to listen to the podcast: At Hope*ologie (including show notes!), on iTunes, or here on Soundcloud.

Today I hope you’ll save yourself from overwhelm in the midst of big projects by embracing the days of small beginnings and celebrating the progress that comes as a result.

Bread is the New Hustle

I invited you to procrastinate together with me on Tuesday and you did that so beautifully! You’ll be glad to know I finally got serious about the work and turned in the edits yesterday with a great hoot and holler and a frozen lemonade from Chick-fil-a. And the thing is I don’t even like lemon-y things but the photo made it look so lovely and delicious and celebratory.

So I bought it and drank half and then voxed Holley Gerth and Kendra because they are both people you want to high five when you finish something.

dinner making

Next, I promptly made dinner for the family, convinced the kids that “it’s fun to clean the kitchen!” and sat with John to talk through our weekend plans. Then, I made this list to clear my head.

Master Spring Due

What is actually wrong with me? I couldn’t even enjoy meeting a deadline for 24 hours before I was making a list of all my next deadlines. And it’s one thing if that list was just a list, but it actually kept me up last night, thinking through the timing of things.

This morning I read in Mark 8, about Jesus teaching to the crowd but feeling compassion for the people because “they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way; and some of them have come from a great distance” (Mark 8:2-3).

As if I couldn’t love him any more, reading this reminds me how he pays attention to the particularities of our needs, notices how some of the people were a long way from home and would need to eat before the journey.

How thoughtful and kind.

And then he does his Jesus thing, takes seven loaves and a handful of fish and serves them up like a feast, like a bounty, like a celebration. They eat and are satisfied with baskets left over, men and women laying back on the hillside, bellies full, needs met.

But then Jesus leaves with his disciples, gets into the boat and they realize as he’s talking that they forgot to bring enough bread for the trip. They only have one measly loaf so while Jesus is using bread as a metaphor to remind them to “beware the leaven of Herod” they aren’t paying attention because they are busy mumbling together about how there isn’t enough bread.

We forgot bread! There’s just the one loaf of bread and several of us and we need bread and where is our food going to come from and whatever shall we do because BREAD!

Never mind that Jesus has the power to look at a crumb and feed a nation. Never mind that they had just seen him do that with their very own eyes. Never mind that they didn’t only watch him work that miracle, didn’t merely hand out the bread to the people, but we can only assume they had taken the bread themselves, chewed on the grain, tasted the miracle.

Never mind they were sitting with the Bread of Life in the boat.

bread of life

But instead of rolling his eyes and pushing them all overboard so he could be alone with his sanity, he asks them an interesting question. He reminds them of that one time when he fed 5000 people with five loaves, then asks them how many basket full of broken pieces of bread they had leftover.

They answer, “Twelve.”

Then he reminds them of the meal they just had, when he fed the 4000 people with seven loaves, and asks them how many large baskets full of broken pieces did they pick up.

They answer, “Seven.”

I would have probably said, “Remember how many people I fed!?”

Instead he says, “Remember how much we had leftover?”

He reminds them of the excess.

He reminds them that he didn’t only provide enough, he provided more than enough.

I don’t pretend to know or understand why Jesus did or said many of the things he did and said. I can speculate and guess and use my good Bible exegesis skills I learned from two small years at Bible College.

But I can’t deny here that Jesus was specific about the numbers, about how little they started with and how much they had leftover.

It seems to me his desire was always to move his disciples on to kingdom conversations, but he always had to keep coming back to provision. Are we going to be okay? they seem to always be asking. So he reminds them of the numbers.

Then he answers their question with a question, “Do you not yet understand?”

He’s inviting me into living differently, y’all. He’s inviting and knocking and wooing and I keep looking around distracted for more bread. He’s pointing out the leaven of the Herods of the world, the ones telling me to hurry up and produce and ship, and he’s warning me of how something as small as selfish ambition could ruin the whole batch.

But I can’t hear it because I’m all, Where is the bread! I need me some bread! There isn’t enough. I’m not going to be okay.

But this is the Jesus who had compassion on the crowd because he knew they had a long distance to walk, the Jesus who fed them and then had bread leftover.

Bread was his idea!

Yet, I still feel like it’s my responsibility to remind him that I need to eat. To worry over where the next meal will come from. To point out the lack rather than have faith for the plenty.

I say, “What if You forget I’m hungry, Lord?”

He says, “Why have you forgotten I’m bread?”

And now it begins to come together, why he doesn’t just point out the number of pieces but also points out they were broken pieces.

The excess, the leftovers were baskets filled, not with whole loaves of bread, but with broken pieces. Because the miracle comes at a cost. Why am I always forgetting the point?

He invites broken people to come and feast on broken bread and the excess is a reminder of the miracle.

I won’t stop making lists, I won’t. But I’m desperate to stop shaking them in God’s face, to stop reminding him to meet my need in my way and in my timing, with whole loaves of bread.

This morning, I hear it, the invitation to hold the bread in my hands, to see my day with kingdom eyes, to feast on him, to move forward with the energy that comes from eating the broken pieces. This is My body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.

When Your Heartbeat Feels Like a Drumbeat

Last week I bit into an apple that tasted precisely like one bottle of men’s cologne. Well that’s curious. I reasoned it cannot be possible that this fruit from God’s green earth tasted like it had actually been fed Drakkar Noir from the moment it first broke seed as if the farmer was some kind of deranged Abercrombie & Fitch model with something to prove. I had to take a second bite to be sure.

apples

When the second bite confirmed it, I turned slow-motion style to the table where the kids sat with homework and a plate of sliced apples and, just before I could launch myself toward them and remove all the poison from their reach, my daughter looked up at me mid-chew: “Mommy, this apple tastes like perfume.”

In the end, we were all okay but isn’t it true that sometimes what should be simply isn’t? It’s hard to allow yourself to long for something because what if it only ends in disappointment? What if you admit your deepest longing and then you get an apple that tastes like perfume?

I’m on a journey – and I bet you are too – of learning what it really means to live with Jesus in the midst of the desire and disappointment of everyday life. As much as I wish it wasn’t true, I’m discovering one key element to walking with him is all wrapped up in admitting what I most long for.

When my daily rhythm feels more like a drumbeat than a heartbeat, it’s time for me to pay attention to three simple realities:

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1. It’s time to admit my longings.

When I feel more like a robot with a to-do list in my hand rather than an artist with wonder in my eyes, I stop, close my eyes, open one hand in my lap and put the other on my heart and ask myself, what am I longing for in this moment?

If you do this, you might be surprised what you discover but don’t be surprised by the tears. Those tiny messengers are your kind companions, sent from the deepest part of who you are to remind you of what makes you come alive.

Listen to them and wake up to your heartbeat.

“Jesus himself routinely asked people questions that helped them to get in touch with their desires and name it in his presence. He often brought focus and clarity to his interactions with those who were spiritually hungry by asking them, What do you want? What do you want me to do for you? Such questions had the power to elicit deeply honest reflection in the person to whom they were addressed, and opened the way for Christ to lead them into deeper levels of spiritual truth and healing.”

- Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation

Desire is a gift when we open it in the presence of God. Longing is key to my spiritual formation.

The reason why it’s terrifying to admit our deepest longing, the reason why I seldom allow myself to do it, is because too often it seems longing leads to disappointment in the form of a glaring life-limitation I have little control to change.

limit

2. It’s time to embrace my limits.

We hear all the time about the importance of having boundaries. In his book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown wisely says this:

“If you don’t set boundaries there won’t be any. Or even worse, there will be boundaries, but they’ll be set by default – or by another person – instead of by design.”

I appreciate people who can say no with confidence, who establish healthy boundaries in their lives.

But my perspective changes when it comes to the boundaries I don’t choose that come in the form of lack of time, lack of energy, lack of money or influence or control. I don’t call those boundaries, I call those problems. 

And I tend to push against those limitations and forget these are the very places where Jesus wants to meet with me.

Perhaps these limits are actually gifts, pointing me forward rather than holding me back. For example, if I’m not good at that particular skill or don’t have time for this particular event, then it forces me to pay attention to what I am good at and what I do have time for. When I’m willing to see my limits as a gift rather than a liability, I begin to live my real life instead of wishing for the life I want instead.

at the intersection of longing and limits

3. It’s time to pay attention when they intersect.

When I avoid confessing my longings and embracing my limits, I live in the lifeless middle where I have no need for redemption. Sometimes it feels easier this way. When I keep those two roads running parallel in my heart, I miss out on the opportunity to meet Jesus at the intersection.

But when I embrace them both, I am able to experience life with Christ in deeply personal ways. I become more aware of myself and others, feel more alive to Christ’s life in me, and open up to his presence with me.

I imagine Jesus standing at the crossroad of my longing and my limits. And while it’s true he doesn’t always satisfy my longing in ways I expect, he does always offer to be enough where before there wasn’t enough. At the intersection of longing and limitation is where the miracle happens, both the water from wine kind and the joy in the midst of suffering kind.

I’m learning a big part of living a redeemed life now, in this moment, is to pay attention to those moments where my longing and my limits intersect, to stand there with my friend Jesus, and together wait for the seed to grow.

“The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows – how? he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Mark 4:26-28

May we walk in this newness of life in our ordinary moments. May we wake up to our longings and hold them out to you. May we confess our limitations trusting you with outcomes. May we keep company with you as we wait for seeds to grow.

Here is a prayer you might like to print and hold on to: A Prayer as We Wait for Seeds to Grow here. Want more posts like this one delivered directly into your inbox? Or maybe a monthly reminder to create space for your soul to breathe? Sign up here today and choose Blog Posts, Newsletter, or both.

On Learning to Leave Things Behind

Sometimes you need a lot more margin than you plan for and last week was one of those times for me. I went dark online as I prepared to serve at a conference here in my hometown.

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I fight this inability to multi-task better. I mean, I had two babies at once! I could make grocery lists and nurse babies and breathe all at the same time. I am a professional multi-tasker. But when it comes to writing a talk to deliver to local women I know and love, the preparation took on a life of it’s own. And that life was bigger and heavier and more all-consuming than I expected.

Part of it was that I was hopeful and the other part was that I felt afraid. Before I could embrace the hope part, Jesus and I needed to work through my fearful obsession with myself.

There have been some things I’ve been holding on to for many years, hurts and expectations of myself that, though I’m not sure exactly where they have come from, I definitely know they need to go.

One catalyst for this letting go came several weeks ago as I watched the live-stream, along with many of you, of Christine Caine speaking at the IF Gathering in Austin. Something she said poked  me awake.

“If the horse is dead, it’s time to dismount.”

I have many dead horses I’ve been trying to ride and when I heard these words, I sensed a quiet whisper – or, more accurately, the voice of a tiny Australian woman – inviting me to let some things fall gently away. Like the Dowager Countess on Downton Abbey said to Edith, “You must learn to leave some things behind.”

The last several weeks have been for me a tangible practice of learning to leave some things behind.

Now that the conference is past, I’m looking back thankful for the opportunity to speak, but more I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the kind, talented, prayerful women who I’m a privileged to call friends here in Greensboro. I’m thankful for the lessons they have taught and are teaching me, about love, support, prayer, and friendship.

Beautiful Life with Angela Thomas

I hope to settle back into a rhythm of writing and yoga and hanging my clothes up instead of flinging them all over my room like Nellie Olsen. And hopefully the movement will be a little lighter this week as I’ve decided to leave some heavy burdens behind.