Snapbacksandtutus - Musings on...
Today I wore a pair of threadbare yoga pants and an unembellished oversized sweatshirt. I have yet to shower, and the pallor of my face is make-up free. In the blush of early morning, I grabbed a worn-out blanket to cover myself, though the air outside is moderate and welcoming. Life can be so slippery. It seems like the world as we know it is fighting a losing battle.
I am a what if kind of girl. Fueled by loss and PTSD, I live in a body that is almost always on guard. Anxiety infects even the most mundane tasks of living, self- preservation shifts into pesky permanence, and my ability to catastrophize the slightest threat is unnerving. Overwhelming losses have changed my view of life and the assumptions that I once held securely, "People are kind," "Life is good," "I am safe," and "The future is good" have been replaced by "The world is a dangerous place." Quiet amplifies my vulnerability, the slower I go, the more danger I see. Busy is my drug.
When left in silence, there are things that I am confronted with that can only be muted by my frenzied striving. When I am not busy, I am forced to acknowledge how uncomfortable I am with feelings of boredom or how frightened I am of being ordinary, how unworthy and unlovable I feel unless I am overachieving. In the absence of hustle, I am left with the realization that I have used my busyness to numb the feelings of vulnerability that attend grief and loss.
We have become a nation, a world, of thoughtless rushers. Busyness is a badge of honor. I am busy; therefore, I am relevant and valuable, I am worthy. If I slow my pace for even a moment or two, I cease to matter. With text messaging and instant access to emails and social media, we spend our days rushing about checking off list after list, distracted, unfocused, and more enmeshed in the small stuff than at any other time in history.
There is no social stigma attached to busy. The opposite is true. Busy is, in fact, a highly valued state of being. We feel a rush from the hustle; we take pride in the harried pace of our days, and we are rewarded externally for it. But one of the most convicting things that I have been confronted with over the last several days of forced stillness is the fact that Jesus was never in a hurry. So why is it, that caring for the things of God becomes our fuel so much so that we neglect the One who calls us to it. Perhaps we tend to the vast needs of others, doing the most good, so that we do not feel our own hunger. We get so absorbed in the performance trap, feeling as though we must prove our love to God by doing great things for him, that we rush past the intimacy of the sitting room to the frenzy of the kitchen.
If we are not careful, we can take relationship and personal interaction with God and replace it with religious activity. This kind of posture focuses on what I can do for God rather than how I can join him in what he is already doing. And what ends up happening if we are not careful, is that we do a lot of things, and we check a lot of boxes, but our hearts are far from him yet again.
There is no denying that our world is in a state of flux. There is so much fear and uncertainly as we stare chaos and shared grief squarely in the eye. And so, what if? What if we have been holding onto busyness like a weapon of protection? What if these somewhat idle days and weeks that seem such a burden might be a chance to do better, to be better? What if, in this strange space between chaos and order, there are lessons to be learned? What if, in relinquishing the ego of busy, we no longer feel compelled to prove to people how busy we are as a means of validating our worth? What if the security we feel in desperately holding on to what has made us successful in the past, gives way to innovation and improvisation? What if our window to the world simply needs to be dusted to gain a new perspective and greater understanding of one another? What if this unwelcome guest shifts our culture from one so obsessed with youth and beauty to one that values a face that is deeply lined and beautifully inhabited? What if, even when the air seems perfectly still, significant changes are taking place?
What if our senses have been dulled by a culture that confuses frenetic activity with meaningful action? And what if we have missed the whisper to “come away for a while”? What if this is a tender warning, an uncomfortable prodding to lay aside our wearisome labors; mounting pressures; escalating fatigue, and debilitating distractions? What if we are meant to pay closer attention? What if we surrender our need for busy for the benefit of all humankind?
And what if, in an age of constant motion, as characters in an ever-changing story, nothing is more urgent as sitting still?
I could feel the familiar catch in my throat, and the sting of tears in my eyes as the noise of the room grew in uncomfortable tension. I was steadfast, optimistic, and overprepared for what the morning meeting would hold – or so I believed. But there were veiled ambushes and pointed statements, and the inability to express how I really felt brought an unwelcome swell of tears to the surface. But don't mistake my tears, because they do not stem from a place of fragility. They are, instead, a response to the biting sting of injustice and the pressure to do the impossible again and again, that drives me to tears in the most inconvenient places
I grew up in the shadow of the Proverbs 31 Woman. She was, at the time, the very ideal of feminine godliness. At church, I watched with wide blue little girl eyes as the boys and men around me were encouraged to show strength and leadership. At the same time, I was fed an overabundant spoonful of gentleness, meekness, submission, and humility. Those Proverbs 31 attributes are beautiful qualities in and of themselves, things that, to this day, I aspire to on some level. But they are also qualities best achieved by making myself small. So, I became a sweet girl, a people pleaser. I spoke softly and gently, leaving much of myself at the door to gain acceptance into their world. Life became about learning to shrink and to shift, asking for permission to take up space, and apologizing because my God-given dreams and desires won't fit into a box that is far too small. I grew into womanhood under the burden of being both too much and yet not enough.
Too bold and opinionated, too emotional, too passionate, too hard to please…too much.
Not quiet enough, not soft enough, not submissive or gentle enough…not enough.
I leave gatherings like the one I spoke of that morning, afraid that I took up too much space. I was too outspoken. I shouldn’t have spoken out of turn. I should have been more gentle, softer. What is wrong with me that I cannot seem to contort myself into acceptability? Why can’t I choke down my words and feign sweet content with the status quo?
I work hard to be self-aware, to cultivate truth in my life, and to restrain the things about myself that mustn't run free. But how am I supposed to grow when I spend so much time intent on shrinking into the limited space, I am told I deserve?
But here's the thing, I can take up space. I can, as a woman who has been told she is too much of something…presence, toughness, perseverance, and passion that in the opposite gender is seen as positive. I am too much because I never do anything half-way. I am too much because I love too hard; I feel too deeply. I ask too often, I think too much. I am the woman who refuses to give up when her back is against the wall. I am a woman who won't quiet down my heart. I can't change the world or the church on a dime. Still, I can be unapologetically, fiercely, and wholeheartedly who I was created to be because I am supposed to be too emotional, too passionate. I am meant to love too much and to feel too deeply. You need my ideas, my vision, my leadership, my voice. You need my deep love for freedom and justice, for the hurting, beauty and diversity, and the work of God in the world. You need the passion and empathy and joy and grace that pours from me for whosoever.
Please do not mistake my tears for frailty. I am not looking for pity; I am looking for justice. I am exhausted by the constant battle in my head to determine how much to say and how to say it. I am not looking for a pat on the knee or a sympathetic tilt of the head. I am merely asking that you imagine what it is like to feel too something. This is empathy. It is the ability and willingness to understand the feelings of others. It is the opposite of the self-servitude or self-interest that often comes with privilege or power. And its absence has the potential to shape religious movements and landscapes in a powerfully negative way.
Acceptance comes when we embrace who we are in the eyes of the Creator. And as I reflect on the events of that morning, I need not have changed a thing. We do not need to keep a vigilant watch over every word and every action to hold steady a rocking ship. We are allowed a voice, a dissenting opinion, and a rogue desire. As human beings, we can feel disempowered at times without having to apologize when unwarranted or ask permission when we don't need it. Because when we accept that "too much" is precisely enough, we will create a space for all people to speak their truth, their pain, and their power. And in the end, the Kingdom of God will be better for it.
There are things my heart and mind will never be in concert over. The death of someone I loved is one of those things. Human nature can be so contrary. How do I grieve for a man who in life found a million ways to both infuriate and endear?
The anniversary date of Keith’s passing was yesterday, and I was quiet. On my end, there were no exquisitely penned social media posts paying tribute, because that space, I believe, is reserved for my children, his parents, and his siblings.
Keith and I were divorced. Our lives had been inextricably joined until they weren’t, and I grieved that loss for many years. But on that night, five years ago, there was a distinct finality to this new and undefined grief. In the days that followed his death, sudden and too soon, the intimate moments of our shared life brought sweet relief. Tears burned my eyes as the echoes of our shared experiences, once so greyed by the end of our marriage, flushed with color, but even so, language failed to define my relationship to Keith in the present. I wept for days, for my children, for his parents, for his siblings. And I wept, for me.
I pondered in the silence of the early morning, what the days to come would bring. I wondered how the obituary would read and how the funeral would be planned. Where do exes go to grieve? And though Keith's family offered sanctuary and unconditional love, their words and actions peppered with grace and undisturbed by division and exclusivity, I stayed at the edge of the room. I stood on the dark fringe of mourning, plagued by a nagging sense of guilt for accepting sympathy that felt so undeserved. There were people who knew him better and loved him longer. I did not think that I was entitled to the acute sadness and bewilderment that seemed to define his passing.
I have wondered in the years following Keith’s death, of his understanding of our past. I know that despite his many struggles, he deeply loved his family. He was a beautiful mess. Perhaps the years might have softened the hardness that defined our divorce, but that is the most profound loss of all because there is no possibility left when someone dies. The gash of failure, still tender, will never be healed. Grief is messy and cumbersome on its own. Add that it's the death of an ex, and those feelings become even more complicated—regardless of how the relationship ended. But once, long ago, he was mine.
Even now, I still hesitate before defining my connection to Keith. I feel neither single nor divorced, and it would be unfair to own the term widow. But this is what I do know; divorce should not define who we cherish and how we grieve. It's simple, really; we grieve because we have loved.
And so I claim today as mine. I want to honor the loss of Keith in a way that feels authentic because it is valid, real, and complicated. Even exes have the right to grieve fully and deeply for someone we once loved. A piece of him is still mine.
It is December, and the world feels too loud, too fast, and too demanding.
“Happy, Merry and Joyful” greet me at every turn, but in all honesty, the words and traditions associated with the Holidays often leave me wishing for a quiet place to hide until the advent of a new year. Time has undoubtedly muted the sharp sting of loss, but emotions are not governed by time and space. Someone is missing, and even the most joyful events are elementally complicated.
Almost five years after Keith’s death, I am learning that there is no roadmap. When someone we love dies, grief moves in. It sits at the kitchen table, and it hovers at family events. And though we attempt to crowd it out thinking that without space it will leave, grief will instead cram itself into corners and closets. The ache is no longer loud and constant. It is quieter, like a prickly sweater that, on occasion, chafes my skin. I work, I parent, I love, and I live productively, even in the shadow of new and emerging loss.
We have adopted a new normal of sorts, with new traditions and measured expectations sweetly seasoned with grace and hope. Still, there are no unique postures, times, limitations, or joyful seasons that restrict the impact of loss. Be gentle with those who grieve in the shadow of twinkling lights and merry wishes. They feel the weariness of life and death in this world. They needn’t be reminded to rejoice. Compassion means to suffer alongside. When we sit with people in their darkness, it's not so lonely there.
It seems paradoxical to so openly invite grief to the table during a time set aside to focus on the celebration of the birth of Christ. But there is more to the Christmas story than the baby in a manger, because nestled in the shadow of the cradle is the cross. The Christ of Bethlehem is of little value apart from the Christ of Calvary. It is the cross that gives meaning to Christmas.
Life is different today. I pay close attention to the memories stimulated by my senses as the holiday season begins, and rather than allow myself to be stuck in what was, I gently invite the Christmas that is. In my Christmas, there is room for anger and regret, for sadness and nostalgia, for humor and happy, for silence and rest, and merry and joy. By making room for grief, we have drawn it out of the darkness and into the light in the most beautiful, weary, and compelling way, much like the infant Savior in the shadow of the cross.
“How can we seek a compassion that can stand in awe of what ‘people’ have to carry, rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it?"
It was a Sunday morning, and I was, as is typical of most Sunday mornings, harried and rushed. By the time I wrestled open the heavy doors of the church, emotionally and physically spent from the morning's demands, I wanted nothing more than a quiet corner in which to sit and cry. As I made my way down the center aisle, I noticed her heading my way. Hopeful for an encouraging word and a compassionate ear from an older woman who I begged would understand my heart; I was taken aback by the furrow in her brow and the downturned pout on your lips. "Get that out of here!" she spat as she pointed at the cup of coffee in my hand. And without another word, she turned quickly on her heels in a superior huff.
My hands began to shake, and I turned in defeated retreat to find the nearest restroom. I slumped against the wall of a corner stall, a huddled mess on the cold tile of the bathroom floor, wearing my exhaustion and the weight of her words like an old winter coat slung across my shoulders. There was a circle of belonging, and though I could feel its warmth, it was beyond my reach.
When church becomes little more than a small club for the already convinced, when our methodology rests on power, and rules, and group identity, we separate ourselves from the very One we profess to serve. When a church becomes a dusty museum to the past, the likelihood of reaching generations to come diminishes. And when our organizations are heavily rooted in complex bureaucracy, driven by the evidence of our efficacy, courageous change becomes an impossible dream and we are blinded to the outcast and the marginalized, even those within our reach clinging tightly to a lukewarm cup of coffee.
Research indicates that people have an overwhelming need to feel included, heard and valued. When we are self- focused, on perceived needs and organizational preferences, it should be no surprise that those who fall outside of the circle of belonging, do not feel welcomed or valued. The mistakes that we will most profoundly regret are the ones that obscure the gospel and hurt the people under our influence by saying in effect, “You do not belong.”
Different is terrifying and strange, and beautiful. But it is something that not everyone knows how to love. And though most of us prefer a fairy-tale fashioned of pixie dust and enchanted forests, life, in reality, is forged out of dust and grime. Our tendency to judge the manner with which a human being carries defeat, suffering and loss stands boldly in the way of Christ-like compassion which begs us to step outside of the frame to take in, with wonder, the whole picture, the whole person. To limit a human being by what is perceived is to limit the growth and possibility that God has in store for a soul with a mission to fill. I am living, breathing proof that the hard things in life do not need to defeat or define, something that seems so difficult for bystanders to behold.
I am vulnerable, but I am not fragile, even on my worst days. And as I sat on the cold tile floor on that Sunday morning, God reminded me that vulnerable is brave. That morning, it was about letting my heart show in my face. There is not, as a matter of fact, a single act of courage that does not somehow involve vulnerability.
Judgment is a fool and nothing is ever as simple as it seems. At the edge of perception lies the opportunity to invite another being, errant coffee cup and all, out of the cold into the warmth of belonging. And in doing so, we become God's well-tuned instruments of peace, His gift to one another, each of us a miracle according to his strange and wonderful plan.