The art of unraveling


I told my daughter, Maggie, the other day that I need to sit down and unwind. After a few minutes, she came close and whispered, “Are you unraveled yet, Mom?”

I didn’t correct her. She’s asked me it twice since, and each time I melt a bit. I don’t plan to tell her the word is “unwind” not “unravel” anytime soon.

I suppose I’m still unraveling anyway.

And, what have I been up to exactly?

Summer. Another Bridge ministry summer – a marathon of days stuffed tight with knocks on my door, activities, late-night suppers, kids falling asleep on couches instead of their beds, and a front porch swarming with candy-coated, sidewalk-chalked kids.

Each summer is like living and learning a year’s worth of ministry. Kids are engaged in the Cultivate Training Garden, we have weekly Neighborhood Nights, activities at the Neighborhood Centers and Sites regularly, a daily lunch bus route, special trips for different age groups and summer camps, and on and on. Ten weeks of all-hands-on-deck, all day, until late night hours.

It’s like taking a fast-track college course or drinking from a fire hydrant – or doing them both simultaneously. And, for me, it includes balancing the proper care, feeding, and cleaning of 5 kids as well.

But, summer is over now,  so the unraveling begins.

And, unraveling is an art. It really is. Unraveling well prevents crashing and denial-powered momentum (which leads to more crashing).

This I know, with my scraped up elbows and knees, exhaustion, compassion fatigue, and ministry burnout. Yes, over the years, I’ve crashed a good many times, and the pain is just fresh enough to make me into quite the patron of this art form:

To begin, the art of unraveling must always include an honest summary of one’s activities.

We have to look back and look long. I’m learning the importance of reflecting on my seasons past, being a better student of my experiences. I’m learning to acknowledge the goods and the bads in order to clear room for any changes. Steady on isn’t always a good mantra, after all. Don’t just keep going; instead, stop and reflect.

Next, the art of unraveling includes deliberate pruning.

My fall calendar has empty spots in comparison to my summer.

And, I have to hold myself back from cramming it full because crazy-busy starts to feel normal and thus healthy for us creatures of habit.

I’m teaching one English class at a community college – just one. Holding myself to one, even though it twists my stomach every time I pack up my books and head out the door after only a morning in the classroom. I’m unraveling still. Not there yet. But, I’m cutting back even though this feels all wrong for a girl who’s all-or-nothing.

The art of unraveling then adds life-giving activities.

This fall, I’m scheduling Zumba and running like it’s my job. I’m setting aside time to read books – not facebook memes – because books are my first love, and we need lots of time together. I’m writing here again instead of late-night scribbles in my journal. I’m looking forward to another 31 Day Series in October.

Finally, the art of unraveling must include pliable expectations.

I’m saying, “it’s OK” a lot more. It’s all going to be OK. I won’t meet all my goals. Supper won’t be on the table every night. I may be late to meetings.

And the back burner may be heaping with recent additions, but it’s going to be OK.

Friend, may your fall be a season of unraveling too. Breathe deep. Light some pumpkin spice candles. Listen. Be. It’s going to be OK. Reflect well. Do some pruning, add some life-giving activities, and let the expectations go limp. No, we don’t have it all together, but we’re learning and growing and being molded by the grace of Jesus. Let that be enough this season.

Anne Dahlhauser

Anne blogs at Front Porch, Inspired about surrendering everyday living for sacred purposes. She and her husband, Jay, are founders of a ministry called The Bridge of Storm Lake, focusing on missional living and advocacy for youth in vulnerable places of life. She holds an MA in Teaching Languages (TESOL and Spanish) and is a lover of words and the Word, culture and communication. Jay and Anne have five kids, a front door that can't stay closed, and an abundance of messy, holy chaos at their neighborhood center/home in Iowa - of all places.

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