God is in the kitchen.
I know it if by no other fact than the myriad themes running through my life, iterated by everyone from friends to my therapist to our pastor to daily Scripture to the devotional book I randomly found gathering dust under my bed.
The Tomb. The Womb. The Imposter. The Beloved. The Labor Pains. The parallels woven throughout.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5)
It started in early September when I returned to Nashville to play my first show there since moving to Minneapolis in October 2011. Returning didn’t feel like “coming home” but like an awkward reunion with a friend from whom you’ve grown quite distant. The show, which was at the Bluebird Café – where I always, without fail, sell at least a dozen CDs and where I am always, without fail, warmly received – was a bit of a flop. My performance wasn’t weak; the crowd was kind and responsive. And yet…I sold nothing. Not one CD. Leaving the venue, I couldn’t help but chuckle and go, “well…THAT was unexpected.” I wasn’t discouraged exactly. No…it was more like a deep affirmation of something I knew but wasn’t yet able to name. And I wanted to come home.
The following week as I shared all of this with my therapist, I tried to explain the strangeness of it all. How for these past nine years, I’ve been pursuing this dream of “Being a Professional Recording Artist.” And how, for all the relative success I’ve enjoyed – from making two widely celebrated and appreciated records, and even touring with my two very favorite artists of all time, and how all of it was kind of dumped in my lap, like a gift – I still never managed to “catch.”
In many ways, it paralleled my pregnancy and birth story…it happened TO me, without any deep pursuit or effort on my part just as I would have directed it, had I been directing it.
And yet…just as my perfect pregnancy ended with absolute finality in an emergency hysterectomy, it seemed, on this telling trip to Nashville, that my career-as-I-knew-it was grinding to an equally final, unexpected halt. No matter what efforts I make to jump-start things again, it inexplicably fizzles. There’s no reason for it. Unless…
“For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; itwill certainly come and will not delay.” (Hab. 2:3)
Like I said, I was telling all this to my therapist, and was admittedly discouraged about it. Going, “How did I get here? What did I do wrong?” It’s odd to me that I’ve heard a thousand times over, “Amy, you’re so talented! How are you not signed to a label? How are your songs not all over the radio!?” I never knew the answer to that, and the mystery is only intensified in knowing that many of the people who’ve said it had the power and influence to help me but didn’t. As I said: Odd.
At this, she kindly reminded me of something we’d previously talked about: My favorite shows to play – the ones I always leave with an incomparable joy and a calm peace about being exactly where I’m meant to be; the ones I feel uniquely purposed for – are shows at homeless shelters and prisons, where the audience is made up of the most marginalized and abandoned in our culture. The ones who are, from a professional standpoint, the least “useful” to me (in terms of buying power), but who seem to appreciate and need my particular brand of music the most. I near always leave them with empty pockets and an indescribably full heart.
And all this pursuit of the Standard Nashville Dream – which involves making CDs, selling out concert halls, and becoming “something successful” – has stolen me from them.
And she said to me, “Amy. Why are you looking for life at the tomb? Why do you keep standing in front of something that is so obviously dead to you, when across the hall a door is wide open and life is beckoning for you to chase it?”
Why do I keep asking God to give me back my uterus – something that just cannot be done – when He’s promised a better life, a better family, without it?
Why do I linger at the tomb?
It’s a fear thing. Part of me wants that other dream to come true. I want the fame, the fortune, the notoriety. I want to be Somebody according to Nashville. And I need to be absolutely, unequivocally certain that it’s not going to happen before I go another way.
I want to have more babies, to be pregnant again. I want a miracle, to turn it all around again.
But…my own passion, my own heart, tells me that’s not what I really want. What I really want is to be with the Least of These…to spend my days with prisoners, to write songs with and for the homeless. That’s where I find life. That’s where I feel alive and purposed.
What I really want is a family made up of orphans, the way God’s family is made up of adopted orphans.
In response to all of this, Therapist (knowing its incomparable significance) said, “Amy, you are pregnant. God is readying to birth something…something big. Something of eternal importance. I don’t know what, but I believe it involves the death of this one dream, and your willingness to grieve its death and then walk into the new life about to be born.”
Leaving death at the tomb and nurturing the life growing in the womb…
“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Rom. 7:24)
In all this, our pastor has been teaching recently about the True Self, the Deep Truth, versus the earth self, the surface truth. About how we are still sinners trapped in skin, but it’s not the full story. We are, in his words, zygotes who will, in their full realization, be humans; acorns which will, in their fullness, be magnificent oak trees.
Simultaneously, I’ve been reading Brennan Manning’s The Rabbi’s Heartbeat, in which he spends a significant amount of time discussing the Imposter, the false self. About this he says, “Living out of the false self creates a compulsive desire to present a perfect image to the public so that everybody will admire us and nobody will know us.”
We are, all of us humans, trapped in this in-between. This feeling of incompleteness. We are in some sense still enslaved to sin, to self, to lies about what we are and can never be. We are living in the shadows, waiting for light to cast itself on reality and show us who we are in our fullness, according to Christ.
“This is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 4:10)
But, Manning says, what we really are…WHO we really are…who I really am…is Beloved of God. My significance, my worth, my value rests in this: to “define [myself] radically as one beloved by God.” (John Eagan) Because when we understand our belovedness, we are free to be flawed, to acknowledge the Imposter in ourselves, and yet know that we aren’t defined by our past achievements, adulations, or failures, but by of the Reality of belovedness.
Our pastor has been discussing it in more culturally “relevant” terms…about how when we find our identity in Christ alone, and in His love for us as revealed on the Cross, we don’t have to be “right” about our theology or our politics. We don’t rest the weight of our significance on how others perceive us, how we perceive ourselves, or how we think Christ perceives us. We don’t have to be certain of correct doctrines because we stand confident of Christ’s unconditional love. We rest our whole selves in that He so desperately loves us that He offered Himself, His own life, “while we were yet sinners.” So we would be righteous, if not right. So that we, the utterly unworthy, would know our immeasurable worth. So we would be His.
THE LABOR PAINS.
“As a pregnant woman about to give birth writhes and cries out in her pain, so were we in your presence, LORD.” (Isa. 26:17)
So here I am.
My name is Amy, which means – not coincidentally – “Beloved of God.”
I find myself at a loss on so many fronts…continually grieving the death of the traditional family dream in pursuit of the family Christ will build around us precisely because of that loss.
I find myself letting this professional dream die, in order to foster a dream that could not otherwise be realized because it is defined, at its core, by loving the least of these and bringing Belovedness to them who are most tightly bound by the Imposter’s lies.
It scares me, as new things near always do. And yet, just as I cannot undo my hysterectomy and go back to that “before,” so I cannot revive this old dream and all its trappings.
Incredibly, it feels Real. As if God handed me everything I asked for – the marginal success, the fans, the albums, the touring, the pregnancy – as a father gives his child a plastic shovel and a bucket and allows him, for a time, to make castles in the sand. But now, God my Father has said, “Enough with the toys. Enough with the games. Go build My Kingdom.”
I am being called to leave what’s dead in the tomb, and let Christ bring forth the life swelling in the womb. The spiritual and emotional pain is as fierce and frightening as the contractions I had just before my beloved son was born.
And as promising.
For this I know: The pain of labor brings forth the babe. And the dead must be buried so that life may be resurrected.
What tomb are you returning to in search of the living? What womb’s life are you missing?
Are you feeding and fearing the Imposter in you, terrified for anyone to know the real you? Or are you living as the Beloved of God, and therefore utterly fearless in your living and being?
And what Reality is God calling you to embrace– about yourself, about your situation, about Christ – that will finally bury the dead and birth the new…in you?