Confession

** In the wake of the marches on Charlottesville, Virginia on August 11th and 12th I have decided to write about my journey (still in progress) of divesting myself of whiteness, and some of the things I’ve learned along the way. Before getting in to discussions explicitly pertaining to race, I believe it will be helpful to begin here – with a conversation on confession. 

I am a child of the American church. I was born into a United Methodist Church. I spent midweek mornings as a young child in an Evangelical Presbyterian Church while my Mom attended Bible Study. I spent evenings during elementary and middle school attending AWANA clubs at a Southern Baptist Church. The karate class I took was housed in a Pentecostal Holiness Church. My youth group years were smattered across time in Evangelical Presbyterian, Southern Baptist and Willow Creek-inspired churches. During college I was involved in Baptist Student Union, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Campus Crusade for Christ. I have history in U.S. evangelical Christianity. It birthed me, it raised me and it gave me many gifts.

One such gift, is understanding the place for confessing sin. I heard about it every Wednesday night without fail during the Bible study portion of AWANA. Whomever was speaking would end their lesson with an “invitation” – as any good Southern Baptist would – some more jarring than others. The consistent theme in all of the invitations was the opportunity to confess ones sins to God and receive forgiveness. I did this when I was twelve. I was too embarrassed to even raise my hand, as the speaker had requested. Having established quite an excellent reputation at church throughout my elementary school years, I felt like I would be letting everyone down if they knew I had been doing this from a place of self-service rather than obedience to God. So I confessed quietly, in my heart, in my own chair and never said anything to anyone.

I shared a similar practice of confession with people on the beach in Panama City, Florida during spring break in college. Armed with a colorful packet of artistically shot photographs, I marched out on to a beach full of college students to invite them in to conversations about spiritual things over a beer. Except, they were the only ones drinking. I remember sitting cross-legged on a beach towel while debating the existence of God with a guy a few years older than me. His face pink and warm from the sunshine and alcohol. In my head, I silently judged him for his drunkenness and the profanities he wove into our conversation, and I prayed in my head he would confess his sins. He didn’t. And neither did I.

I had forgotten that sitting in a place of self-elevation and judgement of another isn’t the Way Jesus showed us to live either.

My experience of church has always been one where confession was something we talked about a lot, but practiced very little. The unspoken message beneath the weekly invitation was that if you had prayed the words of confession printed on the back of the bulletin once, then you were set for all of eternity. There was also little need for being specific about what we were confessing either. I learned to view humanity through a lens of “total depravity” which, at that point, I understood to mean that I and everyone else was completely sinful and broken and needed total forgiveness. When you believe everything about yourself is wrong and sinful and ugly, you don’t have to practice discernment or be specific when you confess. I had prayed and confessed that I was terrible and wretched without specification silently when I was twelve, so there was no need for further practice of confession as far as I knew.

Five years ago I stumbled upon the Book of Common Prayer, which records prayers and liturgies Christians have prayed and followed for hundreds of years. It gives a structure to a persons’ prayer life and guides a persons reading of Scripture. One of the prayers I discovered in the book was the prayer of confession, to be prayed – according to some – daily:

“Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent, for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name.”

Confession for things I have left undone? Confession as part of my daily rhythm of prayer? This was new to me.

Slowly though, I began to develop a sensitivity to the things this prayer spoke to, the ways in which my life does not line up with the example of Christ in the things I think, the words I say, the things I do and the things I fail to do. As I began to come to an awareness in myself of those things, I also began to be able to articulate them to others.

As I begin to look at the ways in which white supremacy is interwoven in to different aspects of our culture and worship in the U.S. I want us to begin here, with confession. Discussions around race and justice are challenging, and can often leave us feeling paralyzed. Confession is one of the paths out of paralysis. In Twelve Step programs, the first steps are to admit powerlessness, seek a Higher Power, turn ourselves over to God for God’s care and then to take a “searching and fearless” inventory of ourselves.

For many who, like me, grew up in evangelical Christian traditions, our faith called us to the first three steps. We realized we were powerless to sin – in such ambiguous terms – and called upon God to save us. Many of us stopped there though, because our sin often tore apart our lives in subtleties and we believed ourselves recovered because our brokenness was not as visible as some. In these tense times though, we are invited to continue working the process. To take a searching and fearless inventory, in this case of the ways in which we are complicit in the system and practice of white supremacy.

May we continue to show up fearlessly to face injustice and evil wherever it lies in wait whether in our country, our cities, or in our own hearts.

 

Photo credit: Bored_Grrl.

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The Story

One of the most sure-fire ways to get under my skin is to cop a grandiose (and often far-reaching) “Well, the Bible clearly says…” in the middle of a conversation about the intersection of faith and policy and our shared life together as humans flying through space on a living rock. There’s not much about that scenario that is abundantly clear. We exist in tensions and grey areas, always learning from one another and from our mistakes.

And yet…

And yet…

And yet…

There are some things, written time and time again, forming a consistent arc throughout Scripture. These things we seem all too ready to overlook or cast aside.

That God is with us.
That God is for us.
That God, for some reason, chose and continues to choose to work with and through us.
That God moves to draw more and more people to Godself.
That the revelation of God’s grace gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger.

From a chosen family, to a chosen nation, to a priesthood of believers.
From a tent, to a temple, to an ascension leaving us staring into the clouds with wonder.

The table gets bigger time and time and time again until John has a vision of a giant feast with people from every tribe, and every nation, and every tongue gathered at around the table.

Within this arc there is no space for building walls and closing doors, that’s the wrong direction.

The table never gets smaller, only bigger.
Groups of people are not kicked out, only welcomed in.

First the Jew, then the gentile.
First a call to love your neighbor, then a call to love your enemy.

So for those of us who claim this tradition, that’s the arc of our story, too. It’s not just that we read about this expansion of the God’s grace and love in a morning quiet time, it’s the pattern our lives should reflect.

First your people, who sing the songs you like…and then the people who sing the songs you cannot even begin to sing along with.

First your people, who preach the messages that feed you…and then the people who preach the messages that make you angry.

First your people with whom you know which jokes will be funny and which values may be assumed…and then to the people who could not be more unlike you.

The table always gets bigger.
That’s how the story goes, the story we signed up not just to believe but to be a part of when we decided to follow Christ.

We decided that it was more advantageous to build bigger buildings than bigger tables though. The fastest way to build a bigger building is to gather a whole bunch of similar people. We blessed this idea and called it “church growth.” I’m not sure which hermeneutic we used to get there, because when I look at the growth of the Church in Scripture it hardly seems like a bunch of similar people who gathered. The Church seemed to grow when there were a lot of people with differences who gathered in defiance of the social constructs which pushed them away from one another. The Church seemed to grow when this rag-tag group of Jews and Greeks, free people and slaves, rich and poor gathered and shared and dared want and hunger to exist in their midst.

The Bible clearly says that.

Which is inconvenient, so we ignore it.

It is inconvenient for the table to get bigger. This is not a happy-clappy, Instagrammable feast with flower crowns and microbrews.

It’s hard to come to the table with someone who sees the world differently than you do.
It’s hard to break bread and pour wine with someone who may abandon you after dinner.
It’s hard to wash the feet of one who would betray you.
But this is the way we have chosen.

It is fine if you are compelled to work for walls and new policies to keep people out in order to “keep your family safe,” just realize that is a different story you will be living in when you make that choice.

It is fine if you chose to hold on to your anger because a person or a group has hurt you, just realize you are choosing a different story when anger become the center and the animating force.

The table always, only gets bigger in this story, and it is most inconvenient to continue to choose to live in it.

 

 

(Image: mrhayata)

Brother Thomas

“Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.”
                                                                                                                       – John 20:24

I don’t know where Thomas was when Jesus first appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, but he wasn’t with the others. The disciples had all assembled, doors locked in fear of the religious leaders…and probably of Rome, too. Crucifixions were common, and often it wasn’t just the leader of a movement who went down. Rome would crucify thousands of people at a time to put down revolts. It’s no wonder they were hiding. It’s no wonder Thomas wasn’t around. We aren’t told where he was, but I can imagine.

Maybe Thomas went home. Head hung low in shame for abandoning the family and their livelihood a few years back to follow the young, upstart Rabbi from Nazareth. Others had dropped fishing nets and left tax booths, broken open priceless bottles of ointment just to sit at Jesus’ feet.

What had Thomas left behind?

Did he try going back to that place, to those people when it all fell apart with Jesus?

Maybe Thomas was hiding. We’re told that when Jesus was arrested that the disciples scattered. Maybe Thomas wandered out into the wilderness somewhere, ducking the Roman soldiers and the temple elites. Devastated. Alone. Terrified.

What now?

We aren’t told where Thomas was, but we know he wasn’t there when Mary brought the news of the unthinkable and unimaginable. We know he wasn’t there when Peter rushed to the tomb to see for himself. We know he wasn’t there on the first day of the week when Jesus appeared to the disciples assembled in the house.

He wasn’t there.

I’ve always looked down on Thomas a little bit. Why wouldn’t you be there? Why wouldn’t you trust your closest friends when they told you that the thing you couldn’t even hope for had happened?  He was painted as some sort of bumbling idiot in Sunday school, “that doubting Thomas, don’t be like him. Trust the words of Jesus, He is risen! Risen indeed!”

I’m starting to understand Thomas.

I understand declining the invitation to sit in the dark house, doors locked, praying that they don’t come and arrest you too.

No, thanks. I’ll pass.

Where was Thomas?
I don’t know, but I probably would have been with him.

I’m the type of person who has contingency plans for my contingency plans. The crucifixion didn’t catch the disciples totally off-guard. You couldn’t say the things Jesus said, do the things Jesus did, bring together the people Jesus brought together and survive the empire.  As the writing on the wall started to become clear, I probably would have made some sort of exit strategy. When Jesus gets arrested, where do I hide? Who do is safe to turn to for help? Who can I trust not to turn me over to the empire, too?

We all want to believe we would have stayed by Jesus’ side till the end, but I’m fairly certain I would have been right there with the rest of his followers fleeing the scene.

I paint myself as an idealist, but I’m really more of a cynic with an affinity for sunshine.
I understand why Thomas wasn’t there.

But then, Thomas also came back.

Maybe those who had stayed sent word to him.
Maybe Mary found him somewhere and talked to him.
Maybe there were murmurs spreading and he caught wind somehow.
Maybe they all knew where he was the whole time, and it just took him awhile to make his way back to the house.

He found his way back somehow.

And the news was unbelievable. Literally.

“Unless I see the wounds, unless I touch them myself, I won’t believe it.”

It’s not like resurrection was such an improbable reality for Thomas. He had been there when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. He had seen resurrection with his own eyes, embraced new life with his very arms. But this was closer to home. This loss was more costly. Lazarus was a friend, but he died from illness. Jesus was his teacher, his leader, and he was executed by the state.

Thomas had seen life spring up from death.

Was it worth the risk this time?

Hope is birthed from a vulnerable place, it costs us something.  Thomas had already lost a lot. He had given up home, family and livelihood. He had already done the work of reimagining his life, of letting old dreams die, of dreaming something new. And now even the new dreams were dashed.

Are you seriously asking me to hope again?

I wasn’t ready for Easter this year.
For new life, new hope, resurrection.

I’m still sitting in the unknown of Holy Saturday. The tense, aching place between the shadow of a cross and the weight of the tomb.

We don’t talk about it often, but there’s grace for this space, too. For those of us who are stuck on Saturday. Our brother, Thomas, is familiar with the place in which we find ourselves.

We like to say “You’ve just got to have faith – even the size of a mustard seed!” 
But what we neglect to say is that even mustard seeds must be covered in earth before they spring to life. Even mustard seeds must wonder as they come undone in the dark if anything good will come from their burial.

 

Yeast

Over the summer my mom found a cookbook from the early 1900’s in one of the closets at my grandparent’s house.  The blue canvas cover is fraying at the edges, and multi-color threads in uneven stitches betray the loving hands which re-stitched the binding time and again.

About halfway through the book there is a recipe for yeast rolls written in my great-grandmother’s meticulous cursive handwriting, the pencil fading with time.
One cake of yeast. 
An egg-sized knob of lard.
Bake until golden. 

Measurements needing to be filled in with knowledge long since passed.
Oven temperatures and length of bake time rendered irrelevant in the absence of electric stoves.

With time and great care, my mom worked through the bits of the recipe she could discern, and filled in the gaps as she went.
6 3/4 tsp of yeast
2 TBSP of lard
Bake at 400 for 20 minutes. 

By Thanksgiving she had the recipe figured out, and we all sat down to a breadbasket containing rolls none of us had tasted the likes of in over 20 years.

I stood in the kitchen and watched my mom make the dough.
“Okay, show me how. I’m terrible at yeast breads. I need to know everything.”

I’ve baked my fair share of brick-like biscuits and cement loaves. I wasn’t going to mess up my great-grandmother’s recipe.

I stood like a child at the counter, soaking in the movement of my mother’s hands as she stirred and kneaded and turned and floured. I stuck my wrist beneath the running water to feel what “luke-warm” meant.  I waved my hand through the warm oven to feel the temperature needed for the yeast to rise.

It was a full sensory experience.

I took to my own kitchen on the first Saturday after returning home. Running the water from the tap till it felt just so, warming the oven then leaving the door ajar to let it cool to just the right level of “warm,” and praying the yeast would work.

“The Kingdom of God is like yeast worked into dough…” 

These days this parable has taken on new meaning to me.

Yes the Kingdom starts small and yet has great impact, and yes the Kingdom is slow and works over a long course of time.

But I also think of my own ineptitude at working yeast through dough.

Diligently working, calling to mind every move of my mother’s hands, every sensation of water and heat and stickiness of dough.

Scrunching my eyes shut remembering faded letters from days gone by with measurements missing – instructions that would seem vital! Why not just fill those in for us, please?

All the while praying the yeast even works.

 

 

“F*ck this” and Farandolae – 2016 in Review

I started 2016 off the way I start every January – full of drive and optimism with a carefully color-coded planner and a pile of books to read. I know I’m not unique in this, almost everyone I know becomes more ambitious, dedicated and idealistic as January 1 draws near.

 

I went to Florida last January for a training retreat with a direct sales company I was working for at the time. I was only working the business on the side with no intentions to try to grow it to a full-time income, but I live in Wisconsin and it was an opportunity to go to Florida in January. Reason enough for me.

There were lots of encouraging and empowering talks, mostly about how to grow your business and be more intentional with structuring your time. My biggest takeaway though was finally feeling determined and confident enough to finish filling out my applications for seminary – which I had been halfway kicking around in a Word document for about three years. Being away for the weekend also meant I had time to devote my undivided attention to completing the essay portion of the applications.

My fingers trembled as I wrote.  Once again, I felt myself get swept up in that all to familiar wave of self-doubt and uncertainty. Who am I to think I can do this anyway? 

Lots of people talk about following your dreams; some will even tell you about how much work it takes to achieve them, but I’ve found it’s rare for people to talk about how pursuing your dreams can unleash all kinds of ghosts from your past and skeletons long since buried in your closet.

In A Wrinkle in Time (which I read for the first time in June of 2016, I know.) Madeleine L’Engle compares our lives to sonnets: “You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you.”

I know myself well enough to know the general form my life has always bent toward, but I struggle sometimes to pick up the pen and write it. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I often operate in such a way that it’s as if the things which are supposed to happen in my life just will – without any effort or alignment on my part at all.

It’s silly to think this, of course, but opening yourself up and actually working to shape your life the way you want it – “writing your sonnet” – requires some level of vulnerability.
If I never actually say what I want out of life; if I never spend the time and energy and work for my dream, then I can’t be broken if (when) I fail.

Again, from A Wrinkle in Time, L’Engle writes: “To love is to be vulnerable; and it is only in vulnerability and risk—not safety and security—that we overcome darkness.” I have long approached life with a degree of care to not open myself up to too much unknown (or at least, to make sure that God and the universe understands that I am very displeased when my “unknown” quota has been breached).

What if loving yourself and loving this life you’ve been given comes about only through living life with authenticity and vulnerability?

What if self-preservation and image management isn’t the answer, and – in fact – is actually the biggest threat to you living a fulfilled and happy life?

My fear of failure, or of things just turning out differently or less than I imagine them to be will always be present, but that fear doesn’t get to drive my life – or write my sonnet. In 2016 I learned to put fear in the backseat (to borrow from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic), and to embrace the unknowing of opening yourself up.

Over the summer I had the opportunity to practice this openness to unknowing again, when both of my paternal grandparents passed away. I grew up next door to them, and their presence is almost as much a backdrop for my childhood as that of my parents.

Losing my grandparents opened up all kinds of questions about who I am and what kind of legacy I want to leave. If my fear of failure pushed me to answer “what kind of sonnet am I writing?” the loss of my grandparents pushed me to ask “am I writing my sonnet fast enough?” and “is it worth writing at all?”

Grief is often the gateway to the parts of ourselves we had otherwise forgotten. Like a child stumbling into a long-lost secret garden, what we do once we find ourselves thrust through the gateway of grief is crucial.

I chose to dig deep. I started seeing a therapist again. I started writing more, and writing things that it will be a long time before they ever grace the internet – if ever.  I learned that perhaps I hadn’t made as much progress as I’d hoped in my personal growth.

It has been a sobering journey to say the least.

I had been operating under the assumption that I as I worked toward self-knowledge and development, that as I grew spiritually and became more mature that life would somehow get easier and less confusing. The events of 2016 convinced me otherwise.

I found myself thinking over and over again of Farandolae. In L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door these fictitious creatures are beyond microscopic, and yet the fate of the universe rides on their survival. The Farandolae are distracted though, enchanted by the ease and fun of a life skimming above the surface. It is imperative, for the survival of all things, that the Farandolae settle down and “Deepen” but this is the more difficult choice for the tiny creatures. It requires stillness and time, and virtually everything that is not fun or sexy.

I’m coming to realize that growth is less like a flight plan with a determined place of arrival, and more like a Farandolae Deepening – a still, silent, slow journey downward and inward…then outward again.

I’m learning that to grow roots mean that sometimes you have to dig up the hard ground in which you’ve been planted, and that sometimes that process is painful.

I’m learning that leaning in to the wholeness and healing God offers also means becoming acutely aware of where all the missing and wounded pieces are in your life – and that part sucks.

I’m learning that Jesus wasn’t kidding about the denial of self, the carrying of a cross, the losing of life to find it.

It’s all so much less “up and to the right” than I expected grown-up life to be, but somehow that’s still okay.

2016 had many moments that left me swearing under my breath (or not so much under my breath) but it also had so many moments that took my breath away, and pulled me deeper spiritually, mentally, intellectually, emotionally and relationally than I’ve ever been before.

So here’s to both:
The “f*ck its” and the Farandolae,
The discouragement and the Deepening,
and the life that is present in all these things.

Thank you, 2016.

Finding God in the Waves: A Book Review

I hated listening to people talk on the radio or recordings for a very long time.
I blame my Mother’s love of listening to talk radio when I was a child.
(Can’t we just listen to music please???)

My husband, Ben, on the other hand, puts on a podcast whenever he’s doing any sort of menial task. Dishes, folding laundry, driving home from work, waiting for the microwave popcorn to pop.

About a year ago he finally convinced me that podcasts were a great way to learn things or be entertained, that they really weren’t all about sports or economics and that I could definitely find some that focused on theology or art or storytelling.

It didn’t take very long before I had a steady rotation of 6-10 podcasts I would listen to each morning while running.

One of the podcasts that quickly made its way into my rotation was The Liturgists. 

I had followed Michael Gungor’s work as a musician for years, but the other co-host – Science Mike – was new to me.

Like Science Mike, I also grew up in the south and the lions share of my church experience had been spent in the Southern Baptist Convention. I too had undergone a sizable shift in my faith in recent years.

Unlike Science Mike I have never considered myself an atheist and I can’t talk about quantum physics in casual conversation.

I was intrigued by the way science seemed to make Mike’s faith richer and more nuanced, and soon his other podcast Ask Science Mike was in steady rotation during my morning runs as well.

I’ve always enjoyed science, even though it didn’t fit with my conservative, evangelical upbringing. I never bothered to try to reconcile faith and science though. For a long time, I just accepted that science made fact claims that contradicted what the Bible said, and I was okay living with the knowledge of the mystery and tension. It was the elephant in the room of my consciousness, but I just moved a big armoire in front of the tension and called it a day.  Science Mike helped me unpack some of those unreconciled pieces of faith and science and  bring a whole new level of richness to my faith.

I’d believed in a Creator God for most of my life, but learning to see the science of life not as a contradiction but the means in which God was at work took my vision of Creator from one who colored-by-number to one more along the lines of Picasso.

“The heavens declare the glory of God”
….and the neuroscience proclaims God’s handiwork.

So when Mike announced he was writing a book, I knew it would be at the top of my never-ending list.  As expected, Finding God in the Waves combines vivid, compelling narrative with deep-dives into scientific facts in a way only Science Mike could combine them.

It’s irresistibly fresh and comfortingly familiar, kind of like when salted caramel burst on to the flavor scene. Your pallet for ways we talk about the spiritual will never be the same again.

For those unfamiliar with Mike and his podcast, the first half of the book is memoir. Mike recounts his story of growing up in the church, coming to faith, and then of losing his faith in God and becoming an “undercover atheist” while still attending (and teaching Sunday School) at his Southern Baptist church.

In the second half of the book, Mike dives deep and unpacks the science behind what he calls his “Axioms About Christian Faith.”

Science Mike borrow the term “axiom” from philosophy. In brief, his axioms are “ideas that can be accepted without further inquiry” about the Christian faith. He has axioms for major tenants of the Christian such as  God, prayer, Jesus, sin, the Church, and the Bible – among others.

During the last five chapters of the book, Science Mike walks the reader through the question and the science behind the formation of each of these axioms.  The result is a whirlwind trip through the basics of cosmology, neuroscience, and anthropology with splashes of fine art tossed in for good measure.

Mike describes his axioms as “woefully short” of Christian orthodoxy, but he’s okay with that. Instead of seeking to home in on or prove orthodoxy, he says his axioms are “a life raft for people who can’t get on board with the supernatural claims about God yet still want to be close to God.”

I’ve never been quite in need of a life raft personally, but there have been significant seasons in which I’ve felt as though my boat were dead in the water. Science Mike’s axioms are more like fresh wind in my sails, pushing the bounds on the ways I think about, talk about and view God.

___

If you grew up with a faith in God that now seems too small or out of touch with the world you find yourself in now – this book is for you.

If you believed in God at one point, but have long since stopped believing – this book is for you.

If you’ve never believed, but you’re curious about why someone would believe in God – this book is for you.

…Or if you’d just like to know the neuroscience behind why prayer makes you feel more at peace.

I cannot recommend Finding God in the Waves highly enough.

You can find a copy of your own on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, or wherever books are sold.

 

Taking up Space

I’ve spent the last several years of my life purging closets and emptying drawers.

Minimizing.

Trying to use less water, less energy, less resources.
Produce less garbage, and compost and recycle more.

Just this past weekend, a bookshelf and two full bags of random old things were evicted from my home.

Smaller impact.
A simpler life.

These are good things.

A more long-standing practice in my life, though, has been learning to reign in my larger-than-life, bombastic feelings and reactions to the world around me.

Smaller impact.
More managed, more acceptable, more polished.
I resonate with our family’s omnipresent Disney princess, Elsa, on this:
Conceal don’t feel, put on a show.

That’s not such a good thing.

I remember my Dad looking me in the eyes when I was twelve and he was beginning a new chapter of life by going to medical school:

“You have to be strong.” 

I’ve always been a determined, disciplined person so being told to be “strong” (even as a twelve-year-old) didn’t feel like too great of a burden.

I’m sure I had more than my fair share of outbursts and sulky attitudes as a teenager (in fact, I know I did), but I did try to follow through on my Dad’s instruction. I tried to be strong – both for my family and for my own sense of identity.

I’ve never been a particularly “girly” girl. I opted out of ballet in favor of martial arts. I hated sewing and cross stitch and knitting and all the things requiring being very still and meticulous for long periods of time. I played more with mud and rocks and sticks than I did my dolls – and when I did play with them, my Barbies were going on secret rescue missions to save orphans and lost puppies, instead of going to the mall.

Being “strong” was a way to differentiate myself. Especially in the conservative Christian community I grew up in, where girls – especially as we broached adolescence – were quite concerned with honing their homemaking skills and cultivating “gentle, quiet spirits” so they would make excellent wives one day.

“Gentle and quiet” were illusive, and I possessed none of the typical skills associated with homemaking at the time, so I sought out “strong” instead. In part at my Dad’s request, and in larger part because if I couldn’t conform to the norm, at least I could rock at being an outlier.

Somewhere along the line of trying to either conform to “gentle and quiet” or be the most bad-ass strong, solid woman ever, I found my way to “small.”

Maybe because if I shrank my feelings, my fears and my self it was easier to manage, to bind into a polished and strong exterior.

Maybe because if I shrank my strength, it was less intimidating and brazen.  It seemed more “gentle and quiet” if I bound it up and kept it for just my own purposes.

Don’t get me wrong, I can seem as big as I  want to be.
I can laugh loud and light up rooms and set more places at bigger tables and fill platters with more food. I hug tight and give obnoxious amounts of high fives. Obnoxious.
When a room is dead, I can be the helium which lifts it up.

But did you know that helium is one of the smallest elements that exists?
Helium floats because it takes up so little space of it’s own.

And I stand with my arms folded tight across my chest.
I sit with my hands tucked beneath or between my legs.
My fists are closed more often than my hands are open.

Even though my words would never betray me, my body – when I’m not conscious of it – screams “smaller, smaller, SMALLER!”

If I truly engage my feelings, then I’m emotional and weak.
If I truly display my strength, then I’m too bold and intimidating (if not downright bitchy).

So I go through life, conscious of every gesture and smile; every glance and expression.
Even when I seem to be over-the-top excited, I know exactly where I am and what I’m doing. Just ask me, at any given moment, and I can give you a detailed rationale as to why.

I don’t think I’m the only person who does this.
I know other people (especially other women) know what this feels like.
To be bound up tightly on the inside as if a corset were holding all of your reactions and feelings and emotions into the figure and form society has deemed acceptable, even though you’re actually crushing yourself to a slow death.

I don’t want to live like that anymore.

I think we’re supposed to take up space.
Which means we’re going to have to be big enough that we can’t be everything to everyone all the time.

I am going to have to big enough to be someone who isn’t always only helium, filling up ever-more balloons for non-stop parties.

I want to live life with arms wide open, instead of scrunched and tight across my chest.
Legs crossed, fists clenched.
Smaller and smaller.

I want to be open and aware and present and completely here in the moments of my life.

One time, a woman was confronted about being caught up in the moment, listening at the feet of Christ, rather than hosting and rushing and serving and being concerned with ALL THE THINGS.

To those upset with her for being there, Jesus said:

“This will not be taken away from her.” 

We are given an opportunity to be enchanted and caught up in the movement of Christ at every turn, because we carry the Image of God within us. 

Every day is an opportunity to bear witness to the Divine at work.

I’m planting myself here. Taking up my space. Fully engrossed in the whispers and words and subtle movements of God all around me.

And it feels scary to sit here with my arms open and my heart exposed, but if I listen closely I hear the assurance from the One who drew me here in the first place:

“This will not be taken away from you.”

*Image credit: Herb Real via Flickr.