Monday, September 8, 2014

fear and trembling.

It's been a while.

The words have been percolating, and I'm still not sure they're ready to come out, but this week Shauna Niequist wrote that for her, writing equals learning, and the same, I think, is true of me. I write my way through things, and my life has been such a chaotic, beautiful mess these past several months, the words have been set on the back burner, slowly bubbling up, waiting to take on a life of their own.

Here I am, then, telling my story in bits and pieces, because the words won't wait anymore.

We are finding our home in Thomasville. I laugh at the Annie of six months ago, the Annie who gave herself a deadline to find new friends and a new church, who thought deadlines would help fix everything because normally, they do. I love deadlines and lists and the adrenaline that comes from setting a goal and meeting it.

But friends and faith are not about goals, I've discovered. You can build it, and they still might not come.

Setting my table wasn't enough. I think that's worth mentioning, because a lot of advice I received and words I read encouraged me to move forward, to put myself out there, and things would start happening.

That's not true, not always.

So instead, it is September, and we are settling into life here, but it is different, and it is hard not to pour all of that out when people unwittingly ask how we are doing. We have moved to a small town in the South where everyone knows each other and has family and community built in and at their fingertips -- how do you think we are doing?

I have taken over a bookstore -- a dream -- but change is hard in a small town, and I understand that. It's hard, but I understand it. So I am putting my head down and doing the work, which is all I really know to do. And slowly, the guards are coming down, and people are warming up to me and what I have to offer. It has been painful, but it is rewarding and good for me, and I am happy.

The store itself is doing well. We will never be millionaires, but things are growing, moving. I have staff members and co-workers who respect me and who carry burdens and who do the work right along with me. I am thrilled with them, though in the back of my mind, I wonder how long they will stay. Such is the burden of retail. So I am learning to be content and happy right now, and that is yet another hard thing -- the list of hard things grows a little longer each day, I think.

Our community is good. It doesn't look like I thought it would. (What does, I wonder?) I don't have kindred spirits or giggle-until-you-cry friends. There are no girls' nights. I am intimidated by the intimacy others have formed in decades of life here, but I am also hopeful, and I am discovering that my own time is limited and valuable, perhaps more now than ever before, and as a result, friendships and community might look different than they did a few years ago. I am entering a season in which mingling and networking and "putting myself out there" will all become impossibilities.

I have decided, then, to not try quite as hard. Instead, as with the bookstore, I am going to put my head down and do the work in the ways I know how. I am going to be friendly and kind and warm, but I may not make every event or activity because I just can't. I have tried too hard, I think, these past few months, and it has to stop. Remarkably, I am okay with this. I am trusting the friends will come, with time and effort and faith. For now, it is what it is. And I don't find that truth unpleasant; I find it hopeful.

Creating a home for ourselves in Thomasville meant finding a house and making it look like we lived and loved there. It meant building a community of people we could call ours. It meant opening our hearts and our hands and our pocketbooks to entrepreneurship and all the good and bad it brings. It meant refocusing our faith and finding a church to breathe and be life in.

Last weekend, we spent time with family from all over these Southern states, and would you know almost every person our age was struggling with the question of church and faith? My brother, I think, was disheartened by so much dissatisfaction and hurt, but I was comforted. It is always comforting to know we are not alone.

Jordan and I are trying a new thing with our faith. We are stepping out in prayer and pursuing something different, something unrecognizable to many of our family and friends. I have rarely been specific here about our faith stories, about where we were raised and how we've become who we are. I have hesitated, perhaps out of fear, but more likely out of the potential for hurt and confusion.

We love the way we were raised. We love our faith history. But it is time to focus on our faith going forward.

Yes, I've hurt and been hurt, but this isn't about that. This is about a faith that had grown stagnant and weary and dry, and a corner I turned a few weeks ago when we took a leap in a new direction, and I woke up realizing I was excited for Sunday.

I don't know how much to share yet, but I believe so actively in sharing stories, in grace and authenticity. So I'm sharing this little bit: That Bible verse, the one about working out your salvation with fear and trembling? It shouldn't scare you. It should free you. It has freed me.

The answers aren't clear. Jordan fights long and hard for black and white; I tend to dwell in grey. That's okay. Maybe answers will come; maybe they won't. What matters for us is the pursuit of a faith and belief that is active, working, breathing. I'm not sure yet where that will take us, but I am grateful we are doing it together. 

I don't want to leave the impression that life isn't good, because it is. Who I am now is not, thankfully, who I was a year ago. When I think about this time last year, I realize I was unhappy, stressed, and confused. We had just begun to take over the store, and the growing pains were immense, and we made mistakes. We hadn't moved, so our life was split between these two places. We're not there anymore, and I am glad. 

Moving takes time. In this world of instantaneous communication, of Pinterest boards and Instagram photos, it's important to remember life takes time. My friends teased me when I moved, that my house was decorated and put together in the blink of an eye. What they may not realize is I needed that, because it wasn't going to happen anywhere else. Anyone can hang a picture or put throw pillows on a couch. But building a community? Running a store? Starting a website? Creating a podcast? Forming a staff? Finding a church? None of that moves quickly. 

I'm learning to embrace the now, and I'm learning to embrace how slow it all moves. 

Our goal in all of this -- in life, in entrepreneurship, in friends and church and faith -- is to open our hands. To take each day as it comes, and to learn from it. I'm trying to let go of expectations and watch what happens when I do. 

My palms are open wide. The words are coming back. And I am fearful and trembling, but hoping too.


Ms. Bates said...

So much of this post resonates with me. I don't live in a small town but I still struggle with the same thing. I "started over" about a year ago after an extremely long relationship ended and I have struggled finding friends. I have many acquaintances but I long for what you were writing about in the post. Cute blog, found you via Elizabeth Ivie..

Brittany said...

Annie, this hits so close to my heart. Right now we not in a "small town" but everyone here is from here. The majority of our church family has been a member since their childhood or teen years. Even though we have been so welcomed, I can't help but feel like an outsider most of the time. I love it here but I look back and I think I felt more at home living on base in England. Everyone there was just as alone as we were and we became each others families. I love how authentic your posts are. Thanks for sharing with us!

Najee said...

Thank you for writing. I hope all this unloading has helped declutter the thoughts in your mind, and has given you both peace and respite (if not yet clarity).