Embracing Fluidity

Post Author: Emily Schwartz Crouch

female silhouette with water and a horizon in the silhouetteTwo months ago I ended my position at a parish where I served for six years as the associate rector. Leaving was the best option for my family, my health, and my desire to pursue another kind of ministry. It was time for something new. I initially thought I would stay until I had my second baby and then would make a graceful exit; however, this never happened, which led to making some tough decisions.

We wrestled with how we could afford to live on (basically) one income. I have always carried our health insurance, which meant we would likely either need my spouse to find new employment or we would purchase our health insurance. Both my husband and I were unwilling to relocate for our jobs. Having family in the same city was our priority. Having these parameters was, at times, terribly difficult. In the end, my husband and I decided to embrace change rather than run from it. I believe it forced us both to embrace creativity and risk. I’m much better at the first than the second. In one month’s time my husband ended a job, we moved, he started a new job, and I became unemployed. I still cringe when I write the word unemployed.

A week before I left the church a parishioner wrote me a card with her mantra: We must be fluid because flexible is too rigid. I have this card tucked away in a favorite book as a reminder that seasons of life and ministry are often more about fluidity than flexibility. Winter eventually gives rise to spring, and even in the midst of our coldest months there are still days with warmth and sunshine—even if these quickly change to snowy ones only hours later. When I embrace this, I am amazed at how my body can adjust to the cold, the hours spent indoors and the darkness.

Flexibility, for me, implies that I can juggle being many things: a worker, a mother, the administrator of our household, a friend, a running partner, a committee member, a choir member, a wife, etc. In hindsight, I know I bought into the belief that I could do it all and more. Flexibility did not give me freedom, just more responsibility. As an introvert who often pretends to be an extrovert (and then wonders why she is so darn exhausted), the pace was becoming anything but lifegiving. My husband grew increasingly frustrated at “The Church” that seemed to take all of my remaining energy. For me, though, the real problem was that I no longer felt creative. I had no energy to create, to dream, or to dwell in possibility.

To be fluid, on the other hand, suggests something different: fluidity ebbs and flows, settling into a rhythm that can be adjusted if needed. The first choice might not be the best option, but over time it may weave and merge into something new that works well. Or doesn’t. If I miss the church, I can return. If I’m working too many hours, I can cut back. If I really enjoy being a mom and wife the majority of the time, I can dwell here for a while longer.

Ash Wednesday this year was very different for our family. I worshipped with my husband and daughter in a small church with very few in attendance. I wasn’t in charge of anything or anyone except Charlotte (who “needed to go potty” four times in the service). It was a wonderful change of pace. Afterwards I went home and lingered with Charlotte over Cheez-It crackers and Dr. Seuss books. A new kind of communion for us.

I worshipped with my family on Easter Sunday at a Roman Catholic Church, where my nephews were baptized. I was a priest during Holy Week and then a mom, a wife, a sister, and a daughter-in-law on Sunday. This feels fluid to me. On Monday I took off my collar and returned to a different role – one of which I am still a bit unsure. Some days I’m more disoriented than others. I joined a book group that meets on Thursday mornings. I find myself justifying this decision (it’s good to meet other women, to remain connected). Part of me feels guilty, and my shame triggers emerge. I think, my husband is working hard all day- what am I doing? I should be more ambitious and goal oriented! I forget that as much as I fight it, self worth for me is tangled in what I do to earn money and to contribute to others.

Yet, there is a joy I feel in slowing down. Slowing down to be more present at home. I am comforted by the repetition of routines I find myself immersed in these days: lots of laundry, cooking, polishing silver, unpacking boxes, carpool. I still refuse to iron. During my doubts I am reminded of these words by Carrie Newcomer, in her song “Holy as the Day is Spent:”

Holy is the familiar room. And the quiet moments in the afternoon.
And folding sheets like folding hands. To pray as only laundry can.

Today I have an interview. It’s not for a church position, but for an agency that provides interventions and therapy for children and families facing crisis and transition. I am interviewing as a marriage and family therapist, not as a priest. I have no clue what to wear. I comb through my closet noticing that I have a mess of black skirts, sweaters, dresses. I haven’t worn my clerical collar in a month. This feels so odd.

I settle on a paisley dress with brown boots and the red lipstick I wear when I am feeling both confident and nervous. I am wearing my grandmother’s pearls in place of a collar. I tell myself it’s going to take some getting used to…and yet I can’t keep from smiling.

Tomorrow, schools are closed in Louisville. I will spend the day with my daughter doing as much or as little as we can. I’m sure this will involve hot chocolate, and I am so grateful.

Emily Schwartz Crouch is a wife to Zach, mother to Charlotte, and handler of a large and cantankerous black labrador named Ryder. She works as a Marriage and Family Therapist during the week and a priest in the Diocese of Kentucky on Sundays. On the side, she also attempts to read, write, sing, and loves nothing more than a long run (without the jogging stroller). A native Floridian, she loves fall and spring in Kentucky, and after 12 years in the Bluegrass State still misses the South.

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