Tag Archives: healing

my 1 year anniversary of leaving ys

today is my 1 year anniversary of getting laid off from my role as president of youth specialties.

before i reflect on that in writing, allow me to make a few things very clear:

first, i have nothing against youth specialties. just the opposite: i love ys. always have, always will. i remain close friends with the remaining staff, am speaking at their conventions this fall, and hold onto nothing but hope for them as they continue to move forward with integrity and a missional passion to serve youth workers.

second, ys didn’t really lay me off. zondervan, our then-parent company, laid me off. while i might not have agreed with the choice at the time, there’s nothing about the decision itself (particularly from the distance of a year) that doesn’t make sense. ys was being sold, and there was no longer a role for me. i have lots of dear friends at zondervan also (who i miss, since i don’t get to spend time with them anymore), and my next book will still be released with them.

third, youthworks! (the new-ish owners of ys) are good people. really. and i’ve been so deeply pleased to hear from tic and others how supported they’re feeling during this convention season.

now, let’s talk about me!

leading up to my lay-off, i was riddled with anxiety. as i wrote in an earlier post, i had a zombie soul. the work of trying to re-make ys into a profit machine was not my calling, and — really — beyond my ability or desire. but the two months after the lay-off put that anxiety and hear into hyper-drive. when i spent a bunch of days in silence, giving presence and space to the various emotions i’d been frozen in, i journalled about my fears. i wrote things like (these are straight out of that journal):

I’m afraid I won’t find a meaningful job.

I’m afraid whatever job I find – meaningful or not – will be such a dramatic lowering of income that our family will suffer (which will, as much as I try to convince myself otherwise, totally feel like “my fault”).

I’m afraid I’ll lose my voice.

I’m afraid I’ll lose interest in the things I’ve been passionate about, especially if I’m in a role that doesn’t give me cause to think on them and speak about them.

I’m afraid my kids won’t be proud of me, and think my job is cool.

I’m afraid I’ll have a cool opportunity that will require a move, and a boring opportunity that allows us to stay in San Diego, and that I’ll have to choose, knowing that one seems selfish, and the other feels like death.

I’m afraid of losing our house.

I’m afraid of losing what little retirement we have saved.

I’m afraid of losing my dreams, whatever they may be!

I’m afraid of becoming a shell of myself. I’m afraid that I’ve “peaked”, and nothing else – work wise – will come close to providing the meaning and fun that I’ve experienced.

I’m afraid I’ll have to wear a suit and tie, or at least “business casual”, and give up some of my individuality in order to get work.

I’m afraid I’ll be bored, and even boring.

and here i am, a year later; and i can honestly say that not one single thing on that list has even remotely been realized. not one. in fact, just the opposite has been the experience of my year. i’m more fulfilled than ever in my work; i have more time for my family; i have more space for rest; i get to exercise my gifts (and not spend a large chunk of my time on stuff i’m not passionate, like profitability spreadsheets); i get to speak into the lives of youth workers and churches and ministries; and i still get to wear shorts and t-shirts to work!

even in the early months of 2010, when my new plans started to take shape (oblique as it was at that point), i still wondered if i could make it work. what has become imminently clear to me, especially as i look back, is that i didn’t make this take shape. god did it. god provided for me, met me in my anxiety and fear, and brought a freshness to my life and calling that i would never have been bold enough to “claim”.

this past weekend, the pastor leading a time of communion at a junior high event i was speaking at led the students in that slightly cliche response: god is good, all the time; all the time, god is good. but it struck a chord in me; and the vibration of god’s goodness in my life is the hum of my days.

i look back on a horrible firing i experienced early in my youth ministry career, and i can say with complete truthfulness that i wouldn’t trade it for the world. it’s part of who i’ve become in a way that i cannot separate from the goodness of god. i’m almost there with this current reality. i’m grateful for where god has taken me, how god has protected my heart from bitterness, and all the other blessings in my day-to-day life. and, soon, i expect — very soon — i’ll even be grateful for being laid off. i’m already there cognitively, and expect i’ll be able to say it and mean it soon enough.

(photo ripped from adam walker cleaveland, who got it from april)

wrestling with god and demons in the desert

my six days of silence in the desert was such a significant experience and turning point for me in my post-lay-off process that i haven’t been able to bring myself to blog about it until now. somehow, it felt like i would be commodifying it had i jumped right into a blog post within days. so i’ve let it sit with me for a couple weeks (it was actually two weeks ago today that i came home); and i think i’m ready now.

let me back up.

the afternoon i was let go from my role at ys, i knew i was going to need some time away, alone, to rest and process. i have struggled my whole life to be present to my emotions. and in more recent years, as i’ve grown in this area (really, starting with yaconelli’s death), i’ve also learned that i can go there, but it often requires a conscious act of space clearing. i need space, without the chatter of appointments and cell phones and email and television shows waiting on the dvr, to be gentle and welcoming to those emotions that i need to process and be present to. it’s almost like my deepest emotions are skittish little animals, and any sudden movement sends them scampering back into their holes (i’m thinking of the biblical “coney” right now).

the first 3 or so weeks got quickly filled up with whatever stuff fills your days when you experience loss — communication from friends (and many wonderful youth workers i don’t even know) and family, processing, filling out paperwork. when the cincinnati nywc came around, i was crawling out of my skin with anxiety and restlessness. that time, i just needed a distraction, not a deep dive into the emotion of it all. so a buddy graciously agreed to road trip with me, on about 16 hours notice. we spent three days in las vegas, having (good, clean) fun and being blissfully disconnected from the maelstrom.

desertcabinbut, eventually, i knew i needed that time away. a lovely couple in my church have a cabin (i guess you could call it that — really, it’s a home, but a funky one) in a desert canyon about 90 minutes from where i live, and have generously allowed others to use it for retreats like this. so, after a stop at costco for food (really a bad place to grocery shop for 6 days by yourself — i had massive portions of about three meals), i headed out.

i’d met with a therapist the day before leaving (who i’ll continue meeting with over these next few months), explained my situation, and asked for guidance on framing the journalling i wanted to do. she suggested i journal on what she considers the five primary emotions: anger, hurt, sadness, fear, and joy. this instantly resonated with me; and i found it really helpful that she was validating anger as a legit piece of the pie, as i’ve often heard others talk about anger as a secondary, or masking, emotion. but my experience was that i needed to process the anger before i could really access the true stuff of hurt, sadness and fear (which were the three things combining to gift me with so much anxiety).

each afternoon, i spent time in prayer and meditation, preparing myself to journal about whichever of those 5 emotions i was going to give space to that day. then, i spent anywhere from 1 to 3 hours writing, unedited, whatever came to me about how i was feeling. if it was anger, i was pounding my keyboard with a ferocity that proved the durability of macs, as i was really giving myself over to the feeling while i was processing thoughts about what was generating it. similarly, when i wrote and wrote and wrote about – for example – how and why this hurt so much, naming all the aspects of specifics, i had tears on my face the entire time. after each session of writing – which just naturally wrapped themselves up at a point where i felt “done” – i had to respond in some way. on the day i wrote about my anger, i had to go for a hike in the canyon to blow off steam. on the day i wrote about hurt, i sat for hours on the screened-in porch, smoking a cigar, watching as the sun slowly set; then, i watched a short comedy so i wouldn’t spend the entire evening in depression!

all of this felt like prayer, really. i was very aware that, as i wrote, i was writing in the presence of god, and that god was with me in unearthing, naming, and in some cases, purging these feelings.

at the risk of being an emotional flasher, i’ll paste a few very carefully chosen snippets here, to give you a sense of the unfiltered rawness i was trying to tap into…

I’m afraid of my anger. I don’t want it to take control. I’m nervous about allowing it space, or granting it any freedom. If I give it even the smallest bowl of milk, I have this gnawing sense that it will not only stay, but will grow into a feral, feline monster, shredding and screeching and tearing without the goodness to discern.

I’m only 46, and I still feel so young. I feel like I have so much of my life still in front of me. I feel like I was just beginning to really hit my stride in this role, that I was learning humility and how to serve youth workers. I feel like I had a voice and a platform. I did. And it’s gone.

The sun is quickly fading from the sides of the mountains across the desert valley, as it drops behind the ridge behind me. It’s only 4:27pm. Too early to be evening. Too early for night. That’s what this feels like – my daylight has faded, been taken, way too early. Way too capriciously. Way to easily. And it’s quiet. And lonely. But it’s the isolation that’s killing me. Too easily expendable, and too easily forgotten.

I’m afraid of becoming a shell of myself. I’m afraid that I’ve “peaked”, and nothing else – work wise – will come close to providing the meaning and fun that I’ve experienced.
I’m afraid I won’t be able to tell thousands of youth workers that they really matter, that they’re not crazy. I’m afraid I won’t be able to tell them they need to change and try new things. I’m afraid I won’t be able to encourage them or push them or paint a picture of a new reality.
I’m afraid I’ll have to be normal and boring and conventional and predictable.
I’m afraid it’s all downhill from here.

Maybe this is a circumstantial hope and peace I’m feeling right now – more a result of the quiet surrounding me and 5 days of not talking. But at least I’ve had an appetizer of what I hope and expect to feel in the days to come. At least I’ve had this dress rehearsal. At least I’ve been given this gift of foreshadowing.
It’s getting darker now – the remaining light of the day is very close to being gone. The single sound I hear other than my keyboard and my breath is the quiet nibbling of a bunny, chewing the birdseed I put out earlier. He’s looking at my now, between nibbles. Other than that little crunchy sound, there is absolutely no sound at all – no cars, no white noise, no mowers or machinery of any kind, no planes overhead. Nothing. Just the sound of peace.

two weeks later, i’m in a very, very different space than before i went on that “pilgrimage”. my anxiety has dramatically decreased, and my hopefulness has dramatically increased. i was able to write that post about ys and zondervan and youthworks in a way i could not have written it two weeks earlier. i’m able to hold loosely to my future and the future of ys, believing that what will be will be, and that things will play out as they should, and that god will make good of it (whether god orchestrated any of it or not).