Anything But Empty

"Let your words be anything but empty."

The Stories We Make

In her book, “Rising Strong”, Brene Brown makes a fascinating observation about story. She cites research that claims that the desire to create a story is in our DNA, that when we connect the dots to create a discernible beginning, middle and end progression, our brain rewards us with dopamine.  We naturally seek to assign meaning, and a reason behind the things that are happening around us and when we do we feel the rush that comes with an “a ha” moment.

And this is a good, beautiful, and unique part of our humanity. This desire to see connection and pattern is a huge part of how we function and even survive.  However, Brene goes on to describe how this natural pattern, when unchecked and when attempted in the midst of moments of emotional upheavel, hurt, conflict or shame, can cause us to create stories that support our own assumptions or perception of the situation. We can be so desperate to figure out the meaning, and the pattern behind someones words, glances, or interactions, that often we arrive at the wrong story. Brown wrote that:

“Because we are compelled to make stories, we are often compelled to take incomplete stories and run with them.” He goes on to say that even with a half story in our minds, “we earn a dopamine ‘reward’ every time it helps us understand something in our world—even if that explanation is incomplete or wrong.”

Even when the explanation is incomplete or wrong, we experience the same reward as when the story we come up with when the story is accurate. It doesn’t matter that we fill the holes in the story with fabrications or incorrect assumption.

This way of coping with conflict and emotions, struck me, perhaps because I know how often I am guilty of this. Guilty of reading into an email, a conversation, a text, or conflict, and filling the holes in the story with my own baggage, uncertainty and insecurities.

What are the stories that I tell myself that keep me from appropriately communicating, that allow me to assign blame, and how do those stories come to be what I default to in those moments of frightening insecurity and uncertainty?

I’m not enough.

This is a story I’ve rehearsed many times and when I suspect that someone is coming close to realizing it, the story I make up is that I am not enough.

I’m not smart enough.

I’m not creative enough.

I’m not talented enough.

I’m not beautiful enough.

Honestly, there have been many moments where I have looked at some of the amazing and best people in my life and thought, “When’s the other shoe going to drop, when will this person get tired of me/annoyed with me/find that one thing that lets them know that I am not enough for them to stick around.”

This is not a unique story. But a story that I assume many of us provide in those spaces of tension and insecurity. And I suppose I am not the only one who will mull over a flippant comment, or innocent instruction and wonder if this person is picking up on that horrible, haunting truth that we are not enough.

And I imagine what happens next is not unique to me either.

The anxiety, the worry, the wondering, the hours, maybe even days or weeks of being cold, withdrawn, or insecure. That feeling building in the pit of your stomach as you feel connection, communication and intimacy being eroded by that story. In those moments I feel this deep and terrible tension in my heart, as I crave that connection but I cling to that story, and either wait until enough time has passed until I let it go, or it just builds and builds into a moment of emotional upheavel, either in the privacy of my own heart or in a conversation that is more filled with tears on my part then actual conversation with the person who I feel hurt by.

In her book, Brown shares a time when she was telling herself one of these stories after feeling blown off by her husband after opening up to him. She began her internal struggle of trying to figure out what was wrong, what was happening, and filling the holes in the story. She explains how usually this would lead to a “cold war” of  withheld affection. But instead she decided to be brave. And she opened up again, and told her husband, “This is the story that I am telling myself in my head…”

And there are so many times when I begin assuming and assigning motivation and meaning in my head when I know that this would be so much easier if I just said what I was thinking, shared the story that I was telling myself, and ask for what I needed, how much hurt, and worry and anxiety would be resolved.

If I trusted the people that I know love me with the truth of the story I was telling myself, how much easier would it be to resolve that instinct to jump to the story I have made up to explain the intentions and actions of others.

But it’s hard.

The stories are safer, because we are in control of those. Because, if those stories ARE true,  if our worst beliefs about why a person is acting a certain way is right, then we don’t have to go through the painful work of trusting someone to care for our hearts and our insecurities, the painfully vulnerable process of sharing what we need with another human being.

And that is scary. We want to be cool, and unbothered. We fear being perceived as needy or high maintenance or weak. So we protect ourselves with those stories.

So what do we do?

First, there’s the importance of knowing what are the biggest stories you have created to explain why people act the way they do.  What stories have you learned either through past interactions, biases and wounds. This is the first and most important step, being able to identify the difference in true and well-informed insights, and what are the stories that you have created to protect yourself.

And what are the emotions that trigger that story?

For me it, it is the feeling of not being loved. When I feel insecure in my worth in the eyes of someone I love, when my love language is not being spoken to me consistently, it causes that story of not being enough begin to surface.

And I am learning to battle it; to discern the difference in accurate observations and judgements, and stories stemming from that feeling from fear and insecurity.

I’m learning to recognize those moments that I know will lead to that story rearing its head. And continuing to practice living bravely, and looking someone in the eye and saying, “Here is the story I am telling myself… I need you to tell me something different, and fill the holes that I am missing, because this is what I am seeing.”

Because that really is the solution to battling the stories that we have made up, that prey on our deepest insecurities, to bypass those anxieties and hurt feelings.

Like with most things, vulnerability and trust, can change the story all together.

 

 

 

 

Dancing and Daring Together

This past weekend I had the opportunity to head to the Oregon Coast for a retreat with a wonderful group of kids and fellow youth leaders. The focus of the retreat was on community, walking together and enjoying each other.

This is something that comes with time, with space, and with the slow hard work of building trust and intimacy.  It’s something I am learning how to do, because for the first time in my life, I am starting from scratch. I am rebuilding my community and my people from the ground up, and it’s with amazing people, who have welcomed me and loved me, who are praying for me and with me.

And it’s really hard to teach something when you’re in the middle of it; it can be all the more beautiful, and powerful  and potent, but

But it is hard work, it is hard work still leaving your people, and finding new people.  It’s an exercise in continual trust; trust in God and trust in the people around you.

Because we need it. We need the people around us who laugh with us, cry with us, and walk with us. The people who make us brave, the people we don’t mind looking silly in front of, or making a misstep with.

We need that because that is where we change, where we are transformed into the people that God is making us into.

More than any mega- conference, or expensive speaker or expert, I am going to be changed by the person who brought  the dessert for the potluck, or the woman who handed me the wine and the bread, or the middle school student who I take out for icecream. The people who 99% of the world doesn’t even know their names, those are the people who make us who we are.

At the retreat, we took the students to the beach. On the beach we passed a group of women; barefoot, different ages and races. They were in a circle dancing on a crowded beach and laughing.

Later a student turned to me and asked, “Did you see those women dancing?”

“Yes.”

“What do you think they were doing?”

“I don’t know.”

“Should we go dance with them?

Some of us made our way to the group of women and asked them what they were doing. One woman, in her 50’s, with a beautiful smile and flowy peasant skirt and head scarf told us they were worshiping Jesus.

“Would you like to dance with us?

So we did, for 20 minutes we held hands with strangers in a dancing circle; these women who knew each other, who had been coming to the beach for the past 14 years for their worship retreat, with the same women. They didn’t need someone to come and give lecture on worship, they just needed each other, open-hearted and brave, and worshiping together.

In Daring Greatly, Brene Brown describes what that kind of love, what that kind of community does:

“I remember a very tender moment from that year, when Steve and I were lying on the floor watching Ellen do a series of crazy, arm-flinging, and knee-slapping dances and tumbles. I looked at Steve and said, “Isn’t it funny how I just love her that much more for being so vulnerable and uninhibited and goofy. I could never do that. Can you imagine knowing that you’re loved like that? Steve looked at me and said, “I love you exactly like that.” Honestly, as someone who rarely risked vulnerability and always steered clear of goofy, it never dawned on me that adults could love each other like that; that I could be loved for my vulnerability, not despite them.”  

That’s what community is, the same people in and out, the people we don’t see once a week for an hour, but the people who are part of the daily rhythm of our lives; and all the boring that comes with it. The people we are so comfortable with that we can dance with them, even if we don’t know all the steps, because we don’t care if we look ridiculous with them.

They are the people that will teach us more than anyone else, because they know who we are, and what we need. They don’t give us broad concepts or theories, distant from our own experience, because they are in those experiences with us.

And while I was dancing on the beach, breaking into one community, briefly, with another, all of us apart of the Body of Christ, I remembered why we go through what we do for community, all of the hard work, the hard words, the pain that comes with knowing and losing and giving and taking.

We do it because it’s holy. It’s sacred and shared, and gives us moment where we can dance barefoot and laugh on the beach, because we know we are loved, and when we are loved, when we know we are loved, when we are certain we are worthy of love, it makes us brave.

 

A Defense of Selfies, Fall and Lattes

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It’s fall, the time of year when people wear ugg boots, scarves, and leggings; Instagram and Facebook will be filled with pictures of Pumpkin spiced latte’s and declaration of how much they love sweater season; which is fair, because leggings are comfortable, pumpkin spice lattes are delicious, and sweaters are cozy, I can’t wait to break out my cat sweaters.

But despite these perfectly legitimate expression of things they enjoy, social media will also be flooded with people who have nothing better to do with their days then make fun of girls for wearing leggings, posting pictures of the Starbucks, and taking selfies.

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Okay, I get it. When girls aren’t filling our timelines with selfies and statuses about fall, I am sure those timelines are usually filled with gems and life-changing nuggets of wisdom so it is a big sacrifice, but you know what, I really think we can handle it.

In fact, I bet we can handle it for more than just the fall season, I think making fun of people for harmless things that they enjoy and mocking them for expressing excitement about it is something we can handle retiring all together.

Sure, there is a wider conversation we could be having about authenticity and the immediacy of social media culture, the competitiveness and comparing it can cause, and how we at times are too focused on sharing the memory then having the memory; but I promise you selfies and food pictures are not to blame for that.

We lament how social media has turned a generation of people into self-indulgent, entitled, vain brats. And maybe that’s true, but I think we are pointing our fingers at the wrong ones when we say that. We point at the selfie takers, the Instagram users, the people who post about things they like, we say “Ugh, I don’t care about your lattes.”  But really whose the one who thinks everyone’s interests and posts should be about them?

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(Meme made by insecure people who think they have a monopoly on a fandom and have a conniption when someone not like them expresses interest)

I remember when I was 16, I had a hoodie that had a character from my favorite movie. Maybe it was a little obscure, a cult classic of sorts, and I didn’t really look like the type of person who enjoyed the movie, and I was labeled by a young man who saw the hoodie as a poser. Never mind that I had the special addition DVD, watched it with commentary, owned a signed copy of the screenplay, and performed a monologue from the film for a drama class, the real question was why did he care so much about my hoodie and whether or not my interest in the film was superficial or geek to the max?

A high school girl I know, loves a particular band with a fun, beautiful and exciting passion! This band makes her happy, and she has expressed how she has seen the way people will rip into that fandom just because they don’t like this band.  What do we gain from that? What do people get from trying to get her to enjoy something less?

Why do we care why the girl who posts selfies on Facebook does it? I may not know the motivation, but I can say with relatively certainty this isn’t her way of saying “I’m the center of the world.” Maybe it’s because she wants likes and compliments, maybe someone made her feel like crap last week and now she wants some affirmation, or maybe it has absolutely nothing to do with you, and she knows her curls are on point today.  I don’t know, and frankly it doesn’t matter.

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(Yeah, sure, because those two things ARE mutually exclusive after all)

 

Maybe that filter she used on Instagram is pretty or cool to her, and makes her picture look better. Maybe she’s not trying to make you think she’s a professional photographer or trying to make you think she is flawless.

 

Maybe she really really likes fall, and crunchy leaves, and yoga pants, because they make her happy, and warm and fuzzy and comfortable. Please tell me what you gain by coming a long and mocking her for it.

I don’t want anyone to read this and think I don’t have a sense of humor. I enjoy self-deprecating humor as much as the next person. And my friends and family make light hearted jabs at how invested I get in the X-Men fandom and I can laugh with them.

But from what I  have seen, I do  think that this has gone beyond a simple internet memes to an actual shaming and labeling and predatory ownership or rejecting of certain interests, fandoms, and hobbies.  There are articles and essays that float around with the purpose of making someone feel bad about their leggings or selfies or the fact that they wear a Batman shirt without having read a comic book. And I can only speculate about the cause, whether it’s from sad little lives that have nothing better to do, or a concern for how ‘self-centered’ and entitled this generation is. I don’t know.

But I do know this, if your daughter or friend or sister is taking selfies, enjoy it. Don’t lament for a generation that is self-involved, or thinks they are the hottest person in the world, because usually that’s not what is happening. Enjoy that she thinks she looks good that day, enjoy that she feels good about her appearance, because I promise you when she comes to you crying because she feels ugly, or fat, or someone made fun of her, you’ll be wishing for that happy smiling girl in the selfie who just knew she looked fabulous that day. If you want someone to take down that selfie girl a peg or two, no worries, sadly, someone will, and next time she may think twice before daring to put a selfie in your timeline. But let’s delay that as long as we can.

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And if I ever have a daughter, I hope that she can go to a coffee shop, or a comic book shop, and enjoy whatever look, drink or shoes she wants without being turned into an internet meme. I hope she can wear a shirt with a superhero emblem on it, whether she likes the movies or not, and not be ripped apart by rabid fans.  I hope she can shamelessly selfie with her friends (or whatever space-age technology is available from Apple at that point), whether it’s in bright red lipstick or a dirty, sweaty pony tails after a soccer game.

And yes, I will have had the conversation with her and will continue to have it, that the world is bigger than just her, that where she lives has luxury and first-world problems that can’t compare with some of the rest of the world, that her value is in so much more then how she looks, that another person’s opinion of her is not nearly so important as her own opinion of her, and that unhappy, unimaginative, unexcitable people will resent you when you love something, and will do whatever they can to tear it down.

So honestly, you do you. You want to Instagram your pumpkin spiced latte, go ahead, if you want to wear leggings as pants, and ugg boots you do that. If you don’t that’s okay too, scroll right on past and I promise you you’re day will not be worse for the wear.  If your hair is on point and you finally got that perfect wing tip with your eyeliner, snap a selfie. You can’t please everyone, if you post silly stuff you’re shallow and fake, if you post a problem you are having you are “sharing your drama on Facebook”, the world doesn’t know what it wants from you and it probably won’t stop judging you,  so no reason you should feel guilty for looking fabulous while they do it.

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#BacktoHogwarts

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Today, the Internet exploded when JK Rowling made this announcement on Twitter:

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And she demonstrated to all of us Muggles, that despite the beloved series having ended 8 years ago on page, and almost 4 years ago on screen, that she still calls the shots when it comes to our emotional stability. No matter how long it has been, with every post, Tumblr theory, meme, and even spoof, the story continues to wreck us in the best possible way.

Today, watching the outpouring of love and excitement over the mere announcement that one of Harry’s children is beginning his first year at Hogwarts, I was reminded again about the power of story. I picked up my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and returned to the place that was still, clearly, so near and dear to the hearts of many.

I remember vividly when the Deathly Hallows came out. I was on a mission trip in New Orleans and as we were driving home, the last night of the journey, the book was released. When we arrived back at the church, I got to my car, bleary-eyed and exhausted from the drive and found, sitting in my front seat, the book my parents had waited in line at midnight for, along with a poster and silicon bracelets bearing the symbol of the different houses. Despite having spent all night on the bus, I locked myself in my room for 15 hours, took a brief hour power nap, and then continued with Harry on his last great adventure.

Today, I looked again over the pages that so many people had cried over in their own copies, and it reminded me of the beautiful connection that can come with just a piece of literature. To know that two people who have never spoken, who maybe go to the same school but never noticed each other, may have both cried when Dobby made his last brave stand on behalf of his beloved Harry.

I glanced again on those familiar bits of dialogue that are plastered on posters, FB walls, and even as tattoos for those more ardent fans (yes, I’m looking at you Jessie Long with your 3 Harry Potter themed tattoos).

Take them…

Always.

I open at the close.

I’m about to die.

Don’t pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living. And, above all, those who live without love.

And so many more, from so many books.

And I am once again reminded why I love stories. Why I love this story. Stories connect people, they make worlds possible which are entirely impossible, they make us love people that are completely different then us, they can reveal our deepest capacities to love, hate, and identify with others. We cheer, and weep, and laugh, and fear with those who do not even exist in the same time and place that we do.

Rowling has done something uniquely beautiful by creating a story that has us caring for the characters long after the story is finished. She has joined with her fans in this magical world where we engage with the imagined. Even with the best stories I have read, the ones that I love deeply, the ones where I feel emotionally drained after having read them because I care so deeply for the characters, it ends. Perhaps there is a movie adaptation, but there is still that strong divide. I feel that is over.

In another popular piece of fiction, The Fault in Our Stars, there is a scene where an embittered author tells the protagonist who longs to know what happened after the book ends that “nothing” happens, it’s over, they cease to exist. And, for most stories, this is probably true.

But the magic of Harry Potter is that today, fans, educated, sane, stable, working adults, heard that James Severus Potter was going to Hogwarts, and we wished him well.

Because there is something special about this story.

There is something special about literally grown up with a character, to experience a new stage of life with a different year at Hogwarts. I remember how much it meant to me that the last book came out the summer after graduating high school. And I felt the pain and joy of one chapter in my life ending while reading a book that had been with me from the time I was 8 years old. The final movie came out the summer after graduating from college, and with all the bitter sweetness, I bid farewell to another part of my life.

It has stayed with us because so many people can see places of heartbreak, love, loss, joy and sadness for Harry, and identify with it in their own lives. Of course you’ll get the condescending Willy Wonka types who will say: “Oh you see yourself in Harry Potter? Tell me more about the time Voldemort hit you with an unforgivable curse but you survived.”

But that’s not really this point is it?

We needed a book like this. Because so many times we have to choose between sickening optimism or crippling cynicism. Stories that sugar coat everything or the ones that make you feel like no one is good, everything sucks, and we all just live and die and that’s the end of it.

But not here. Anyone who has read the book knows that the cost of good is extremely high, that hate is strong, that the fight against evil is not won without casualties, that innocence can be a fragile thing, that families can be broken and destroyed, that the world can chip away at your humanity until there is nothing left, children can be left orphans, and that sometimes, loving someone, can cost you everything.

But anyone who has read the book also knows that even the smallest spark of good in someone can be fanned into something heroic, that hope is not a foolish a thing, that who we decide to be is so much more important than who we are expected to be, that friendship can, and will, save your life, that love, even in the smallest places, can make a coward brave and redeem a heart, and, these beautiful words from Albus Dumbledore:

“His knowledge remained woefully incomplete, Harry! That which Voldemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend. Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped.” Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, pg 710

And maybe this is one of the most valuable lessons that Rowling taught us by giving us this world.

That we will never be too old for children’s tales…

That we will never be to mature, or too smart for the imaginary.

That we will never need to be ashamed of returning to those pages and finding comfort in them once again.

That we will never be too good for those simple themes of love and friendship, and, in fact, as we grow up, we may need to return to those over and over again to remind us.

So, happy sorting James; try making friends with a Slytherin, stay away from the Whomping Willow, watch out for the stairs, they tend to move and remember, your father casts a big shadow, don’t bother trying to get out of it…. Sorry!

Abuse and Throwing Stones

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“Let he who has no sin cast the first stone…”

This is one of the most comforting stories in the Bible. People go to this story, the picture of Jesus stooping in the dirt with the woman caught in adultery, surrounded by the men caught throwing stones, and they feel comforted that they have a Savior who advocates for them. We can move beyond managing shame and guilt to a place of know that Jesus speaks equalizing words of forgiveness and grace on our behalf.

But sometimes this verse is lifted out; lifted out from the heart of Jesus for the hurting, marginalized, abused and voiceless. I’ve recently heard this verse used specifically in a Christian abuse context in order to expedite the story of redemption and forgiveness, while bypassing the work of true healing that is often necessary in the face of abuse.

I’ve heard Christians say in the wake of abuse from fellow Christians that we cannot condemn because we have all sinned and have no place to throw stones; as if speaking out against injustices, even against our own brothers and sisters, and leaving room for the abused to confront their abusers, is the equivalent of throwing stones.

These words must never be used to excuse not calling out injustice when it occurs. God forbid we use these words to do the very opposite of what Jesus did when he spoke them.

Return to that picture once again; the picture of Jesus stepping through the throng of accusers encircled like vultures around the woman, the woman with no one to speak for her, the woman without an advocate, a woman who had lived her life in the hands of a patriarchy where she may have very well been seen as a commodity, whose voice meant very little in comparison with her accusers, the men who twisted the words and heart of God in order to suit their own desires.
Jesus spoke those words as her advocate.

God forbid we use those words to shame the voiceless, to shame the advocates who speak for those who are abused and harmed.

How dare we accuse them of throwing stones when they speak against an abuser or a predator, even if the abuser is a brother or sister in Christ.

How dare we call it evil work, and commit the same sin of the Pharisee’s attributing to Satan the work of Jesus, when abuse is uncovered and truth is brought to light.

How dare we be more ready to call the revelation of abuse evil and criminal then we are to call the act itself evil and criminal.

God forbid we use the words of Jesus to enable abuser dynamics.

God forbid we use these words to recast the abuser as victim, and victim and advocate as a thrower of stones.

“Let he who has no sin cast the first stone…”

Yes, this speaks to the unimaginable grace of God. This speaks to the fact that, yes, grace is sufficient for the covering of sins, from a liar to a child abuser. They should provide comfort to those who have committed the most egregious of sins, knowing that Jesus’ heart still beats love for them and a longing to redeem and save.

We can believe that Jesus has the power to restore all people, but this does not mean that in order to protect our own brothers and sisters in Christ that we encourage victims to “hush,” “take it to elders first”, “keep it in the family”, “don’t indulge in bitterness.” And it certainly doesn’t mean when abusers are caught and expected to face justice that we accuse their victims of “throwing stones.”

Yes, these words speak to the fact that there is no place for a high horse in regards to our standing before God or deserving of grace; but one doesn’t need a high horse to speak out on behalf of justice and the victims of abuse.

Our place is first and foremost in the dirt with those who are wounded, those who are in the margins, encircled and trapped, fending of the predators.

Boundaries, Vulnerability, and Fight Club

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In the movie Fight Club the main character suffers from insomnia. During this time he happens upon a support group for testicular cancer, and on his first visit becomes addicted.  He is washed away and caught up in the cathartic moments of tears, hugs, support and encouragement. He attends support group after support group, but never goes for any real healing,  but rather the emotional high of hearing stories of pain.

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Authenticity. Genuine. Vulnerability.

These are buzzwords right now and they float around in many places, not least of these being in Church. I’m not pointing fingers because I use those words a lot too. They reflect a craving for a place where we can be our true selves and where, perhaps in the past, we have felt the need to put on a mask, to hide our darkness and wounds in an effort to look good.

And maybe some of this is reactionary, where the church was once a place of pretense for many people we are seeing a shift to make it a place where we don’t need to hide.

But this carries with it a trend. In these truly genuine efforts to break through a neat and tidy façade, to make the church a place where we can be vulnerable oftentimes we bypass the messy work of moving into true open-hearted living with one another.  We supplement real lived moments with forcing moments of tears and hugs, thinking the latter is more sacred then the former.

It was a joke I heard growing up that you could measure how good a sermon was based on how many people were crying at the end of it. And church camp was never a success until at the end of it someone had shared their darkest secretes around a campfire. And when those sermons ended or we got off the bus coming home from church camp, we often find ourselves desperately chasing after those moments again.

Thinking that somehow those moments are a barometer of the movement of the Holy Spirit, and if we don’t meet a monthly quota of those moments then something must be wrong.

And this is not to disparage those moments, because those genuine, spirit-moved moments where strength is had to voice a story for the first time, where we sit with the tension of pain and grief with another person,  to voice a burden and to seek support, those are beautiful moments, but what happens next? Yes, those moments of true openness can be beautiful, but I think sometimes we use them as a way to fake intimacy by expediting it to the pace we want. Because, we like instant gratification, the one night of cathartic tears and soul-bearing save us a lot of work. We can walk away, feel good, and go about our lives with no real helpful intimacy with the people we shared.

I don’t think we can always conflate emotional highs, or tear-filled hugs, with the Holy Spirit.  Because this can become an unsafe place, an unhealthy place where the ones with the hardest stories are given the biggest platform.

And these people deserve a voice and should have a voice, but so should the person whose greatest stress of the week is a test, or a fight with a friend or an unruly toddler. And sometimes, when testimony time becomes a competition for who can make the most people cry, people’s stories are exploited for a transient moment where no healing happens and instead the story stays the same and cycles through telling after retelling.

Again, one thing I learned in my counseling background was the healing power of sharing story, of hearing other stories and responding with our own, and the beautiful healing of the words “me too.” But the right time, the right place, and the right people is essential for those moments to be helpful for the speaker and the hearer.

And in some ways, Churches, especially those who are trying to appeal to younger people, can tend toward this direction.  And instead of creating a place of vulnerability, and authenticity, and healing, it becomes a place that isn’t safe, doesn’t respect boundaries, and often, unintentionally, shames those who may have stricter boundaries.

Because in places where holiness is marked by how willing you are to “break boundaries” , you will often have people going places that aren’t safe for them yet. Sharing what they aren’t ready to share but are afraid of being labeled the one who is “holding out”, the one who is keeping the group from really “knowing” each other because they are hiding a part of themselves.

There is a difference in safe, love-based boundaries and boundaries based out of fear or expectation. The former I think are sacred and healthy and God-given. We talk about being all things to all people, and that means those who hold their story a little closer, who think it’s healthier for them to share with one or two close friends and not with a whole small group.

And I speak these words as one who cries easily, who wants to hear the story of the person sitting across from her, and has struggled with hurt feelings and worry that I wasn’t a safe person when people decided that they didn’t want to share their story with me.

But one of the things I see us doing is attempting to expedite the work of the holy spirit by intentionally provoking those high emotionalized moments in the hopes that it will push people to “go deeper” with one another. As if sitting and laughing and eating with one another is not enough, or studying the Bible is not enough, as if these aren’t intimate sacred moments in their own right.

We provoke those moments on Good Friday with gratuitous descriptions of the crucifixion, again almost as if we ourselves will do the work of the Holy Spirit by provoking a response, as if Jesus and him crucified as the perfect lamb by the powers of the world is not enough on its own so we must step in on behalf of the Spirit.

We crave authenticity and genuineness, and these are good things. There is unimaginable healing that takes place in the “me to” and the “I see you”.  But sometimes we want to see those moments so badly it makes us push for it to grow in the places where soil is not ready, and it saves us the hard work of getting our hands dirty in the soil, tending it, watering it, the day-to-day work that is truly necessary for a truly safe and healthy environment. An environment that allows for those moments of tears and stories around a campfire but also for those regular moments that are just as important, that come out naturally from a life that is lived walking together.

 

 

Love and Roots

roots

“When you talked earlier about after a few years how a couple would begin to hate each other by anticipating their reactions or getting tired of their mannerisms-I think it would be the opposite for me. I think I can really fall in love when I know everything about someone-the way he’s going to part his hair, which shirt he’s going to wear that day, knowing the exact story he’d tell in a given situation. I’m sure that’s when I know I’m really in love.” Before Sunset, Celine

Boredom happens, we get restless, we start looking over our shoulder at the fork in the road and question the direction we went. Our attention is lost, the excitement is gone, the freshness has passed. When we experience this in relationships, we find ourselves struggling for ways to “bring back the newness”, to go back to that place of surprise and excitement, where we didn’t know what was coming next. We do it with our moments, our churches, our friendships, we get bored and move from place to place and feeling to feeling.

I’ve seen people walk away from church because they exist in it without being part of it, they never experience the intimacy and familiarity and then wonder why they don’t feel like it is their home, when often it’s because they aren’t taking a seat at the table. They hop from church to church for years, without ever putting down roots. But it’s not entirely their fault either, because often the church simply responds to this trend by participating in it. They immediately respond with change, they try something “new” and “big” and exciting and flashy and shiny, trying to be the younger, hotter version of what it was in the hope of wooing back who was lost.

All the while never stopping to pray and decide if this was coming out of a sincere desire to follow Jesus or out of a desperate desire to be relevant to the people they are losing.

All the while forgetting that, on a very basic level, we are craving something other then what the world is offering us, not just the same thing dressed in sacred symbols and Christian rhetoric.

All the while not realizing that often times those people that are skipping around from place to place, sampling the food at the table, but never pulling up a chair to be a part of the meal, they are simultaneously afraid of, and seeking out, that intimacy , that stability, that familiarity. But if we keep changing the food before anyone has had a chance to taste it, when we keep shaking things up just do it, when we keep getting up and switching seats, and moving the table, how are we ever supposed to get to know the person sitting next to us.

Stanley Hauerwas said:

“I think evangelicalism is destined to die of its own success and it will go the way of mainstream Protestantism because there’s just—it depends far too much on charismatic pastors, and charisma will only take you so far. Evangelicalism is constantly under the burden of re-inventing the wheel and you just get tired. For example, I’m a big advocate of Morning Prayer. I love Morning Prayer. We do the same thing every morning. We don’t have to make it up. We know we’re going to say these prayers. We know we’re going to join in reading of the psalm. We’re going to have these Scripture readings. I mean, there’s much to be said for Christianity as repetition and I think evangelicalism doesn’t have enough repetition in a way that will form Christians to survive in a world that constantly tempts us to always think we have to do something new.”

The world is constantly moving, changing, and rushing to keep up with itself. Trends, and hashtags, and social medias, they come and they go. And they aren’t bad, they aren’t evil, and it’s not evil to buy the new iPhone when it comes out if you want it. This isn’t an indictment of trying new things, or new experiences, or shaking things up when they made need to be, but rather looking at what we are hearing when “making moments” becomes our battle cry, and we are so eager making them, we are never in once place long enough to enjoy them.

Why, in our own way, do we romanticize not being able to count on something? When we depend on the rush, the charisma, the excitement to keep us in one place, we will always be disappointed.

Sometimes we are so busy pursuing the next moment, the next trend, the next photo-op; we completely miss the beauty of what we have in our hands, and right before our eyes. We wonder if this is actually what we want, and instead of sitting in the uncomfortable uncertainty of sticking around to find out, we flee to the next moment, the next place, or the next person.

We are so very afraid of the ordinary, the mundane, and the day-to-day. Because there’s intimacy there, there’s emotional nakedness, there’s the ugly and worst parts of ourselves that we don’t sit with when we are constantly on the move. No one shows the worst and hardest and darkest moments to a person they’ve known for a day, and even if they do, it’s safe because they’ll be gone soon.

The irony is that commitment makes afraid that we are going to get stuck, there’s no movement, but the alternative that many of chosen is not to “move forward” but to stand still in 100 different places, with 100 different people.

Yes, we need find out who we are, where we belong, what our passions are, and sometimes that takes moving on to different places, different people, different jobs, but this is different from fearing the place your in because your roots will get too deep.

There’s something to be said for rootedness. To be a person who doesn’t have to chase the next moment just to chase it, but can let it pass knowing that what you have and where you are, while not perfect and not even done growing, is enough.

And there is excitement there too.

Perhaps the thing that surprises and excites us the most, even when you know every motion, every story, every song, whose going to sit in what pew, whose going to ask you your name even though you’ve introduced yourself 700 times, is that every time you wake up next to that person, every time you walk through the door of your Church, every time you see that name in the caller ID, you are overwhelmed with how deeply you love them. Maybe it’s that you can hear words of welcome and love, and even though you’ve heard them many times before, they still heal, breathe life and give rest.

Because that is our heart. Here are our roots. And this is our home.

 

 

Insecure in Security

I love to sing in the car. I turn my music up loud and get giddy with excitement when certain songs come around on my shuffle, I rock out to Firework, Roar, Brave and Flawless (to name a few) like it’s nobody’s business.

In my 1st year at seminary I started experiencing a shift in feelings about my own humanity, about who I was as a Christian, and as a woman. As I gained a better understanding of who Jesus is, and what it means to be a human in his kingdom, I felt the burden of resenting my own humanity begin to melt away.  I began to detach myself from some of the reactionary theology created as a response to the human worship and idolization and false promises of “you’re perfect the way you are.” And as a result I wasn’t living in this tension of trying to believe God loved me while simultaneously hating myself. I began to see Jesus in his full self, yes as the Perfect Sacrifice, the Great High Priest, and the Son of God, but also in his humanity, and that the kingdom life he describes in the Sermon on the Mount is not some far away distant reality, but what happens when we live fully into our discipleship, when we fully live out what God intended for us when he made us human.

There’s a whole lot of theology in that God became flesh and dwelt among us. So much of our Christian Praxis rests on that understanding, and it is a cornerstone of God redeeming humanity. So I  don’t want  reduce that to one single or main point (as if they could be done), but one of the things I hear now when I read that verse is that God is not as afraid of our humanness as we are.

And this spilled out into all areas of my life. I was able to give voice and say, “I don’t’ want to be a counselor, I want to work at a church with youth”, when for a long time I kept that to myself afraid that I wasn’t cut out for it or people would laugh at it. I felt more confident, and more brave. I felt like I had a voice, my honest voice, not the one hidden behind a mask of certainty, or “quirkiness.”   I stopped panicking or having a crisis of faith every time I couldn’t resolve a tension in Scripture.  I was able to confront conflict and personal tensions. My self-esteem and body image improved dramatically.  Heck, I even asked a guy out on date, and wore a two-piece bathing suit for the first time in my life.

I was learning the confidence that came with learning how to see yourself as a child of God, and the freedom and joy that comes with that.

But what about the days where I forget?

Because I still find myself falling back into that place I was. And every time it happens I immediately begin the process of mentally beating myself up about it. I look at where I was the day before; certain, sure, honest, and open, rocking out in my care to Brave and believing the lyrics with my whole heart, and I compare it to where I am at in those moments where my self-esteem plummets, and that feeling of self-resentment starts to creep in again.

It’s the vicious cycle of insecurity; I feel insecure, and then resent myself for feeling that way, I wonder why I can’t just be the strong, confident person that I was yesterday, and then I feel insecure about the fact that I am insecure, and my insecurity then becomes about whether or not I am being perceived as insecure, or needy, or whiney. I get caught up in wondering how could I go from someone who genuinely enjoyed herself one day, to someone who is crying because I don’t like how my body may look the next day?

I tell someone I am feeling insecure and then immediately follow it up with an apology, or an explanation, or an assurance not to worry about it.  And I find myself once again going to that place where I am apologizing for how I feel, for voicing a doubt, or a need, or a desire for some kind of affirmation.

But when so much of insecurity is caught up in an inability to see yourself accurately, sometimes you need people to speak to that place, and if you pretend it isn’t there, it festers and grows and distorts even more.  I find when I try and manage those insecurities on my own, independent of God and independent of fellowship, I find myself being less and less of that person I enjoy being, but this flies in the face of so much about what we are taught about strength, perception, independence, and self-worth.

I find as my faith strengthens so does my security and confidence, and I think we see this more than anything in the person of Jesus, who never had reason to doubt his worth and his value and His belovedness, as my identity becomes more and more grounded in who I am to God, those moments where I am just beat down by insecurities, doubts and uncertainties about my own self-worth, they are fewer.

But they are still there, because my faith is not perfected yet. I don’t have a perfect picture or perfect faith in who God has called me to be and who he is making me into and in His ability to do that. My self-perception is still, distorted by the fallen world we live in, and so those insecurities are there.

And I think a part of what I am learning is that, for now, that’s okay.  And while that woman, who sings Roar at the top of her lungs on the way to work and believes it is great and she is deeply loved by her Creator she is just as imperfect as the me that is so angry at herself for forgetting her lunch at home for the millionth time that week.

And I think God is patiently showing me the difference in being confident in my confidence, and being confident in Him. Because this side of heaven, my confidence in my own worth and value, and even in the knowledge that I am loved and valued by God is going to waver.   And in those moments when I feel like I can’t do anything right, I need to not compare myself to that person I was yesterday and instead listen to His words speaking to me:

“Yesterday, tomorrow, and now, you are Mine.”

Making Spaces

It’s been about 8 months since I’ve even looked at my blog. I’ve tried several times to sit down and write, because I love it, but I rarely get past a paragraph.

A big part is that this has been a huge transition for me, and now 8 months later on the other side of the country, in my own apartment, living on my own for the first time, and Bobby enjoying having access to every room in the house, I am finally sitting down to write again.

Another part of it is wondering what does it look like now?

What does it look like to have created space for honest reflection, and wrestling and tension given the new stage of life I am in? What does it mean to return to that space now?

I believe strongly in the value of story, of sharing in safe and appropriate spaces with safe and appropriate people. I believe that there is healing in those spaces, there is affirmation, there is solidarity. And a part of what I do now is to empower the stories of those I work with, let them know that their voice matters, and there is value in who they are and where they have been.

But yet I find my fingers hesitating over the keys, wondering what that looks like in my own life, wondering what it means to write from places of honesty and wonder and searching, to weigh what I write a bit more, knowing that the audience has altered, but still be able to model what it means to exist in tensions and questions that aren’t easily answered.

Because I believe that if we don’t create space for questions, mourning, doubts, fears, and struggles within the walls of a church, within the safety and prayer and patience of Christian community, within a Christ and Scripture-filled place, that space will be made elsewhere. And people will go to it.

If that space is provided then those questions, and tensions, and uncertainty can breathe life into faith, strengthening it and draw us closer to the unknowable God who makes himself known. But if that space is not given, we stumble under the weight of pretending they don’t exist or pretending that our voices are something other then what they are, and slowly it can choke the life out of faith.

It was like coming up for air the first time I realized that God wasn’t scared of my questions. That God wasn’t scared of my doubts, my anger, my fears, and God wasn’t scared if I didn’t know the answer I was searching for. God wasn’t scared if I started wondering if the faith of my childhood is a true reflection of His Kingdom and the Gospel that Jesus preached. And I am not ready to let that go, and I don’t think I need to.

So what does it look like to bring my voice back to a space I created for it, at a different time in my life? I’m not really sure. Like all things and places and interactions, prayer and discernment is necessary. I also know that honesty is not the enemy of God’s truth. And I think maybe there is space here for God to teach me about the graciousness of His Church, of the body of believers he has put me into at this point in my life. To trust that they, like Him, aren’t scared of a trembling voice telling her story. To trust that I am a part of a family that loves me and knows me, to trust that we are all learning together what it means to live out the words in Colossians 3:12-14.

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Eshet Chayil

womanofvalor

A few weeks ago I wrote about women; how women see, relate to, and speak to one another.  I tried to address some of the underlying tensions that taint the way women interact and the stereotype that women secretly dislike and distrust one another, with every insult, compliment and dialogue cloaked in some kind of veiled attempt to tear the other one down.

At the end of that last post, I issued a challenge of sorts, or a hope, that we can begin rewriting that story.  I think, on some level, we are afraid that by praising strengths in another woman, especially strengths that we may not have, will somehow shine a light on our own deficiencies and reveal where we are most insecure, and where we aren’t as good. And I think a good place to start is to intentionally begin praising and recognizing the incredible women that are in your life.

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Blogger and author Rachel Held Evans introduced me to a concept of the Proverbs 31 woman that I had never heard; that it is used not as a prescriptive laundry list, but rather a poem of praising a certain woman for the way she lives out wisdom in her life.  Rachel describes the account of her Jewish friend who says that her husband sings it to her at every Sabbath meal.

The poem praises a “Woman of Valor”, or “Eshet Chayil.” Traditionally, Jewish men have memorized Proverbs 31 and recited it to the women in their lives who live out wisdom and valor.  But I don’t think that means I shouldn’t be able to use it to praise the women who show me daily what it looks like to live with wisdom and valor in so many different ways.

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Eshet Chayil!

…to my best friend, whose job is to wake up every day and go and love children who are hurting and crying, you choose to love them not knowing how long their precious lives will last, knowing that you can’t heal their illness but that you can chase away some of their scariest moments.  You choose to love them knowing your heart could break the next day when you step through the doors of the hospital. And that makes you brave.

You are a woman of valor.

Eshet Chayil!

…to my roommate and friend, whose passion and hard work are second to none. I have seen you put your mind to so many things and not only achieve, but excel, in every single one of the.  Now your job is to work hard on behalf of those who are sick and hurting, advocating for those who need you, and caring for people in their most intimate and vulnerable places, and I wonder if they’ll ever have any idea how lucky they are to have you.  You teach me to pursue and to fight.

You are a woman of valor.

Eshet Chayil!

…to that momma/accountant/wife/friend, you are so much to so many people. You open your home and share the warmth of your family with whoever needs it. You refresh the hearts of those who are tired and you speak encouragement and wisdom. Your home is a place where people find rest and their hearts are at ease.  They don’t feel unwelcome or a burden.  You show me how to be warm and charitable.

You are a woman of valor.

Eshet Chayil

…to my sister who always makes me laugh and astounds me with your work ethic, yet your ability to go through life with an effortless grace and humor. Everything you do, you try so hard to do well, and you give all of your heart. Whether it’s for a black belt in karate or for the kids you teach, you invest so much of your heart, time, and abilities, and that inspires me every day.

You are a woman of valor.

Eshet Chayil!

…to that almost-sister, literally on the ground in Africa, fighting on behalf of the widows and orphans.  You are the smartest person I know, you could’ve done anything you wanted and got a job anywhere in the world, and you took an internship in Africa to be a part of God’s justice there.  You are on the frontlines and I am so proud to know you.  You are fearless.

You are a woman of valor.

Eshet Chayil!

…to that sassy friend, who brings out the sass in me! I look at your life, and how you make every day into an adventure, and I learn so much from you. You are always available to talk, to encourage, to write letters, and send texts.  You seek so much to live every single day wringing out the best of every single moment, and whether I am quoting movies with you or learning from you, I enjoy every single second with you.  You are so eager to understand, to challenge and be challenged, and to live life with courage, daring and bravery. And you are one the bravest women I know.

You are a woman of valor.

Eshet Chayil!

…to my mother. You love and sacrifice so much for your loved ones, and your children.  You have been through so much, you have survived so much and you have grown so much.  Every day I see you strive to be better then you were the day before. You have so much faith and trust and belief in me and it encourages me every day.  You have shown me what it means to persevere.

You are a woman of valor.

Eshet Chayil!

…to the artist, you see the world in a completely different way and in those moments where you share what you see with us, we see it different to. You express love, joy, hurt, and pain with paint, pastels, and music in a way that never ceases to amaze me. You feel everything so hard and it spills out in every art form in beautiful, messy, brilliant, and gut-wrenching ways.  You take color and canvas, and you make something beautiful, something that I never could’ve imagined but when I see it, I can’t imagine anything else. You teach me to see.

You are a woman of valor.

Eshet Chayil!

…to the student who asks, who questions, who challenges, who doesn’t take the easy answer, or accept it “just because.” You turn every thought over in your head, examining it, breaking it apart and putting it back together.  You aren’t satisfied with the regular, the normal, the common, you want to be you and you are bravely carving out what that looks like. Your wit, your words, your passion, all of them amaze me. You teach me how to learn.

You are a woman of valor.

Eshet Chayil!

…to stay-at-home moms, single moms, working moms, pastors, wives of pastors, those who are volunteering to hold babies in the nursery, career women working 9 to 5, students, nurses, writers, dreamers, poets, artists, daughters, sisters, aunts, doctors, seminary students, wives, survivors of abuse, neglect, physical illness, and mental illness. I’ve known so many of you, and your strength, your love, your laughter, your courage, your tears, your struggles, your smile, your prayers, your gifts, every day they challenge me and make me better.

I delight in you and am proud that we are on the same team, fighting for God’s love, justice, mercy and restoration in this world

Thank you for being in my life, and thank you for showing me what it looks like to be a woman of valor.

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