This is a map of the Mississippi River, created in 1944 by a cartographer named Harold Fisk. It’s called a “meander map”. It demonstrates all the different paths the river has taken over the millennia. Each color represents a moment in history when the river dramatically changed course, until the 1940’s when the Army Corps of Engineers built walls and levees to lock the river into a certain course. Liz Gilbert, speaking of this map, writes:
“I’ve been thinking lately about the ways that I keep trying to control my own nature. I see the rules and boundaries that I have set for myself over the years, and how often they have failed. I think about the vows I’ve made to myself and others… Endless, expensive, stress-inducing efforts to civilize the river of my being. But if you were to look at the history of my life, it looks a lot like this map right here. This map could be a portrait of my heart’s own journey.
Maybe yours, too.
I often say that, after a certain age, everyone in the world could write a memoir called: NOT WHAT I PLANNED. We change. Life changes. We often feel shame, confusion and anger about about those shifts and pivots. But what if we just trusted the river? She seems to know where she wants to go.”
One of the questions I am asked most often when it comes to the recent changes in my life is “what about the kids?” It’s an understandable question. Having given them a mostly fundamentalist, largely conservative, slightly patriarchal Christian upbringing, one can imagine why the news that their mother is now romantically involved with a woman might turn their world upside down (if this is coming as a shock, please read my post on the subject HERE.)
But one of the the best gifts we ever gave our children was inconsistency regarding our beliefs. From the beginning, we have never been concerned about change, only remaining true to where we felt God was leading at any given time. Many years ago, when we were going through one major shift in our religious practices, a friend asked if I were afraid of raising my children with an inconsistent set of beliefs. She expressed concern that she needed to have it all figured out before her own children were old enough to understand. But will any of us ever “have it all figured out?” And isn’t change the defining characteristic of growth? I’ve always believed that if I hold the same beliefs today that I held five years ago something is wrong. If I’m not changing, I’m also not growing. I want my children to know that it’s okay to have their beliefs challenged, and it’s okay to change their minds. So rather than consistency, we’ve held honesty and transparency as a goal. We’ve never tried to act as if we had all the answers, and as our beliefs went through changes we explained them as best we could and were open about the fact that we could be wrong. And sometimes we were. And once we gained that understanding, we admitted our failures and redirected our course.
So when it was time to sit them down and tell them about this, that’s exactly how we did it. And I was nervous about how they’d take it. But they shrugged their shoulders and answered, literally, “okay.” One of my kids did eventually ask “isn’t it a sin for you to be with a woman?” and I answered what was honest for me at the time: “I don’t know.”
Our beliefs are still very complicated. We eat pork now, but continue to keep the Sabbath. We don’t celebrate Christmas, but the kids dressed up for Halloween for the first time this year. I date a woman, but continue to censor songs with explicitly sexual lyrics. We’re just doing the best we can, taking the next right step, one step at a time. There’s a faithfulness and, I hope, humility in that.
“To grow is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” —John O’Donnohue