the stockbridge boiler room has been a significant part of my life, my spiritual journey, my healing, and my work for about 4 years now. even that year when we lived in madison, i carried it in my heart still. the neighborhood that the boiler room is centered in, the prayer rooms it begins and encourages along, the networking with students and pastors and people across the city, the love feasts it hosts, the family that it is… all of this has made up the landscape on which my recent life — my NEW life as a transformed follower of Jesus — has played itself out. for heaven’s sake, i even met my husband via the boiler room, got married in its yard, and dedicated my firstborn to God at it’s sunday gathering. it has been so hard to imagine life without it.
which is why, i think, for the last year and some months i’ve been trying so hard to make it work.
while i was pregnant with hazel, i felt massive, glacier-deep shifts occurring in my heart. the energy of my life and heart were turning in a new direction: facing her, my daughter. suddenly, it felt harder to care about the homeless men behind my house, i just wanted to love her. logistically, her addition to our family also made showing up for the work and shared life of the boiler room more challenging, and realistically i have not been “around” as much in this past year as i have been in the past, or even as much as i would have preferred. it has been a sacrifice.
and our team — our SBR family — has worked with me, allowing me to rearrange my priorities and responsibilities to maximize my leadership role, changing up the places and times that we meet in order to accommodate hazel’s napping schedule so that i could continue to be involved. they have honored and received me as a sister, a trustworthy leader, a worthwhile and gifted member of the family and doer of the work. how kind they have been, how accommodating.
but all year, in fits and starts, there has been self-doubt, a desire to run away and have a “normal” life, a growing resentment towards the sacrifices of the ministry, and more disgust than love for the neighborhood we are supposed to be here to serve. each meeting felt overwhelming, every project felt like an obligation. the scale tipped so that the sacrifice and hard work of this ministry life felt heavier than the joy. and that hasn’t always been the case, nor do i think that’s they way it is supposed to be when living as Jesus’ disciple. and so i worked at figuring out what wast wrong with me, trying hard to find places where i needed to practice repentance, get more disciplined, pray and surrender more, or have an attitude adjustment. i talked through it with tim and with jenn and with other friends, all of whom have helped me recognize and walk away from any lies that were playing a role in my dilemma. and many times i thought i had finally found “the thing” that needed to be adjusted so that i could carry on.
then we took the month of august for our sabbatical, as we do each year. and when, on the way home from vacation, my heart and mind grew heavier and more overwhelmed and i became filled with dread at the thought of returning home to my normal life… well, i knew something wasn’t right. a few days later, i had a melt-down in the office of our wise marriage counselor. i wept while telling her and tim how tired i am, how sick i am of being in ministry, how much i loathe and want out of our neighborhood, how i can’t see the purpose of it all anymore, how i can’t do it all, how i just want to stay home with my babies. and judy looked at me and gave it a name: burn-out. (oh, so that’s what it’s called.) she said my feelings are normal and probably something i should listen to; that i need to stop assuming something is wrong with me for feeling these things and instead consider that God might be leading me into a different path in this season.
tim has had reservations about coming too quickly to this conclusion. i understand that. there are so many good and sweet things about having healthy biological family units at the center of a ministry together: all the important things that it communicates about the family of God, the blessing that our children can be to the college students and 20-somethings we parent and work with, the example we can be in a neighborhood full of broken families. and, of course, tim is stronger with me by his side. he’s more balanced and more confident (i guess that’s why we call women “helpmeet”), and we had assumed that in order for me to be the helper he desires, i need to stay on the front lines with him. but what if, Judy suggested, i can be a helpmeet to him just as well even if HE is the one doing the bulk of the ministry work? oh, there’s a novel idea. at last tim said, “Well, i think we’ll need to tell everyone that you’re stepping down in September.”
the rush of relief, that tearful gratitude i felt in that moment. it was like, “yes, finally. i’ve been heard. i’ve wanted this for so long.”
and so, after sitting on it for several days, and thinking through some logistics and getting some counsel… today we told our team our decision. we explained what that will look like, what it will and will not mean. i got a little tearful. i had to fight back feelings that i was abandoning people or making their lives more difficult by stepping down. but that peace about the rightness of it didn’t waver. i headed home after that morning meeting of catching up with my SBR family, officially released and blessed by them.
i know there might be a little span of time here where i’ll be like a turtle pulling its neck deep inside its shell, preferring total retreat from the things that have worn it out or frightened it. but i also know that Father has deposited in me a love for His kingdom, a concern for the poor, and a desire to life my life according to His purposes, even if it seems radical. so though i don’t feel very in touch with those roots right now, I’m trusting Him to draw me back out of my shell in the right timing, perhaps in new ways this time, but with great joy and in a manner that brings much praise to His name.
meantime, tim is carrying on. he’s still sure of it. for him the scale still tips in favor of joy. he’ll work harder now, since the position we once shared will now be entirely his. but he’s up for it. i praise God for that.
here is some of what is rising in my heart in the wake of finally surrendering to that inclination to step back:
- i am looking forward to learning and mastering the art forms of managing my household well (including cleaning and menu planning and budgeting), and mothering intentionally and creatively. our entire marriage has been spent with both of us in ministry, and the timeline of our shared life has been a whirlwind of events in quick succession (meeting, moving, marriage, transit-leadership, moving again, buying and fixing a house, beginning SBR leadership, having a baby, getting pregnant a second time), and so there hasn’t been that time period in which to really settle down into some of those foundational skills. i want to master them and do them with attention to the presence of God.
- i suspect i’ll actually be a fresher and more positive encourager and helpmeet for tim now. i had been so tied up in knots of cynicism and criticism about the boiler room ministry because of my own lack of peace about continuing on in it, that i carried that energy into all of our conversations with him, with the end result of often making him feel discouraged or diminished in his life work. now i feel i’ll be more able to see it from his perspective (which is one of confidence and faithfulness and joy) and spur him on.
- i am excited to be able to pour my time and energy into taking hazel on outings and to play dates that will stimulate and bless her, as well as to pursue photography, without feeling like i should be doing 20 other boiler-room related things instead (which just ends up paralyzing me).
- i look forward to seeing how Father will direct my heart, and what divine appointments He will lead me into now that i won’t be moving out of a place of obligation or slavery, but of freedom. i wonder what he’ll do with some of those areas/interests in my life that seem to “have life on them” (as tim would say): photography, the birth community, motherhood, food.
His peace rests on my spirit today.
Hazel is napping now, and i’ve got a meal to clean up after and some things to put away. there are some errands to run later this afternoon, then my friend’s daughter’s 1st birthday to attend (and a dish to prepare and bring along). and all of these simple things are work enough. i’m going to go do them with joy and purpose.