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  • Writer's pictureEmily Echols

Telling the Story

A few times at week, at around four o’clock I decide I want to bake bread for dinner. I scour Pinterest for recipes. But anyone who has made bread knows, that’s not enough time to bake good bread. You need two to three hours to let it rise twice unless you want a hockey puck. I’ve baked enough bread to know this and yet, I keep looking at bread recipes at four o'clock. I’ve decided it’s not really about bread. If it were really about bread I would start baking it earlier in the day.

I’m still trying to find my thing. I’m trying to make and create and do. Part of me believes that this feeling of absence, of not knowing or having my thing will go away if I just bake enough bread, knit enough hats, or do enough loads of laundry. I think I keep trying to bake last minute bread because I know I’m supposed to be doing something else but I’m not ready to admit what it might be because what if it’s something hard?

I’m kind of over being a stay at home mom. I’ve only said that out loud to a handful of people, smiling with a laugh in my voice. Because there’s not really another way to say it that doesn’t sound whiny or ungrateful.

After so many years of feeling lost, panicked like a kid lost in a department store, it felt like a gift. I had a label and oh my God how I wanted to have a label. I wanted a simple thing to say when someone asked what I did for a living. Before that I felt like I had to tell my life story, which always created more questions and required more explanations. It was exhausting.

So when I could just say, “I’m a stay at home mom,” and hold my kid in front of my face, it was such a relief. I’m a thing. I have this thing. It’s a normal thing. It was hard and sometimes it was lonely but mostly it was really good.

I had another child and my first went to school. After a while it started to not feel like enough. It’s kind of a long story but vocation came back up recently with church folks. A bunch of ordained people were asking me if I might possibly still be ordained. One person said it might not be ordained ministry but he was certain I had a call to ministry. He said that my kids would get older and, while staying home with them had given me some time, eventually I would need to figure out what my call is. How did he know my not-so-secret plan? It made me cry.

I told a friend about this conversation and he asked me why I was so hostile to the notion of ordination. I told him for fourteen years I couldn’t breathe. Why would I choose to drown myself again? He said he asked a present tense question and was requesting a present tense response. I wanted to punch him in the face. But he was far away, so instead I cried.

There is not a way to tell this story without tears. Still. And that feels like a failure, too. You’d think I’d surely cried enough that there would be no more tears left for this.

Some days, I think I need to lean into being a stay at home mom. Maybe I can be a Cub Scout leader. Maybe I need a direct sales gig. In fact, I almost started one recently but being overseas made it more complicated. Maybe I need an Etsy store. I can be PTA mom and volunteer at the school. Maybe I should be teaching English to Chinese students online or doing freelance writing work. Or I can pick a thing and go back to school. Most of the occupations that sound good when I say them out loud require another master’s degree. We just paid off our student loans so clearly, more debt is the answer. Plus whatever I end up doing needs to be portable because the Army moves us every two to three years. No pressure.

There’s a little voice in the back of my head whispering, “You’re a writer.” It’s been there for most of my life. I used to think that writing could be my vocation and my profession, possibly even my ministry. Maybe writing is how I live out that call. But then I went to the soul-crushing writing conference and I never wanted to show my writing to another human being ever again. I wanted to put all my Word documents and Scrivener documents on a flash drive and hurl it into the ocean. That novel pitch felt like a fall off a cliff. I can still see the agent sadly shaking her head. None of that counts. No one cares.

Recently my husband preached a sermon at chapel and told a brief story about us that started with the words, “When Emily and I were in seminary.” After the service, people I had just been introduced to asked me if I went to seminary and where and if I was a chaplain too. I usually say, “We were both pastors briefly. I didn’t get ordained and I’m not a pastor anymore.” But it’s the beginning of a story, not the end. People want to know what happened as if it were actually a thing, as if I could sum it all up in a pretty sentence.

I hate it. I don’t owe you people anything. They were a visiting family returning to the United States in a few days. I’ll never see them again. I don’t owe you my journey.

Every time people ask, no matter if I just met them, no matter if I want to, I end up word-vomiting the whole thing. It’s a shorter version but it’s no less messy or unsatisfying or question-creating. I’ve accidentally hijacked so many dinners and coffees and girls’ nights and getting to know you games by trying to answer this seemingly simple question.

In quiet rooms, I can hear my heart beating in my chest and it seems to say, “Tell it. Tell it.” I have this story to tell. It still makes me cry. I write short stories and I try to write non-silly novels. I want to talk about imaginary people and make stuff up. But, nearly ten years later, this is the story I still end up telling all the time, without even really wanting to.

There is nothing wrong with being a stay at home mom. It was actually a dream of mine and I’m so thankful that I have been able to stay home with my kids. But I’ve been using it as an excuse to not figure this out. I’ve been holding my kid in front of my face for six and a half years hoping that God couldn’t see me. I’ve been actively avoiding things that might help me figure it out. I’ve been running away from telling this story. 

But that was before I was learning how to not be afraid of falling. Now I know how to get back up without my hands touching the ground. Maybe that means I’m ready to lean into this story and really tell it. On purpose this time.  

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