It’s my birthday, Dear Readers, and Hobbits tend to give gifts on their birthdays. Welcome to Friday!
It’s my birthday, Dear Readers, and Hobbits tend to give gifts on their birthdays. Welcome to Friday!
Several Sundays ago, I heard a sermon that struck something inside me. The thoughts it brought up keep repeating over and over in my mind, and you know me. When that happens, it’s a large clue that whatever I am thinking needs saying. As it stands, it has taken me a while to get to the “saying it” point, as is evidenced by the fact that I am posting this several weeks on.
In the ancient Israel of the prophet Nehemiah’s time, Jerusalem was conquered, razed, the Temple destroyed, and the Israelites taken off into slavery. After decades in Babylon, some of them were then allowed to return to Jerusalem. However, the walls of the city remained broken down and destroyed for a long time. As the pastor giving the sermon analyzed, broken-down walls meant disgrace, defeat, and judgement, a lack of protection, and were a constant reminder of when everything went horribly wrong. In Nehemiah’s time, according to the pastor, the surrounding countries had “no respect for God or His people” and come against and conquered them because God’s people did not live up to His requirements, had set aside their faith, and ignored His messengers (2 Chronicles 36). The Israelites lived in exile for decades before being allowed to return home to rebuild their city and their Temple.
That idea about the countries surrounding Israel having no respect for God or His people stuck with me, or, more accurately, a reason behind it stuck with me. In our current day in 2019, what I have seen, heard, and what has coalesced in realization is that people outside of Christianity often have no respect or love for God or His people because His people have no love or respect for those outside. And that thought was a gut-strike, keeping itself on repeat in my mind throughout the remainder of the service.
People often “do not love and respect God” or the people who claim to be His, because the latter do not love and respect those outside their own echo chambers, or ostensibly even those inside at times. In the past several months, we have seen new holes open up in the proverbial coat of several areas of the Christian church institution. We have once again had light shone on secrets and dark corners in trusted, cherished parishes that have caused incalculable pain, damage, and life-altering trauma. At the same moment, in almost the same breath, when Christlike love and presence were needed most, in another denomination a decision made by a few was reinforced to ostracize the many, an entire community of people, and to deny them a place in that faith and, presumably by extension, in God’s love. While I have watched the beauty of Methodist churches rising up and standing in solidarity and love with their people–all of them–the reality must still be faced. Christians have—in a few very loud corners—with their tongues proclaimed to love the Lord their God with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and that they love their neighbors as themselves. Meanwhile, with their hands, they have betrayed those words and crushed them into sand that ends up blown into the eyes of those whom they have denied.
Does that come across as harsh? Maybe it does. Maybe it needs to.
I have written on this before, so it really should come as no surprise where I fall in this discussion of love, faith, and inclusion. Is it every single Christian who is guilty of this? No. By no means, no. But there are, unfortunately, enough to make a very crucial difference in the impact of our faith and the weight by which we are measured. The very last part of the sermon that Sunday hit me, this time right in the heart. It was a challenge to the congregation to “work together to bring glory to God and blessing to those who dwell in Him”. The pastor said four things that have stayed with me:
1. Do not ignore the needs in our community or in our church! Be honest about what is broken.
2. Don’t wait for someone else to get involved. Go for it!
3. Use what you have, and trust God for what you don’t have!
4. It is okay to expect a miracle, but it is not okay to wait for one.
These four admonishments may seem simple on their faces, but they are heavy with truth, Dear Ones. The one that has lodged its razor-sharp corner in my heart is “Be honest about what is broken”.
Our lack of love as Christians is broken.
Our lack of understanding is broken.
Our lack of humaneness is broken.
Our lack of mercy is broken.
Our lack of Christlikeness is broken.
Our denial, our erasure, these things are all broken.
We are broken, just as others are broken. Broken and in need. Why do we as Christians try to deny the love and open arms of God to someone else (as if we could!) when we are in such desperate need of them ourselves? Newsflash: God doesn’t need our permission to love someone. His love is not predicated on what we as fallible humans think. Again: God. Does not. Need. Our. Permission. To. Love. Someone. As Christians, we are not the gatekeepers to God’s love. We are supposed to be the instruments of it, but our actions, words, and attitudes can actively destroy the chance for that relationship to be born. We can actually get in the way of the love we claim to espouse.
Be honest about what’s broken. It seems a simple and difficult enough idea at the same time, doesn’t it? In these weeks, I have been faced with what might appear to others to be a simple choice: to post or not to post, to share or not to share. I am trying to pull all of this thinking into words and then be brave enough to “say” it out loud. I have posted a few things lately on social media pertaining to the LGBTQIA+ community and my Christian faith that I personally feel deeply and strongly about, as I have in the past. These are beliefs, statements, and stances that I know that some Christians in my life would, most likely, deeply disagree with. That alone has caused me a bit of anxiety. But, at the same time, I had a heart-nudge (which I have come to recognize as God’s prodding and actively try not to ignore), and I wanted to be true to my conscience, my faith, and my convictions.
Over the past few weeks and days, my heart has broken repeatedly. As a teacher, I look back and think of students that have sat in my classrooms over the past ten years, who have written of abuse they have suffered, of loneliness, isolation, self-hate, and fear, and the resulting trauma and self-harm. Students whom I have known to be or suspected were non-hetero, non-binary, etc., and the struggles they have battled through. I cannot fathom telling these beautiful, deep-hearted children that they are a mistake, that God doesn’t love them, doesn’t value them, or that they don’t have a place in their faith if they feel called to serve in that capacity. I cannot wrap my mind or heart around it. Not when the people I have been privileged to meet, know, love, and who have been formative in this, the second half of my life, are so broad and deep and wide and who span the entire spectrum. People whose light and love and faith have supported and walked with me through hard moments and times. Tender people who have unclenched my fists and held my trembling hands in theirs, both literally and figuratively. Beloved people who have treated me with kindness, mercy, humanity, and understanding beyond anything I could have hoped for.
President of Biola University, Barry H. Corey, recounts the day when a friend and colleague in Bangladesh took him out to lunch and then proceeded to tell him about her homosexual relationship and the partner waiting for her back in the States. He asked her why she was telling him as he was “obviously straight […] and neither a trained counselor nor LGBT ally” (Love Kindness, 60). Karen replied that she had told him “because she believed authentic Christians see people first and foremost as created in God’s image and of immense value” (60-61, emphasis mine).
So many people in the LGBTQIA+ community, both young and older, have been told, both directly and indirectly, that they are “less than” (less than desirable, less than acceptable), having any identity as God’s or being created in His image wiped away because they are “unworthy” or “wrong”. As a result, so many of them leave and never darken the door to a community of faith again because…well…who would want to? In this, I believe that the Christian church is broken. We fail to see God’s image in those different from us and therefore miss the deep value He has placed in them.
In For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards, author Jen Hatmaker unpacks this idea with open honesty:
“We [Christians] are losing influence in our culture, and it isn’t even a mystery as to why. Folks are explaining plainly why they are leaving faith or are too afraid to come near it. One of the chief reasons is this: Christians.
I realize the mass exodus is multifaceted and deserves a fair analysis, but the common denominator is so abundant, we have to face it. [Cultural] conversions are happening inside and outside of Christianity and are necessary to assess and understand. But treating each other poorly is not a factor Christians can pass off.
[…] This is the next generation weeping for their gay friends and classmates, rejecting the church that maligns an entire community. This is my smart and funny friend who lives in loneliness because her Christian “friends” wounded and shamed her, and she is afraid to try again.
[…] If we are inhibiting others from finding Jesus [through our behavior] this constitutes a full-blown crisis. Ultimately, the rejection of Christians predicates the rejection of Jesus, and if that doesn’t grieve us, we have missed the whole point. Jesus tried to impress this upon us. I mean, He was obsessed.
“By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).” (190-192, brackets mine)
Something that Hatmaker reminds her readers of is that there absolutely is a correlation that can be drawn between how we as Christians treat each other and our fellow human beings and how the world that is watching us will feel about Jesus. If we say we are all about love and mercy and kindness and yet we condemn, decry, and dehumanize, how can people be anything but confused, hurt, and angry? The links between our belief, our words, and our actions are woefully broken, leaving us as Christians with a reality to face.
Our lack of love is broken.
Our lack of understanding is broken.
Our lack of humanness is broken.
Our lack of mercy is broken.
Our lack of Christlikeness is broken.
I am not waiting for a miracle. I am expecting one, yes, but I am not waiting for one. Our generation cannot afford that, and neither can the next one. I will love. I will be kind. I will pray. I will encourage. I will use what I have—my presence, my influence, my voice, my words, my arms—and trust God for the rest. I will tell my students that they are welcome in my classroom and in our school community just as they are. I will remind my friends and family—daily if need be—that I love them and thank God for them. I will do my best to speak out against injustice and call those in power to account. I will commiserate with, support, and comfort those who are suffering. I will do my best to live what I believe and write. We belong to one another, and that is how I choose to live.
“Above all, I desire to be part of God’s image-bearing people who relate to each other full of grace and truth, the same way God relates to us through Christ. Loving those who are different than we are is what we are supposed to do. And we’re called to serve together, to eat together, to have long and meaningful conversations with each other, to listen to each other, to sit on pews beside each other. […] I am working on the kindness of listening, understanding more and more the difference between listening while waiting to respond to someone and listening while wanting to learn about someone. Kindness is the latter.” (Corey 63-64, emphasis mine)
I am expecting a miracle, yes. I am not waiting for one, no. Love, listening, kindness, connection. These are the miracles I choose.
This week, I began reading Jen Hatmaker’s new book Of Mess and Moxie and, from the first chapter, she has my heart by the ear. In the first chapter, entitled “Unbranded”, Jen asserts that we don’t have to be who we first were. In other words, no matter what we have experienced or gone through, triumphed or failed at, we are not stuck.
I was in therapy once and by once I mean for a few months. It was during my second year of my teaching career and the job was rough, let me tell ya. Therapy did me good, I think. It probably would have done me more good had I stayed with that therapist longer. But I did offer some clarity on a few issues that I was dealing with. I also have numerous friends who have been through or are currently in the process of therapy or counseling. I have talked friends into getting counseling. I have been a de facto counselor myself (if you can call it that when one is in high school). I know that there are depths of ache and pain and trauma that friends and dear ones have experience that I will never fully understand. I also know that there are depths to my own self that I am still (constantly) learning, barriers that can be harmful to cross, and depths of my heart that are scary to explore.
I’m saying all of that to say, especially to you dear ones who are in the midst of this experience right now–in the midst of getting help, in the midst of taking those small steps every day towards healing and better–it’s okay. It’s okay to acknowledge that you need help. It’s okay to get help. It’s okay to see your damaged parts. It’s okay to start working to heal and repair them It’s okay to be working toward being someone different than you were. That season that you were in, those experiences you had, you don’t have to be that person anymore.
That early version of yourself, that season you were in, even the phase you are currently experiencing–it is all good and purposeful or at least useful and created a fuller, nuanced you and contributed to your life’s meaning, but you are not stuck in a category just because you were once branded that way. Just because something was does not mean it will always be. (Hatmaker, Of Mess and Moxie, 4)
Yes, some of the things you have experience in life may have been horrible, traumatizing, soul-rendingly painful, or even top-of-the-mountain triumphant (so-much-so that you wonder how you’ll ever live up to it from here on out). But they do not define you, dear one. You are not stuck in their category, their branding doesn’t own you. You may have been a victim; now you can become an advocate. Maybe you excelled; perhaps, in time, you’ll be the encourager. Where you were traumatized, you can be come triumphant (even if it’s the smallest victory over your pain).
You do not have to be who you were.
There is no shame in the work you are doing. The work to heal, get better, discover you again. The work you are doing is good work. I would even dare say that the work you are doing is holy work. The work of the mind, heart, and soul, to build a foundation on solid rock and the next chapter of your life atop it. You are doing good, dear one. I can guarantee you that.
You are doing good. Keep going. Keep doing. Give yourself grace as you do the work, too. The smallest step forward is still a step forward. The smallest victory is still a victory. Hold fast. Have courage. Breathe. Step forward. You can do this. And we’ve got you.
**Many thanks to Jen Hatmaker and her beautiful, heart-filled writing. You can pick up her newest book, Of Mess and Moxie, from thomasnelson.com, amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, or wherever you buy your books.**
At any point in time, there is usually one television show that I will go to for my background noise. Whether I am writing, working, cleaning, or just needing to relax, it’s a show that can just be a calming white noise in the back of my conscious attention. Currently, that show is the series of “The Great British Baking Show (Bake Off)” that is hosted by Netflix, which I think is series 5 or sommat (yeah, my partial Britishness is showing through). I LOVE this show! I kid you not, I have watched this one season of the show at least ten times through. I watched it when it aired on PBS originally and was delighted when it showed up on Netflix. It has become the one show that I will happily and consistently watch at any point in time. And I’ll probably make you watch it, too.
This past Christmas, I gave the American version of the show, “The Great Holiday Baking Show”, a fair shake but didn’t enjoy it nearly as much. Not by a long shot. Now, I could mark that to the fact that…well…British accents (English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish) just make anything better. But that would be a purely superficial reason. No. The reason that I love TGBBS is, I have discovered, because of the community and the way it is portrayed and shown. These people aren’t just contestants; these people are one big family, even though their number gets smaller week by week. They are fun, they are delightful, they are funny, they are supportive, encouraging, and helpful towards each other. They meet their challenges head-on and with high hopes (if there is groaning, grimacing, or grumbling, it is forgivingly on the cutting room floor), even if they have never heard of a princesstorte in their life (“Never seen it, never eaten it”) or if, at the end of an episode, they vow that they “will never wrap another pear in pastry again”. No matter what, they support each other. Each person who wins Star Baker is met with resounding applause and “well done’s”; those who have had a rough day are given support by their teammates (yeah, they call themselves a team, not competitors); and those who go home are met with hugs, “we’ll miss you’s”, compliments of their skill, and assurances that they will continue to make absolutely splendid creations in their future. Seventeen-year-old Martha, the youngest ever contestant on the show as of that particular season, was assured by Sue Perkins, upon her leaving the show, “you will rule the world, my darling”. And what seventeen-year-old doesn’t need to hear such confident encouragement and faith in them? And then, at the finale episode, everyone came back to cheer on the finalists and celebrate their success with them.
I love this! This…THIS is my heart for community! My heart for people, the vision of community that I am trying to foster and build in my life. A community of people–real, living, trying-their-best, imperfect people: family, friends, fellow hobbyists, peers. I want a world where we each do our best with the gifts that we have been given, where we encourage, cheer on, and clap for others even when they do better than we do, where we help each other through our stressful, difficult moments with no thought to ulterior motive, listen and/or offer comfort in mournful moments, and rejoice riotously with each other in our successes (and, yes, believe me, you will have them).
As Jen Hatmaker might say: for the love of sweet (baked) community, this is what I want! This is what life and love and relationship are about for me.
As I sit here in my quiet living room, wrapped in my ridiculously-comfy cable-knit poncho and relishing the absence of sound coming from my daughter’s room that tells me she’s asleep, I inhale the deepest and exhale the slowest I have all day (including the moments immediately following when I found said daughter had thrown her plate of mashed potatoes and corn down onto the rug). It’s like I can feel the world slowing down, quieting down, getting ready for the end of the day and forthcoming sleep. The television is off for the nonce, though I’ll probably indulge in some (countless) rewatching of “The Great British Baking Show” before bedtime.
Here we are almost a full week into 2016. It’s a thought that I am having trouble reconciling; it feels like it should have been longer than that right now and yet the days are taking their time a bit. I feel like I have accomplished a great deal and yet that I am falling behind on my To Do list. The decorations are coming down slowly. I’ve already written and submitted an article to the editors of The Well Written Woman. The laundry mountain is being chipped away at. I’ve cooked supper at home several nights this week. I’ve ready several chapters of a new book (you’ll find some favorite quotes from For the Love in the next post back). I’ve also been to the gym and kept up with my daily exercises. Pros and cons, progress and lag. But, on the whole, I find myself very pleased with how this year has begun. Baby steps.
I will confess that I have been busier than I had been expecting and need to work on being a bit more present with my little girl but I did take her out for her first snowfall play of this winter on Monday, which was wonderful. Then we sat on the floor and colored today before Mamaw gave us a call on Skype. So that was fun, particularly with me hilariously trying to defend my meticulously-colored picture from my daughter slapdash creativity. (I managed to snap a picture of my page for myself before surrendering my MLP: FIM coloring book to her mad genuis.)
I am looking forward to this year. I know that it is setting up to be challenging, difficult, or just plain hard for some in my life and it pulls my heart towards them, full of the desire to be there for them, even if there is nothing that I really, physically do for them. But I can be there for them. I can offer love and acceptance and an ear to listen. One of my goals this year is to speak less and listen more and offer as safe a place as I can for others. I don’t really have the words for how important this has become to me.
I have noticed firsthand of late just how ingrained it has become in us to not cry. Don’t cry. Whatever you do, don’t cry. And, if you do cry, apologize for your over-emotionality. Immediately. I am completely guilty of this and it breaks my heart to see those I love feel like they are putting too much on me or embarrassing me or themselves by crying. So I am retraining myself to never say, “Don’t cry”. (Oh, how hard that is with a three year old and those big fat tears over those chubby cheeks over the littlest thing.) Rather, I try to say, “It’s OK. Go on. I’m here,” and then just let them cry as they need. I am trying not to offer advice or platitudes or admonitions, or, really, even say anything aside from reminding them that I am right there (especially if it’s over the phone or Skype, as this is my verbal alternative to being able to hold their hand while they cry). Advice is not what they need from me in that moment. What they need is to be able release those tears, to release that emotion in a place where they do not fear being judged, condemned, or thought ridiculous. They don’t need “don’t cry”; they need “go ahead, you’re safe”. And that is what I want to give these friends, family, and loved ones. I am a sympathetic crier so there will most likely be two people crying before all is said and done, and that’s okay.
2016 has had a good start, with goals and hopes in place and progress made. It might be little progress but it’s still progress and I am glad for that. Here’s to the progress continuing. Cheers, dears!
My watchword for this year is grace and one of the books that I am reading (and have been looking forward to for a long while) is Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards.
Quotes of the Day:
“Now fully able to cheer wildly for friends and colleagues, I am free to be me without the constrictive mesh netting around my heart, everyone else is free to be themselves, and I am thrilled about us all.” – pg 15
“You decide your day should contain laughter and grace, strength and security. You realize insecurity, striving, jealousy, and living in comparison will eventually define your entire life, and that is NOT the legacy you want.” – pg 16
“This is your place. These are your people. This is your beautiful, precious life. Probably about halfway done here on earth, you lay down angst and pick up contentment.” – pg 16
From Chapter 2: “On Turning Forty”.
This chapter is written as a small treatise from her now-forty-year-old self to those who are coming up behind her in their twenties. I am not yet forty but so much of this resonated with me, even at (only) thirty-two. What Jen writes here feels very much like what I am processing through right now.
“Oh, my stars, when I was twenty-nine, I was so hamstrung by what everyone else was accomplishing. Other people were my benchmarks, and comparison stole entire years. I lost much time in jealousy, judgement, and imitation. I just couldn’t find my own song (15).”
I could have honestly written this myself and it couldn’t be any more true. I lost years comparing myself to others and finding myself wanting or thinking that others found me wanting in important ways. I gave up a great deal of power to others over what I perceived was their disapproval or my being “too much”. It’s only now, quite a few years later, that I am finding a place of peace with myself and others, stopping the looking sideways so much, and, as Jen puts, it “developing some chops”.
My favorite quote, though, is at the end of this chapter:
“So, sure, your body and mind get whack, but I promise: you wouldn’t return to your twenties for all the unwrinkled skin on earth. You’ll like it here. You will love better, stand taller, laugh louder. You’ll pass out grace like candy. Real life will temper your arrogance and fear, and you will adore the next version of yourself. We all will (16).”
This morning, as I yet lay in bed, I read my incourage devotional for the day with bleary morning eyes, and it struck me.
The devotional talked about rejecting the do-more-be-more nature of New Year’s resolutions and embracing the gift of a new, fresh year by choosing one word to carry through the year. One word to focus us as we go through the days, weeks, months. The writer’s pick is joy. I think my pick(s) for this past year were happiness and kindness. So I am asking God to give me my word for this year. I am feeling a heart-tug towards grace but I shall keep praying for clearness and clarity on it as the year draws to an end.
I have also begun reading Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love and the very first section talks about balancing my beam–rejecting the idea that I have to be good at everything, say yes to everyone. I want God to help me balance my beam, to make the cuts in expectation so that I can be as effective for Him, in my life purpose, and in love as possible.
Today, my daughter turns three, I am running on 5 hours of mostly-full-though-still-broken sleep, and her gifts were JUST wrapped a few minutes ago by her Mamaw while I kept her distracted in the living room.
It’s been a nice build up to Bizzy’s birthday. This week, as we have been out and about, she has been spreading sunshine around to others: waving, smiling, saying “Hi, everyone!”, and wishing people “Merry Christmas!” It’s done my heart good as I have tried to concentrate on the moments that make this season wonderful and not let myself be trapped by the expectation, comparisons, and stuff that made me regret it all at the end of last year. Fewer presents and more meaning. Less doing and more being. Fewer obligations and more space for magical moments and divine appointments.
Today, there will be no huge birthday party, no me running around to pick up party platters, birthday cake, and decorate a party space, no leaving my mom to mind and dress and prepare Elizabeth for said party while I go hither, thither, and yon. No running around desperately trying to be a good hostess as well as an attentive Mommy. No cleaning up afterward, trying to figure out where all the leftovers and cake are going to fit in the fridge, especially with Christmas Day foodings in 6 days. Nope!
All of that that is #offthebeam this year (thank you, Jen Hatmaker). As fun as it might have been for Bizzy last year, it was so much stress for me that I was a wreck by the end of the day and I didn’t get to enjoy my daughter’s birthday really at all. This year, we are going back to basic and easy: a relaxed day (that hopefully involves a nap or two for me), a family dinner out at a Chinese buffet that she really likes, presents, and a small cupcake (with a Christmas tree in frosting) for my girl to indulge in.
My little girl is three years old. I am running on five hours’ sleep, and I am so very pleased and proud to be the mother of this wonderful, fabulous, maddening, fierce, spiky, friendly, smart, lovely little person.