Growing into My Bigness


I have written before about being small, about feeling like I need or am expected to hide myself, make myself less, be less. However, I was hit with something several weeks ago as I again sat thinking about it. Being small is not as sudden a thing for me as I thought it was. As I sit and think and reflect, I can actually see the different lessons and admonitions towards being small that I have been given all throughout my life, not just in the past decade. It’s not as recent a thing as I thought it was. I’m looking back over my life and finding points along the way where I was taught to be small, to take the blame for others’ dislike. I learned that I needed to be small, that if I were too big, too bright, too…whatever, it was my fault if people got upset or didn’t like me. It’s kind of jarring to realize that it’s not as recent an emotional/behavioral habit as I thought it was.

I was taught to be small as a child. On school awards nights, I was taught by my peers to feel embarrassed by rather than proud of my achievements. My classmates would turn to me as I returned to my seat and tell me, “You should just stay up there [on the platform]. You’re gonna get everything anyway.” I felt the snide remarks all the way down to my bones, whether to be snide intended or not.

In middle school, I was taught to be small by the cute boy who pretended to like me and be my boyfriend for an entire week. Then, mercifully(?), a “friend” outed the joke. And it really was a joke because, seriously, who could ever like a nerd like me?

As a teenager, I was taught to be small because my fashion style was dressier than other girls in my social sphere and it might make them look bad. I was taught to be small when classmates rolled their eyes and made fun of the books I read, that I took solace in, and when they grumbled because I could play my part in concert band, even though their inability was a result of their lack of practice and nothing on my part.

In my twenties, late bloomer that I am, I was taught to be small when I perceived that I could not shine or revel in my own beauty because it would make others feel less happy about themselves, even though I had absolutely no control over that. If I could just step back upstage a little, not be quite so much in the light, that’s it…right there on the edge, that’s good. I can see it in photos now, recognize it for exactly what it is, and it hurts.

There are people in my life who have taught me to be small with the same breath that they used to admonish me for not “seeing how beautiful I am”. I’m sure they never realized or considered that that was what they were doing but it was. It’s sometimes hard, very hard, to hear “you’re beautiful” at the same time as being told that you make others jealous or unhappy. Suddenly, “beautiful” becomes not quite such a good thing; “beautiful” becomes something that brings pain to others, to ones you care about, so, obviously, “beautiful” is something that I should try to be less of. Me is something that I should try to be less of.

Though I have made progress (and I do mean quite a bit of it), I still battle the perception that I need to be small, less, duller. I question, I temper, I demure, I stick myself in a corner and keep quiet. Being small became a habit, born out of a desire to never hurt anyone, to be the cause of hurt, or a bone of contention. And so, sometimes, I still fall into its trap. If you have been taught to be small, believe me: you’re not alone. But you know what? We can “grow into our bigness”, as a dear friend once put it. I am growing into my bigness, into my role in my own life. I can stand. I can shine. I can strut. I can star. It is okay to be big in our own lives. It’s okay to be comfortable in our skin and unapologetic for it, to be unapologetic for our selves in our unique beauty and us-ness. Sure, we have our cracks, our flaws, our problems. But those do not negate us or our humanity or our worth. They do not make us monsters or beings who can be nothing but less-than. All that makes us is human. Humans, men, women, who do not have to be small. We are who we are, made as we were, and we do have something worth being, worth giving. Bigness doesn’t happen all at once; it’s a growing, like when we were children. It’s a process. But we can get there, you and I. God made us for big things; things that only we can do or be or create or give.

Even though you and I might have been taught to be small, we don’t have to stay there. We don’t have to believe that we have to be small or less. We can grow into ourselves,  rise up into our bigness, and we need not fear it.

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Hold But Gently


A year ago, I posted an article about seeing others and being seen by others and just what such a venture takes on either/both sides of the mirror. As I thought about that in the context of gentleness, I realized just how much that it [gentleness] is also a requirement of seeing and being seen.

In order to see others in their all, in their good and their bad, in their not enough and too much, we need to be willing to hold them gently, hold them loosely. We need to allow them to tremble and shudder but remain near. We need to not hold them too tightly but still stay close in their hard. Not to squeeze too firmly but to let them step back and breathe when they need to do so. To see someone, we must hold them gently and let them know that they are safe, un-judged, and free to be themselves, whatever that may mean.

Gentleness also goes hand-in-hand with being seen. In order to be seen, we need to be gentle with ourselves. We need to allow ourselves to believe that, yes, someone does in fact want to be a friend to our flawed self. Yes, someone does in fact care, and, no, we are not being a burden on their lives. They care about and love us and we can at least show ourselves enough gentleness to let them.

Being seen is frightening and dangerous. Let’s hold ourselves gently in our fear, reminding ourselves that rejection, though it will hurt if it happens, it will not be the end of us. We may be busted but we won’t be broken beyond repair. We may be hurt but not beyond healing. On the other side, we may find ourselves met with arms wide open and our heart cradled gently in loving hands. It is always the chance we take and the hope we harbor: being seen and accepted.

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Holding the Days with Gentleness


2016 is almost over and what a year it’s been. I’m not entirely sure what to make of it now that I sit and think about it but I will try to put word to thought.

This year, my watchword was grace—to give grace as well as to recognize it when it is given me and to also give it to myself. I have spent this year trying to be mindful of opportunities to show grace, as well as to accept it when I receive it. I also worked to be mindful of opportunities to study and explore grace and its facets. This year, I spent my NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) in November centering my writings on grace. I explored what I knew, what I have experienced, though, and considered, and even found new levels of thought on what it means to give grace, experience it, choose it, and even to be graceless. It was, honestly, one of the best writing experiences of my life and it renewed a desire in me to write, and I am determined to write as often and as much as possible in the coming year.

This year, I went back to teaching full time. It was a quick decision after many, many applications, interviews, and then coming to terms with being home with Elizabeth for a final year. I got a call, interviewed, and made a decision all in two to three days. I had to sacrifice some things, such as seeing my baby off on her first day of daycare/preschool, but I knew that it was the right decision for my family. Has it been easy, such a quick and large life transition? No, not really, and it has taken me almost the entire semester to feel as though I have found my feet or that I belong in teaching again (still not entirely sure on the latter but for now, functional will do). I am still struggling a bit to find a life balance again—to find the correct levels in time for daughter, husband, my self-care, and my writing–but I have learned and am learning a great deal from the teachers and students I am working with now. At the same time, my girl is enjoying school and missing her friends now that we are at the tail end of Christmas vacation. She is doing wonderfully, growing quickly, learning so very much, and I am thankful beyond measure for that.

My husband has just completed a leadership development program, which I am buttons-bursting proud of him for sticking with. I know that it was a testing for him and I am ever so proud of his perseverance and determination to get everything out of it that he could. He works hard each and every day and gives all he can as a teacher and a pastor and I am constantly awed and inspired by him. This year, we celebrated ten years of marriage surrounded by friends and full of laughter and good food. It was the best method by which to celebrate (well, that and the new Star Trek film) and I am so glad that we were able to do so. I love you, darling, today and every day and even beyond that.

As 2016 ends, I have been thinking and praying about a watchword, a word of intention for the coming year. This year’s word was grace and the year before was intentioned by courage and kindness. So far, the word that has come to me is gentleness. What does it mean to be gentle? To act and react, listen, speak, and be with gentleness?

With all the fear, the worry, the anger, the darkness, what does it mean for me to be gentle? How can I be gentle with the hearts that are afraid and hurting? How can I be gentle with those who do not understand or don’t want to?

How can I be gentle with my dear ones? Gentle with their feelings, their thoughts, with honesty, in my reactions and discipline as we raise our daughter, with my loved ones’ precious hearts and souls?

How can I be gentle in my job, with my students and coworkers, with their humanity that may break out in difficult ways sometimes, much like my own?

How can I be gentle in my faith, in speaking love and kindness and giving grace to others? In following the example of the God I claim to believe in and the Jesus I claim to follow?

How can I show gentleness in my craft, in what I write and how I post on social media, the corners that I build in the world around me, both real and online? How can I be gentle and bold and courageous at the same time?

I want to hold what people give me, what they trust me with, gingerly and carefully. I want to be gentle with souls, with words, with trust, with hearts and feelings. I want to do this for others because I know how much I want it for me. I want people to be gentle with me, with my thoughts, feelings, words, hopes, dreams, heart, and soul. Just as I know how much I need grace and so I try to give it, so it goes with gentleness. I know how much I desire it; why should others not be the same? Why should I not try to give the reactions that I would want to receive?

Everyone is going through or has gone through something; everyone could use some gentleness in a world so rough and tumble. This year may be hard, this year may be scary, but I will not let that stop me. I will not let it harden me either. I will not let it take my softness away but, if anything, I will let it increase, let it seep into my touch, fill my words, prompt me to listen more than I speak. May this coming year find me holding others with gentleness and radical love, continuing to act in grace, having courage, and being kind.

Farewell, 2016.

Welcome, 2017. I call you blessed and look forward to what we have to learn together.

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Do Not Wish Yourself Away


It’s amazing when you think about it. There are things in your life that you sometimes think you would wish away if you could. Memories you don’t want or that are painful, maybe experiences that are agonizing. But then, at the same time, you can’t wish them away. Or, rather, you might not really want to if you sat down and thought long and hard about it. While those memories may be hard or heartbreaking, or that experience or those people utterly awful, if you didn’t have those experiences or didn’t meet, be with, or experience those people, wrangle with those people, then I would posit that there are other things that might not have come about. There are people you wouldn’t have met, friendships or relationships you wouldn’t have, and beautiful experiences you perhaps would not have had if you hadn’t met these people or gone through what you had with those them, those contacts and happenings.

It’s what really what stops me a lot of the time from saying, “Oh, I wish this or that had never happened.” Because the truth is: if it hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be the woman I am now. Maybe I would be similar but definitely not the same. As much as or even more so than that, though, I wouldn’t have what I have now. I wouldn’t have the friends and the relationships that I have and hold dear. I wouldn’t have a lot of the beauty in my life, a lot of the challenging, sharpening things in my life, that I do now if it weren’t for these experiences. I know that I wouldn’t have the capacity for the important things that I have gained from them: compassion and empathy and mercy and grace, for example.

It is true that you can walk away from people in your life if that situation has become emotionally unhealthy for you or for them, but you can’t erase them. Now, there are absolutely horrific things that people have experienced–terrible, soul-rending things that I do wish I could erase. I do wish I could eradicate it from their precious soul’s memory, give them something wholesome and loving and up-building in its place, and erase the damage. That is really what I wish I could do: erase the damage. But I would never erase, or want to erase, the person.

In the latest film adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (of Chronicles of Narnia fame), Lucy chooses to speak a spell that would make her as beautiful as (though she didn’t realize it would actually  turn her into) her sister Susan, whom she agreed was the more beautiful of the two of them. When she was given a glimpse of what would come of such a rash spell-speaking (namely, a world where Lucy Pevensie didn’t exist), Aslan reproved her in his gentle, breaking-open way.

Aslan: What have you done, child?
Lucy Pevensie: I don’t know. That was awful.
Aslan: But you chose it, Lucy.
Lucy Pevensie: I didn’t mean to choose all of that. I just wanted to be beautiful like Susan. That’s all.
Aslan: You wished yourself away, and with that, much more. Your brothers and sister wouldn’t know Narnia without you, Lucy. You discovered it first, remember?
Lucy Pevensie: I’m so sorry.
Aslan: You doubt your value. Don’t run from who you are.

I don’t mean it to sound trite or to trivialize anything, I really don’t, but it’s the truth, the real, unmarred truth in that everything we do ripples. Everything we experience ripples and builds on itself and it builds on other things. It is rather amazing, honestly…and scary, really so, because as much as I or you would like to pull an Eternal Sunshine, if you did, what would be lost would be so much than just those memories and just those experiences. You could very well lose you, the person who is being built and strengthened, sharpened and refined on the foundation of those ruins. And what a great loss that would truly be! Don’t wish yourself away, dear one. Live and learn and grow. With the necessary time and care and imperfect progress, perhaps you will be able someday to put regret in a box and bury it beneath the foundations of who are you are becoming. I will endeavor to do so, too, rather than let it become a wrecking ball that tears down all we have built.
Don’t wish yourself away. You are needed. You are significant. You matter. What you have been through matters. Let your people hear your voice, let us see you feel, be, and live life. What’s more, let us see who you are and who you are becoming and let us love you in it. It’s breathtaking to watch.

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BloPoMo Day 6: “Grace in Extravagance”


When I was in high school, I had a conversation with a classmate that I still remember almost 20 years later. We were discussing a popular female musician. My classmate insisted that the young woman had a big nose, far too big to be pretty. I replied that, even if that were so, her voice was still very lovely.

My classmate looked at me and stated, “You always find something good to say about someone. I need to learn to do that.”

I didn’t think much about it at the time because I was merely stating the truth: her voice was (and is) lovely. It didn’t think that I was doing anything extravagant, despite my classmate’s implication. But it has stuck with me all these years, always floating in the back of my mind somewhere. I have come to believe that it has influenced the way I think about and speak of others, whether I notice it or not. There is a grace in being willing to find what is good in someone, in choosing to build them up rather than tear them down. I also believe that there is grace in being willing to see what is real in someone.

What is real will not always be pretty, it will not always be easy. It may be messy, it may be difficult to fathom or handle, but grace involves seeing people as they are, where they are, and extending compassion and loving-kindness to them in that moment. I will admit that I have not always stuck it out through the real in people. There have been times when I have backed up or slipped away, when I have chosen silence over the difficult and homeostasis over the challenging, or let relationships fall silent, wither, and die because I just didn’t know what to do and was too scared or hurt or weary to try, to reach out, or to forgive. I admit this with regret and repent of it now, though, in some cases, I know the deep truth of Dickens’ words:

“[There is] no space of regret [that] can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused.” (A Christmas Carol, Stave 1, brackets mine)

 I know that letting go is a thing that sometimes needs to happen, that it is sometimes necessary for emotional and mental health on both sides. But I like to think that I might be intelligent enough (even if just) to tell the difference between needing to let go after having tried and moving away from the real. I have been shown the gentlest and strongest grace by those in my life, in those times when I know I was difficult, frustrating, and confusing in my realness. I want to emulate their example and sit with them and others in their real, to understand when they are speaking out of pain, and reach out in love.

“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” Ephesians 4:2 (NLT)

Extravagant grace is not an easy thing, but those who have internalized it, practice it, live it, make it look easy. They make grace look natural, even though it isn’t. Grace is a choice and sometimes a hard one, but the good it can do is immeasurable. Be brave, dear ones. Let’s stick through the hard; let’s sit with people through the real. Let’s shut down our propensity to take things personally and reach out softly in love that might be unexpected but so deeply and desperately needed.

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BloPoMo Day 5: “Momentary Grace”


What was your worst moment?

When were those few seconds that you so desperately wish you could snatch back?

What were the words that you just wish you had swallowed?

What were those emotions that you wish you had kept in check?

What if your worst moment actually wasn’t the worst? What if, to someone else, that moment ended up being good, great, transformative? What if your worst, wrapped up in grace, became a best for someone else? Now, it’s true: we may never ever know if this is the case. We rarely get to see just how far the ripples go. But what if it were true? What might that possibility do for your soul?

I’m not saying that every worst moment is a best but we never know what our humanity, our vulnerability, and, yes, even our fallibility can do for others. It may remind them that perfection is not necessary to be good, that emotions are not four-letter words, that we all have breakdown moments, and that we all need someone to extend a little grace every now and again.

Not every worst moment is a best moment but every worst moment has the potential to be, even if all we or someone else learns is to just keep moving forward.

Weighted on the Side of Grace


There’s a war between guilt and grace

And they’re fighting for a sacred space.

“Grace Wins Every Time” — Matthew West

My soul laid in broken pieces at my feet, cracked and smashed, shattered and bleeding. The pieces never seemed to stop falling, like the late fall leaves outside that seemed to flutter endlessly to the ground. My poor soul was in so many pieces that, if it were a vase, I would despair of it ever being put back together again. Even if it were, would it ever be strong and stalwart again? Would it ever be able to stand upright without fear of collapsing inward? Would my soul, so battered and broken by my own failures and actions, by rejection and judgement from others, ever again stand a chance at wholeness? I didn’t think so.

I could hide it. I did hide it and well. I swathed it in velvet, let it appear whole and soft when really it was trembling and fractured beneath. The pretty-on-the-outside covering was to hide the sensitive, nerve-baring cracks as much as it was to pretend at wholeness. It fooled everyone but me, everyone but those who dared to look painfully closely, and especially everyone but the One who formed my fingers and toes, my heart, lungs, and innermost being.

The One I don’t fool is God. I can’t fool God. Isn’t that wonderful? Yes, that’s what I said: wonderful! No matter who I think I might be fooling, I cannot fool the God of the universe. An artist knows their handiwork. So does God. He Knows me and Sees me.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:13-14 NIV)

God sees my soul for what it is: fractured, scarred, and scared. He sees those broken pieces of self, sees the guilt that wars with grace, and weights the scales. Gathering those pieces of me, He puts His finger on the side of grace, tipping the odds in my favor, in His mercy and love.

I am messy. I have made mistakes and had to make amends. I have gotten it horribly wrong before. Yet God still calls me wonderful.

You, dear friend, are messy. You have made mistakes. You have gotten it horribly wrong before. You have been crushed by your actions and those of others. But God still calls you wonderful. He still loves you as is. Guilt and grace war for the sacred space in your soul, too, and God still gathers up your pieces and puts His finger on grace’s side of the scale.

Do not fear your broken soul; God doesn’t. Sometimes that which has been broken and repaired is even stronger than when it first started out. Let God pick up your pieces. Watch how tenderly He handles those jagged and painful parts of you, coaxing and bringing about healing, clarity, and growth from their ragged edges.

Listen to His tender whisper: “I love you. I love your brokenness. I love your soul. I am here. You are not in this fight alone.”

Our brokenness doesn’t frighten God. Not one bit. In fact, He only draws us closer. Here, take my hand, and let’s lean into our brokenness today, you and me. Then we can see what grace has in store for us.