In Which This Is a Change, But It Isn’t a Goodbye

It was just over a year ago now that Tammy invited me to be a writer for the Mudroom. I had given her this passionate piece, “The End of Secrets,” and I believed very much in this idea, of a place for Christian writers to be messy. Also for messy writers to be Christian. And for all of to just tell a truth that is synonymous with true freedom.

Today I’m getting this post up in the eleventh hour. I mean, like, the eleventh hour and forty-five minutes. I’m stretched thinner than ever, which is saying something as I’m a person who is often stretched thin. I’m juggling too many things, living too fast in a year of slow. I have to find a way to let the steam out.

For me, these seasons of too much always come up when there is an unresolved tension in my life. A lack of integrity, you could call it, pulling me tight between where I’m needed and where I’m pressing in. Basically, I feel “too much” whenever I’m trying to live more than one life.

The particular transition I’m bridging now has been a long time coming. I’ve tried for decades to avoid being like my mother, a homesteading and country living advocate who literally milked a goat on national TV. My mother was a force of nature. I’ve said this many times, but it’s always true. Her gifts and history and natural charisma were a magnet to me. They were such a strong pull that I couldn’t maintain safe distance unless I turned our energies against each other, to repel. In order to know myself as separate from my mother, I had to fight my way free.

I was 25 years old when she died. Eleven years ago. And I was too young, still, to have any idea what I was losing. I lost my mother the way you lose an object, thoughtlessly. One day she was here and then she was gone. Even my grief was too cold.

I’ve had many remembrances of her in my adult years, as I’ve birthed babies, baked bread and canned apple plum butter. They come in waves, each one a little stronger than the one before, and each one heating up that grief. I have never had one as strong as the one I’m living through now.

Half the things I say, about homesteading these days, I can’t tell whether they were mine or hers first. The distinction is blurred. That boundary that I fought for — that I sacrificed for — for so many years…it just doesn’t matter very much anymore.

I teach my mother’s skills as if they were mine. I share her knowledge as if I had never disregarded it. That joining, between my mother and I, that I so resisted all those years has come to pass. I guess you could say the magnet has turned around.

It wouldn’t be true to say that I have chosen all of this. I remember, when they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and this was nowhere on my list. I wanted to be a social justice warrior on Twitter. But what people wanted from me was to be a homesteader, on YouTube. I wanted to be a literary writer, or a playwright, or a poet. But what people want from me is just my stories, the stories of my unusual life, and this precious-as-gold unique family heritage which I am rebuilding — again hardly by choice — with my own kids.

It wouldn’t be true to say that I have created any of this. But it would be true to say that I have allowed it. In the last twelve months my personal landscape has changed. Just this year — and I can track this, believe it or not — I have found my way through a kind of thicket, through which I spent my energy defending myself against both real and imaginary pushback. I literally just gave up an entire line of defense, and it released all this energy, that I had been using to try to control the narratives around myself.

It’s terrifying, to just be honest and vulnerable, right wherever you actually happen to be. It’s completely terrifying. But it also happens to be a lot less work.

I can’t write every month for the Mudroom. I just can’t do it. Not on top of my new gig writing for Molly Green Magazine, and the growing tribe I’m trying to feed at the Fouch-o-matic Off Grid YouTube channel…not to mention the already full time work of practicing the homesteading life I preach.

But I can’t just wander away, either. Not when it was the very same impulse that wrote that first essay, “The End of Secrets,” that has brought me into this phase of my life. Not when it was precisely the work that Tammy has fed into the Mudroom here, and my twelve months of writing raw with this precious community, that has helped me to peel back these layers and face what the world might want from me.

It’s too perfect that this month’s theme is vocation. This month in which I have been twelve months with the Mudroom and I need to make a change, the theme is also vocation? Who plans these things?

My story is a story of having my vocation chosen for me. Though I’m not exactly like my mother—nor could I possibly be!—I’ve stopped fighting the possibility that the world really needs me to take on her same job. I’m falling downhill now, it feels a bit like a mudslide, but also like a perfect inevitability. It feels a bit like createdness. Like calling.

It doesn’t feel at all like goodbye.

If there’s no other reason to lean into your faith today (though, of course, I think there are many) it might be this. Jesus doesn’t cut us apart into these genres. Jesus doesn’t say to me, “Oh, she’d rather write about cornbread than messy faith, so she’s not mine anymore.” That just doesn’t happen. The love of God is so wide and vast that it can hold every bit of me. My tired young mother struggles, my prophetic passion for calling out greed and environmental injustice, and the way I can brood a box of chicks beside a wood stove. Jesus wants it all. And that’s what we want from one another, too.

So, don’t you say good bye to me. Don’t you dare.

Just because I need to flex the muscles of my arms doesn’t mean that my legs stop working. And just because I need to go and preach a different shade of gospel in a different town doesn’t mean that I am casting away this place. I have to set down the ball of being a writer for the Mudroom, so that I can hold some other things. But I am not setting down my love and appreciation for Tammy, for all the writers here, and for the readers, who value the kind of truth that is synonymous with true freedom.

This is good work that’s happening here. I’m just the proof.

Esther Emery