Snapbacksandtutus - Musings on...
"Be gentle little thunderstorm; the world is just not ready" ~ A.J Lawless
On summer days beside the sea, there is a gentle rhythm to life. The tempo is lazy, and the timbre is mellow and mild. But as the oppressive heat of mid-day reaches its peak, the horizon begins to blush a bluish-black. A storm is on its way in from the ocean.
As the temperature drops and the wind picks up, the beryl sea surrenders to dark green, and the waves begin a restless dance. The low rumbling of thunder becomes a foreboding growl as the storm spreads its black veil over the ocean and the hiss of lightning flashes an ominous wink.
Life beside the ocean is a gentle life, but a coastal storm is anything but. It is a discordant event; a jarring experience.
There are days that I crave a good thunderstorm…the oddly reassuring thunder, the electricity in the air and the tang of salt on the wind that announces the beginning of a story. Because stories are like storms, you can sense them in the atmosphere. And when the onslaught quiets, there is a lingering bouquet of rain in the air, a muted humidity and a haze of steam rising off blacktop that has chafed all day in the oppresive heat. You see, thunderstorms can be as productive as the sun.
There are times when a feeling of expectancy comes to me, like a story after a storm. It is almost as if something is there, just beneath the surface of my comprehension, waiting for me to recognize it. I feel a bit of kinship in the restless nature of a summer storm because my soul is often impatient with itself. Revealed in measured layers, is a quiet discontent, a craving to throw myself into something extraordinary that I cannot yet name.
Humanity is, I suppose, restless by nature, and ambulant at heart. But what if, like the nature of a summer storm, a restless heart is not bad. What if it catalyzes a life lived that affects people like a clap of thunder. Suppose, for a moment, that it exists to engage hearts and minds with a breadth of vision and strength of conviction. Perhaps this longing is rooted in a relationship with the Creator. Maybe it is the very thing that pushes us forward, undaunted, toward the significant lives that were planned for us even as time began.
But many days, if I am to be honest, I feel small and invisible. Stretched-too-thin and all-used up. There are responsibilities and expectations that serve to suppress God-given desires and passions. And on most days, I am afraid. I clutch unnamed hopes and dreams to my chest because life is too hard and self-doubt is too heavy. But I cannot escape my mind, so maybe the gentle thunderstorm brewing within my soul is simply God telling my heart to catch up.
I want to be brave with my life. I long to live my story in the shadow of a creative God whose own spirit has dreams for me. Something deep within our souls is made for a story much bigger than our own. It is the story of a God still unknown to so many. And it is only in the light of the eternal story that we can reclaim the chapters so lovingly written for each of us.
And so perhaps, as life serves to build empathy from shame and grace from disappointment, I will live unbound by the stories of my life that someone else is telling. Because, as the temperature drops and the wind picks up, and as the beryl sea surrenders to dark green. As the waves begin a restless dance and the low rumbling of thunder becomes a foreboding growl. As the storm spreads its black veil over the ocean and a hiss of lightning flashes an ominous wink, just maybe God is taking pen in hand to write the rest of a glorious, shredded, pasted-back-together story. One in which no person, no moment in time, not even one whispered breath ever feels insignificant again.
“God can do anything, you know – far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.” ~ Ephesians 3:20-21 (MSG)
Resting on the roots of an old oak, I leaned back against its knotted trunk to consider the passing of time. I felt, in those moments of nostalgia, a small resurgence of my five-year-old self…a quiet little warrior of a girl, reminding me of who I was before time told me otherwise. My children, no longer small, came to mind in snapshots of their youth. The fiercely impish eyes and graham-crackery hands of my boys, and the magnetic smile and thick honey-kissed curls of my beautiful girl running wild among the flowering trees full of dreams and lilting laughs. On days like this, I would have given anything to keep them little. To freeze in time the days they ran, they touched, they learned, and they played. They have outgrown me far faster than I have outgrown them. And growing up is all about falling down.
Being an adolescent is such a compelling season of life. Teenage hearts are raw and new, fast and fierce, and they do not know their strength, nor do they know reason or restraint. It is an alluring place; you are old enough to make decisions that affect the rest of your life, yet at the same time too young to have acquired the judgment to make consistently sound choices.
And so, in this juncture of parenting, what I am finding is that failure is instructive. It isn't something to be guarded against at all cost, though my parental instinct says otherwise. So often in life what we perceive as an error or a failure is a gift. Down the road, though the cost can be great, we find that lessons learned from that discouraging experience prove indispensable. Even imposing losses are powerful lessons. And though the apple certainly does not fall far from the tree, every apple also holds seeds of its own.
My instinct as a mother is to keep my children safe at the water’s edge, timidly grasping at what happens to float by. But to allow a deliberate step into the unsettled water to wrangle great things to the shore is a far better choice. Growing up means learning what life is, and pain is an irksome part of being human. For so many years I believed that to live a happy life, everything needed to be perfect. But the vital privilege afforded to a less than perfect child is the deep understanding that despite the reckless abandon of adolescence, and the often costly consequences that follow, they are loved nonetheless. I have, in this tenuous and unpredictable parenting season, become a safe place to land.
I am tired. The weight of motherhood independent of a partner is heavy and cumbersome at times. There is no one to pass the baton to on particularly grueling days, nor is there another equally invested with which to share the great delights and triumphs of growing human beings. But there is always GRACE. I am my biggest critic. Before anyone else has criticized me, I have already criticized myself a thousand times over. But in the moments that I feel unequipped and ill-prepared, there is GRACE. When the ideals, standards, and dreams don't seem to line up with reality, there is GRACE. When I fall prey to comparison, as I so often do, there is GRACE. In the tumult of this adolescent season, I am learning to embrace this beautiful mess of a life with my children. No matter how hard it gets, I will continue to connect and guide with the knowledge that I too am prone to wander. And in spite of a gypsy spirit and a prodigal soul, God continues to seek me out. He is a safe place to land. I accept His GRACE in my weakness and offer to my children the same expression of unmerited favor that I find in the face of the Father.
Parenting emerging people is an adventure of marked significance. It is the age that they will be broken or built. I do not wish for them to fear change, to be satisfied with the pond that they are in. If they never venture out of it, they will never get a glimpse of the ocean. My job is to provide the right conditions for growth, to cultivate the ground, to plant the seeds, and to water the earth. And then I watch…covered in soil and dripping wet, as they navigate the sun and wind required to grow the grain.
"My GRACE is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
~2 Corinthians 12:9
I am not fond of the game of Hide and Seek. As a child, I would participate, but with unspoken hesitancy, for my inclination was counterproductive to the goal of the game. My desire as a child was to disappear. At five years old I can remember hours spent contemplating the transience of life and exploring the colorful landscapes of my imagination. My preference for introversion meant that I was most comfortable cocooned in hidden places. Hide and Seek can be a frightening game for one who prefers to remain invisible.
In adulthood, though introspection comes as naturally as breathing for me, I have learned that extroversion is considered the norm, a fact that often leaves me treading water in a giant pool of stereotypes and judgments. I am not shy, I am fairly confident and assertive, but my soul is most energized in the sweet balm of solitude. There is a complexity to this desire to remain hidden because no matter how frightened we are of being known, we are born with a longing to be seen.
I know of this hunger to be seen. It is not to be confused with a quest for fame and prestige. Nor is it about visual perception and acknowledgment. It is not counter to humility either, as some may suggest because humility is never about being small, unseen and unnoticed. You see, our Creator built this desire to be seen into our DNA. And from the beginning of time, He planned to fulfill it, with the knowledge that no one else could.
I have been open about struggling to find where I fit in a world that places value on perspectives that I do not understand. I have, at times, fought to find my place in the Church as well, having faced closed doors and misperceptions has lead me to wrestle with my image and my understanding of God. In a culture of performing producing and perfecting there are many whose presence seems to go unnoticed. And so I have asked the question as of late, “do my longings, and my endeavors remain unseen by God as well?" What has been so profoundly revealed to me in this season of life, however, is that loneliness and invisibility in proper perspective drive us to our Creator. He is the only one who can meet us in complete intimacy, knowing us fully and loving us perfectly.
In Scripture, God is given the name El Roi, "the God who sees me," by an Egyptian slave named Hagar. Hagar knew about God. She must have wondered if He knew or cared about her situation. In an attempt to flee mistreatment and oppression, Hagar took off in the direction of her homeland. She was pregnant and alone facing a menacing desert. Her future was uncertain and her past too tender to recall. She felt abandoned by everyone on earth and overlooked by God in heaven. Hagar was a girl who had lived through fractured ambition and unmet promises, and what she wanted, what she most yearned for, is what any of us want: to be seen. And she was. Hagar felt lost and misplaced, and yet God found her.
There is a deep-seated significance in a “God who sees me” particularly for those in society who at times feel insignificant or powerless. When I stop to reflect on the import of El Roi, I see with unquestionable certainty, the God who seeks for us in the desert, in the midst of confusion and loss, and who encourages us to face the obstacles in our lives with renewed purpose and strength. We are significant enough to be sought after, noticed and beheld by God. And though there may be times when we feel overlooked by some, there is faith in a God who sees the promise of the fullest expression of who we are meant to be.
The name El Roi gives significance to my treasure as a person. It implies that God sees my heart. He sees the unabridged truth about every situation. And because God sees me, I am never forsaken. He is a God who will challenge, who will comfort, who will shelter and who will redeem.
"She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me"
I see you. I watch your eyes widen, and your lips purse as a pronounced red blush spreads across your face. You can't just walk away as that would be rude, and you don't have anything further to ask because there is, quite frankly, nothing more to say. And so you shift uncomfortably from right foot to the left searching desperately for an escape from this discomfort.
I can see how my grief makes you uneasy in this festive season. You move as if it is contagious. And when I mention it, you hush my voice pushing me to move toward a much more affable place because the quicker I grieve, the easier it will be for you to go on pretending that nothing happened. I am sorry that my grief is an inconvenience.
My life is clumsy and complex. My grief is equally so. My kind of grief makes people uncomfortable, and I get it. It is difficult to place the loss of a former spouse into a neatly tied up bow, and if you have never been down a similar road, you cannot conceptualize this sort of grief. And so it quite handily sets me apart.
Three years into this journey I am learning that there is no roadmap for grief. It is no longer a clamorous nagging pain. It is quieter now like a prickly sweater that often chafes my skin without the provision of warmth. I work. I parent. I love. I live productively. I laugh, and I make do. But something happened, and this is not about your comfort. Some days I am clear and purposeful, and other days I am weary and anxious. Nothing is small or easy anymore because anxiety is the constant companion of grief.
When life is forcefully altered, our sense of control is ripped away, and we feel helpless. With each profoundly traumatic blow comes a heightened sense of vulnerability, a chronic realization that bad things can and do happen. Anxiety is a natural expression of grief, and on this expedition, tender callouses and twisted ankles are slow to heal. It is chaotic. You lose control; you lose perspective, and you lose the ability to protect yourself and those you love. The greater the love, the broader the chaos.
Parental grief is chaotic. Children suffer in their way and in their own time. My grief is amplified by the painful experiences of my children. I carry their sorrow like a cumbersome backpack that I cannot leave on the side of the road. And as they tiptoe through the minefields of transition, I long for the rootedness that serves their security and soothes their ache.
Grief is a necessary part of human life. It accompanies the loss of a loved one to death, the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job or a pet, and there are no unique postures, times or limitations that restrict its impact. Grief is a dark, fascinating secret with the power to split its human targets wide open. But even in the face of collateral damage, there are gifts. The collateral of loss is emotional pain, but there is also, if we temper our hearts and pursue the significance of things, abundant spiritual gain.
The future isn't what I had imagined it would be. And though I reflect openly on where this journey has taken me past and present, my focus on what’s to come is limited. To look ahead is uncomfortable. The future is uncertain.
I get it. I understand that my grief provokes you to turn away. It has changed me. It has made me a misfit of sorts. It has made me someone else. But whether you can see it or not, the God of the universe is at work in the mess. And through all of the brokenness and anxiety, the collateral damage and discomfort, the love of God steadies the ship. And through every lonely night and every difficult moment the grace of God sustains. So we hang on, because redemption is coming, comfortable or not.
I watched with great interest as these two simple words were repeated millions of times across various social media outlets bringing awareness to the pervasive issue of sexual harassment and misconduct. And though it would be far easier to suggest that this is a problem isolated to the halls and walls of Hollywood, this is not just about Harvey Weinstein. It is about an insidious and pervasive culture of abuse, assault and harassment rooted in power and privilege.
As I observed the unfolding of what has become a call to action, I ached to add my voice to the chorus and cry, but weighed down by fear, I sat silent. I was more comfortable holding my breath, bowing my head and muting my voice in favor of complacency.
Complacency is safe, but as I continued to read about the varied experiences of women, my soul was stirred with the realization that we live in a world of widely accepted objectification. There are varying degrees of harassment most certainly, but it is an inescapable, inexcusable reality, and as I worked to still my hands from their contribution to the movement, I was overcome with the enormity of it all.
There is strength in numbers. And today I raise my hand in solidarity, though there is little to gain and much to risk. Because this is our story and we must do better for women everywhere.
I am a woman in ministry, one of many, whose mission is one of love and inclusivity. We are fighting human trafficking, offering pastoral care and counseling, building hope and participating in the back breaking work of transformation. We are working to open the doors of silence, shame, poverty and despair and we are seeking to right the wrongs of injustice and power in the communities in which we serve. But this faith in action does not make us immune to the gradient of power that lends itself to harassment, bullying, manipulation and coercion. For all of the social justice against which we rail, we must also collectively reject it in our institutions and church halls.
I am thankful that the gender harassment that I have experienced is fairly mild on a continuum that includes sexual assault and rape, but the stark visual assertions on social media are horrifying and heartbreaking, and we can either chose to move with God in mercy, humility and justice, or we can bathe injustice and the abuse of power in biblical language.
For women in ministry, the challenge is in establishing credibility in a culture that is profoundly conflicted about the validity of women in authority. There is an enormous amount of work to be done in this regard, because a world in which women are belittled, undermined and abused is not God’s desire for His children.
The Creator has fully invited each of us to participate in His work in this world, and while culture and climate might serve to restrict women from the fullness of calling, I know that in Jesus’ world, women lead. He was not threatened that His masculinity would be called into question if he admitted that there was value to be gained in giving women a seat at the table. He did not employ veiled comments and sarcasm when speaking with them. There was no flattery or condescension, no patronizing discussion of the value of femininity. Nowhere in Scripture is a woman called to be weak. They displayed courage, endured hardship and overcame insurmountable odds.
I look forward to the day when women with leadership and insight, gifts and talents, callings and capabilities are called out and celebrated rather than silenced and stifled. I long for the day when the language utilized for strong women is absent of words like aggressive, bossy and difficult in contrast with those assigned to her male counterparts who are deemed assertive, strong and decisive leaders. And I will look to a day when a leader is simply a leader.
Women’s ministry is more than a sheltered little church group for ladies. We have been called to participate, in whatever manner we have been equipped, to engage fully in the redemption, restoration and renewal of the women of the world. We have so much more to offer the church than just table decorations and baked goods.
And so to the men around the table, it is about you as well. It is time for you to support the work of changing practices and behaviors. There is no axe to grind nor is there any male dignity to defend, there is simply justice, oceans and rivers of justice.
And yes, for the record, “Me too”, because there is much left to do.
“I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
Your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fundraising schemes, your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice – oceans of it.
I want fairness – rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.”
~ Amos 5:21-24