Snapbacksandtutus - Musings on...
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.
I love the early morning, that momentary gap, where the borders of day and night are ill-defined. The momentum of life is stilled, and the air is uncluttered with conversation. There is a quiet sense of something lost, and yet I know that in the deepest dark before dawn, God is preparing for the arrival of light.
I am intrigued by the gaps. In a world that values the rigid borders of black and white, I am at home in the unused corners, free to wrestle between pain and praise, between what is and what could be, and between where I am and where I wish to go.
My story has not been written in an ordered narrative. There have been many starts and stops. And in this particular season, the battle seems to have caught up with me. I wear it in my eyes these days, the grief, the regrets the mountains unmoved. There are dark purple circles and wrinkle wings along the edges. Hard things have interrupted the plot. It seems as if once I have decided the next chapter, something comes along that doesn't fit in with what came before or what comes after.
It has taken me a long time to realize that life is not as clearly defined as I once believed. I don’t have to be perpetually happy to have abounding joy, faith and fear can coexist, and gratitude and grief are not mutually exclusive. Some things cannot be fixed, cheered out of or corrected. They can only be carried in companionship.
I am not impressed by rigidity, position, and power. I am not inspired when being liked is more important than being honest and where perfection is the only respectable option. I don’t wish to be clever all the time. I am influenced by people who are vulnerable and real. I am inspired by moments of confession and compassion, and I long for a community that allows for hard questions and honest conversations. Transparency stirs up transformation. And isn’t transformation the point?
Life is interesting and complicated and beautiful. I am confounded by the demand for perfection, and the denial of paradox. In our need to over filter and soften reality, variety is lost, diversity is diminished, and creativity is repressed. One-dimensionality and inauthenticity are the enemies of connection. Life with Jesus is sweetly complex.
The most beautiful thing about broken is that in the midst of the mess is One who knows everything and loves me anyway. The One whose love for me runs deeper than any cultural difference, social standing, and sinful nature. A vessel many would have tossed away as trash He values as treasure. Life is tender and tenuous, but isn’t that a story we should tell? “Come and see the One who knows everything I’ve ever done” and loves me anyway.
Our human nature is to resist vulnerability. We work to filter and hide our frailty and failure from one another. But to share what we so desperately try to deny, is to break the cycle of shame and hiddenness that serves to separate us.
When we are tenderly broken in the wilderness, when we embrace those momentary gaps where the borders of day and night are ill-defined, when we fully admit our need for a Savior, we can finally trust that where our capabilities end, His begin.
God uses imperfection beautifully, it is the bright side of broken.