I devoted nearly a decade of my life to ministry.I regularly sang at a large Evangelical Christian mega church in the suburbs of Chicago, and for a time believed I'd been called to be a worship leader.For those of you not familiar with the term, it's a person who leads a church congregation during the singing portion of a service.I always secretly thought it was like the Christian equivalent of a rock star--especially if you were a famous worship leader, a guy with a guitar, and the Christian anthems you wrote sounded slightly like U2 rip offs.But as it turns out, I did not become a famous worship leader or even an infamous one.Instead I left the church and ministry altogether.A friend cautioned me once that a little bit of questioning and doubt was okay, but if I went too far down that road I might end up far from Jesus.Well,I went miles and MILES down that road, to a place where many of the people in my life now don't even know I used to be a "Jesus freak." Now don't get me wrong; I use that expression with a mixture of humor and lingering affection. In the end it wasn't really the person of Jesus who made me want to be free of Christianity but the often unhealthy and sometimes abusive subcultures built up around the religion that bares his name. 

I don't see myself returning to that environment or belief system, but then again, life has a way of recycling itself: sometimes what's old can be made new again. I started from doubt, disillusionment, and skepticism and that is where I have returned.Who knows? Maybe there will be another go round. For now though, I don't miss church or the Christian subculture, and I don't miss worship leading. What I do miss, is the sense of meaning and purpose I got from being part of a ministry that believed it was changing the world. How do you replace something like that?

The birth of my child intensified this consideration. She set off an "existential crisis alarm" in me.I was at home, isolated, no family nearby, and the one thing I worked hard at every day--keeping my daughter alive--was the hardest thing, the most exhausting thing, the thing I'd never done before. My husband awoke one night in those early weeks to find me in the rocking chair, trying to nurse a baby who was tanking up like she wouldn't be eating for the next three days, and moaning through my tears, "I feel like I don't know who I am anymore..." And in a way, I didn't.Still don't.You might say I'm an old thing that's been made new and I have to get reacquainted with this recently updated version of myself. How do I manage without that larger sense of purpose religion once gave me?How do I learn to trust and believe that those small, unassuming, un-witnessed moments with Hazel can be placed on par with the status of all that I was before, like worship leader or singer/actress in the secular world?The afternoon I first realized this was part of what I was/am struggling with, one of my girlfriends was visiting.I tried very hard to explain it to her. As I stood in our dining room, one boob still hanging out from an ongoing nursing session, my hair all crazy and spit up on my shirt and pants, I could barely craft a coherent sentence.Words were sliding out of my brain like grain out of a sieve. 

In the last few days it has occurred to me that the reason I had such difficulty expressing myself to my friend--aside from the brain cell devouring sleep deprivation that is parenting--was because I wasn't separating meaning and purpose from a Christian world view.It's not the only way to talk about those ideas, and funnily enough, when I do remove the religious element from my consideration, familiar things remain. Values like kindness, empathy, connecting with people,forgiveness--none of which are unique to Christianity--these things rise to the top.What if being a worship leader or part of some large ministry, or being a professional singer, what if that's just context?And what if, for me, purpose is better understood in a general sense?If the meaning and purpose of my life consists of demonstrating values like those mentioned, to the best of my ability each day, then the context within which that happens: worship leader, singer, writer, mother, etc. can change from season to season, without the meaning and purpose ever changing.I realize this probably isn't a trailblazer moment. This isn't new stuff; like the Bare Naked Ladies said: "It's all been done..." But to someone so deeply, and for such a long time entrenched in only one way of considering these things, it's a refreshing reminder. 

Every morning my husband and I awaken to this tiny little girl bouncing and shouting out all the new sounds she is learning how to make,She turns her head expectantly towards the window where the morning light is just beginning to peak through the closed blinds.She stops bouncing every few seconds, watching its brilliance change from bright to brighter, all the while smiling. Not to sound corny, but I find something rather symbolic in her behavior.When it comes down to it, isn't that what the practice of kindness, empathy, connection, and forgiveness help do? Usher in a little light to illuminate the often difficult, scary, uncertain drudgery that daily life can be--regardless of your role?I suspect many who knew me as a Jesus freak would find my conclusions disappointing and lacking.I'm not sure how I would respond to them except to say that, "I don't care."After sifting my way through all the "expert" opinions on how one should parent, either from the plethora of books on the topic or from unsolicited advice--sometimes shouted at me by random strangers on the street--the one thing that becoming a new mom has absolutely confirmed for me is that I truly want to leave dogma in the past! 

After her dad leaves for work, Hazel and I continue about our morning rituals.One of the first things we do is open the blinds,"We're gonna let the light in, right baby girl?" I say to her.She looks at me and smiles.