Logo Credit: Evolving Faith Conference
The kitchen light was dim, except for the one fabulous selfie spot light, so my guy and I took one. It was 7 am, with dark, rain filled skies, but we were so excited to be greeting the day fill with Evolving Faith 2018. The night had been filled with a smattering of my thoughts as the rain pitter-pattered on the roof all through the night. As a relatively recent California transplant, who has not had any significant rain since April, this nights October rain was magical. As the sound of drops landed softly on the airbnb, they intermingled with the unfolding thoughts of my current place of faith and hopes towards the weekend.
It seemed poetic that as the rain fell, so did my own awareness of the grief that has laid deep so many of my years. But the grief didn't startle me or shut me down. It appeared almost as an old friend, who I was able to listen to as the rain fell. This wasn't the tear dripping kind of grief. It was the kind of silent acknowledgement and knowing. Grief danced with me through the night, as my man had gone to bed and I doodled notes in my journal. Most of the time, she stayed at arms length, though there were several tender moments where she leaned in and whispered insights that had been painfully gained. But as I wrote, particularly about God and my mother and I, I was overwhelmed with a sense of Nurturing, Mothering God. I saw that in the earthly absences of that in my life, hijacked and stolen by illness and distance, God's presence previously came to me through the hands and heart of my mother and God's presence continued to come to me through the hands and hearts and leadership of nurture. I had not set out or intended to sit with grief or planned to ponder my earthly or heavenly Mother, but that is what unfolded the night before we set out to Evolving Faith.
The dance with grief was so comforting to me as so much of my sense of God and my earthly Mom has been jumbled for some time. I was able to let go of a long time held exhale, that God could and would come to me as I nurtured myself and others, just as my mom had done for me. It would be misleading to pretend that this awareness came in and as a result of one night's journaling. This work as been and continues to be a long time in coming, filled with numerous books from the likes of Brene Brown, Anne LeMott, Glennon Doyle, Kelly Corrigan, Jen Hatmaker, Lisa Sharon Harper, Rachel Held Evans, and Sarah Bessey and connecting with a life coaching guide for purposeful listening, learning, and living. The stories and work of these women have come around me and stood witness and held vessel for meaning making for me, during times when my life offered many voids. So to realize that I was preparing to attend a gathering where, not one, but three of these Sheros and mentors were going to be sharing and teaching was thrilling.
The rain continued to sing through the next morning as my husband and I traveled down the stairs out the door of our garden market apartment door. The morning's 8 am start proved to be no obstacle for my west coast legs. Yes, we had to be at the coffee shop by 7:00 to wait 20 minutes in line, for our well worth the wait expresso. Yes, we had to decide to park just out side the conference center entrance, choosing a half-mile walk in the soaking rain. But I did not want to miss a moment. Our determination and legs carried us through the 20 minutes of foggy-glasses, soaking rain. It was tempting to spitter-spatter thoughts of frustration and resentment that we had to walk through the uncomfortable conditions, but as we entered the open-air rotunda, the realization of this moments meaning came full circle and brushed away any spitter-spatter. Jen, Sarah, Rachel and the tribe that they had assembled, these gifted servants who because of their own diligence, study, suffering, and service offered me vessels of God and community of church in spaces and times when nothing else did - they were all here, ready to share and celebrate with me and the hundreds of others who were fortunate to join me. The sense of joy just settled in me.
Joy is where the day started. It was where the day was founded and grounded, but it was only the beginning of a journey that all of the speakers walked through with us. As I sat on the cushion, in the wooden bench seat, all I could notice was my dark denim blues, soaking cold around my legs. The walk had been long, so long that the water's drops were guaranteed to trickle from the tops of my thighs to the tips of my ankles. So the denim just lay there, as a reminder of the the previous nights visit with grief, the previous years journey with grief, and the present morning's walk with discomfort.
But I was in good company at this gathering of Evolving Faith. I was in the presence of meaning makers - both in the crowd and on the stage. These were not just any meaning makers. These were men and women who understood at some level what it is to lose the identity that they came from and who had or were grappling with how do I begin again from ground zero. Some were more seasoned. Some were more versed, but all were genuine. So as I set in the same conference center with the voices of love and leadership, who spoke to my heart when it was most lonely and broken, I looked around and saw others who had a similar gleams in his/her eyes as they spoke and I learned in a tangible way that I am not alone.
The unfolding moments, hours, of Evolving Faith sessions were filled with content that scaffolded us each into our self and invited us into the sacred. The day started out and was grounded in joy, but it traveled a long road through the day. I wish I could articulate the work of the sacred in one full post, or even one full book. But I think the sacred work that is collectively unfolding through the participants of Evolving Faith is a story for the generations. I don't presume to have any, let alone all of it figured out. But what I can claim and share is that through Evolving Faith Day One, the God of Shalom, the God of Creation, the Spirit of the Word, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is emerging to this time, this place, and this generation in ways that we cannot even imagine.
Even though I am attending in person, I hope to purchase a copy of the conference. Sitting in the auditorium, I find my self soaking in so much from the space of my soul. Yet, this path way to my soul was opened with the genius of the wisdom offered by so many of the community's speakers. I cannot even begin to process it all. There were amazingly important calls to Love, Justice, Equality, Hope, and Freedom, acknowledging that we are in the midst of a time when all of these values are being attacked and erased. No one offered a pat, 5 step, how-to solution answer to this tension and call. In fact, no one even offered a collective call to action. What was offered with the exhortation to do the individual work of evolving faith: dying with the grief, sitting in the ashes, and living steps into the rising. As Jen Hatmaker said, "this is humble work." As the day grew long, and I sat there longer (after my pants had dried), I realized that the work that I have to do has zero to do with performance, zero to do with production, zero to do with others (for now), and everything to do with me.
The wilderness that I had so obliviously been seeking to hide and avoid was mine for the taking. No church reformation advocacy work, personal behavior modification plan, or professional credentialing would be able to take place for my own intentional, honesty, and acknowledgement that I am walking in the wilderness with God. And as I walk into and through the wilderness, Mother God, the nurturing, holding, defining love moves with me every step of the way. My wilderness has not changed. Autism, special needs parenting, giftedness, anxiety, etc continue to be part of my landscape. There continue to be more questions than answers and moments of asynchronous and disconnect than balance and integration. However, I hold a knowing that God can and does meet me in the grief. God meets me in the mental illness. God meets me in the chaos. God meets me in the margin. The work of conscious living, learning, and loving, into the One Love, the Creator, the resurrected Christ, this is my call to the work of evolving faith. It is the call to peace in the midst of chaos. It is the call to service in the midst of selfishness. It is the call to justice in the midst of evil. It is the call to mercy and grace in the midst of revengeful wrath. Evolving Faith is a resilient faith, an adaptive faith, that offers an open invitation into the work of the "arc of the universe."
This is the life, the love, the work that I am about.
Pictured at Evolving Faith left to right: Cindy Brandt, Mike McHargue, Osheta Moore, Kathy Escobar, Pete Enns, Jen Hatmaker, Jeff Chu, Rev. Wil Gafney, and Sarah Bessey
Melinda is a recovering "normal" seeker, who is often distracted by unexpected moments of nature's beauty or questioning children