Snapbacksandtutus - Musings on...
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
I am an introvert. I sought for many years to define the marked restlessness of a soul driven by the desire to communicate in a wildly expansive and profound way and the equal craving for sanctuary and introspection. While I have come to embrace this personality preference, it tends to lend itself to a complexity that confounds and a distant simplicity that bewilders. But deep waters often run quiet.
Inside is where I am most comfortable, amid restless exasperation and unremitting curiosity. I am energized and excited by ideas, always looking between the lines and behind behavior. And while I would rather the serenity of contentment, my brain pushes to question, to deliberately shake up what is neatly ordered, comfortable and safe.
My beginning was fairly uncomplicated as beginnings go, but my becoming has been anything but. I have, for much of my life, done what was expected of me. I have bent in reverence to culture and kingdom and I have lived in a land where everyone is merry and without a care in the world. But how often I have wondered how terrible it must be to have no worries or longings. I simply feel too deeply and want too much, longing to throw myself into something significant and yet unable to find what exactly that may be.
Without politicizing our world as of late, I can only express the experience of a soul wired for “why?” At the dawn of each new day I find myself cautiously connecting with the news of the morning, and almost without fail, it is as if the doors of the darkest room have been opened. It is a tunnel of sorts, where we enter without a choice because it is the only way to get to the other side. And in the abject darkness of racism and divisiveness, in the heavy normalcy of violence and unfathomable loss, we forget where we are. It is as if the depth of the trench and the severity of brokenness stifles our forward movement, keeping us bound by our perspectives and stuck in our thinking. We default to insignificant spiritual clichés in abject avoidance of compassion in action. We become stuck in place like tires in mud looking utterly serene and cheerful while the world abounds in chaos. Hard is the invitation to a journey of growth, but it is one that we seldom accept.
There is so much to be asked of God as of late, the whys of shadowed places where things are so wrong. But in the musings of my mind there is only because. Because life is unfair, because we lose people we love and life on earth comes with a side of hurt, and because sometimes there aren’t really answers to our musings in the immediacy of crisis. But even in the unanswered whys there is almost always a what, because sometimes chaos is the very thing that shakes up our neatly ordered world for the facilitation of forward movement.
It is good for God’s people to be put in a place of restless longing. Tragedy washes the windows of the soul, for the purpose of removing bias and hate and allowing us to move forward in expectation, with the knowledge that whether we can see it or not, the God of the universe is at work in our world. And when God shows up, the fight is simply over. There is healing, forgiveness and freedom that no amount of human depravity can ever hope to bring. And therein lies the challenge. God moves in battle to the rhythm of our response.
We can do hard things. We can live our lives opening wounds and breaking hearts, touching lives and bringing about change, raw and ready in the chaos of it all.
There is a house that I love. It is not mine and its inhabitants are unfamiliar to me, but it is an alluring structure. Magnolia trees line the gentle curve of the drive as if to beckon visitors to lean in, and the neatly trimmed lawn and carefully curated rose bushes that pepper the exterior of the building give way to an ethereal glow in the dawning of day. At first glance one would assume that it is a place of symphonies and sonnets, but upon further inspection it becomes clear that there are secrets hidden within its courts and corridors, for it is, in reality, an edifice riddled with interior neglect, tenuously supported by a crumbling foundation.
I have, as of late, become engaged in an internal dialogue related to authenticity and the church. In the age of social media I am often troubled by the easy acceptance and promotion of superficial piety and perfection, for it is so easily executed, requires minimal endeavor and never has to withstand the examination of truth. We walk the earth with an invisible veil of sorts that softens our vision. There are moments of course, when the veil is pushed aside, and the realities of humanity, compassion and cruelty and sorrow and affection are visible, but they are fleeting as our preference is to blur and filter.
This preferential vision is most troublesome when it becomes a driving force. We are so inspired by a pristine and pleasing exterior that our foundations, much like those of the house I love, are crumbling from interior neglect. I cannot fathom the scope of our impact would that our stewardship not be limited to things so easily pleasing and perceptively holy.
Authentic faith is relational, it forges past what we can see to the things we cannot, and the mark of authenticity in the church can be seen in its investment of people. Authentic leadership is not satisfied with appearance and perception, it seeks to truly know and to be known. It is a church that points people to the love and reconciliation of God rather than to a church’s history or organizational preferences. It is a church that nurtures diversity rather than elitism and it is one whose focus is on the development of giftedness and calling rather than the ease and comfort of superficial complacency and social media marketing. One of the most compelling examples of authenticity in leadership was set for us by Jesus Himself. He noticed and engaged with people, with a diligently focused, unhurried, unflappable desire to connect.
I long for a community in which no one passes by unknown or unaccepted. Where there is no need and no place for superficial piety and perfection, no need to hide the commonalities of brokenness, grace, forgiveness and transformation. Where the interior of our own souls and personal struggles are not treated with spiritual clichés and buttoned up pride, and where self-awareness and empathy come from mutual connectedness rooted in the love and the example of Jesus, whose own eyes were drawn to the subtle frailty of beautiful things. We are so accustomed to adjusting our truth, that in the end, we become unrecognizable to ourselves.
What I know today is this, though the world assigns relevance superficially, according to perception, position and prestige, God is far more pleased with a heart that is simply surrendered and broken open for Him. To this day He chooses ordinary, inadequate, highly flawed people, to change the world. For leaders are prepared not on platforms and pulpits, but in the hard places of obscurity, where hearts are rubbed raw and giants are slain.
I am the new girl. And while this is not a novel circumstance, everything in me wants to scamper back to where I came from, to the place where I was safely sheltered in the concrete corners of urban streets cradled gently in the hammock of amiable familiarity and immaculate anonymity. I have been uprooted and it is disorienting and unnerving.
On city streets in late afternoon, the world hurries on. In that place, on those days people passed hastily on broken stone boulevards their movement serving as fuel for the composition of symphonies and stories in my mind. The man in the dark coat and worn boots striking puddles with great intent, was he the hero of his own narrative? And the ginger haired twentysomething, lithe and unlined by time, was her scenario one of simplicity and ease, or a complex tale of intrigue and strife? Might he be the love of someone’s life? Was she destined to change the world?
I always worried that someone would notice me, but I remained unknown. In the place I came from I was not new. In the place I find myself on this murky morning I am the new girl, and I feel strangely restless and increasingly exposed, as if the cadence within me is increasingly out of tempo with the unhurried gait of the outside world.
I have spoken of this transition often as of late. I have made note of its impact on my children and on the dynamics of our family, and I have spoken about its imprint on my own life, and if I’m to be honest, these mountains unmoved are growing tiresome. I am restless, as if I haven’t really met myself yet, as if perhaps in the last stop on my journey I may have caught a glimpse of my image in the fog only to have it disappear again into the mist. It is gritty and uncomfortable but it is also the truth, and as I navigate through these emotions to make sense of them, I fully embrace the knowledge that even in the wilderness of transition there is a Shepherd.
In transition and loss there is separation and the exploration of emotion related to what was and what is to come. In transition there is a time of marked numbness and disorientation as we find ourselves detached from the old life, but not yet established in the new. Transition is a desert of sorts, but God is familiar with the desert. And though it is painful, it is equally providential as the protective love of the Shepherd serves to fortify us with hope and courage to face the interior journey of transition.
Change is not easy, though we wish it were so. It requires no less than the willingness to surrender, to sit in the uncomfortable void, trusting that even as we cry and rage, we are exactly where we need to be. I am the new girl, and I will find peace in Him when I’m confronting the unfamiliar and when it seems the clock is ticking on unanswered prayers. I am the new girl, and what I am coming to understand is that this undefined yearning is what it feels like to grow. And though I am not certain as to what the coming days will bring, I will find rest in Him because in the arms of the Father there is no place for uncertainty. I am the new girl, but the story isn’t over, and for all of the seeds sown in this season there will be gardens grown in seasons to come.