“Behold, I am making all things new.” —Revelation 21:5
Last month, we moved to the coastal region of Portland, Maine. (The dream of the 90’s is also alive in this Portland, I think.)
While that may not seem significant on the surface, it’s a very significant thing for our family. The last two years have been quite hard, not only in the circumstantial sense but also on a deeper emotional and spiritual level. Yes, the external circumstances have been immensely challenging – but our internal identity and perspective on life has been intensely changing.
This kind of experience, I have learned, is common when there is an emotional trauma of some kind – a sudden, intense, and violent event that changes everything. Like a death or a divorce or a disaster or a devastating betrayal. For us, the trauma was triggered by the end of our church plant, a five year work that we had given our entire lives to. All of our relational, emotional, and financial resources were invested in this one thing, this dream to plant and grow a church in our home state of Vermont – this calling that we were sure had come from the Lord. We invested every waking moment and every sleepless night to this work. And then suddenly, intensely, and violently, it came to an end, triggering a devastating ripple effect.
And everything changed.
That, of course, is one aspect of the traumatic event – the negative sense of things ending and violently shifting. Like the stages of grief that slowly move toward acceptance, everything is viewed as loss when one is in the process. There is denial, anger, bargaining, depression. In the middle of all that, there is, especially, a desire to prove oneself, justify oneself, vindicate oneself. There is a desire for a quick reclaiming of what was lost and a fast return to some kind of “normal.”
But that’s not how it works.
This process is kind of like dying – and one must die all the way if they ever hope to experience resurrection. That’s a lesson I’ve learned over and over again these last two years. There have been many confusing attempts at resuscitating the old life; there have been lots of false starts. When your identity is in flux, the ego is fighting to survive, to “beat” the trauma and “move on.” It is bargaining with the loss, thinking some of it can somehow be reclaimed.
But that’s not how it works.
Strangely, the clinging to life had a geographical manifestation for us – clinging to the city where we had planted the church, thinking that surely some redemption would happen there. God had called us after all! We had “forsaken all and followed Jesus” into a “radical” new life of church planting! We were going to stay the course and continue the work! But the loss merely compounded and doors continually closed. We were battling to survive financially, emotionally, spiritually, relationally…and losing.
Most of all, we were unable to arrive at a sense of clarity amidst the chaos and confusion.
Of course, precisely at the moment we were at our wit’s end, God began to move. Ain’t that always the way! And the word he began to plant deep within us was, simply, start over. Not, start a new thing, a new ministry, a new venture, a new whatever – but just over. Start over.
And so, here we are, in the great state of Maine, starting over. I cannot tell you how many miraculous details came together in order to get us here – we are not people of much means. I cannot tell you how incredible it has been to have friends that both empathized with our journey and encouraged our move – we have felt “seen” for the first time in years. And I cannot express how simply getting here has brought the clarity we lacked while we were still clinging on – I could not, and would not, have been able to write this post in Vermont. That’s what the beginning of acceptance is all about. It’s a way of seeing that was not possible beforehand because the confounding struggle of that long night is finally, finally giving way to the light of day.
That said, we don’t know what comes next – we really don’t! And in the dying, there is the growing sense that it almost doesn’t matter. Who we are is not what we do. My sense of ambition – to DO something in order to BE something – has been dealt a fatal kind of blow. What matters now is simply being, and finding my family’s flourishing there. What matters is resting in the honest truth of who we are, because who we are is completely, totally loved and accepted by God. Nothing to lose, nothing to prove, simply beloved in the Beloved: free.
And we have decided to “die all the way,” so there can be real resurrection in 2015 and beyond.
We do know a few things, of course. We know that in a month or so we will be welcoming our third little girl into the family: Willa Pearl Hoag. And the whole kid dynamic is going to undergo a beautiful kind of shift. We will no longer have just a Gemma and a Pippa, an Elsa and an Anna, a Pinkie Pie and a Rainbow Dash. The current Hoag sister antithesis will be revolutionized by the synthesis that is Willa!
We also know that we will continue to love the church and seek God’s leading into a local parish as we settle into this new place. Will that bring ministry for me? If the gift and calling of God is irrevocable, then probably (I know I’m called to preach and organize for the kingdom). But, no expectations! No forcing it! And honestly, ministry is that which overflows the borders of church into the everydayness of life, so it will happen, and it IS happening. I am learning to be a better disciple and seeking the same for my family like never before, actually. We are discerning our place in the Body, together.
Early on in our post-traumatic process, during a moment of painful prayer, I got a word from the Lord that felt like a drop of water on the tongue while traversing a scorching desert. I asked, desperately, “What do I do now?” And the response (like most of God’s responses to me, apparently) was a simple phrase: Just keep writing. I’ve been holding onto that word ever since, and I’ve written from wherever I have been in this process as openly and honestly as possible. I have certainly grown in that process too, learning some lessons and leaving some things behind along the way.
This personal blog at zhoag.com – which I am relaunching right now! – is an attempt to continue being faithful to that word, even into this new season of clarity.
And in the days ahead I simply want to be the best disciple, husband, father, and writer I can be, because that’s who I am.
I want to let the rest of the chips fall where they may.
I want to let God open the doors, because he is making all things new.
And most of all, I want to accept myself, my beautiful family, and our blessed life just as it is, because God has already accepted us fully in Jesus.
Thanks for joining me here – it means a lot.