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The mercies of our differences….

I ran across a meme today that almost had freshly brewed Pike Place spewing out of my nose. It read, “Dear Algebra, stop asking us to find your X. She isn’t coming back.”

(pause for laughter)

My first though was this, “Whoever makes this shirt, Gets. Me.”

And my second thought was this (in two parts): memories of the freshman year high school algebra teacher who said to me in a moment of frustration, “You’re just never going to get this, are you?!?” and the female church member who pulled me aside after a sermon a few years ago and said, “Don’t tell us you don’t like math. So many little girls look up to you, and we need strong women who like math and are good at it.”

Sorry, Teacher. Sorry, Lady.

Because you know what? No, I still don’t get algebra. And no, I still don’t like math.

But at 44, having beat myself up long enough for not being “that kind of smart,” I am pretty sure that we also, in this world, need strong women who can communicate. And write. And think big picture. And tell a good story. These things, I can do–and it took me until I was well this side of 40 to learn that they, too, were gifts the world needed, gifts that little girls could also look up to.

Look, I get it. We ought to be ashamed as a society of how girls get pigeon-holed as not being good at science or math–but honestly, a 5-minute Google search can tell you all the amazing women who have advanced us as a nation and as a world in those fields. And also, I get it–teachers get frustrated. But I’m pretty sure that telling a 14 year-old she isn’t EVER going to get something does nothing but insure that, yep, she’ll never get it.

But my bigger concern is this–our propensity for valuing certain gifts over others, for lifting up one set of skills as marketable and another as inconsequential–this is utter BS. And it can do such deep harm to our overall sense of self and worth and well-being.

I read a news story this morning about a young man who was diagnosed with ADHD as a little boy. If you love someone with ADHD, you know how complicated and misunderstood it is; and, for this little boy, things grew profoundly difficult as he worked his way through grade school and into middle school. He was, simply and beautifully, different. And his mom said of him, so lovingly, “He’d sit there with me, trying to do his homework, trying to learn about multiplication…really trying…but in his head, he was building an airplane out of thin air.”

In his head he was building an airplane out of thin air….

That, too, is a gift. And one that is often entirely unappreciated. Because by and large we don’t value dreamers in this world. Playwrights and artists and musicians and actors and novelists…they are our entertainment, nice hobbies to have. We do not acknowledge that they are actually pulsing, vibrant, necessary pieces of who we are as a people. I, for one, am convinced we’d cease full breath without the oxygen the souls of such dreamers offer us.

The reverse is true, too. I know this. Even as we put a high market value on bankers and investors and planners and the like, we often stereotype such folks as being lifeless…as having no imagination and only caring about the bottom line. And while of course money talks far more loudly and with much more frequency than is good for any of us, we cannot dismiss those who handle it as unfeeling or callous. Because these, too, are gifts. And money can be used to do incredibly good and transforming things. 

My point is this: we are so freaking hard on each other! Mostly because we assume that my way of being should match yours and vice versa. This is so ridiculous, if you think about it–each of us are so uniquely made, so specifically gifted, so intricately made up of experience and aptitude and creativity…and instead of letting this inspire us, letting it encourage us to greatness, we become threatened, afraid, and judgmental.

(Now y’all, when I say, “way of being,” I’m not talking about racism or abuse or betrayal or any of the things evil sets loose in the world. Not at all. I’m only referring to the things in me and the things in you that are not the same…and how the world needs us both. Needs us all.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about mercy lately–which, for me, is the route by which love and grace are able to be made known. Mercy depends upon being able to offer compassion, and it is only when we are able to offer this, to both ourselves and one another, that we find what it means to love and to be truly loved. If mercy is present, arrogance is not. If mercy is present, narcissism cannot flourish. If mercy is present, truth and kindness are able to emerge.

There is such mercy to be found in the spaces between our differences. Different gifts. Different experiences. Different griefs. Different joys. Different ways of seeing the world.

There is mercy to be found in different political views; in theologies that don’t see eye-to-eye.

There is mercy to be found in the place where your heart and mine don’t quite understand each other, but where we’ve also discovered that each of our hearts bleed red…and so, perhaps, we are not that different after all, even if we do not quite see the world the same way…and maybe, just perhaps, we could summon the courage and the caring enough to try again at recognizing that a bit of God dwells in each of us. 

There is mercy to be found.

And where mercy is found, hope dwells.

And dear God, how we need such hope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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5 things I’m trying to remember as a new school year begins….

Seventh grade begins in our house tomorrow.

SEVENTH. GRADE.

A new backpack, stocked with new school supplies, is already cozied up by the front door. A new outfit is already laid out in the guest bedroom. And the FaceTime convos I overhear from the Curly Girl’s bedroom tell me she and her friends have big excitement about tomorrow. I’m grateful for that, as I am for the teachers my girl has already mentioned she’s looking forward to seeing–because even on its best days, middle school is mostly a landscape fraught with change and hormones and insecurity. Surviving it with our children’s mental and emotional well being as intact as possible is the goal.

But even in my gratitude, my heart fights fear and anxiety as a new year begins, despite my best efforts to focus on what’s good and true about this time in her life and this community we are a part of.

Because y’all…the world…it’s terrifying.

And so today, these are the things I am working to remember as a new school year begins:

  1. The days are So. Long. But the years? Well, you better not blink. Because just 10 years ago I was still living through sleepless nights and diapers with my stubborn girl. And now? Unthinkably, in just 6 years, she’ll be off to college. This in-between time, it is so precious, and I do not want to miss a moment of it. It’s sacred, this job of parenting, and the miracle of being her mother is the greatest thing I know. No matter hormones. No matter homework. No matter how dramatic the middle school hallways can be. No matter how busy our schedules get. This is pure grace.
  2. We do not have time for fear. If, for one moment, I gave in to the daily fear of what might harm her, what might destroy her, I’d never leave the house nor allow her to. The threat of school gun violence alone is enough to break me, never mind being a full time single mother, sexual harassment, car wrecks, mean girls and the general state of divided chaos our country is in. Any one of these things is reason to fall to my knees begging for a clear path through it all, some impossible guarantee of protection. Some days…some days are harder than others, and when I drop her off tomorrow at school, my stomach will roil, and my jaws will clench, and I will pray desperately for her safety. But I cannot–I will not–give in to fear. It is the work of evil, and I refuse to believe that evil has the final say.
  3. They really do know things we don’t. This is both unsettling and comforting. Our children have their own interior lives, their own ways of being that are not ours. And it’s tempting to try to control and direct every moment of their days out of our own baggage, our own experiences, our own assumptions. But their souls are full of so much fire, so much desire to live and grow, so much intuition that sometimes gets lost on the path to adulthood–mostly because our children know how to be real. And this terrifies us. We have to trust that sometimes, they do know things. Because the truth is that in the end, they do not belong to us. They belong to God. And God is at work in their lives in ways we cannot even begin to comprehend.
  4. We cannot keep them from sadness or disappointment or betrayal or anger. We can only stand with them in it and help them find healthy ways through it as we do. Our job is not to keep them from personal pain–it is to give them enough strength and compassion to face it.
  5. They need us. Y’all–I know that when they are slamming doors and screaming, “I hate you!” (So sorry, mom!), and insisting on their own way and pushing us away with all their adolescent might this is so hard to remember. But I promise you–they need us. They need to know we aren’t going anywhere and there is nothing they can ever, ever do to separate themselves from our love for them. This is the God’s honest truth and we must not forget it.

When the Curly Girl was very young–still small enough for me to take her up in my arms, but old enough to have her own mind, I stepped outside one night to see the moon. It was full and bright, so bright that it made the spring tulips in my front yard look as if they were under a spotlight. Everything glowed in its merciful beams. My heart swelled, and before I’d even really formed the thought to do so, I ran upstairs and I swept my sleeping daughter up out of her bed, her curls stuck to her full cheeks and her eyes popping open in wonder and surprise at my actions. “I need to show you something,” I whispered to her, and I carried her down the stairs and out the front door and I said, “Here, sweet girl, here is the moon.” And as she grinned, and pointed with her own chubby finger, mimicking me, I told her it was so gorgeous I had to show her, and I promised her it would always be with her, that she could always look to the moon for constant presence.

In retrospect, I think I needed to show her something beautiful. I think, even then, I knew the world would beat up on her, as it does on all of us, and I needed her to know, in her then-tiny bones, that no matter what, there was still beauty and grace and love and light at work.

And so today I pray, for her safety and well being, but also for strength and resilience in the face of whatever comes. I pray she knows how beautiful both she and the world are, and that while life is full of difficult things, and sometimes we think we cannot bear it, there is, always, around us a “grace that keeps this world” and the same grace keeps her, too. No matter what.

And I pray that I will remember…so that she will, too.

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“…from the book of Johnny Cash…” (h/t Eric Church)

“…Well, there’s things that never will be right I know,
And things need changin’ everywhere you go,
But ’til we start to make a move to make a few things right,
You’ll never see me wear a suit of white.

Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything’s OK,
But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
‘Till things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black…”

(I Wear Black, Johnny Cash)

Several years ago, Willie Nelson came to town, and I was lucky enough to head down to the waterfront along the Ohio River and hear him sing the night away. Part way through the show, the whole crowd loose on music and beer and a Kentucky summer night, the guy next to me, an aging long-haired baby boomer dude sporting a Vietnam Vet cap and an army green jacket, elbowed me and hollered over the music, “Honey, you look entirely too young to know all these songs the way you do.”

I smiled and hollered back, “That’s ’cause I’ve known these songs since I was in grade school sir!” His approval of this fact was evident, and we both returned to singing about mamas not letting their babies become cowboys.

He may not even remember this, but when I was very young, my dad had a picture book about the “outlaw” country singers, and for whatever reason, I was fascinated with flipping through it, and reading what my grade school brain could comprehend about Willie and Waylon and Johnny and Kris. And there was often a country music station on in the car those years, ’cause, well…South Texas was where we lived. All this to say, I don’t ever remember not knowing who those men were. This is maybe why, when the crazy-good Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, came out, I snagged tickets its first week in the theater, and loved it so much, I paid to see it three more times before buying the DVD when it came out.

I know my fascination with these musicians is why yesterday, I took my dad along with me to see “Ring of Fire,” a musical of sorts about Johnny Cash that apparently was a total flop on Broadway a decade ago, but is currently touring nationally pretty well.

Lemme say this real quick–I feel about Johnny Cash the way I do about King David from the bible–’cause they both did some awful, awful things, and hurt something terrible the folks closest to them. Fame and addiction and sorrow and fear and lust can all–each individually and certainly collectively–lead a really good person to make some really horrible decisions. And there’s no romanticizing that. There is, however, learning from it. And having the courage to admit that our all-too-often Insta-ready lives are generally far more complicated, and often much uglier, than any of us want to admit. And having the humility to let God work through our brokenness, so that even the smallest sliver of light might be known through the cracks of our shattered lives.

Good and evil dwell side by side in all of us, and if we’re very lucky, we’ve got enough love around us, and enough of an understanding of grace, to know that even the sum total of our worst moments does not have to define us.

This is what I thought about as I watched five very talented actor-musicians bring to life the music of Johnny and June Carter Cash–because what unfolded before us was the ugliness of infidelity and drugs and unresolved grief and arrogance…and also what got told was the possibility of redemption: the beautiful mercy of a man who spent the latter part of his life using his music for good, maybe even searching for his own salvation through it–a man who recognized a world in deep pain, and who, having an intimate knowledge of pain in his own life, chose to stand in solidarity with the pain of others.

This, y’all, is what we call practicing presence, even if in doing so we’re making a desperate plea for our own redemption. And practicing presence–simply being with another person when everything else has fallen apart and when nothing feels as if it will ever be okay again, and when maybe, just maybe, you think this time you have finally fallen too far from God’s grace (heads up: you haven’t)–this is everything.

I was reminded, too, of the very complicated role that faith can play in our lives. I long some days for a simple assurance that Sunday morning is Sunday morning and that hymnbooks still matter and that there will be a potluck after church with Ms. Sandra’s lemon squares and I will be confident through music and food and the words of the Lord’s Prayer that I am loved, and held so very safe and secure.

The tricky thing about faith (speaking from my Protestant, Christian perspective) is that it is no guarantee against heartache. Or trauma. Or deep, gut-wrenching grief. And the faith I clung to as a little girl is not the same one I cling to now. Because all around me, across our nation, throughout the world, is often darkness…as far as we can see. And it is a terrifying time to be alive in many, many ways.

And yet…God is still God. And we are not.

And God is still love…over and against all else.

And God is always with us…and there is nothing we can do separate ourselves from God.

And so, no, faith is no guarantee against heartache…but it is a promise of presence…a promise that we are not, for one single second, alone in this life. No matter what.

I think Johnny Cash knew this by the time he died. Maybe he didn’t always, but in the end, yes. Because the truth is that his songs–they are not really about him–they are about all of us–with all that is beautiful and true, and all that is so very wrong, each held in tension every damn day of our lives.

And it seems to me, at this particular moment in history, that the very best thing we could do is set about seeing that the beautiful and true is brighter, louder, and bigger than the wrong. Whenever and wherever we can, in our lives and across our communities.

It seems to me, that gathering up the brokenness around us, offering it to God, and helping something new and whole be born out of what has shattered, is exactly what it means to be redeemed, as individuals, and as communities.

There are things that will never be right. And there is a whole lot that needs changing. But…if we could make a move to make a few things right….

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I’m sitting in one of my favorite coffee shops. Heart rate up. Chest and throat feeling heavy and clogged with unshed tears. I’ve just texted a friend the anxiety I feel over still more social media posts expressing one political stance or another, and my jaw is tender from another night of teeth grinding–ordinary personal stress perhaps, but more likely the result of feeling it as this country and any plausible excuse for civil public discourse dissolve into a riot of angry voices, none of whom are actually listening to each other.

Meanwhile, people–especially children–are suffering. Truly, suffering. Whether we’re talking divorce or city budget or war, children always pay the costliest price for the choices of adults.

Everything I believe about who God created us to be, everything I believe about God’s loving intention in creating this world, calls me to heartache for real suffering. For wanting to alleviate it in whatever way I can. I am willing to go to the mat if necessary for children who do not have enough food or drink or shelter or clothing or care. Of course, I don’t have to go further than a few miles from my own home to find such children, never mind anywhere else in the nation or the world…and sometimes, I think this is the very root of our problems–we excel at expressing moral outrage and righteous indignation at national or global events and find it all too easy to ignore the very same issues in our very own backyards. 

The current issues in the US surrounding immigration, the detention of minors, an influx of refugees, and what possible solutions might be to it all are literally keeping me awake at night. And I find the snark, social media hot takes, memes and blame-casting that pass for addressing the issues far more harmful than helpful.

Y’all, I am begging–begging–us to put the damn knives down and have some real conversation. As one of my loved ones said last week, “We’ve gotten so far right and so far left when it comes to immigration that we cannot even have a real conversation or seek real solutions.” Right now, across the board, and in all sorts of ways and with all sorts of issues, we are letting Congress lead the way in a strictly bipartisan, ego-driven deadlock. 

America has always been at its best when her people lead the way. Not just her government.

I am no immigration law expert. I’m not even a policy expert of any kind. And so what I am about to write, I write as someone who 1) believes in a just, loving and always-present God, 2) truly feels as if I have no political voice in our current deeply divided landscape, 3) fiercely loves people with starkly opposing views on immigration and US borders, 4) often, in my listening, hear people with those opposing views actually seeking the very same things. 

With all that said, here’s what I am praying for in the face of what is destroying us:

Humility. Of the biblical sort. The kind that seeks to listen, serve and care with deep compassion. What I mostly see is arrogance–an assumption from all corners that there is one particular viewpoint to blame. Y’all, this southern border crisis did not develop overnight. It did not even develop in the last few years. It has taken decades of leaders unwilling to really confront the issues, decades of pretending that war and unrest in South and Central America would not eventually affect North America, decades of holding some lives more valuable than others, to get us where we are. Sweeping policy change is necessary. And that takes time, cooperation, and hard work. It does not happen overnight. And it does not happen with a house divided. It also does not happen when just about every single politician, of every ilk, is way more interested in campaigning than they are in offering real solutions. There are exceptions to this, I know. But the thing about exceptions is that they are exactly that….

Humanity. As in the ability to see it in one another. I am vividly recalling a story about one of my heroes as I write this–Will Campbell, a southern and Baptist and writing preacher who devoted his whole life to seeking and extending justice, equality, and unconditional love for people, and who lent his voice to the Civil Rights movement in ways that changed our nation and our churches. He also once took communion to the (at that time and imprisoned) Grand Dragon of the KKK, and shared it with him, offering the most powerful witness I’ve ever seen to the truth that God’s love and grace are truly for all people, sometimes most especially the ones who do the most harm and breed the most hate. 

Brother Will did not excuse the Dragon’s actions. He did not condone his choices or behavior or sins. He simply recognized him as a human being, created by and loved by God, and y’all–this is everything. Recognizing this in each other is a game changer of the highest sort. It completely changes how we interact with one another, how we make decisions, and how we behave both individually and corporately. 

Honesty. And here I mean taking an honest look at what drives our deeply held beliefs and our behavior toward those who do not agree with us. We are, all of us, baggage-laden, and our life experiences have shaped who we are with definite precision. A person’s politics emerge for all sorts of reasons (so does a person’s theology and general life philosophy, but that’s another blog post…), and those reasons are never as black and white as it seems. And if your current definition of any Democrat is an unborn baby killer, or your current definition of any Republican is a racist, then it might be time to check yourself and your own ingrained experiences, biases, and journey. 

One small example of all this: I once knew a church member who got more than a little nervous when the congregation he belonged to chose to engage in dialogue and fellowship with a local Muslim community. At first, this got written off as hate of anyone different. The truth is that this man was a decorated veteran with five tours in the Middle East. Five. Tours. Of course he could not separate what he’d seen there from his daily life; of course he wanted desperately to keep his fellow church members safe; of course he had some reservations. And once this reality was known? Once his truth had been shared? Tension eased. Some understanding emerged. Perfect harmony? No. Not by a longshot. But at least an honest and humble recognition of his humanity and what had led him to that particular moment in time. 

Do not mistake me for being either Pollyanna or conflict averse in what I write. I get accused of both on the regular, and I’m familiar with the sort of things I write that lead to such accusations. I am not for one second defending hate, and I refuse to accept the status quo when it means people suffer. Dissent can be so valuable, and free speech matters. And conflict, when practiced well, leads to needed growth. 

But what I also know is this: in the last few weeks, I’ve heard multiple people, from various political corners, talk about our border crisis. And not a single one of them wants children to be suffering alone. Not a single one. They may not want entirely open borders, or they might. They may think we need a border wall, or they may not. They may have voted for our current administration, or they may not have. But not a single one wants children to be suffering alone. 

And in this tiny but mighty space of common ground rests my equally tiny but mighty hope. 

I don’t know what all the answers are. But I know a problem of this magnitude, with such far-reaching implications and such immense trauma, never gets solved in the vacuum of ego or tribalism or social media screaming. 

I also believe that prayer matters. I really, really do. Not as a magic wand or Christmas list…but as a way to examine our hearts–individually and corporately–and offer what we find there to a God who is not only at work among us, but who calls us to work, too, with that same God’s love as our first and most important guide along the way.

And so I pray, desperately these days, for real solutions to all that threatens us as a country; for families who find the prospect of leaving all they know and love better than staying; for those who create national policy; for those who are waking up every day to meet the immediate needs of those suffering; for the fear and anxiety and anger that plagues our nation; for the tension in my own heart brought about the disagreement of those around me; for you…for all of us.

And, always, I pray for love to win–preferably sooner rather than later.

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by the scruff of the neck…(on being pulled along)

I was 23 years old. Sitting alone in an apartment in Lexington, KY, my dad having left the night before after helping me move 7 hours north from my beloved Georgia. It was the first time I’d lived on my own, and so far from home. And the next week, I was beginning a 90-hour Master of Divinity degree and beginning work as the Student Associate for Youth Ministry at a church in Bardstown, KY. I was pretty darn terrified, and I was attempting to ignore the fear by reading a book I was supposed to have finished before class started the next week.

It wasn’t working.

There came a knock on the door. An insistent one. I opened it up, and on the other side stood a very tall, very smiling, very eager fellow student who I’d seen in passing earlier in the day. “Hey! I’m Joby,” he said, “and some of us are going down to get a drink at Charlie Brown’s and thought you might want to go.”

I equivocated. Made mumbling excuse. I was grumpy, afraid, and also unshowered. I had no desire to be “social.”

But Joby insisted. Maybe he saw that I needed encouragement. Maybe it was just his way. But the next thing I knew, he’d taken the book I was pretending to read from my hands, walked back to the bathroom of my apartment, turned on the shower, and hollered at me to “Clean up! And meet us downstairs in a half hour!”

Too stunned to argue, I did as I was told. And by the time I got home that night I had both new friends and a new favorite place to be. Charlie Brown’s was cozy. Bookshelf-lined and full of couches and friendly bartenders. I couldn’t even begin to guess how many afternoons and evenings I spent there over the next few years.

Ever been dragged along in a moment when you needed just that? Probably you couldn’t voice it, but exactly what you needed was to have someone who cared to grab you by the scruff of the neck, and insist that you make forward movement of some sort, because you’re so mired down by the muck of life that even thinking about such a thing is exhausting?

Ever been pulled along through a situation you weren’t quite sure how to navigate? Had a hand to hold as you moved through a new relationship or a new job? Or a crisis? Or a traumatic event? Or just a really, really bad few days?

Ever been buoyed by the strength of those around you? By those who are refusing to let you fall, even as it feels like maybe the entire floor of your existence is going to give way, and you cannot imagine how you’ll rise above the wreckage?

Nope. Me either. I was just wondering if maybe YOU had (#sarcasmfont).

Look, if you’ve been lucky enough to have been loved enough, to have been dragged, pulled, encouraged, held along through one of life’s more difficult paths…well, thank the angels, because far too many folks in this world fall through the cracks. And hear this: there is no shame in it. At all. And here’s how I know this–whoever is pulling you along? Whoever is insisting that you Will. Not. Fall? He or she has been there. I promise. Someone pulled them along. And all they are doing is reaching back to pull someone else after them, paying forward the blessing.

I got a message last week from a woman who is living through some unspeakably difficult days. And ahead of her is a very long road of recovery from deep heartache, righteous anger, and terrible loss. She asked for some words of encouragement. I’m still wondering at her trust, marveling at the strength it took for her to ask for help, and humbled that I might have anything at all to say that might be helpful in these days she is stumbling through. I felt her pain deeply, so much that I had to speak it to a trusted friend of my own.

And that friend said to me, “You will help her, because you know what it is to be pulled along. And when we have been pulled along, the next thing we learn to do is to reach back and grab those behind us, so that they have a way forward, too.”

Gut punch truth. Deeply and compassionately wise my friend was to say those words to me.

Y’all, you know I say this all the time, in one way or another, but there simply is no getting through this life alone. This myth that we must be independent and forge a path in isolation, or that we do anything at all without standing on the shoulders of countless others–it is utter and complete BS. Turns out John Donne was right after all and no one, at all, is an island. And to pretend otherwise is utterly pointless (and maybe even a wee bit arrogant when we do so at the expense of others).

And I know, I’m lucky–I have, from the first moment of my existence, been surrounded by real community. I speak from that privilege. And I used to take this horribly for granted. But not anymore. Now I’ve seen what isolation and loneliness can do to a person. Now I know what happens when we take a stab at acting as if our individual lives don’t have any bearing on the community as a whole. Also BS.

So what I’m saying is this–if you’ve had the very good fortune to be pulled along at some point in your life…a really great way to express some gratitude for that would be to reach behind you and pull someone else along now.

In other words, be for someone else, what someone else has been for you.

Be for someone else, what someone else has been for you.

It is, in many ways, a wonderful time to be alive. And it is, in many ways, a really shitty time as well. But y’all–the way into whatever’s next is only to be found when we’re willing to find it together. When we’re willing to brave some vulnerability, extend some compassion, open our hearts and our lives to someone who needs both, and offer these words, “Never alone.”

Never alone. I’ve got you. Let’s go.

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Perfect Mercy

(NOTE: I owe the first thoughts of this little post to a FB post from author Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote about how she wanted to be the perfect caretaker as her dear one lay dying, and how she failed miserably, and how that dear one said to her that Elizabeth’s job was never to be the perfect caretaker in the first place, but to show mercy, perhaps most of all to herself.)

A few weeks ago I woke up one morning to find the middle finger (yep, can’t make that up!) of my right (read: dominant) hand actively swelling and painful. Over the course of the day, it got worse, and by evening I was full on immobile sausage finger, ibuprofen and ice barely even touching the pain, and my mother the nurse saying, “Yea…you should probably go on to urgent care.”

Antibiotics, prednisone, a whole lot of ice, and several days later, and things started returning to normal. I was beyond frustrated for those several days, constantly asking assistance for basic tasks, cranky with pain, and using the “voice text” feature on my phone to send work emails. The assumption is that something bit me and caused an infection–I swear I’m wearing gloves when I dig in the dirt and tend the backyard from now on.

That finger is still a little stiff sometimes, and a tender spot exists right at the joint. It was damaged, you see…and damage, while it can be healed and repaired, leaves you different than you once were. And in that sense, my sore finger joint is nothing…nothing at all…in the grand scheme of things…

…because our lives, our existence, our place in the world–it’s all full of the jagged scars of lives and communities broken, relationships shattered at their foundation, lives marred by heartache and pain and regret and sorrow. We never succeed at perfection. It isn’t possible. No matter how good our intent, no matter how true our efforts, we always, somewhere along the way, break something, and it seems to me that acknowledging this is where healing begins.

Forgiving ourselves is the hardest, most painful work of all, and yet, our ability to be at real peace with the world, to forgive those around us, even to find a real way forward…it hinges on whether or not we are able to offer ourselves even the tiniest bit of mercy.

Mercy does not ignore what has been broken. It doesn’t even excuse it. What it does do is make room for what has been broken to be made whole again, even if scarred, tender, and maybe even a little stiff on rainy days or when the atmospheric pressure is just right.

Whole does not mean you will never hurt again. It is no guarantee against another break, either. And it is very far from perfect. But I have a theory it does bring us closer to what we were created for in the first place. I believe with all that I am that God does not cause our pain. I also believe that God does not waste our pain. Into the crevices of damage, of brokenness, into the deep, sore, bruised places of our lives, God’s love extends mercy if we’ll let ourselves receive it, and in the mercy is a chance at hope, the possibility of wholeness, even if a wounded sort.

I don’t know that the tender spots ever go away. They have not for me, anyway. But I’m not sure that’s even the point of healing. Sometimes the tender spots tweak just enough to remind me where I’ve been, what heartache I’ve known, and on my best days, this is enough for immense gratitude for what Wendell Berry calls, “the grace that keeps this world,” and that, I am convinced, as brought us this far.

No perfection. But more perfect mercy. This is where our salvation, our wholeness, our other side of heartache and into new life, is to be found.

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Wound Up (and finding new ways to be…)

NOTE: I specifically asked my daughter if it was okay to write these words and share them. I generally do that for anything I post on social media that has her image or words. I have not done that much with my blog. But this felt like permission was needed. She graciously granted it, adding, “I mean, it’s fascinating, Mama–someone else might think so too!”

The Curly Girl was born with ankyloglossia (aka, “tied tongue”) which is essentially a congenital anomaly in which her tongue is quite literally tied to the floor of her mouth by a piece of tissue. It restricts range of motion, along with other issues, and in her case, the tie is severe, and that means she has never 1) stuck her tongue out at anyone, or 2) actually licked an ice cream cone (she nibbles). Such ties as hers often cause speech impediments, and a decade ago, when we were seeking advice about hers, the general counsel was “don’t worry about it unless it affects her speech.” If you know my girl at all, you know that her voice has not–in any way, shape or form–been impeded. And so her tongue has remained as it was at her birth.

Fast forward to the present and a couple things have changed–her tongue tie is now affecting potential orthodontic work, how she eats and digests food, even how she breathes and how her posture is held. I know–it sounds like it can’t possibly be, but over the last decade, research has grown leaps and bounds in this field, and it turns out, our tongues, and the way they function, are pretty darn important and have impact on our bodies and overall well-being. We’ve been in the care of three excellent professionals for the last year as we’ve tried to figure out best steps, and the short version of the story is that this Friday, Curly Girl is having a frenectomy–the fancy medical term for getting that extra tissue cut out (via laser) and cleaned out which will release her tongue. This will be followed by several months of what’s called myofunctional therapy–a form of PT, in essence, that will teach her how to use her tongue and all that it affects properly.

Two days ago, I was reading an email from the doctor who will perform the surgery about what to expect post-procedure. I expected her to mention soreness–I did not expect her to say that soreness will manifest itself in M’s ears and throat. I expected some fatigue–I did not expect her to say that for several days, M will probably sleep more soundly and need more rest as her body adjusts. I expected that things will be different–I did not expect these words: “Some patients feel a brief wave or release of emotion… after [tongue] release [especially in] folks who move from being very restricted to suddenly free.  It’s natural and important to allow her time and space to let that out should it occur…. Her body had a lot wound up in the old patterns and has to find new ways to be.”

Her body had a lot wound up in the old patterns and has to find new ways to be.

Y’all? I’ve never heard more sage words from a doctor. And also y’all? That ain’t just about ankyloglossia.

As you might imagine, I have some thoughts…

First, I’m thinking this: The soreness post-procedure will manifest in her ears and throat because that’s just how our bodies work–everything is connected, something that affects one thing, will affect others. These bones and muscles and organs we have–they all work together, and when one is injured, or out of whack, well…the others feel it too (…But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. –excerpt from 1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

We have completely forgotten what it means to be of one body. To be of one community. To be of one life, together, the things that happen to one of us affecting the rest of us. We are isolated, and sad, and alone–more so than we have ever been as a people–and the suffering of our neighbors goes unheard far too often because we’re so caught in our own lives, often even in our own suffering.

There are any number of examples I could pick from here, but because this particular example has completely shattered my heart, I’ll use it: When our children continue to gun one another down inside the walls of their schools, and we cannot listen long enough or well enough to each other to find a way to keep them safe, we have forgotten that we belong to each other. The image of a terrified grade schooler, being walked out of her school in Colorado because the high school next door has a shooter in it, should bring us to our knees, begging for forgiveness as a people, and willing to set aside any personal interest in the name of keeping our children safe. Full stop.

Second, I’m thinking this: We’ve all got “a lot wound up in the old patterns….” In our personal lives. In our workplaces. In our communities. In our country. In the world.

Somewhere along the way, M taught herself how to work with the body system she was handed. She has been comfortable in it because it is what she knows. It feels fine to her. But what we know now is that the system she was handed has not been in her best interest, even if she’s learned how to navigate it effectively. Even if it feels perfectly fine to her. And truthfully, if I had chosen not to run down the rabbit hole of research related to tied tongues, she would, in all probability, be fine. For the most part.

And there was a time in my life when “fine,” was OK–as good as it gets was, well, as good as gets, you know? But no more. My girl deserves better.

And so do YOU. So do WE.

I’m going to spell this metaphor out for you, just in case you’re wondering why I’m still harping on my kid’s oral surgery…

  • We deserve better than politicians who are primarily interested in their own election campaigns and bank accounts (and this is a widespread, bipartisan problem, so don’t point fingers, y’all, unless you want them pointing back at you).
  • We deserve better than underfunded public schools.
  • We deserve better than tax liability designed to make those of great wealth even wealthier.
  • We deserve better than a contrived overarching narrative that divides us along economic, social, ethnic, religious and political party lines.
  • And dear, sweet, baby Jesus (and I say that in full reverence, y’all) our children deserve better than all this and more. They deserve safe shelter and excellent education and nutritious food and warm clothing and a chance..a freaking CHANCE…at not just survival, but pure thriving into the gorgeous, incredible, creative children of God they were born to be.

Our system, our body together, is broken. At least in part. And the broken parts make it harder for the functioning parts to do their job. And even if we are still comfortable in it, still trying to find our place in it, still trying to navigate it so that we can make do, because, after all, it is what we know…it is not functioning properly. And our refusal to reach down deep into the depths of our souls and find new ways of being, even if with painful steps and harsh breath…it is making us less than we were created to be. As individuals and as communities.

We have a lot wound up in who we have been. And finding a new way of being, a way that fosters community and gives everyone a fair shake and that also still values freedom and individual expression and truly welcomes diverse cultures…it seems impossible. I know. Believe me. I. Know. Every day I fight back hopelessness with my dogged belief that somehow God is at work in the madness I see around us every day, and hope for the strength to take my place in that God-work when and where I am able.

It’s hard to find a new way to be. Anyone who has gone through significant life transition (voluntarily or involuntarily) knows this. We’re stubborn and fickle, both, us humans, and sometimes we give ourselves far too much credit and take ourselves far too seriously. And moving from one way of being to the next takes a whole lot of emotional and mental muscle–pure grit, actually (an ingredient we’re sorely lacking in our life together these days if you ask me…).

But time and time again, we’ve proved its possible to rise up against that which should not be any more and lead the way into something better. Something more whole. Something more like what we were created to be.

I don’t know…maybe I’m pushing the metaphor too far…but it seems to me we can learn a whole lot about the communal body by paying attention to our own bodies. Especially if you believe, as I do, that what happens to you, matters to my own well-being.

We’ve got a lot wound up in our current way of being…my great hope (and, tbh, some days desperate prayer) is that we’ll have the courage to unwind…and so live into everything that’s so beautifully possible and good and full of grace.

Dear, sweet, baby Jesus. May it be so.

(PS: And yes, at this house, we’re having lickable ice cream cones for dinner Friday night! New ways of being are best begun this way….)