Saturday, October 14, 2017

Embracing Gray

I'm growing out my hair color. Going gray.

I'll be 49 this year, and not that numbers mean anything inherently, but 50 on the horizon feels like a profound place to pause and reflect.

As long as I can remember, I've been a conformer, a rule-follower. I've spent much effort to meet outside expectation without even thinking about it. This facet of my personality is so much a part of me that I don't even know I do it most of the time. One way it manifests is in my measuring my beliefs and behavior against the expectations (perceived or real) and editing them to comply.

When you do that long enough, you don't know who you are anymore. I traded being myself for conforming to someone else's or something else's ideal. And it comes with it's own rewards and incentives to continue to behave this way, which doesn't help.

But I can think of only one instance when this is healthy:  when we determine to crucify the sinful nature and put on Christ. (Of course, we must know who Christ is, and for that I and others like me rely on an outside source to dictate who he is and what that looks like lived out. Dizzy yet?)

This new decade on the horizon is bring some unexpected things with it. I'm testing the stuff of my life for authenticity. I'm asking hard questions of myself, questions that may make uncomfortable the powers that be that I have allowed and conformed to. I've been searching myself with questions like:

Do I really believe this thing I've taken at face value since forever?
If I believe that, am I doing it right? Is my way the right way to live that out?
How do others who value the same ideal as me live it out?
What does that mean if theirs looks different than mine?
Is someone right, someone wrong? Could both be appropriate and add value?
Could the fact that there is more than one way be the actual point? Is this the real beauty we were supposed to find all along?

With a new decade, I'm becoming more open, more reflective. I'm more interested in real truth, knowing myself, owning what I know and want, and who I really am down deep, even if questions and uncertainty lurk there. I want to keep seeking answers and never stop. Even if I land on the same old answer I used to trust at face value. And even if I land elsewhere. I'm trusting God with the questions and the quest.

And that's scary for someone like me who values pleasing others and conforms to expectations.

But it's also freeing and rewarding because I'm learning who I am.

I once embraced the idea that the Harry Potter books were sinful because that's what people I trusted told me. I've now read them and enjoyed them immensely on so many levels. Further still, I'm willing for people I know who still believe that way to know this about me and form whatever opinion or judgment they will.

In other words, I'm willing to differ with people I love about things because I want to own who I am. It's hard work to be proud of who I am, because being the real me doesn't come naturally to people like me.  Complicating things further, many people feel free to make judgments about pastors' families when they wouldn't with others. I'm not sure why we feel that unkind liberty unless it has to do with the scriptures that say spiritual leaders should live above reproach.

I have found that trying to live above the approach of every cotton-pickin' person with an opinion is exhausting and impossible.  It's covering the gray with a chemical that will give me the appearance of my childhood brown.

So I'm growing it out, letting the artificial façade fall away. It's going to be interesting to learn which color of gray lives under decades of vigilant cover-up.

I  had a conversation with a childhood friend who went before me in going gray. I told her that my decision to go gray changed my perspective on my roots. I used to view my root growth as my enemy, old and ugly. Now, I welcome it, curious about what my natural color actually is (because it's been so long no one knows!). What hues will my gray be (I've never thought to ask before because it didn't matter to me.)? This shift in perception surprised me. The new perspective was my own personal proof I have been stupid.

I had adopted an outside view of what female beauty is and isn't. I didn't think for myself. I was surprised to uncover a desire to form my own ideas about female beauty.

My youngest daughter, at 17, is my biggest supporter in going gray. (She is so smart.) What is this new experience of embracing my gray saying to my young-adult children, not just the two daughters but the son also?

What else will I discover about myself when I look beneath all the adopted ideals I heaped on top of my natural self? What will I discover when I become ultra-aware that I have a propensity for mindlessly adopting the ideals of those I love and trust and try to stop doing that?

I am scrutinizing many things I've formerly accepted without the thoughtfulness they -- and I --  deserved. No more stupid (slow of mind, given to unintelligent decisions or acts, acting in an unintelligent or careless manner).

I want to know what I think about things.

Things like a woman's place in ministry and my desire to be seen as a competent human being with intelligence and an equal ability to contribute to the body of Christ that isn't defined solely by my gender. I want to be taken seriously and be treated as an equal spiritually and theologically. I want to know what I think about hard stuff like why God would give women the gift of teaching and then limit their audience to half the population. (My husband says teaching is not a gift but an office, and I'm thinking about that too.)

I'm thinking about friendships that cross gender lines and all the potential that could be there if we stop over-sexualizing and viewing one another through only the very small lens of anatomy.

I'm reading Harry Potter.

I'm longing to worship in cathedrals that are works of art because I'm discovering that art and beauty are a legitimate expression of glory to God in the highest, a true act of worship.

I'm looking at what other cultures, ancient and present, can teach me that are worthy of incorporating into my modern, Western Christianity to combat its bias.

I'm curious about church history and the mystics, and some of the more ancient Christian practices and wondering if we Protestants turned our backs on legitimate ways to walk in Christ.

All these issues feel like taboo.

I want to study what both sides say about all these issues and others, and draw my own conclusions. I want to uncover and own who I am, even if that reveals a whole lot of gray.

I'm learning that although God has told us in his word that some things are black and some are white, his creation is filled with many colors, including gray. He called it all good back when we were in the garden, before we stopped trusting him to define good and evil, before we stopped trusting him to lead us, and we stopped learning from him.

I want to live there in the Garden again, the one before they chose unwisely. And I actually do, because long ago I submitted my life to trusting Him, even with all the gray, and the Holy Spirit became my resident teacher. I don't think He wants me to be afraid to investigate my surroundings and learning of him.

Embracing the gray in my hair feels dignifying and validating. If I didn't feel the devaluing in coloring my hair, I certainly feel "revaluing" in taking gray into my physical, and, metaphorically, my spiritual,  identity. Searching the hues of gray feels like a new and unfamiliar land of freedom. It hints at the wisdom that's earned by mindful experience. It feels like the opposite of stupid.













Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Case For a Broader View of Faith

It's okay that my room is not cleaned and hasn't been for a week. It's okay that I ate only cannoli today for lunch and haven't worked out in three weeks. It's okay that I look in the mirror and never like what I see. It's okay that I'm tired of working hard and a lot of times just want to give up. It's okay that God has shown me what I should be doing, and I still don't think I'm good enough to do it. It's okay that I am a troubled soul even though I have everything I could possibly need. It's okay that I should be seeing a counselor but can't afford it so I'm resorting to social media therapy. It's okay that I know hope is found in Jesus, but I still feel hopeless a lot of times. It's okay because I don't have to feel good about any of this to make a decision to live according to truth.
A clean room is beneficial, but the truth is, it's not eternal. Cannoli are not beneficial long term, but the truth is, they won't kill me today. My body isn't where I want it to be, but the truth is, I'm not unhealthy or overweight. I might not like what I see in the mirror, but the truth is, God does, and his opinion is the only one that really matters. In this very moment, I feel hopeless, but the truth is, I'm not hopeless, because my hope is and forever will be in Jesus, the resurrected Savior. I don't know if I will ever feel good about all of the above, but the truth is, I don't need to feel good about any of it for it be true and good.

These are a friend's humble words flung out onto social media. With them, she raised the veil for a rare glimpse of authentic faith. She is not a new believer. Rather, she has a master's degree in Christian education from a Christian university and is a leader in her local church.

This is a faithful kind of doubting where there is hope and trust in spite of and in the midst of continued human nature. This is what true faith really looks like.

Faith is hard and complex. Although we like to romanticize it, it's not glamorous. It's a slog through the mud, and it shouldn't come as a surprise. Our flesh is made of dust, and Christ is living water. Mud results from exposing the one to the other, and that's precisely what makes clay malleable. This is the very condition Jesus needs in order to craft us into his image. The work of Christ is both filthy and holy.

Courage exists only in the presence of fear. Heroism exists only in relationship to self-preservation. Faith and hope exist only amid despair, lament, and woe. The dichotomies are essential, yet Christians often focus only on the positive traits as if they exist in a vacuum.

Western Christianity distances itself from doubt, sorrow, and mourning and exalts success, victory, and strength. But we should esteem the questions we are afraid to ask and own the doubts that still remain, because the truth is, there are questions that will never have adequate answers. Faith is being at rest in the unknowing of things.

Yet we Christians strive to keep a secret from others — and maybe even ourselves — the fact that we don't have it all together. We do so because uncertainty and shortcoming are not virtues in our societal norm. This notion skews our understanding of strong faith. Our lingering, pesky doubts and failures might be construed as evidence that Christianity is a farce and should be dismissed, or that our faith is not winsome and is, therefore, ineffective.

So we tell a tale with a happily-ever-after ending replete with nary a hardship. We craft a false narrative of the Christian faith where sin is unequivocally conquered and forever banished from the kingdom. While it's not a fairy tale. it won't become a reality until after Jesus rides in on his white horse.

In the meantime we don't want our incompetence to detract from God's name, character, or actions. So we compensate by obscuring our frailty and focusing solely on God's greatness, another trait that can't exist in a vacuum.

The law teaches that sin is defined only by the presence of holiness. God's vastness is all the more vast in light of limited humanity. In our weakness his strength is all the mightier (2 Corinthians 12:9).

So by scrubbing our humanity from the outward expression of our Christianity, we trivialize all that God is and does. His love and forgiveness are all the more merciful when they are couched in the rightful context of our impotence, depravity, and utter need.

We learn early in adulthood how to spin our failures into something more palatable to our Western sensibilities — to fail well, if you will. We spin our failures into something good: a life lesson learned, a more informed perspective through wisdom gained, increased compassion toward others, or an essential part of the path to a different success. While these aspects of failure may be valid, we are sometimes guilty of projecting success onto our failure to clean up God's image, to insure that Christianity doesn't suffer from our still-flawed humanity.

The truth is, sometimes we fail, and there is no lesson God is teaching us Sometimes we fail because failure is part of human life, and there's no way to spin it into success. We cannot divorce pain, sorrow, suffering, anguish, depression, fear, doubt, anger, sin, and darkness from our faith. These are the earthen dust we are made of. Sometimes we face these issues simply because we live in the time in between —after the Garden but before the new heaven and earth.

What would happen if we welcomed a broader understanding of faith, keeping an eye on our deep brokenness as we look at and to our God as the remedy?

For now, in this age of in-between, it is ours to embrace the tension between doubt and faith, challenge and consolation, earthen and divine. Just as confessing our faith in Christ is powerful, so is naming our doubts. The tension is uncomfortable and keeps us vulnerable, but what is faith if it isn't entrusting ourselves to God when so much remains unknown, unseen and left wanting?

God is not ashamed of our continued fight with the flesh. It's where he has purposefully placed us in this age. The truth is, because we are still fully human, faith is not enough or our final solution. It leaves us longing for more, as it should, because now we see only in part (1 Corinthians 13:12). And while faith is not an easy or complete answer to our complex circumstances, it is the only hopeful and ultimately victorious answer.


This post first appeared in Reach Out Columbia, as the first in a three-part series on the role failure plays in our faith and in God's master plan for his children.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

We Knew Each Other Young

We met at church — I remember that much, but little else about how she came into my life. At 14 years of age, one doesn't know to pay attention to certain deceivingly inconsequential events, but that giggling girl there on the other side of the room was destined to stay for a lifetime.

We rode four-wheelers at the river and drove the beach with windows down, sandy hair and loud music flying crazy.

She is still the only person on earth I've shared a single bed with — well, aside from a night or two with my hospitalized two-year-old.

I wore her dress to the funeral home the night before we buried Jeff. Her gesture was not unlike my own desire to clothe my brother. She was newly married to Jeff's best friend, whom she was in love with since the beginning of time. Their bond to each other was another lash layered and entangled around my heart.

The relationships in which we have the most confidence are the first to suffer our neglect, and so we have stayed in poor touch through the years. Our lives have crossed only a few times after high school graduation. We know each other’s children only from Christmas card pictures.

But her voice is the same these 35 years later, and when I hear it, I'm not talking with a stranger. We are right there, still caught up to our hearts in knowing the other.

We talk of heartache, loss, failures and success. What makes us happy, worries us, and demands our time. We talk menopause, college kids, and husbands who were once teammates. We broach aging parents and confide that we've both mostly lost touch with our coastal hometown and don’t much care.

Four days later, I'm still thinking of her, haunted in the best way by the cliché of friendships with distance yet no distance at all. It's a serendipitous delight.

This woman still gets me, even though neither of us is the girl we were then, and we haven't been privy to the process that made us who we've become since. We knew each other young, and somehow, three years in the tumultuous lives of high school girls was enough.



Photo by Cheryl Holt, via Pixabay, used with permission under the  CreativeCommons License.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Weekend Wanderings: Mother's Day Weekend Edition


Special days to celebrate family ties and other things that bind us mean more when we contemplate the deeper things that define us in these contexts. May you find a way to see the blessings that come in the messy and all too human relationships that make us who we are in the end. And may you find that it is beautiful.


"Are we afraid of growing apart? Yes. We’ve seen too many couples drift apart as they’ve cultivated hobbies and passions away from their spouse. We’re aware of the risks. But what if we are like two hands playing the same piano music?"  Read on in ...

When You and Your Husband Have Different Callings // Leslie Verner for She Loves Magazine


Our youngest is about to graduate from high school. We have faced this twice before, but this time it feels more like the ending of an age for the parent part of me, not just a milestone in my child's life. If you're facing some endings of your own of any variety, Kimberly's words are a grace.

How to Navigate a Season of Endings // Kimberly Coyle


What this video lacks in quality, it makes up for in content. It's about songwriting, but, more broadly, it's about how we are all creatives in our own way and how incredibly important our creativity is. When I sent this to Adrian, he texted back the following:









I'd be remiss if I didn't share with you where I spend a bulk of my internet time. This guy's music has been the soundtrack of my life. Adrian is a songwriter, music teacher, worship leader, and performer. He's sharing most of his music for free these days, and you can explore his music on his landing page at AdrianMichaelMusic.com.



AdrianMichaelMusic.com


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Weedend Wanderings

Because weekends are for catching up on your reading.
Because lately I've needed to quiet the frenzied noise.
Because these have left me speechless, and with much to ponder.


My True Name // Jennifer Trafton for The Rabbit Room

Martin Scorsese's Silence, and a Strange New Evangelical America // Rebecca Reynolds

The Art of Repairing Broken Things // Lore Ferguson Wilbert

A Tree Grows In ...  // Amanda Phifer





























Photo Credit: Wayne
Coffee Art Credit: a kind barista in Singapore

Saturday, January 21, 2017

That Powder Blue Suit Though

I streamed the inauguration from my desk yesterday. I've watched every transition of power since Clinton took the White House. The pageantry, history, and scope of a peaceful transition is inspiring and makes me proud to be American, no matter the party or politics.

FLOTUS Melania Trump was brilliant in her Ralph Lauren powder blue suit—everyone knows that already. It was so lovely, so stunning, she may have even overshadowed the new president.

I discussed her inauguration day clothing choices on social media. I indulged in scrolling through photos of everything she's worn since arriving in DC on Thursday, past first ladies' ball gowns, and Jackie Kennedy's bar-setting style.

I enjoyed every minute of it until I didn't.

I started feeling icky, like I was betraying of my own gender.

I understand that when you become the First Family, a piece of you belongs to America. Which piece? Well, that depends entirely on which piece our fickle society cares to have on any given day. We feel entitled as the followers because our leaders represent us. I get that. And as leaders, we  (because I am one of those, too) know this is a dynamic intrinsic to leading. It's just going to happen, fair or not.

On inauguration day we care about hairstyles, designers, and how much leg shows through the slit in the dress. We care about necklines, jewelry choices, and make up and who applied it. Yet, I heard not a single comment about President Trump's choice of shoes, handkerchief, or what he carried in his pocket yesterday. President Obama either. Just the fashion choices of the women, who apparently are fair game, are open to our scrutiny, opinions, and even approval or disapproval.

It makes me a little sick inside.

Yet I like to look my best. I enjoy style as much as the next person. And I would hate for my haircut or my wardrobe choice to stand in the way of being paid attention to for my character, my work ethic, my intelligence, and the contribution of my good ideas.

Because we women have those things, too. We are more than a great set of legs, and I'd hate for our humanity to get lost behind our beauty, no matter how hard we work to look and feel pretty.

I'm not sure where this one ends up when these ideas are carried to their ultimate conclusion. Double standards never lead to a single place. And I'm not sure where women expect to arrive when we rail against being objectified and participate in it at the same time.

I will continue to care about how I look. I'm no idiot—I know my appearance and how I present myself convey something of who I am to those I meet. That's true of all of us—to some extent regardless of gender. But if that's true of men, it's even (somehow) more true of women, and I'm not sure I want to contribute to that double standard.

Melania Trump's sense of style from her first 48 hours in Washington seems to say she is, or at least aims to be, classy, timeless, feminine, respectful and dignified. I like what that says about her.

I just hate feeling that I learned this much from Melania's clothing and grooming, while learning little—nay, nothing!— from President Trump's.

I believe the biblical standard is that men and women are different from one another, but equal in value and worth. I don't think we're there yet in real life. Not even in Western culture or 2017.

I think I speak for many women when I say I want my contributions to be of more import than my appearance.

That Ralph Lauren suit was something, wasn't it. Classic and timeless, for sure. It has brought me back to a classic question through the ages and will haunt me for the rest of my days.

We are such suckers for beauty, all of us.

I loved that blue suit, and I hated it.




Saturday, January 14, 2017

On Unexpected Tears and Being a Curator


Emily Freeman's book, A Million Little Ways, is about making art, and in it, she says you should listen to your tears. What makes you cry? Why would this thing make you cry? Those tears will tell you something about yourself if you only listen carefully.

////

Listening to the Hope Writers podcast on the way home from the office yesterday, I paused it and replayed the part where Logan Wolfram begins to cry.

Logan is the owner of the Allume Conference, and after four years of organizing, planning, and hosting the annual conference, she killed it, at least for now. It was a growing, vibrant, successful conference, yet she suspended it because it wasn't taking her to the places she wanted to go in life. She was talking about her two-book deal and the need for reasonable expectations of yourself and the publisher.

Logan says, "I can't just make something up and expect to write all of this book on nothing, when I have nothing to say. It has to come from somewhere. What I write is something that's welling up and needs to come out, and there needs to be a message."

"And if you're tired, and exhausted and worn out, then probably you should refill before you think you're going to have anything else great to say. You can't write from an empty well."  

Gary, the host, brings up something she mentioned before they started recording and Logan says this:

"I started telling you about it earlier, and then I started crying, and I didn't realize I felt so emotional about it. My friend Tim said that he thought it was interesting that for four years I was running this conference and he felt that, somehow, my own voice had gotten lost behind this space that I was curating. And I feel emotional about it again—I'm not going to cry again right now."

"Why?" Gary probes. "Why do you think that means so much to you?"

"Dang, Gary!"

"Because it's true?" Gary offers.

"It's totally true," she concedes. Almost unable to speak for trying not to cry, she continues, "'cause I spent four years....GEEZ ... I spent four years cultivating a space out of the overflow of my own heart. And it's not that I need the credit for it. But I need to not get lost behind it and then be expected to somehow reinvent myself for public consumption. Like my "self" was Allume the last four years. It was about hospitality. And it was about caring for your neighbor. It was about looking outside of your own city and seeing that there's a hurting world. And it was about loving people, and writing from a place where you're authentically you, and stewarding a space well."

She goes on to say that people don't understand what it takes to do such a big event that has so much heart, and that it drained her and, yes, the conference was better for it, but she wasn't.

She used words like cultivate, and pour into, and steward. She used the word curate so many times I finally looked it up.

////


Mike and I sat down at the kitchen table with our respective calendars and responsibilities and, as we find ourselves doing more and more often, we synched the next few weeks of our sprawling lives.

With all the details recorded on calendars, I said, "I think we should schedule some date nights." And I began to cry.

The tears came as a sudden surprise, bubbling up out of nowhere. I didn't know why I was crying and I said so, and laughed even while I cried. I was kind of a mess, and embarrassed, and it caught me off guard.

Mike has been urging me for years, maybe ten, to schedule time together, and I have always been outraged by the idea.

I saw myself as part of his soul on the inside of him, intricately knit into the fiber of his being. I was inside the man who opens his calendar, not an event on it. I refused to be reduced to something penciled in on a given day. 

I am more than a casual lunch with a friend that you should write down lest you lose track and forget the appointment.

I won't be on par with church activities. "I am not part of your schedule; I'm part of you," I said indignantly for all these years.

But now, now that we are almost three decades into this marriage; now that we've bragged for 20 years (at least) that our marriage comes easy and is good and we are best friends, and we are healthy; now that we are approaching an empty nest and we're so close to being able to focus on each other again but we are instead becoming strangers to each other; now that we sit down regularly to synchronize our complicated lives; tears well to the surface when I tell him, in essence, "You're right. We need to be on your calendar."

I'm telling him we have gotten lost behind all the things we curate. I'm telling him we need to find us again. Because it's not like we need credit for it, but we need to steward well these things we curate. And in order to do that, we have to actually be a we.

////

Mike left his phone at home. Mike left his phone at home! On purpose and of his own volition. We went to a movie for the first time in three years. We got lost in La La Land, a movie about chasing dreams and the good things to be gained and the hard things to be forfeited when you pursue your passions, when you are an artist, and what you do is create art and curate it.

////

CURATE: noun  1.  Chiefly British. a member of the clergy employed to assist a rector or vicar.
2. any ecclesiastic entrusted with the cure of souls, as a parish priest.


verb (used with object), curated, curating.
3. to take charge of (a museum) or organize (an art exhibit)
4. to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation



  













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