A few nights ago, after an especially harrowing day, I relented and moved dinner out to the porch. My husband is currently leading a high school mission trip and I am single parenting for eight days. The boys are obsessed with sitting on our porch, watching the world go by or running through the grass in the front lawn. Once we spread out on the concrete, everyone was quiet for a moment. Drew, my youngest at 2 ½ , sighed and observed, “It’s beautiful, Mommy! It’s beautiful. Nice, nice, nice.”
I looked at him and asked, “What’s beautiful?”
“Those trees, Mama. Beautiful.”
We hadn’t gone far—just out to the front porch. The transition, the change of scenery, the moment to sit down and be nourished after a long day was all it took, though. Drew saw the beauty in the ordinary—basic trees, planted by the City thirty years ago, trees that cause frustration and angst due to invasive roots, but trees that were beautiful in the evening sunlight.
In three weeks we will be closing this current chapter of our lives in the Silicon Valley, heading north to Oregon. Transition and change are two things I fight. I love comfort, community, normalcy and routine. As we box up books, clothes, dishes and toys, it is a daily fight to see the process as an adventure. While excited about what lies ahead, the road there is bittersweet. My oldest son, at six years, seems to be feeling many of the same emotions as me—not ready to let go of the comfortability of dear friendships forged over time, or known routines and traditions cemented during the last few years.
As we walk this road, I have thought long and hard about the spiritual practice of transition. Transition involves goodbyes, the in-between and new life to establish ahead. The “in-between” is a place of unknowns, shaky footing & often, fear. Recently, a guest preacher shared about the anthropological concept of liminality. If comes from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”. Liminality is the time of ambiguity and disorientation that naturally occurs during the “in between”. You can no longer cling to the original traditions, expectations and community once known. Additionally, the new structures, community and identity has not yet been reached. It is truly a threshold.
Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar and author, writes in Wondrous Encounters: Scriptures for Lent a wonderful description of this concept. “A ‘liminal space’ is the crucial in-between time — when everything actually happens and yet nothing appears to be happening. It is the waiting period when the cake bakes, the movement is made, the transformation takes place. One cannot just jump from [Good] Friday to [Easter] Sunday …”
Knowing how to process this reality for myself is overwhelming. Some days I blindly pack boxes, say goodbyes to friends and reassure my children that all is well, knowing deep down that I am floundering. How do we help children process these times of liminality? How do we walk alongside them during the transition? Through the threshold? How do we sit in the “in between” and just be in the moments of not knowing and ambiguity? A move naturally has the foundational theme of adventure, new friends to be made, bedrooms to be set up, parks to explore, farmer’s markets to devour. To truly enter into the newness ahead, goodbyes and closure must come first. For us that has meant the careful planning and execution of playdates and special outings. I don’t want to force my children to have tear-filled, ominous goodbyes. I do, however, want there to be calm, thought-out chances for closure and connection. To bridge this time of liminality, we created a Summer Bucket List with 40 adventures. Many were things were already on the calendar, others were requests from the kids—places to see “one last time” before departing. And finally, after some research, I added about ten items to do on our actual move up to Oregon and once we arrive in our new town.
As parents, we are called to create structure to these moments of transition where our footing feels a bit iffy. Throughout scripture, though, time and time again, God’s people often find themselves in moments, seasons, even lifetimes of liminality. And as much as I can plan, list out and schedule things to help this “in between” time where nothing seems too sure, Drew’s observations the other night come to my mind again and again. When our minds are racing with to do lists, agendas and overwhelm, often the best liminal practice is calling out the beauty we see surrounding us. To observe, when our hearts are racing about the other side of the threshold, what lies around us now, in this very moment, chaotic as it might be. We can claim that every day, each morning, God’s faithfulness is our hope and assurance.
“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”. The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.”
We’re packing up this little piece of San Francisco to take with us to Oregon.
Christine Gough contributes to Practicing Families when she isn’t packing boxes and preparing to move. She has also created her summer bucket list on her blog space here.
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