Grace. (Hopefully.)

Anne Lamott FB quote

This afternoon I posted a quote from Anne Lammot’s Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith on my Facebook page. Of course, I’ve read Anne’s work before, and I’ve let her writing settle things in my heart because it helps to know that someone else is out there is imperfectly following Jesus, and writing about it with honesty and vulnerability, and helping me take a breath in the “okayness” of who God is.  Things are messy, but it’s okay. God is God, God is here, God is helping, and it’s going to be okay.

What strikes me about what I posted today isn’t so much the quote itself, but the title of the book I pulled it from. Grace (Eventually).

I’ve been craving grace lately.  Craving it in tangible ways, like I have to read about it, have to talk about it, have to write about it, and have to think about it, be aware of it every day.  And it doesn’t take a psychology degree to figure out why –

Because it’s been the thing that’s been missing for the last year.

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I haven’t written much in the last few months.  And I think I’ve finally figure out why; it’s because everything’s felt false. Everything that I think about community and friendship, about dating and partnership, about God manifesting in our relationships with each other – it’s all felt false.

Too many people who’ve claimed to be rooted in Love Himself have responded with hate and anger. Too many people have been treated unkindly.  Too much gossip has been spread.  Too many insults have been hurled.  And for me, the truth of the Gospel, and the Love and Grace that set it apart, has been buried behind the insults, gossip, lack of empathy, and inability to give each other the benefit of the doubt.

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These days I’m thinking that really maybe that’s what grace looks like on this side of heaven – giving each other the benefit of the doubt.

That’s all I really want, anyway.  I want to be given the benefit of the doubt when people look at my years youth leading at the small church – that I was trying my very best every week to model something good for my students, to point them to Jesus and how He’s moving in their own lives.  I want to be given the benefit of the doubt as a friend – that I’m not going to get it right all the time because I’m human and I get tired and discouraged, but I’m trying every day to love well and show up where you need me.  I want to be given the benefit of the doubt as a single person – that I may not be partnered with anyone right now, but my life has value and meaning and God is somehow using my singleness to make Himself known.

And you know what else I really want? To be conscious of the ways that I can show a little bit more grace too.  I want to give you the benefit of the doubt. Because I do think there’s truth in the Anne Lamott quote I posted on my Facebook page – that we’re all really just trying to make sense of things, find love, and be less afraid – and if this is true, then I understand your struggle because it is my own, and what other choice do I have but to offer what we’re both looking for?

Grace. (Hopefully.)

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Coming down from the high horse

“But, it’s what you blog and tweet about most.  She probably felt like you were getting on your high horse.”

The funny thing about being a blogger is that I forget people are reading sometimes.  Not that I forget that I’m sharing publicly or anything, I just forget that people are putting pieces together on the outside that I can’t see because I’m too inside my own thoughts and feelings and experiences.

My friend is right though, I do write about the same themes a lot – community, friendship, the Church, singleness.  I think that happens to most writers.  You find a passion and you sink your teeth into it and the words just kind of appear, because it’s what you’re thinking about all of the time, and often all that you’re thinking doesn’t make sense until you sit down and put the words on paper.

But, the reality is also that I write about what’s close to my heart.  I write about my friends because I love them, and they’re tangible examples of God’s love, and I think everybody should have those kinds of people in their lives.  I write about church because, as much as it frustrates me sometimes, I love the Church, and I think we can do better by each other than we are right now.  I write about community because, I think, that’s where friendship and church blur together to create the place I’m living right now, and I love this place.  And I write about being single probably because it’s my biggest point of wounding right now.  I write about being single not because I love my singleness, although most days I do, but because I’ve been made to feel small in my community because I’m single, and I don’t think people meant that to happen, and I hope that by writing about it we can start to talk about how we can love each other better, regardless of ring status.

I don’t ever want to sound like I’m getting on my high horse, but I suppose when you’re a blogger, writer, speaker, or any kind of someone who puts their thoughts out there in a way for a people to interact with, you’re going to have high horse moments.   We’re going to have those things that so drive us  to communicate that we’re going to not always get the tone right, or we’re going to be too pointed, or…I don’t know…something.  We’re just not always going to get it right.  For this, I am terribly sorry.

But, I think that’s why we writers and communicators value so desperately the honest feedback of the people who are reading and listening.   Please don’t stop. You are sharpening our thoughts, and challenging us, and making us better people and better writers.  And I promise to listen, and interact with what you’re offering, and come down from my high horse. Or at least, I’ll try.

And I suppose really what I’m asking for is a little more grace between us, a little more space for understanding, a little more hope that we can figure out a way to love each other better.

We don’t know the whole story…

Every Thanksgiving, I make the two hour trek from suburban Baltimore to the West Virginia home of my aunt to spend the holiday with my dad’s family.  It’s always loud and funny, and no one escapes the day without at some point being the punch-line of a bad joke.   I know this before I go, so I usually walk away totally unaffected, having spent the day with my family, who is as sarcastic as I am.

Usually.

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Aunt: So, we all need to keep our eyes open to find you someone. What are you looking for?

Me: [Eyebrow lift and silence]

Dad: Gainfully employed.

Me: With health insurance.  It’s funny how important that becomes as you get older.

Grandma: There’s a really nice girl at our church….

Me: Yeah, that’s not so much on my list of criteria.  Being a man is also important.

Uncle: Well played.

Grandma: Let me finish! There’s a nice girl in our church who met someone on Christian Mingle, and they’re getting married.  Maybe you should think about that. 

From scambook.com

Me: Those sites run $35 to $60 a month. No thank you.

Grandma: I’ll pay for it. You don’t really want to let $35 dollars a month stand between you and the guy you could marry, do you?

Me: So, we’re really talking about this, huh?

Grandma: I’m just mad so mad at him! Where is he already?

Uncle: Wow. Hasn’t even shown his face and already in the dog house. You’ve got to feel bad for the guy.

Grandma: Well! Nevermind.  He’s a slacker. You don’t want him anyway.

Me: [Eyebrow lift and silence]

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I’ll admit to contributing the conversation, albeit sarcastically. The reality is that I hate talking about my dating life (and I really hate other people talking about my dating life), and I especially hate talking about my dating life as of late.  Because I don’t like to talk about how I dated a really nice boy this summer and now we’re not dating for all sorts of complicated reasons that boil down to the fact that he was diagnosed with cancer and didn’t know how throw his energy into getting well and a new relationship at the same time.  And I definitely don’t like to admit that I still think about him every day and pray for him constantly and hope (perhaps a little pathetically) for a someday reconciliation.  But, here I go admitting it.

Why am I sharing this?  Because the conversation with my family got me thinking that we don’t always know the whole story.

My family assumes that I’m not dating, that I haven’t met anyone, that there’s no one I’d like to bring to our holiday table.  And it’s just not true.

I am dating. I actually met someone that I thought about bringing to family holidays, but he got sick before that could happen and he’s pouring his energy into other things right now – like staying alive.  And because I was invested in that relationship with him and still care about his welfare, I’m not over that nice boy I dated this summer.

So, I’m DEFINITELY not getting on Christian Mingle.

And I’m committed to working harder to not make assumptions about the people in my life, because I don’t know their whole story.   And I want to give them space to tell their stories in their own time to whoever they want to tell.

Maybe by next Thanksgiving I’ll be ready to talk about who I am or am not dating.  But then again, maybe I won’t.

Either way, the space to NOT talk is definitely something I would be thankful for.

“You should’ve told me!”

This summer, I started dating a really nice boy.   He was cute and kind and held doors open for me.   He texted often, even when he was at work, and he called me the morning I left for Haiti to tell me that he was praying for my trip and that he would miss me.  He told me I was beautiful – not pretty or hot; beautiful.  There was an old-school charm about him that I hadn’t seen evidenced in other guys I had dated.  We didn’t go on extravagant dates, because mostly we just enjoyed being together and extravagance would have gotten in the way of the laughing and talking and holding hands.  He wasn’t aggressive or pushy, and he really respected me.  He made an effort to get to know my friends, and they in turn liked him.  He made me smile.

Without a doubt, it was the most fun I’ve ever had dating.

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Summer over and with a now autumn chill in the air, the BFF and I sat in her living room last night with the windows open.  We stayed up late, and talked the kind of honest talk that only best friends can have.  It was the kind of talking that required Bibles to be opened and hard questions to be asked, that was affirming and challenging, and that for all of our best friend-ness invited even more realness.

I live for conversations like this.  I live for conversations that are sanctifying.

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“You should’ve told me!”

We were talking about the nice boy I dated this summer, about how I’m feeling now that the summer is over and the texts from him have all but stopped now that he’s facing a heavy crisis of his own.  She was talking particularly of the crisis, but I realize now that there’s so much beyond that I should’ve told her.

I wasn’t keeping things from her this summer; I just wasn’t talking.

It’s a repeating pattern for me, especially as it relates to dating, this not talking.  And I don’t talk because at nearly 29 years old, I still fear being “that girl.”  You know the one I’m talking about, the one who falls hopelessly for her current beau and then who falls apart when the relationship does.  The one whose world focus becomes the guy she’s seeing, and who can’t seem to talk about anything else.   The one who thinks only about dating, and who takes to planning a wedding on Pinterest before she’s in a relationship.

“That girl” is trouble, for sure.  But in trying to not be “that girl,” I became another type of girl entirely.

The one who stopped being honest.  And maybe that’s worse.

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Honestly, I miss that nice boy from this summer, even though we only dated for a few months.  I like that he called me beautiful, and I like that his hand was always warm when mine was always cold.  I hate that we couldn’t find a way to weather our crises together.  And I still hope we can find a way to make it work.

But honestly, if we never find a way to make it work, if I never get another text, I’m glad for what I’ve been taught. I’m glad that he reminded me that dating should be fun, and that it shouldn’t be extravagant.   I’m more glad, though, that I have had to face some of my fears, that I’ve been challenged to be more honest in my best friendship, that through the dating and the not dating I have been sanctified.

No “should’ve beens” about it.  I have been sanctified.

The Kitchen Island

Last week I posted a link on my Facebook page to a blog post titled “What Single People Wish Married People Knew.”  The author offers that there’s a kind of un-vocalized formula prevalent in the evangelical church:  that when we singles “let go” of finding our spouses and give the burden of it to the Lord, then we will meet our match.  She says that it’s a formula that hurts single people because it makes us feel like the reason we don’t have a life partner is because of something we’ve done, or rather because of something we haven’t done: we haven’t “let go.”  So then, she wishes married people knew that this was a formula that was being put out there, and that it’s damaging, and that there are better things to say to single people.

I like this blog post. I think she’s right, and I think she says good things, and that’s exactly why I shared the link on my Facebook page.  Lord knows I could tell my story of singleness with the same language.

I “let go” of the “burden” of being single a long time ago.  I won’t say it’s true of every day, but most days being single is my joy, actually.  I get a lot out of being single.  I have time to read and write and I don’t have to share the remote control with anyone.  If I want to watch a Law & Order:SVU marathon, I can do that. I don’t have to watch football.  And I have time to go out to dinner with my friends, and meet my youth girls for coffee, and I can pick up the check for these outings if I want because I’m spending my own money.  I have time and energy to invest in a lot of relationships, because I’m not solely focused on one person most of the time.  And instead of dropping thousands of dollars on a wedding, I spent it on my education. And I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Not in a million years. Not for a million dollars.

Like Kate says in her blog post, though, married people are not the enemy.  In fact, married people are my very best friends.  For the last two years, I’ve had Tuesday dinners at Matt and Jesse’s house.  It started because I was interning in Philadelphia, working crazy hours, commuting three hours almost every day, and very rarely eating meals that I couldn’t pick up at a drive-thru window.  On Tuesdays, I had an hour between rolling back into town and having to be at my friend Liz’s for our small group Bible study, of which Jesse was also a part. So, we stared having dinner before Bible study because my married best friends wanted to take care of me and offering me a weekly meal became important to them, simply because they love me and feeding me was a tactile way for them to show that love to me.  Because of this and the thousands of other ways they and my other married friends have loved me, I wouldn’t trade my married friends for a million single friends. Not in a million years. Not for a million dollars.

I love that my BFFs and I get to be a picture of something different in the Church; we’re the variables that make the formula fall flat.  Because we operate in unity, not allowing division to creep in because they’re married and I’m single.  We talk about my bad dates and their broken refrigerator, and the latest reasons we’ve had to take our dogs to the vet, and we talk about how we can all plug into our church better.  We share the struggles we’re facing because they’re the issues on the table and we want to help each other through them.  We talk about my book, and their coming baby, and we talk about how we love Jesus a little bit more every day.  We celebrate with each other in life’s joys because we’re family to each other, and that’s just what family does.  Which is all to say that we cry with each other, and we laugh with each other, and we do this simply because we love each other.

One of my greatest hopes is that the Church becomes a place that feels like sitting at my friends’ kitchen island, where it doesn’t matter that someone’s single and others are married, because we’re laughing and crying and loving each other.  Because that’s just what family does.

Kitchen Island
Google image from blog.barnfurniture.com

Confession of a 20-something: I’m tired of going to weddings

The summer after I graduated from college, I stopped counting the number of weddings I attend in a year.  It’s too big a number. And it pains me to think of the money I’ve spent on cookie sheets and spatulas and bathroom trashcans.  The number of weddings that I’ve been an attendant for is much smaller, as it well should be as I think being in a wedding demands a certain kind of intimacy in friendship, and it’s even more painful to think of the money I’ve spent on manicures, hair-dos, and dresses I’ll never wear again.  As I now sit firmly in my late-20s, this is my confession: I’m tired of going to weddings.

As I write this, I’m aware that it sounds like the sour lament of a girl who’s pushing 30 and is still single.  It’s not, I promise.  It’s true that I would like to be married one day and I’d prefer that day come sooner rather than later, but my every thought is not focused on my relationship status.  I’m single, but my life is full – of activity and of love.  I’m single, but I’m not alone. I’ve come to rest in this on the inevitable days when the sting of the loneliness of singleness is most intense.   But, while I’m content in my singleness, as I hope to one day be content in a marriage, I have to confess something else: I’m tired of going to weddings, and it’s because I’m single.

A wedding is the least safe place to be single, if you ask me.  It seems like when the ceremony’s over and the chicken has been served and the champagne is readily available, that everyone and their cousin  – and I mean that literally – feels like they have permission to ask the question that every single person hates to hear: “When’s it going to be your turn?” And then they feel like they have permission to comment on what I should be doing to meet someone.

Let me stop for minute and make a request. If you are one of those people who asks that question at a wedding, please for the love of all that is holy, stop doing it.  I think I can safely speak for all single people everywhere when I say that if we’ve met someone and we want to talk about it, we will. Otherwise, ask us about our jobs or our pets or the Indians.  Leave it to us to make the call on dialoguing about the most intimate details of the most important relationship we might ever form.

from “Lauren” (c) 2011 // via Wylio

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the bouquet toss, because there’s nothing safe about that.  Where did we get the idea that it’s okay to pelt our single girlfriends with a bunch of flowers? As if we didn’t feel badly enough, please – throw something at us.  In fact, launch it at us with gun-fire force and then encourage us to throw ‘bows to limp away holding the “prize,” which is your used and now broken clump of flowers that you spent too much money on and that will be brown in a week’s time.  Awesome.

You’d never guess so thus far but, the thing is that I actually really love weddings because I actually really believe in marriage.   I believe in the partnership that is created when people say, “I do.” I believe in the covenant that exists when people vow to be faithful and commit to loving each other, and I believe that marriage does give us a really cool image of Christ’s love for the Church.    I have loved every penny I’ve spent and every moment of every wedding I’ve been a bridesmaid in because I believe these things.  Because I believe these things, I don’t really want to be tired of going to weddings.   What I really want is to go to weddings, as a single person, and be hopeful – hopeful that marriage works, hopeful that not everyone who marries crumbles to divorce, and hopeful that one day it might just happen for me too.  I want to be at a wedding and celebrate with all the people gathered in the church and at the reception in the simplicity of loving the same two people, who are doing something important and awesome in joining their lives together.  I want to drink champagne because I’m toasting their life together.  I want to go to weddings knowing that they’re pictures of good in the face of bad, glimpses of restoration for broken people,  a little light in an often dark world.

I don’t want to be tired of going to weddings, but I am.  So, my question is, how do I keep from being exhausted?

*Note: Other 20-somethings are confessing things over at Ally Spotts‘ blog. Check it out here.

Always a Bridesmaid Guest Post

“In the back of my closet hangs Butter Dress, the most infamous of the bridesmaid’s dresses I have worn since graduating from college five years ago. It’s floor length, poorly fitting, and its color truly resembles the inside of a Country Crock container. I can say with absolutely certainty that I will never wear this dress again. But, I can also say with absolute certainty that I love this dress. In all of its ugly, it reminds me of something beautiful and important…”

A favorite author of mine, Rachel Held Evans, allowed me to guest post on her blog today.  I love being able to share my story and experience of being single in the Church and the honor that I think being bridesmaid is, so make sure you check it out here.

You can also find RHE’s blog linked on my page, so make sure you also check out what she’s writing.  You won’t be sorry.

Happy reading! 🙂