How We Rise When The Sky Has Fallen

{By Kelli Woodford}

“We no longer need Chicken Little to tell us the sky is falling, because it already has….

The issue now is how to take care of one another.”

~~Anne Lamott

 

The sky began to show her age in my thirty-fourth year of life.

 

I was largely pregnant with my eighth baby, wearied by the labor that had not yet begun. The children and I would take walks in the wild of our untamed thirteen acres – them leading at a run, me following at a crawl. We’d watch that rushing stream, so fierce in spring’s abundance, taper and trickle to a standstill come August. Like the deepening lines on my face, I always mused for a moment on how the riverbed wore her cracks well. Then away we would go, children pulling at my hands to hurry up, hurry up, Mama. Our feet would carry us to gather abandoned nests and snakeskins, traipsing through blackberry brambles past their seasonal prime. But this was more than exploration. It was premonition. We were feeling for days long since past, and yet, paradoxically, somehow nourished by the tilting of the earth into all that lay ahead. And I knew it the way migrating birds know when it’s time to fly south: something was trying to get born. A change was coming. It was in the wind.

 

You see, we had been the solid backbone of several church communities in the twelve years since our inception as a family. My husband had been the pastor and I, his dutiful side-kick wife. We were the ones who cleaned the sanctuary on Sunday and answered the phones with a quivering voice at midnight on Saturday. We were the ones who knew the funeral director in town by name. We were the ones who people called in their times of crisis. We scheduled potlucks and picnics complete with kickball games for all ages. We held babies (mostly our own) and handed out charity cash when it was the need of the hour. We married and buried, baptized and evangelized and catechized, all with rhetoric as sound as you please. And this happened in every community of Christians we found ourselves. Across states and regardless of denomination. In formal pastoral positions and outside of them. This was our calling. Or so we thought.

 

But then, growth. Swollen with baby number eight, I was so sick that I couldn’t regularly attend church. I stopped saturating myself in threats and warnings for an hour every Sunday of “what would certainly happen to me if I ventured out of the fold.” I was removed from the anxiety-ridden, am-I-doing-it-right, navel-gazing examinations that sermons always induced. And I began to find God in other ways. Not through the zeal of spiritual achievement, rife with measuring sticks and unspoken comparisons, but a deeper, stronger, older life bubbling up like a fountain within that had nothing to do with finding my place in a pecking order. A life that couldn’t even be quenched by the meritocracy of performance-based acceptance with God, which I had so long endorsed. My stated beliefs were beginning to look shabby. All I had known was coming apart and the sky was falling down around my feet. In chunks. And there I was, standing among the wreckage with an audacious grin on my face.

 

Something was being lost, yes. But something was also being born.

 

And looking back now, I know this was part of the process.

 

Because in order to evolve in faith, we must always be trading in the old for the new. Growth is like wind and lucid, living water and all the years of holding tightly to consistency and propriety and kissing the ring of The Man could not take me where this new breeze was blowing. But to feel the edges of these things I had to let go of the dominant narrative of my life in favor of the unknown. I had to be willing to set aside my comfortable theology and my well-worn religious habits and venture into an exploration of life without back-up plan or guarantee. Sounds a lot like faith, doesn’t it? Like following the wind. Yes, because the safety of church life was my sky: all that I had ever known and trusted to be true about myself and my place on this earth; all that gave light to my days and order to the seasons and reminded me of the starshine in my own eyes; all that was security and civility and upholding of the status quo – this is what had to crack and bleed. It eventually had to fall.

 

I still feel the lines deepening in my face. And the weariness of labor not yet begun. I follow my children at a crawl sometimes, and other moments lead them by leaps and bounds. This is the way of things. Life is movement and change. Everything that reminds us of this dynamic rhythm is premonition, even as it inhabits the inherent anxiety of such. Wind and water, death and life. Seasons. They point toward fluidity, toward contingency. They remind us that, if our souls should experience conversion and rebirth as a beautiful habit, we must continue to follow.

 

Now I find my purpose in (as Anne Lamott says) discovering how to care for each other. Not in how to wax eloquent or stir you with my rhetoric. Not in convincing irrefutable presentations or persuasive systematic philosophy. Rather, in listening. And this can take place within the four walls of a steepled building or in whispered voices through the steam of the espresso machine at the coffee shop where I work. No longer are the interpretations of truth up for debate as much as winked at with a knowing eye. Less likely will you find my opinions staunch or my language absolute. Rarely now does the fire burn hot for a clear proclamation of The Way. No, no. The days of one-size-fits-all faith are gone. I wear my size and let you wear yours. And the tension in that dichotomy doesn’t keep me up at night. Because I am learning the lesson of the fallen sky: What matters most is how to care for each other. Wherever it happens.

 

I’m beginning to believe that this, my friends, this is how we rise.

_______________________________________________________________

 

kelli bio picKelli Woodford has always had a quirky penchant for collecting quotes. The words she feels at home in most, though, are from Mr. Mark Twain himself, “One must travel to learn.” While she hasn’t hung her hat in every one of the fifty states or abroad, she has been known to travel compulsively in the world of ideas. Kelli considers curiosity a serious expedition and is rarely satisfied with anything remotely status quo. She collects friendships with people as different as they can be and feels all the richer for it, but never experiences “home” so much as when she is with her best friend – who also happens to be her husband. They make their abode in Love, but also in the Midwest with their seven blue-eyed children. Kelli engages us with her writing as part of the writer’s team. You can follow Kelli on her personal blog, or on facebook and twitter.

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16 Comments on “How We Rise When The Sky Has Fallen

  1. Wow Kelli, this is amazing how you describe your faith journey so beautifully! I am so thankful our trails collided and now we get to be walking buddies along the way. And you are right, it doesn’t matter how well we can defend our stance or prove our point or any of that. “What matters most is how to care for each other. Wherever it happens.” YES! And we do that! We care for each other, and that is what matters. This is very uplifting, my sweet friend. I LOVE YOU!

    • We ARE walking buddies, Paula. And what great opportunities friendship provides for us to care for each other. Thank you so much for your kind words and encouragement always.

  2. Yes. And Amen. To all of it. It’s so exhausting holding up a sky that needs to come down so that we can see beyond that sky all the way to the heavens. But the blessings abound when we let it go. Grace. Sweet grace. I’m so very happy to be standing with you with the sky at our feet!

  3. There were so many points in there that moved me, in a deep poetic way. And this is one of those, “Life is movement and change. Everything that reminds us of this dynamic rhythm is premonition, even as it inhabits the inherent anxiety of such.”

  4. So it seems to me that most often our lives have to unravel before we rise. The lost and found section of our journeys can be difficult to discover. Like in a maze, we don’t always know we are lost until we come to yet another dead end. Although I cannot relate to the weariness of labor, I do understand the weariness caused by so many other things. Seasons…I am really beginning to comprehend the depth of these and can see clearly how I have passed from one to the next. To be sure, process is the right word for this dynamic. Kelli, as usual you packed a whole lot of stuff into one post-all of it rich and captivating. I am certainly glad that you discovered how to care for others. It shows.

    • And, as usual, your comment is rich and laden with deep meaning, Michael. 🙂 I am particularly taken with your image of the lost and found section of our journeys. How difficult to assign events and seasons as one or the other. Perhaps each place we find ourselves has elements of both …. ? Evidence of redemption, yes?
      Thank you for your kindness, friend. I appreciate you.

  5. Kelli I’m lost for words. Going to come back and read… and re-read… Your words here touch so many different facets of my current season. Life is on its head and this is a gift to me now. Thank you, friend.

  6. Kelli,
    Thank you for sharing your faith journey. Anne Lamott’s writing has been a very helpful mirror for me to hold my spirit up in front of to see its growth. Caring for one another, yes & Amen:)
    Gratefully,
    Katie

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