Eyes Open

Re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul.

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Wisdom resides in the heart of the discerning; she is known even among fools.

Proverbs 14:33, Holman Christian Standard Bible

Over the past several years, I’ve been on a journey. A journey of growth and stretching and learning and unraveling and untethering. It has brought a lot of internal conflict into my emotional and spiritual life as I’ve grappled with my convictions and held them up against things I’ve been taught from an early age and tried to make sense out of the gaps.

The more I do this wrestling, the more I understand that what I’m experiencing is just growing up. Growing into my own person. Being guided by the Holy Spirit into a new, holy life that is based not on religious or cultural traditions but by the Word of God and the Spirit. It’s uncomfortable and scary at times, pulling me away from church affiliations and previously held beliefs out into a bigger, wider expanse of the world that I’ve not experienced. But living any other way would be a shell of a life.

Our nation is facing its own sort of reckoning right now. Holding up its practices and policies against the values its said to have had, values like freedom and equality and human rights, and finding gaping holes. And if we don’t get to work on walking out into a new way of life, our country will rot from the inside out.

It starts with us as individuals. Choosing to open our eyes to injustice around us. Educating ourselves on other people’s experiences. Listening to people’s stories and believing them. Owning our responsibility in making change happen. Apologizing and righting wrongs we’ve committed against others out of hate or ignorance or indifference. Making sure that our homes are places where racist words aren’t spoken and racist ideas aren’t given any weight. And voting to make sure that our government leaders are doing the same kind of work.

The journey is long and tough at times, but it’s the path towards God’s heart. Come join us.

Woman: Rejected, Reborn Again

Almost a year ago, Rachel Held Evans passed away suddenly. On June 1, 2019, I watched the livestream of her funeral while sitting in my favorite chair with Polly snuggled up next to me, and I bawled my head off. While grappling with my faith and frustration with hypocrisy and double standards woven in and through the American evangelical church, her words had been carrying me. And though I had never met her, Rachel helped me dispel many untruths I’d learned as a child and adolescent, untruths that held my heart and spirit hostage for years.

When I was in high school, I began to see talents and gifts of mine stirring under the surface, pushing their way up through the fresh soil of my youthful self. But because of the church community in which I grew up, these gifts were limited, apparently, because I was not a man. I could teach, but only to girls. I could be on stage during worship services but only to sing, not pray or read scripture or preach unless the room was only full of women or kids in elementary school. All because I was female and not male.

The message all of this communicated to me was: you are missing this very important thing that you have no control over (being a man) that would make you qualified to do the work you think you’re being called to do. And because you are missing this thing, you’re going to have to find some other calling. In fact, since God says women shouldn’t do those things, this calling couldn’t have been given to you by God. So it’s probably something that you’ve misinterpreted or misunderstood, or worse, have conjured up all on your own because you want attention.

Some of these things were actually said to me, but most of them were simply implied in our church culture. Or said in my presence about other women by well-meaning church members and leaders.

To be clear, my parents always encouraged me to pursue my gifts. They were some of my biggest supporters (and still are). From gifting me a brief internship with missionaries in the Dominican Republic for my sixteenth birthday to advocating for me when a local church leader tried to undermine my standing in the church because I was pursuing a divorce from my then-husband, my parents have walked with me through this life so faithfully. But the culture we grow up in can be so suffocating, and in my case, the message from our church culture in my youth stomped out any truth my parents spoke to me during these years.

I stumbled through the rest of high school in a bit of a haze, feeling unseen by the people I loved and trusted, seeking solace in things like relationships with cute boys and unhealthy amounts of exercise and obsession over food, either depriving myself or indulging myself depending on the day. And in all of it, what was lost the most was the love I felt from God. Because not only had my church rejected my gifts but so had God. And in rejecting my gifts, hadn’t he rejected me, too?

From that time on, I’ve been walking with a limp. Not only did I feel rejected by my Creator and my church community, the people our lives were centered on, but I also started doubting my intuition. I questioned my ability to see and know myself. I questioned my ability to hear from God at all. I felt so stupid for getting it so wrong.

Looking back, what enrages me most about this is that I never considered that maybe the church had gotten it wrong, not me. And it wasn’t until I stumbled upon Rachel Held Evans’s blog a few years ago that I even entertained this notion.

The first essay of hers I ever read was “Confessions of an accidental feminist.” What started with an attitude of skepticism (because how could a Christian also be a feminist?) shifted to dumbfoundedness and then relief and then open weeping.

Evans’s perspective and her truth-telling about who Jesus is and how he treated women contrasted with what my church upbringing taught me about women gave me the permission I needed to start asking some pretty big damn questions. Not just about my religious experiences in childhood but also about who I am as a beloved woman in the eyes of God and about how God sees all of us.

The optimist in me would like to wrap up this whole recounting and reflection with a neat little bow. But that’s just not real life. Eight years later, I am still walking with a limp. But the more I read the Scriptures, and the more I surround myself with wisdom and insight from people who don’t align themselves with the complementarian beliefs my childhood was steeped in, the closer I am drawn to the heart of God and find peace in seeing who he has created me to be. In a way, it’s been a sort of second rebirth for me.

And you know what? I think that all of those years ago, when I felt God nudging me to be a truth-teller about his love, to teach about his mercy and unending lovingkindness and acceptance of “the other,” I think that I didn’t get it wrong after all. Thanks be to God.

All Things New

Praise the Lord, all you nations; laud him, all you peoples. For his loving-kindness toward us is great, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Hallelujah!

Psalm 117

From death to life. From grief to hope. Resurrection.

Easter Day reminds us that those who are cast down will be lifted up. That those things having grown old are being made new again. It is a reminder that all things are being perfected and made right by the hand of God.

For all of us today, my prayer is that God will meet us in our need, continue to restore the hurt and fear and grief in our hearts, and bring new life from what has become withered and tired within us.

Praise be to God!

O God, of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look on your whole church with loving-kindness. In peace, carry out your plan of salvation for us. Let the whole world see and know that those cast down things are being raised up, and things that have grown old are being made new, and you are bringing perfection to all things that you have made through the power of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Adapted from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle

Lament as a Gift

I cry out to you, O Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; you are my crag and my stronghold. O Lord, I cry to you for help; in the morning my prayer comes before you.

Psalm 142:5, 71:3, 88:14

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know the Easter story. Of the nails and the blood and the torn flesh and the cross. Good Friday.

I’ve never liked the phrase, honestly. An upside-down way to describe the pain and grief and despair of this day. Even as a child, I felt twisted up inside when people in church would call the day of Jesus’s crucifixion “Good Friday.” I mean, I understood the reasoning and all. And still do. But it felt – and still feels – dishonest to me.

Several years ago, a relationship in which I had put a gut-wrenching amount of effort and hope came crashing down around me. It was the first time in my adult life that I experienced the sort of grief that cuts right through your skin and muscle to the bone. I remember waking up the next morning, face so puffy from bawling myself to sleep I didn’t even recognize myself in the bedroom mirror. And I remember wondering how a person could survive feeling an emotional pain so deep and overwhelming, an agony of the heart that seeped into every inch of my physical body. Just getting out of bed and walking down the hall to brew coffee felt impossible.

I didn’t know that heartbreak could feel like that. But I know now.

I think Christians don’t spend enough time in this place. The dark of pain.

We wave our palm leaves on palm Sunday and shout (or whisper) “Hosanna!” to celebrate Jesus coming into Jerusalem. We talk about Good Friday and the excruciating experience that must have been for Jesus’s family and followers. And then we jump right into Resurrection Sunday to celebrate life rising from death.

NT Wright recently published an essay on the value of lament in the Christian life. He says, “Lament is what happens when people ask ‘Why?’ and don’t get an answer.” It’s a feeling that God himself feels.

And yet in the face of devastating loss and pain, we Christians are at the ready, armed with silver paint to line the darkness. Instead of sitting in the grief of the world, of our own hearts, and letting God meet us there.

O God, you sent Christ Jesus to be my shepherd and the lamb of sacrifice. Help me to embrace the sorrow of loss, the mystery of salvation, the promise of life rising out of death. Help me to hear the call of Christ and give me courage to follow it. 

Adapted from People’s Companion to the Breviary, Vol. 11

 

On Trust & Giving Your Whole Heart

Years ago, I started writing letters to my sons. There were so many things I wanted to tell them but either the timing wasn’t right or they weren’t in the mood to talk or I felt like what I wanted to share was a bit advanced for their age. I didn’t want those thoughts to go to waste, so I put pen to paper. When Chap and Luke leave our home and start their lives as young men out in the world, one of my gifts to them will be a book of all the letters I’ve written them. For now, I get to share some of them with you. :)

Dear Chapman and Luke,

We talk a lot in our family about being honest with each other, about saying true things and owning our choices even when it’s really hard to do. One of the things that has been difficult for me to work through lately is what to do when someone says or does something that causes me to lose trust in them.

You must pay attention to how people live and be open to the idea that not everyone is deserving of your whole heart.

As I grow older and learn more about the person I am, I have realized that I tend to believe the best about people. I think this is a beautiful thing, and I think it’s an important thing to do. (I will write more about that later.) There is a responsibility, though, that comes with possessing and practicing this beautiful quality and it is this: you must pay attention to how people live and be open to the idea that not everyone is deserving of your trust and of your whole heart.

The truth is that there are people in the world who will not appreciate this quality in you. In fact, they might see this quality in you – your desire to believe the best about a person – and use it for their own good. This is dangerous and selfish and it is the mark of a dark heart.

There have been times in my life when I did not pay attention to how the people around me were living. Or maybe I was paying attention but I wanted whatever they were giving me in the short-term so badly that I was willing to suffer in the long-term. This was not wise, and it ended up hurting me tremendously. From those experiences, I learned that there truly is nothing good that a dishonest person can offer me, regardless of how much short-term happiness their friendship might bring to my life.

When someone shows you with their consistent actions who they are, believe them. This might require you to end a friendship or a relationship because you notice unhealthy patterns in how they treat you, others, or themselves. It might require you to step back and not spend as much time with that person because of how you feel when you are with them.

But on the other side, seeing consistently loving, trustworthy actions in someone helps you to lean in even closer, to give even more of yourself over time because that person continues to show up and be his or her true, honest self. This certainly doesn’t mean that they are perfect, but it does mean that they consider you and your feelings and needs, that they look for ways to give to others, that the things that they care about and the things that you care about match up.

And when this happens, baby, it feels almost like magic.

CT and I were having dinner at a crowded restaurant the other night.  We hadn’t spent much time with each other in a few days, and even after all of the time we’ve spent together over the past few years, my stomach still did flip-flops when my eyes caught his as we were talking. I was instantly reminded of the gift it is to be loved by someone who tries to believe the best about me.

When I make mistakes and am feeling down about myself, I know that he is a safe place for me to land because he reminds me of the beauty inside me, of who God made me to be, of the gifts and the talents that I have that make me a special person. When we misunderstand each other, he reaches out his hand for mine and talks to me with a gentle voice and together we make our way through the misunderstanding.  And on the other side, we feel that much more close and loved and known.

IMG_1667Trying to believe the best about people is risky because there will be times that you will be hurt and disappointed and confused. As you grow older, you will learn how to look for those who are worthy of your trust and of your whole heart, and you will develop wisdom in choosing friends who help make you a better person. And when you find those people, my prayer is that you will hold onto them tightly, that you will be willing to put them first because of the gift they offer you in just giving you themselves.

IMG_5325One of my favorite songs by Andrew Peterson says, “The only way to find your life is to lay your own life down, and I believe it’s an easy price for the love that we have found.” You will never know and appreciate the true depth of someone’s trust in and love for you if you are not willing to put aside your own self in order to love them. I think that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people in this world have no idea what that kind of love looks like. It is my hope and prayer that you become men who are known for having that kind of love and that you know that’s the kind of love that I have for you.

I love you,

Momma