Tag: Spirituality

18Oct

Back When Jesus Wore JNCOs

In the end, I don’t know which is harder for me to process: my trigger-happy cynicism over religious light and sound shows, gimmicky church programs, and spirituality styled as peer pressure… or the fact that each of those things was beautifully instrumental in helping me survive my teens.

~~~

This is not something I’d ever imagined myself writing about. Religion has the power to stir up Big Feelings like few other topics do, and those times I do venture to share my own patchwork spirituality leave me with what Brené Brown calls a “vulnerability hangover.” You would not believe how many naps I need after posting my thoughts on gender equality in the church or showing glimpses into my fundamentalist childhood. I agonize over how others will take my beliefs, those delicate links of conviction and hope forged from a painful past. Even if readers think I’m crazy, I long for them at least to understand my heart.

But what happens when I’m the one recoiling from the crazy?

However fragile I may feel after opening up about my current beliefs or about the ones forced on me long ago, it is nothing compared with how I feel about the period between. If I even so much as look at one of my journals from the mid to late ‘90s, the emotional reaction that comes over me is not unlike that of Sideshow Bob stepping on a series of rakes:

Those were the days of second-wave Jesus freaks—long-haired Christian rockers with chains swinging from their low-slung JNCOs, curvaceous pony-tailed cheerleaders with fish decals on their convertibles, goateed pastors who turned youth group annexes into coffee house/rave hybrids so that kids could meet God over steaming bowls of cappuccino in the trippy purple of black lights. And I loved it. There is no getting around or glossing over my fervor for the Evangelical Christian culture of the ‘90s; I was all in.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the ways I embraced my affiliation with that era:

  • By performing interpretive dances to Jaci Velasquez, Jars of Clay, and Newsboys songs with other members of my church youth group (thanks be to God that were no camera phones or Vine accounts back then)
  • By memorizing every word in the neon green CD inserts of my favorite bands, often while doodling chest hair and ballpoint-black nail polish onto their photos
  • By dutifully filling out every page of my spiral-bound teen devotional (though I was stumped by the just-for-fun activity page on “emoticons;” :I clearly stood for Indifferent, what the hey were the others supposed to be??)

 Student Plan It Calendar 98-99
You guys. I even still have the CD.

  • By re-selling boxes of a newfangled food product called Krispy Kreme to fellow churchgoers to raise money for my Teen Mania mission trips
  • By journaling all sorts of cryptic poems and drawings so that if I was ever martyred at a prayer rally, people would be able to take great meaning and closure from the symbolism therein (though it’s hard to remember what I thought a bereaved community would get out of a poorly sketched Garfield asleep on a lasagna of souls)
  • By closing my eyes in a darkened room full of thousands of teens and fearfully loud, wonderfully loud music and feeling the promise of heaven reverberate through me with each strum of the bass guitar

The teenage years were incredibly hard for me. Even in our church youth group, I was a social leper, my naivety from growing up a homeschooled fundamentalist not exactly scoring me points with the cool kids. I participated in everything I could, but friends were few and far between, and my most Christian-y peers were often the cruelest to me. Things were no better at home. The reality of our family life drove me to suicidal face-offs with God, his imagined replies transcribed in words-of-Jesus red ink on journal pages spotted with tears. My chest wasn’t growing fast enough, my on-again off-again boyfriend was playing me like the relational chump I was, and the version of God my parents subscribed to hated my stupid teenage guts. My life sucked… if, of course, you were to raise the word “sucked” to the power of three hundred and add liberal doses of misery and hormonal angst.

I could have looked for solace is so many other places—substance abuse, promiscuity, a knife sidling quietly up to my wrists—but instead, I found it in the earnest energy of Evangelical teen culture. In a stadium pulsing with electric passion for God, I was no longer the leper my classmates thought I was or the rebel my parents thought I was but a piece of kindling in a collective bonfire. The hype lifted me out of my sad self and into a strobe-lit imitation of heaven where I could see Jesus in his Doc Martens and ponytail and kind brown grin. I could believe that he might want to share a bowl of cappuccino with me.

It would be easy for me here, on the other side of decades and spiritual upheavals, to say that none of it was real, that it was all a show designed to make kids like me believe we were experiencing God. In fact, that is more or less my typical response to memories of that time. I cringe that I could have been such a chump in matters spiritual as well as romantic. I’ve stifled all impulses to write about it until now; my embarrassment was too raw, my feelings of betrayal by the church too sharp.

This is unfair to my experience though, because no matter what motives or soundstage techniques went into the creation of my teenage spiritual haven, it still sheltered me. I found more peace and joy singing along at a DC Talk concert than I ever did between the gilt-edged pages of my Bible. Grunge-themed devotionals kept me safe from the lonely dark of my room, and black-light Jesusfests from the demons haunting my Saturday nights. Until I was far enough removed from my childhood to begin understanding it and dealing with its repercussions on my life, youth group leaders in spaghetti straps filled in the gaping blanks in my heart that had told me for years I was unlovable. WWJD bracelets identified me as an insider no matter how the other kids saw me.

I have little patience these days for churches or organizations that wield God as some kind of party trick. When I look at trendy Christianity, all I can see is a glaring lack of authenticity, and I wonder if anyone can possibly get anything real from it. As reluctant as I am to admit it though, I know the answer is in the affirmative. I got something from it. Once upon a time, the same hyped-up, choreographed, style-conscious approach to God that I find so distasteful now is what kept my battered teenage heart from drowning. Life sucked, but Doc Marten Jesus cared. It was enough.

~~~

Linking up with Addie Zierman today in honor of her new release When We Were On Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over, which I can’t wait to finish reading. (I might need to bust out my old WOW 1998 as background music first.) If you could relate to my post at all, then chances are you’re going to love her book as well; make sure to check it out!

30May

Django, Djesus, and PreDjudice

Last night was an accidental movie night. By this, I mean that Dan brought in his laptop and tablet and an impressive tangle of cables and I brought in my ironing board and iron and an impressive pile of shirts, and we sat down on the sofa to sip a drink before getting on with our evening’s work and forgot to get up until three hours later when the closing credits of Django Unchained rolled on.

Now, I’m a sucker for a good Tarantino film (our last accidental movie night can be blamed on Grindhouse being aired in English on Italian TV; how were we supposed to pass up that bit of magic, I ask?), and Django was every bit the ride from subtly intriguing to laughably outrageous that we expected. Still, I sat heavily on the sofa cushions when it was over, feeling like the breath had been knocked out of me.

It’s the subject of slavery, see. I’ve read plenty of books and seen even more films about it, but at a certain point, I just can’t maintain my protective distance any more. The tragedy of humans buying and selling other humans, stripping them of rights, and abusing them as they would never mistreat their in-animate property seeps into my lungs and steals the breath right out of them. If this were an isolated blot on the timetables of history, I could look at it more objectively, but the fact is that we humans, when given the power and the cultural approval to do so, willingly abandon our humanity.

I was born and raised in one of the original Confederate states, and while pushback against the Civil Rights Movement had pretty much dissipated by the time I came along, racism was—is—still alive and well in the South. Today’s racism doesn’t have the theatrical stamp of white hoods or riot gear; rather, it’s a stream of superiority running so silently through the community’s perspective that we don’t even realize it’s there. We don’t identify what’s really going on when we describe the black family across the street as “uppity” for driving a shiny SUV and the black family two doors down as “freeloaders” for relying on Medicaid. We don’t realize how frequently we use race to explain why something is distasteful to us—“Oh, you know, Mexicans and yard care…”—or how our assumptions about others’ income, education, personality, and reliability are fueled by prejudice.

I realize that this is a deep, complex issue that can’t just be laid out and then neatly wrapped up by a middle-class white girl with a blog. I have no love for debate and no desire to shame the people I grew up with over a bigger cultural issue. That said, one glaring realization stands out to me in the emotional aftermath of Accidental Django Night: The reason that traditional slavery no longer exists in the United States is not that we’re a more enlightened species now; it’s that brave people over the last two centuries fought and sacrificed and took unpopular stands and often risked everything to get one human right after another passed into law. 

Even worse, we’re still not there, still not to the place where all people are granted equality regardless of skin color or income level or sexual orientation or religious conviction. Straight, wealthy white Christians (of which I am one, I know) still control almost all legal and educational decisions for the country. Human traffickers still sell and trade lives within American borders. Hate is still harnessed everywhere from courtrooms to first-grade classrooms, and it makes me wish sometimes that I could just shrug off this broken human condition like an ill-fitting coat. I don’t want this bloodline of oppression and exploitation any longer.

In the end, though, this is a fundamental part of my faith. I have problems with many, many tenets of mainstream Christianity, but the concept of depravity is not hard for me to swallow. It’s only too obvious throughout the pages of history books and newspapers that humans, left to their own devices, turn into monsters. It is also obvious to me that without a higher power inspiring and nudging us along, we have little reason to fight our shitty inclinations. While I don’t believe that this higher power is limited to the straight, wealthy, white Christian God often portrayed by pastors of the same demographic, I do believe in a God who helps us rise above our natures. We supply the self-awareness and humility, [s]he supplies the soul-therapy.

Jesus talked extensively about the realm of heaven here on earth, heaven’s subjects administering healing and kindness and justice and grace, and I love that idea of operating within humanity as a citizen of something beyond. The flawed thinking behind travesties like the Crusades and Westboro Baptist Church is that our mission as Jesus-followers is to overcome others when in truth, our mission is to overcome ourselves—to ascend beyond our cruel and self-preserving instincts into the upside-down beauty of regarding each other as more important.

Granted, this mission more closely resembles salmon flopping up waterfalls than it does the calm spiritual levitation that last sentence might have implied. It’s exhausting, frustrating, and teeth-grittingly hard work not being an asshole (can I get an amen?), and considering how assholery begets assholery, there’s plenty of two-waterfalls-forward, one-waterfall-back action among those of us who interact with other humans. Still, overcoming my biological dark side is worth the manic fish routine to me. I’m willing to continue trying, continue aspiring to a perspective based on love because I believe with all my heart that it can change the world.

It might not be the reaction Tarantino was going for, but there you have it.

20May

Twenty-Minute Vacation

I woke up this morning in deep dark funk territory. You know it, yes? That mapless bog of unfocused angst reeking with a sense that you should be doing something else! but no clarity as to what that something is or how you should summon the energy to do it? That one.

For me, the funk is almost always tied to a lack of writing time. Words are my anchor to the human race, and I can’t drop the daily practice of communing with them without also relinquishing my hold on sanity. I know this… and yet my relationship with writing is a complicated and painful one that I walk away from on a regular basis. All it takes is one day of tasks clamoring for absolute precedence; others step into their place the following day, and within the week, I am clinging to a defeatist mantra, a lifesaver carrying me out to open sea—I can’t do it all, I’m not enough, I have to let the inessentials go, let the hobbies go, let anything remotely falling within the self-care category go. There is no time for self-care selfishness, no justification for pouring valuable hours into something without direct and measurable benefit to my family. I can’t do it all; I just have to suck it up and accept that there is no room in my life for writing.

The funk inevitably follows, though I can sometimes power through for weeks before admitting I’m lost. Sometimes. Other times, the crash follows hard on the heels of a busy weekend, and I wake up to a beautiful wide-open morning with complete paralysis of soul. When this happens, there is little I know to do. Nearly every option I come up with is dredged in my sense of futility and promises to make me feel worse about myself. Wash the dishes? Sure! If you’re okay with my letting the occasional plate shatter on the floor in a fit of Kirkegaardian misery or my stabbing the occasional husband with an errant steak knife. Go for a run? Why not! I need another reason to feel the breathless, side-crampy extent of my failure at life. Read the Bible? Clearly you don’t know much about my mangled relationship with that particular text. Work on taxes? Are you f-ing kidding me??

However, I say nearly every option because I have discovered one—am discovering one—that lifts me out of the bog rather than engineering new sinkholes under my feet:

Meditation.

Now, before you indulge the mental picture of me in the lotus pose with a beatific smile and a halo of silent tranquility gracing my head, please understand that I am awful at this. Truly terrible. My meditation practices would give the Buddha high blood pressure were he unfortunate enough to witness me sitting crookedly against a pile of sofa cushions with my phone timer ticking down twenty minutes beside me. All the worse if he could see my mental process, which involves a lot of chasing thoughts down rabbit trails and yanking myself back on a leash and precious little of the focused silence I’m trying to achieve.

Still, I’m always shocked when the timer goes off and twenty minutes have passed in the guise of three. I know I’m terrible at meditation—buzzing around the spectacle of my own spiritual practice, hyper-aware of everything from my newness at this to the sound of traffic outside—but it works anyway. While my mind spends those twenty minutes fighting its golden retriever tendencies with all its might, my overwrought soul gets a twenty-minute vacation. It sips margaritas on the beach and naps under the palm trees and returns to me in a kind of time-warp glow. I might not be stumbling onto enlightenment or ascending to new spiritual heights here, but I am giving myself a desperately-needed break from my own mental bombardment.

Meditating makes me realize how much attention I typically give to each and every thought that comes bounding into my head, how I ascribe equal importance to them all even when logic would demand I place some on hold for more appropriate times and throw others out on their destructive asses. I have no thought-filter. I simply absorb and interact with each new string of mental clatter as if it were valuable and urgent and true. Purposefully deprioritizing the yammer in my head, however, is showing me how subjective it all is—how reflective of emotion and circumstances and the weather outside my window. It is not all true, and almost none of it is urgent. When I forcibly silence my thoughts (or at least try to) is when I finally begin to understand them, to see their origins and motives and what it all means for my penetrable heart.

You should know that the funk didn’t entirely disappear with my meditation this morning. The twin pests of impatience and indecision were waiting on the other side of those twenty minutes to be swatted away again and again throughout the day. The difference was that I had the energy to swat them away. I had the optimism to lace up my running shoes and head to the park before lunch. I had the confidence to push all the complications and doubts and martyr complexes to the side and start writing this for no other reason than that I needed to write it. I had a lookout tower there in the funk, above the funk.

Tomorrow, I very well may wake up neck-deep in the muck and malaise again. If not tomorrow, then next week, or the week after. It’s going to happen again. But maybe next time I won’t need to cycle through my roster of futile options before admitting that less is more and what I really need to do is to not do—to sit and be and fight-rest my way toward the silence that lifts me up and out.

~~~

Do you meditate (or have you ever tried it)? Are there any meditation practices that work especially well for you? 

18Feb

Sacred to Silence

I’m sitting in the gym café while the girls hip and hop their funky little hearts out upstairs. Behind me, espresso cups clatter their way to the dishwasher, which swishes steadily behind the occasional train-blast of the milk steamer. All around me, voices upon voices—soccer buddies jostling for sandwiches to fill the bottomless void of their teenage stomachs, trainers discussing workout plans with seat-shifting clients, children playing Rabid Banshee Tag while their mothers chat and pretend not to notice the other patrons huffing in their direction, P!nk expressing her punchy brand of heartache over the speakers. One hour ago, I was teaching English to a room full of first- and second-graders whose speaking voices, as any elementary teacher knows, are approximately the same volume and pitch as rioting cats, and before that, there was the unsuccessful attempt to nap to the groove of our friendly neighborhood jackhammer.

Folks, I’m all noised out.

I think that this, more than anything, explains why I was so supportive of Dan’s plan to give up television shows for the month. Here’s the truth of things—we’re work-from-homers and small-child-wranglers, and there is nothing as mind-numbingly delicious at the end of a day as sinking into the sofa cushions and zoning out to a good murder mystery, or two… or three… But that was where the problem was, because no number of charmingly predictable plot-lines was sufficient to empty our minds of the day’s noise. The television just piled on top of it, muffling rather than quieting, and reasonable bedtimes would come and go without us ever quite managing to zone our way into tranquility.

So we gave up the numbing agent that never actually numbed, and that first evening, after corralling the kids into bed, Dan and I stood looking at each other like strangers on Mars. What was he doing there? What was I doing there? What is proper etiquette on Mars anyway? Does this other life-form even speak English? In the end, the only thing we knew to do with our tired selves was to put them to bed.

Let me tell you, it doesn’t take many evenings of awkward alien stare-downs with one’s own spouse to realize how desperately your habits need a facelift. There has been so much noise in our life, so much self-inflicted distraction, that we haven’t noticed the other’s voice was missing. And now, with the silence stretching between us like a foreign sandscape, we have to relearn what to do with it. How to shape our brainwaves and heartbeats into words. How to hear, really hear, the other’s meaning. How to be companionably silent together again.

In fact, I’m having to relearn how to be companionably silent with myself as well. My mind has been startling into retreat, doe-like, from the auditory clutter around me, and there has been no space for the gentle osmosis of grace. God and I have been communicating like we’re on opposite sides of a train yard. My heart’s ears are ringing as if this clattering, steaming, banshee-ing café were my whole wide world, and as much as I’d like to drown out the ringing, to muffle it with noise of my own choosing and numb every tired molecule of my being into oblivion, I know I need something different.

I need deliberate quiet, at least for now, at least until the ringing stops. I need to arrest my finger on its way to the play button and let running dishwater be the only soundtrack to my thoughts. I need to stand under the sky at least once a day and breathe it in, like I did as a child, until I’m spinning from my own smallness. I need to resurrect the art of question-asking and practice listening to hear. I need to combat tiredness with sleep (novel concept, I know) and loneliness with intention and all the many, many inescapable noises of everyday life with moments held sacred to silence.

Honestly, I don’t know that a month without television shows is going to be enough.

17Dec

Our Right to Thumbs

As soon as I opened Facebook this morning, the site recommended two pages for me based on my friends’ likes:

Guns and Shooting.

Guns and Shooting, and my friends’ names alongside pixelated thumbs of approval. Guns and Shooting, and a Facebook feed bristling in defense of assault rifles. Guns and Shooting, and quotes from religious figures implying that God allowed the tragedy as an act of revenge on a school system that no longer sponsors him. Guns and Shooting, and the caps-locked screams of loved ones fighting for their unhindered right to weapons of destruction.

As a culture (and I speak in sweeping generalities here), we Americans have accepted that violence can only be counteracted with more violence. We see war as 100% necessary and place our hope in the Jack Bauers of the nation. We think that the only way to defend ourselves from guns is to put more guns into circulation. We claim that if only the Sandy Hook teachers had been packing heat, Friday’s tragedy would have been averted. We believe in our hearts that we will have to use deadly force against another human being at some point in our lives, so it’s best to be prepared. We state that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, but we forget to count ourselves among the potential killers because we’re on the good guy team.

We respond to the massacre of twenty young children by defending the weapons that killed them.

As a child, I had fun shooting targets and small animals, and the cold cruelty of a machine made to destroy never entered my mind. Guns were just something every family kept in the coat closet. Even at university, when a classmate was expelled for stockpiling weapons and ammunition in his dorm room, I absorbed friends’ indignation on his behalf. “He would never use them to hurt anyone!” we all said. And on this point, we were probably right. My classmate enjoyed hunting, and where could he store his gear if not in his dorm room?

However, our university had rules in place to reduce the risk of mass murders, so they expelled the student who, regardless of motives, had stocked up on devices specifically designed to kill. And this is what the gun debate comes down to for me—risk reduction. No, there is no amount of legislation that will prevent psychopaths or terrorists from enacting violence. Yes, there will always be a healthy black market for weapons of destruction. Yes, people should have the right to defend themselves, especially on their own property. No, peace is never guaranteed.

But can we just step back for a moment from the mentality that violence is our birthright? Can we stop letting fear dictate our morals? Can we have the courage to take a fraction of the risk off the shoulders of innocent schoolchildren and hold it ourselves, in their stead? Rather than amending our lifestyles and outlooks and job descriptions to include more violence, can we consider amending the availability of its instruments?

I am not arguing to abolish gun ownership altogether, though my husband and I believe that as followers of Jesus, we need to take his teachings on nonviolence to heart. However, we need to talk and talk hard about why civilians are allowed to own assault machinery, why it’s easier to get bullets than to get Sudafed, and why the fiercest fight in the aftermath of Newtown is waged on behalf of the murder weapons.

We need to consider what we are saying about human life with our thumbs-up.

~~~

Further reading:

On Violence by D.L. Mayfield, who shares her thoughts on how to do radical pacifism

Breaking News, Bearing Arms by Rebecca Woolf, whose husband is with her today because of his stance on nonviolence

Do We Have the Courage to Stop This? by Nicholas Kristof, who shows that we’re more worried about regulating ladders than about regulating firearms

Speed Kills by William Saletan, who holds Friday’s tragedy up against school attacks outside the U.S.

God Angrily Clarifies ‘Don’t Kill’ Rule by The Onion, who brilliantly, profanely, and heartbreakingly speaks the obvious

Love Your Enemies by Jesus, who lived it

Feel free to add your own suggested links in the comments!

7Dec

The Gift of Inclusion

My word was “read.” I’d dipped my hand into a whole bag of self-care verbs, and this was the one drawn by chance or metaphysical mischief to kick off my personal Advent experience. Read. I almost scrapped the whole concept right then and there.

Not that I’d been sure what to expect in the first place.

Advent has never meant much more to me than a religious term for the countdown to Christmas. I tried to absorb its significance even as a child, pressing my little-girl fingerprints into purple wax and burying my nose into poinsettias on the church altar, attempting to infiltrate myself with the sacred significance of these long December days. I never felt it though, the holy hush of expectation that draws so many people to the heart of the Nativity. My skeptic-mind never made that mystic-connection, and I’ve spent many holiday seasons standing outside this brightly lit soul-window wondering why I can’t just escort myself in.

With my daughters, I’ve held onto the countdown aspect of Advent without trying to force it to mean more. They open calendar windows to find chocolates or Legos, and it’s a fun component of our family tradition. Still, there’s the wistfulness of finding myself a stranger to my own religion and the longing to feel more, to explore the mysterious nuances of Christmas spirit and rediscover wonder.

That’s why I joined Mandy Steward’s #adventwindows experience this December, albeit one week late and more wishful than hopeful that it would be my missing link between Advent-as-a-countdown and Advent-as-a-spiritual-journey. Mandy created this series of self-care prompts as a way to be “intentional about discovering wonder,” which, yes please. If anything could draw me into deeper appreciation for the season, it would be this guided dance between the practical and the intuitive. And then, as if years of seasonal loneliness weren’t hinging on its significance, the first word I drew was “read.”

Let me just tell you what “read” means to me:
It means guilt for how I lose myself in the pages of a good book and crackle with resentment if responsibilities pull me away before I can finish.
It means overwhelm when I look at my want-to-read list, the many, many, many inspiring books that hold pow-wow in my friends’ hearts while I slip further behind.
It means jealousy for those with access to well-stocked libraries and unhurried hours.
It means the heartsickness of looking back on an old love.

I didn’t realize any of that until I drew the word though, and I was caught off balance by my reaction—the sudden punch of tears, the impulse to throw away my little Advent experiment and forget I’d ever tried. That reaction more than anything is what told me Wait. This is important. One innocent verb meant to nudge me in the direction of wonder and self-care had triggered a sister strain of loneliness, and my goodness. When “read” affects you like a weapon? You stop, you take off your shoes, and you pay attention.

And here is the truth hiding under all my defensive reactions: I fail miserably at self-care. I don’t treat myself to books—even those old favorites growing dust-beards on our shelves—because I don’t feel like I deserve to. I don’t feel like I’ve done whatever arbitrary and impossible feat would earn me the pleasure of curling up for an hour and immersing myself in story. I haven’t once checked out the English shelf of our local library to see if they have anything of interest because there are so many other books to which my interest already feels indebted… and even if I did check something out, I would run straight up against the problem of merit again.

This isn’t limited to books, of course. You may be familiar with this quote by Anne Lamott: “Every day you need half an hour of quiet time for yourself, or your Self, unless you’re incredibly busy and stressed, in which case you need an hour.” This quote has always given me truth-hives. On the one hand, doesn’t St. Anne know that my Self needs to earn a reprieve from busyness by acting extra busy?  But on the other, don’t I know that’s rubbish? Self-care is not something to be earned or quantified or stolen or withheld. It can only be received, and only once we recognize our own deep worth. 

This is part of the intentional discovery of wonder, isn’t it? Facing hidden loneliness head-on and extending the gift of inclusion to ourselves? For me, today, that is going to mean pouring myself a hot tea, wrapping myself up in a far-too-large blanket, and getting lost in the pages of a good book. Tomorrow, it might mean ignoring the dishes and sitting down to build Lego cities with Dan and the girls. It will mean going to bed when weariness first tugs at the corners of my thoughts and then tiptoeing to the kitchen before dawn with my Gorey journal on the contrail of dreams. It will mean painting my toenails even though they rarely leave the refuge of fuzzy socks these days. It will mean cooking one-serving gourmet when my husband’s away on business. It will mean standing a long moment outside at night to drink in the ice-studded sky. It will mean making room in my day-to-day life for amazement and joy… room for the true heart of Advent to invite mine in.

~~~

What does self-care look like for you? What do you wish it involved?

3Nov

Grace as: Glitter in the Floorboards

The amount of glitter covering our house right now is fearful and wonderful to behold. I’ve dusted purple sun-shards off the sofa cushions, rousted them from behind the television, and swept them into iridescent mountain ranges, but our house still channels a Disney diamond cave. I imagine we’ll still be catching jeweled glints from the floorboards six months from now, and the thought charms my whimsical side as much as it horrifies my inner June Cleaver.

If not for the glitter, you might not know that anything out of the ordinary happened at our house this week. Of course, that’s counting on your not noticing the tray of leftover caramel apples on the kitchen counter or the bags of crumpled giftwrap waiting to be recycled. You’d also have to mistake the heavy brocade of fatigue draped across my forehead for sleep deprival or sun damage instead of what it actually is: introversion, post-party.

We had twenty-six children in our living room on Wednesday—twenty-six(!) children(!) in witch capes and vampire teeth brandishing fistfuls of glitter and construction paper while their parents chatted in the wings. I hadn’t expected all twenty-six to accept Sophie’s 5th birthdoween invitation, and while my heart warmed at having so many of our neighbors and friends under one roof, my personality had to fight hard for stable footing.

This is the tricky thing about being a textbook introvert who strongly values relationships. I’m always searching for the balance between life-giving alone time and love-strengthening social time, but sometimes circumstances don’t measure out the magic proportions. Sometimes, say, I find myself standing behind a locked bedroom door with a freshly burnt finger, wet glue on my jeans, and the shouts of two dozen sugar-high kindergarteners bouncing off my eardrums while I try—as my friend Erika would say—not to lose my freaking shit.

And right there, in the chaotic dark, is where religion most often becomes real to me. If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you know I don’t mean the kind of religion that happens behind church doors or sanctioned by committees, but the kind that meets us on unexpected roads and whisper-nudges our hearts, the thrillingly unorthodox reality of God-with-us that I can only seem to glimpse through my peripheral vision.

That’s why I wanted to tell you about the party, about the moment I stood behind a locked door with drained batteries and flat-lining hospitality and whispered “Peace, peace, peace,” and about the following moment when I unlocked the door to a wave of noise and color and four-walled chaos and felt it. Reserve power tingled all the way to burned fingertips and overloaded eardrums, and a sense of calm spread like mood lighting through all the tapped-out corridors of my mind. Friends, I stepped out of that room directly into a pile of glitter, caught a toddler swinging from the bunk bed, smelled grilled cheese on the verge of charcoal, and was cornered by four miniature witches asking a total of thirty-two questions at once… and not an ounce of shit was lost.

~~~

I’ve never once in all my life understood clearly what we Jesus-followers mean by the word “grace.” In Sunday School as a child, I absorbed the idea of grace as undeserved divine kindness that I should forever be working to repay, a guilty obligation we owe to God. That understanding didn’t sit well with me, and I’ve gravitated toward more beautiful and hopeful definitions over the years. However, none of them quite explains the quality that I sense when I brush up against the divine—that electric pulse of all-made-right-ness which fills the depleted parts of my personality, underwrites my true self, and consistently bowls me over by how it sees worth and makes beauty and flips expectations on their heads for the sake of greater love. It’s not the kind of thing to be summed up neatly in Webster’s.

I want to understand this word better, to graze its contours with my palm and catch its molecular dance-beat, to track it into the wild and record strains of its native tongue. I know instinctively that grace—whatever and however it is—has everything to do with who I am today, so I’m going to be exploring this more here over the coming weeks. I have no agenda except to try and capture my own peripheral glimpses, whether they be of glitter in the floorboards or windswept lines of song, and I would love it if you joined me for this adventure. {You can get automatic updates by RSS or email, and I’m honored as always to hear your take in the comment section!}

  ~~~

What do you think? Does “grace” hold religious connotations for you, or do you have a different definition (or impression, or story, or empty question-space)?

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