Snapbacksandtutus - Musings on...
Ivy Jane was not like other little girls. With coffee-colored curls and rich mahogany skin, she had a magnetic way of commanding a room. Behind the beautiful glow of mischief in her dusty brown eyes was a silent and mystifying yearning. And like the sound of a classical piano, her soul swayed through the profound difficulties of her life, dancing to the melodies that only she could hear. Ivy was, quite simply, magic.
Of all the children in the Hematology/Oncology ward at the Children's Hospital, where I worked, Ivy Jane was the most inquisitive. Even as she was fighting her own battle against a chronic and life-threatening blood disorder, she seemed to have a heart that would sense others' emotions with the precision of Doppler radar. She would twirl through the pediatric ward's halls, dropping coins from her piggy bank into the hands of whomever she deemed needy, and she would fret over the plight of the other children as if her own outlook was not equally grim.
Ivy had natural wisdom about her that far exceeded her eight years of life. She did not need to know what was coming next. She did not need to know her entire story. She was a dynamic, living, changing, growing soul riding through her own unique and beautiful journey of life.
Ivy taught me so much about myself in the short time that I had the privilege of loving her. She taught me that sensitivity is not a weakness to be overcome but a superpower to be embraced. She taught me that paying attention, noticing, feeling, and imagining was a badge of honor to be worn and wielded. In her orbit, I learned that to feel intensely is not a symptom of brokenness but a trademark of the truly alive and compassionate.
“It scares some people," she would say in her lilting southern drawl, "but I can feel their feelings. You can, too, you know, Ms. Lori, you can too". It took me many years to understand her message. I always wondered about the strange tendency I had to imagine crumbling insides and splitting hearts. I could ever hear words unspoken and the echoes of lonely hallways. I feel everything all around me – all the time. It is a beautiful way to move through life, but some nights are oppressive, and the weight of other people's emotions can weigh me down. But what feels like a heavy load to bear, I was reminded by sweet Ivy Jane, is a gift.
I have noticed that much of the world only wants the charismatic, bubbly me. This sensitivity and empathy thing makes people uncomfortable. But I am a person of sharp angles and imperfections as well. And to live in the fullness of God’s calling on my life means moving past the perfectionism that tethers my value to sets of unrealistic standards.
We live straddled between two worlds. One is polished and shiny on the surface, but it seems so disconnected from the more profound and more fundamental soil of our being. We get so caught up, that much of the time we look to live above the earth and not in it. When we live this way, so many of our gifts remain simple seeds—their potential unfulfilled.
Because the quality of the soil is often invisible, we can overlook and understate its import. Different plants need uniquely different soil to thrive and to survive. Uniformity is not good for the soul. After many years on this planet, I recognize that when we place a person in a given circumstance and they struggle to survive, no amount of grading, rating, and ranking, coaching, and scoring can match the power of merely changing the condition of the soil. But you must be able to look beneath what is seen to even notice.
Our job as leaders is not to perfect the seeds or to seek to gather more; it is simply to prepare the soil. Sometimes we get so busy looking for just the right seedling that we forget to till the garden so that when the seeds arrive, they have a place to grow. Seeds do not matter if the soil is not prepared.
Sweet Miss Ivy Jane did not live to see her ninth birthday, but she was one of the most beautiful songs that history has ever recorded. The dark night of her death did not stay forever, because the morning had something to say. Ivy loved what existed in the shadows. She was drawn to the muted and marginal, but she was colorful, rebellious, and free-spirited. And her vibrancy, her deep capacity for empathy, and her inexplicable ability to calibrate the soil most assuredly left a mark.
I love the quiet ferocity of the sea. There is something magical and yet menacing in the wet, briny air, silver at dawn, and deep blue at noon. I am drawn to it, an unpredictable living thing, calm and welcoming, with open arms to embrace its audience one moment, and explosive and quick-tempered the next, tossing human beings about the coastline, vast and restless.
It is my favorite thing. Without the boundaries and fences of land, the water fosters both kinship and dependency. It is something I love, and it is something I respect. I understand both its beauty and its dangers because the ocean closely guards the mystery of its depths. I have spent innumerable hours at the edge of the sea studying each unique wave as it catches the light, the air, and the wind, watching the patterns and letting it take me. I have survived deep waters before; I know the way to shore.
We are all bodies of water, I suppose, more muted and marginal than the sea, but like the ocean hiding the truth of what we contain. Sometimes that invisibility is a gift, the perfect provision for transition and profound growth. But often, it is a culture of shame and secrets that taunts us to stay in the shadows. It keeps us small, resentful, and afraid. It is a place where we are encouraged to connect our self-worth to what we produce, a follied pride that seeks to snuff our innovation, creativity, and connection for the convenience and acceptability of those around us. It is easy to make small talk, but it is demanding to risk vulnerability and to speak of what is really under the surface. It is easy to joke but challenging to cry. It is easy to numb but hard to feel.
When I started writing this blog many years ago, it was a means of expression, but it has not come without risk. Writing is an act of deep vulnerability, and in divulging weaknesses without a filter, I have had to be willing and open for wounding. But being open to the wounds of life means also being open to the blessing and the beauty. Nothing is stronger and more clarifying than vulnerability. What I have discovered in the unembellished and unpolished narrative of my life is that the same softness that makes me a target also compels people to trust me with their stories. The delight of grace and freedom comes hand in hand with the uncomfortable, rawness of honest emotions and grief. But Jesus came passionate and raw, scandalously gracious. And I want to be like Him.
We are in the middle of a crisis that will force the writing of trauma and grief on the hearts of humanity. In my own experience, time and time again, I have learned that I cannot fast forward to morning without moving through the dark of night. And much of the time, the night seems endless. But wholeness is most often conceived in brokenness and hope is never wasted, because hope moves His heart.
Exercise the power of vulnerability, even as the world turns. Be honest. Be open and show your heart, even to the tiger that may be hiding in the tall grass. Embrace what pushes you to the margins because God has a beautiful way of exalting the vulnerable. The first person in Scripture to give God a name is Hagar. A woman. A single mother. An Egyptian. A Slave. And her words speak right to the heart of vulnerability as she says to Him, “I have seen the one who sees me.” God did not become human to pen a beguiling, seamless story. Divinity was born in a stable to model for us the beauty of authentic humanity—the beauty of humble, kind, inclusive, sacrificial vulnerability.
So show up. Be seen.
“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.” ~ Grace Hopper
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.