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.

Hard conversations and safe spaces

'' photo (c) 2010, Jessie Jacobson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

She’s been one of “my girls” for the better part of her time in high school, and I’ve lost track of the hours we’ve spent together and the coffees we’ve shared. Somehow over the last three years we’ve become an integral part of each other’s lives, and last week was a huge celebration for her as she collected her diploma and marked the end of high school. And I was on vacation…again.

Yesterday, she told me with a shocking amount of bravery and honesty that I’d hurt her feelings because I wasn’t there for her graduation or her open house or the recognition service at the small church. She told me that she understood I was traveling, that she wasn’t exactly mad at me, but that she felt like she wasn’t important to me anymore, since everything happened in August.

And I had no choice but to match her honesty with my own. I admitted something I’ve known but haven’t said out loud – “I keep running away because it’s too damn hard to be here.”

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I was in Michigan at the end of April for my goddaughter’s baptism. I really only “needed” to be there for a weekend, but I had the time, so why not stay a week?

My friend called a week before I left for that trip needing someone to dogsit in another state for ten days. Ten days is a long time, but I like those dogs and I’d be helping my friend, and I had the time, so why not say yes?

My mom called on day 4 of the 10 day dogsitting trip and said that she and my dad were going to visit my aunt in Ohio over Memorial Day weekend and asked if I wanted to go. There were things going on that weekend that I could’ve have stayed for – barbeques and the graduate recognition service – but, I hadn’t seen my family in a while and I love a good road trip and I had the time, so why not go?

And then it was family vacation, and we hung out in Maine for a week, eating lobster and drinking hot coffee because who knew Maine in June would be that cold?

I wasn’t keeping track, but people in my world were, and in the last two months I have been at home a grand total of two weeks. 16 days to be exact. And I was gone with a lot of good reasons, all family stuff, but the undercurrent to all of it, if I’m being honest, is that I have been running away. Because being here is too damn hard right now.

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My friends lately have been so busy being moms and raising kids and having jobs and serving in ministries, and I have been so busy running away, that we haven’t had a whole lot of time to chat lately. No cups of coffee. No lingering dinners. No catch-up lunches with kids in tow. We’re just moving from one thing to the next in a flurry of activity. And it occurs to me in this moment that I’m probably not the only one that thinks it’s just too damn hard to be here right now.

We’re all struggling to hold it together, to figure life out now that this is the new normal. We’re trying to be kind to one another, but the latent hurt and anger and disappointment and sadness is hard to ignore most days. We’ve lost something, and most of us are still in mourning, and probably will be for a very long time. We’re all dealing in different ways, with different coping strategies in place, and not all of them healthy.

And maybe this is where I am, after being called out by my newly graduated friend, begging all of us to find healthier ways of coping. And maybe part of how we do that is by trying to believe the best in one another again, and having real conversations that beg the hard things to be said. Maybe part of how we do this getting healthy thing is by hurting together, inviting to say the things that haven’t been said in almost a year, like “I keep running away” and “It’s too damn hard to be here right now.”

And maybe even, “I’ve been so busy taking care of everybody else for the last nine months that I’m only now feeling my own hurts in this mess, and I’m not handling them well.”

I mean, maybe something like that needs to be said. I don’t know, I’m just guessing. But, how about if we start creating safe spaces to say these kind of things anyway? Because I can’t speak for you, but I know I sure need it.

Calling BULL

There are some days that I just want to call bull on of it. Today is that day.

You, who don’t text back – BULL. You, who say that you miss me when I’m out of town, but can’t be bothered to even get a coffee date in the books when I’m in town – BULL. You, who claim to like being close to me, but who shut me out at every turn – BULL. You, who are incredibly present one minute and totally absent the next – BULL. You, who say you want to be my friend, but fail to show up and be a friend – BULL.

You, who pass out tracts before Easter service but fail to serve the poor – BULL. You, who chase after job promotions and fail to care for the widow – BULL. You, who slam pulpits but don’t bow to wash your brothers’ feet – BULL. You, who claim to love Jesus but hate your sisters – BULL.

Because here’s the thing — I’m coming out of a season of being duped, not just by one person but by a whole church, and I’m fighting really hard every day to believe that people can be trusted. I’m fighting to see Light in the dark, to see Love in the hate. So, it would really be great if you could just say one thing and mean it, if you could practice on Monday what you teach on Sunday, if you could just be consistent.

Because here’s the other thing — I’m trying my damndest to be gracious and self-less. I’m trying to be understanding of all of the things that feed into your life that make you act like you do, all the crazy family situations and work nonsense and health issues that cause you stress. I’m trying hard to be empathetic to illnesses and kids and jobs and all the stuff that makes you busy. I’m not saying I don’t “get it,” but I am saying that I’m busy too and sometimes, more often than not, it feels like I’m the only one who’s trying to make it work.

So, I’m calling bull on the one-sidedness. And I’m asking you to help me out.

How about we stop with the game-playing and the assumption-making? How about instead we ask each other for what we need and promise to try to give it to each other?

How about we stop making excuses for why we’re busy, and instead admit that we are and try to do better by each other?

How about we stop talking to our best friend, or our husband or our wife, or co-worker, or neighbor, or neighbor’s co-worker before we talk to each other?

How about, at the very least, we text each other back?

I’ll confess that I’m not the best about this either, but I really want to do better by you. I assume with the best of them and then I run circles in my head before I talk to someone who’s not you. I promise to stop doing this. I also promise to text you back, and to set up coffee dates, and to show up when you need me and sometimes when you don’t.

I’m calling bull on our bad dynamics, and promise to do better to improve my end of things.

But I can only do so much, and so you’ve got to help me out.

You’ve got to text me back. And you’ve got to set up coffee dates. And you’ve got to talk to me. And you’ve got to show up.

And WE’ve got to serve the poor. And WE’ve got to care for the widow. And WE’ve got to love our brothers and sisters. And WE’ve got to wash each other’s feet.

Otherwise, all we have is bull. And I think we can do better than that.

…when dating is hard, but loving is simple

Recently, I’ve been talking to my friend Nickie a lot about dating.  Not that either of us are experts or have tons of advice to offer each other; neither of us need that, and that’s not what we’re asking for when we’re sitting at McDonald’s drinking Cokes after Bible study is over on Tuesday nights.  Instead, we’re single women sitting together for a couple of hours, listening to each other’s hearts about the relationships we’re not in, and offering a common ground — yes, dating is hard.

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'' photo (c) 2010, Gibson Regester - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/I think we each feel like we were duped growing up in church, at least a little bit.  We saw our friends date in high school and college, meet some great guys who played football and loved Jesus, marry after graduation, and start having kids a couple of years later.  We heard often about how great being married is, because it’s such a picture of Christ and the Church and the sacrifice necessary to love well.  And so, it was made to look so simple.

Meet someone, fall in love, get married, have babies, honor Jesus.

The thing is, when you see your twenties come and go without meeting someone who plays football and loves Jesus, without a wedding ring, without having kids, the whole “picture” starts to look a lot like Van Gough’s stuff before he chopped his ear off.  It’s pretty, but it’s got a lot of nutty undertones.  And it doesn’t make sense to everyone.

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It seems to me, then, that we need to flip the script.  Instead of emphasizing how much marriage is a picture of Christ’s love for the Church, how about we spend some time talking about how simple sacrificial love for another person is, married or not?

Because I’ll tell you, I’ve seen the love of Jesus manifest in the marriages I’ve seen my friends and family enter into, but…

I’ve also seen Him in the relationship my best friend’s friend had with her boyfriend as she cared for him while he was dying of cancer.  I’ve seen Him on a playground in Philadelphia when one of my students sat under a slide for hours with a little boy who would’ve been sitting there alone if she hadn’t climbed down in the dirt with him. I’ve seen Him in my Bible study when we all sat on the floor and held hands and cried and prayed for one of our girls who had miscarried. I’ve seen Him in a nursing home while my mom laid beside her dad as he slipped away from this earth, whispering in his ear, “It’s okay. You can go now.”  And I’ve seen Him in the text messages and phone calls sent in the daily routine of lives lived side-by-side: “Dinner Tues. Can you bring dessert?” “Today is your last final. Hooray!” “I just wanted you to know that I’m thinking about you and praying for you. Love you!”

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Meet someone, fall in love, get married, have babies, honor Jesus.

It’s a good script, but it’s not a script that everybody follows. And that’s okay.  But, let’s encourage each other to love sacrificially anyway, married or not. Because it seems to me that if God loved us enough to send His Son to die for us, then surely we can love each other enough to send a text message or get down in the dirt or sit at McDonald’s.

Perhaps love is that simple.

Meet someone, love sacrificially, honor Jesus.

A call for honesty

I’m always grateful for how kind people are when they respond to something I’ve written.  I know a lot of my blogger friends have to deal with trolls and asshats who make nasty comments, but I’m a small blogger and I don’t have to deal with that too much.  I have a small, faithful following of people who love me and believe in my voice.  (Carrie, I’m looking at you!)  Even so, and probably because they love me, many of the comments to my posts the last couple of weeks have been some kind of version of “It was great, but it was short.  I know you have more to say about that.”

It’s true.  I’ve been very careful about how I talk about the small church and what a mess it is right now. I’ve been careful about how I talk about making the decision to leave, and I’ve been careful about how I talk about being at a new church.  I’ve been careful about what I say and how I say it, except with my closest friends who’ve heard every swear word come out of my mouth with, um, gusto.

But, here’s the deal, guys —  I’m over being careful.

I don’t mean that I’m over being gracious and handling myself well.  I mean, I’m over worrying about upsetting or offending or, quite frankly, pissing off someone else.

I have a story to tell about how a church and a leadership staff made me feel small.  I have a story to tell about lies that were told and manipulated, and that left a wake of hurt for me and people that I love.  I have a story to tell about the organization of church falling short of helping, healing, and being Jesus.

And I want to honor that story, because God has drawn me to Him by it and through it and ultimately I want to honor Him.

But, I don’t know how to wade the line between being honest and being mean.  Not right now at least.  I’m filled with so much venom for people at the root of the cause of all of this, there are pieces of the story I can’t tell just yet and there are pieces I will probably never tell. Because it wouldn’t be kind or loving or gracious, and I refuse to dishonor God any more than He has already been dishonored in this mess.

I suspect that the first step in pulling some of these pieces together is acknowledging the hurt and the venom.  If ultimately what I’m asking for from myself and the people in my life is realness, then I have to start being real.  I can’t pretend that this mess hasn’t changed me, or the way I think about church, or the way I think about church leadership, or my role as a woman in church.  And I can’t pretend that I’m not beyond thrilled to be at a new church that’s oriented toward Jesus and is giving me what I’ve needed from church for the better part of a decade.

And I’m hoping that if I start to be honest, then we can be honest with each other.  Honest about how we’re feeling, and how we’re coping, and where we’re struggling, and where we need help, and where we see God moving.  And I’m hoping that in the honesty and story sharing, we can borrow from each other.  Borrow strength, and hope, and grace, and maybe even a little optimism.

But, it starts with being real.  Join me, won’t you?

When dating and church have common ground…

At the time that things at the small church became unhinged at the end of last summer, things between me and the nice boy I’d been dating also became unhinged.  And at the time, it felt incredibly unfair.  Because I’m within spitting distance of my thirtieth birthday and I’d finally met someone I liked and who liked me too, and then he got sick.  Like, really sick.  Like, almost died sick.  And you can put any kind of spin on it that you want, but in the end the result is the same — it wasn’t fair.

And what I know now is that there are really only a couple of things you can do when you catch a deal that raw.

You pray. And you hope.

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And if you’re anything like me, you also get crazy reflective.

When things got churned up at the small church, I started examining what had me feeling so uncomfortable about being there.  And when the nice boy got sick, I started examining what I liked about him and about us, and why I found it so hard to let go.

In my crazy, I found that the answers overlapped and left me confronting issues about what it means to be a woman, especially a woman striving to honor God.

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'8/3/11 67/365' photo (c) 2011, Fiona Henderson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I loved my time at the small church, don’t get me wrong.  But, there were messages that were taught that left me spending my life as a single, young, educated adult woman feeling small and misplaced.  I was encouraged to embrace my singleness because it offered me time to devote to ministry, but that’s where that message stopped.  Marriage, I was told, is the most important relationship I will ever have.  Being a mom, I was told, is my highest calling.  Going to school and writing and being a therapist were all good time fillers, but, I was told, I’d better be ready to give all that up when I got married and had a family – because my husband would be head, and I would have to defer to his call.

The thing that it seemed I could never get people to hear is that none of those things are just time fillers.  Those are the heartbeats of my life, and serving in ministry and going to school and being a therapist and writing are the things that make me…me.

And the nice boy got that.

He wanted to know what I thought, and he smiled any time my passions got the best of me and I started talking really fast about my book or my friends or my students.  He told me I was beautiful, and he told me I was smart.  And I liked him because he never made me feel small or misplaced.

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The nice boy and I are talking again. And while I don’t know what will come of it, I know that I’m doing things differently this time.  Because I’ve confronted some of the bad messages of my past, and am embracing the woman God has created me to be.

I’m an educated, young, single woman, and I’m talking to a nice boy who respects me.

And I’m still praying.  And I’m still hoping.  And that’s not a bad place to be.