A few years ago, I lived in a sweet little cottage in rural America. Every spring, I’d spend hours cleaning up the yard and flower beds. One of the final steps was making the annual pilgrimage to get a load of mulch to spread, bringing both protection to the plants and soil and adding the finishing touch to the look of the landscape.
My brother had loaned me his truck and a pitchfork, and my roommate accompanied me to make the purchase. Bob the Builder filled Scoop clear full of mulch and then dumped it all into an enormous pile in the bed of our truck. We paid, said goodbye, and headed towards home.
Half-way home, we remembered the pitchfork, the One and Only Tool we had to scoop the mulch.
It had been laying in the bed of the truck.
And no one thought to remove it before the giant scoop of mulch was loaded right smack on top.
So buried under that mountain of mulch lay the pitchfork, our most helpful tool.
We laughed when we realized it. Kinda wanted to cry too, but that wouldn’t really help anything. We ended up finding buckets and other things to do the job, and cheered mightily when that handy pitchfork was finally found.
Somewhere between spreading that mulch and writing this post, my life transitioned me overseas and back again. Like Bilbo, I’m finding my own return to the Shire to be both fields of green and lanes of rocky soil. It can be overwhelming, both for the good and the bad.
In this season, I am reaching a conclusion:
That pitchfork lying under that pile of mulch just might be an ample metaphor for re-entry.
There’s so much coming at you, at a speed you are powerless to control. You’re safely set into the environment you were aiming for, yet feeling misplaced. The pile above you seems endless, heavy and filled both with the nourishment and protection you need and blocking you from the oxygen and sunshine that are necessary for life.
I’m only two months into my own journey of re-entry so I write from the trenches, not from a long wealth of experience. But what I know that I know that I know is that we must remind each other that we are not alone in this, so if you find yourself identifying with that pitchfork, let me just say that I’m here too and let’s help each other find our way.
The other morning I turned the page in my Bible to the book of Ezra. I didn’t seek it out on my own – it was the next step in my reading plan. It hit me that this book and Nehemiah that follows are all about returning. So I settled into my porch swing and asked this ancient priest to show me what it looks like to return well.
Here are a few things I noticed:
Clear Purpose. King Cyrus gives his decree for the people of God to go up to Jerusalem to “rebuild the house of the Lord (Ezra 1:3b)” Not rebuild their own houses, line their own pockets, take the next step in advancement or comforts: the purpose of their return was to join God in the work of rebuilding. Your return is not about you; just like your sending, it is for the Kingdom of God. Let that be our clear purpose.
Inventory Matters. The second chapter details names and numbers of those involved in this returning and rebuilding. I read it and wonder why all of this is important. The information seems mundane and useless. But maybe numbering matters because taking inventory matters. Standing at a fresh start, taking the time to consider all that fills our lives matters. Within the past weeks, I have held every one of my earthly possessions in my hands, placed each one on a new shelf. It’s a prime opportunity to simplify. The same is true as my schedule begins as one large, blank page. By default, it will fill right back up again, but pausing for inventory helps me be more intentional about time in this coming season.
Rituals and Rhythms: In chapter 3, Ezra highlights how the people are keeping feasts and making daily offerings. They are establishing rhythms and ritual back into their lives, even in a new-again environment. I know rhythms to be grounding, rituals to give me a sense of order to my days and my life. While these have been hard to set again in this season just yet (thank you, COVID), even simple rhythms like morning coffee and reading time help me feel grounded and give me space to figure out life in this new landscape. I want to be intentional about adding in more rituals and rhythms that can build strength into my return.
Joy and Weeping: In the end of Chapter 3, Ezra describes the celebration of laying the foundation of the temple being met with two great, clashing sounds: shouts of joy and cries of weeping. Shouts of joy were present because the work was being done, and that was cause for celebration. But those who had known the grandeur of Solomon’s temple wept loudly, knowing what they had lost. Re-entry asks us to hold both: joy of returning to family, friends, familiar, home, and the searing pain of leaving behind family, friends, familiar and home. We hold them both, joy and pain. And they seem like such opposing weights. But we’re not the first to hold both; Ezra tells us that this is a part of returning. One detail especially catches my attention: some people didn’t even know if they were hearing people weep or celebrate. The sound could not be distinguished. Sometimes that’s how my soul feels these days. But that’s ok. Ezra did it. We can do it too.
So yes, that pitchfork feels familiar, and I wish I couldn’t relate quite so well. I’m ready for the pile of mulch to clear. But friends, we’re not alone in this. We have one another and we have sages of old whose Spirit-inspired words have been preserved for us.
So let’s make our way up out of that truck bed by remembering our purpose, taking inventory, establishing rhythms and rituals, and holding joy and weeping in one grasp.
And remember, just like everything else, this return never really was about us anyhow. It’s about the King and the Kingdom. And that’s so worth pressing on for.
What rituals and rhythms have been grounding for you in your reentry?