Wearing the Word Brave: a guest post on Mudroom Blog

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It’s dark in here, I told him, but all the lights in the room are on. It’s the first thing I can think of to explain my knees bouncing and my teeth chattering, even though I’m not cold.

I am out of control.

I am helpless, at the mercy of my brain.

I am utterly terrified.

I used to run from the fear. But it followed me from church to church, friendship to friendship, argument to argument. I would fall asleep gripped with terror, clinging to anything in reach until I learned to cling to myself, to cling to the hope that joy comes in the morning.

I used to fight the fear. I would bare my teeth and roar, but the cold would still seep into my bones and I’d still find myself shivering. Fear was the great archenemy of my soul, and so I took on every battle and sought everything I could to eradicate the terror like it was a cancer.

I used to outlearn the fear. If I just knew enough, if I read enough books and conducted enough research and found words to explain the panic, it would go away like breaking a magic spell. So I studied history, psychology, sociology, poetry, art, whatever I could to understand the mystery of the human condition. Knowledge is power, I would say, tattooing the word brave on my neck and going on coffee dates with strangers and giving speeches.

You are fearless, they would say in awe. I wish I were as strong as you. And I used to let them say it and not correct them, because it felt nice and I craved their admiration. But if I could go back, I would have stopped them. I would have said, Thank you very much, but I’m afraid you’re wrong.

Read the rest over here.

Breaking up with my future husband

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Dear future husband,

I started writing to you when I was 12 years old.

I had never been boy crazy or interested in dating at my age, but I was fascinated by the future. I always dreamed of college, of moving into a tiny studio apartment in New York after graduation, of graduate school.

And I dreamed of you.

I wondered what you looked like, whether you were short or tall, whether your voice was light and cheerful or deep and rumbling. Whether you and I would like the same TV shows, whether or not we would fight, whether or not you were saving yourself for me.

I was always saving myself for you.

I didn’t know better, really. I was handed books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye and When God Writes Your Love Story, telling me I should write you letters and knit you scarves whenever I felt the urge to date someone. Because if there was anything worse than not saving your body, it was failing to save your heart.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life,” I was always told. So I obediently tucked away my letters, listened to Rebecca St. James and dreamed about how one day you and I would be together forever.

Somewhere between the driver’s tests and college applications, I started to get impatient. I tried to project you on each boy I met, wondering does it fit? Is he you? But each time I was disappointed. And when I went off to college I put you on the shelf, vowing that you would come along after graduation, in the real world.

And then I met him.

He sits with me when I’m weary. Sometimes he has things to say, and sometimes I have things to say, but when we don’t we sit in companionable silence, just grateful to be near each other. He does silence so well—it fits him like a comfortable sweater. He is the most loyal and caring person I know.

But he’s not you. And I know why.

Because you’re not real.

You’re a figment of my imagination. A straw man built for me to believe in. You don’t actually exist. You’re too good to be true, and a sweet fantasy is no substitute for the rich bittersweetness of reality. You, a one-dimensional trojan horse, cannot bear the weight of who I am. You were created to keep me obsessed, to keep me hesitant and second-guessing and I’m done with you.

 

I don’t miss you.

I pulled out the journal the other day. The one written for you. I thought it would be sweet and meaningful, and it wasn’t at all. It felt hollow, and kind of embarrassing. I couldn’t believe how much time I’d devoted to a person who doesn’t actually exist, instead of loving people who actually do exist.

I wish I hadn’t feared giving my heart away, because that’s not even possible. There is no heartbreak that hasn’t been worth the pain; no lost love that hasn’t been wisdom gained.

 

This is the last letter I’m writing you.

I don’t ever plan on writing you again.

I’m respecting myself and others enough to know that perfection is not a fair standard to hold. So if settling is accepting that people are broken and messy but still worthy of love and connection and belonging, I guess that’s what I am.

 

But I don’t mind. I actually kinda like it here on the ground.

3 Ways to Be Counter-Cultural

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Christians are kind of obsessed with being counter-cultural, yes? Especially in the wake of some heavy news. And the most common reaction seems to be, “We need to be more different from our culture now than ever before!”

Something about this approach always rubs me the wrong way. And it’s not because I think America’s non-Christian culture is perfect or better. But if being counter-cultural is the goal, I think we’re missing the point.

There’s some problems with this mentality. For one thing, it’s basically saying that if we do the opposite of what everyone else is doing (homeschool vs. public school, no tattoos vs. tattoos, not engage with secular art vs. enjoy secular art, etc), we’ll automatically be more like God. AKA, secular American culture is doing everything wrong.

I see the ideology behind that…but I think it’s flawed. Because even if someone isn’t a Christian, they’re still made in the image of God, and that makes them capable of good things. Secular culture is not the enemy.

But there are some ways we need to be counter-cultural that we’re not. Ways that Christians are actually not even paying attention to, because we’re so focused on the obvious surface stuff instead of the issues layered underneath.

So instead of focusing on being against a bunch of stuff, why don’t we focus on…

1. Being actively pro-vulnerability and anti-shame.

I so badly wish this was a given. But we (Christians) are just like our culture: promotion of having your life together, and shaming yourself as a form of punishment.

I don’t know a single person who hasn’t experienced shame at the hands of the Church. Whether it’s shame over not feeling “Christian” enough, or not reading their Bible enough, or not looking “transformed” enough, or being shamed by an authority figure for being too attractive or not attractive enough…we inflict a lot of shame. And we teach Christian kids that it’s deserved. And so they learn to shame themselves.

What a great opportunity to be counter-cultural! Why don’t we cultivate an attitude of vulnerability with one another, teaching kids that you can make mistakes but they don’t make you bad, and not using fear-mongering or humiliation as a way to keep people following God’s commands? What if we taught from a place of desire for meaning instead of a fear of straying from the rules? This is literally as counter-cultural as it gets. It is empowering, instead of paralyzing. It is strengthening, instead of tearing down.

As Brené Brown says, “The greatest casualties of a scarcity culture are our willingness to own our vulnerabilities and our ability to engage with the world from a place of worthiness.”

2. Promoting engagement in our world.

However you may do it, we’re all looking for ways to disengage with real life. For some it’s addiction, alcoholism, workaholism, sex, “pleasure” (still not sure what that means to be honest), Netflix binges, etc.

For others, it’s “we are not of this world”. It’s Christian escapism. It’s constantly dwelling on Heaven instead of recognizing our responsibility for Earth. It’s dwelling on the soul with a disregard for the physical body.

We have to show up. Even when it’s painful. We cannot stop reading the news just because it hurts. We cannot donate money to Africa to placate our ignorance about what occurs daily in America. We cannot spend money on Bibles in Syria that could have been used to feed a child for another day. God calls us to a life of awareness. When someone is at the bottom of the social totem pole, they deserve our ears first.

We have to slow down. Even when we don’t know how to go for a 10 minute walk alone, without our cell phone or music playing. Some of us live at such a fast pace (read: me) that we can’t even sit in the car without the radio playing. I am physically incapable of sitting in complete and total silence, doing nothing, for more than 5 minutes at a time. I feel weird when I’m sitting at my computer and my TV is not playing in the background.

We are all running away from something. The real world is so hard to bear. That’s why we have to face it together.

3. Stop talking and start listening (OR vice versa).

Our world is constantly shouting at the top of its lungs. Always. Whether it’s social media or real life, we don’t listen well in either capacity. We don’t listen well as a society.

But this is a special direction: it’s not for every Christian. It’s for every Christian leader who has ever had a platform; every white Christian man who has been asked for his opinion on issues varying from racism to birth control; for every person who feels that “servant leader” is a goal they can aspire to without being ignored.

But for some Christians, to be a servant leader would merely be a rug for people to walk on. Another way to become invisible. For black Christian women, to be told to become a servant leader is a joke. A servant leader is a calling for someone who is given authority, not someone who has to fight for a rung on the ladder.

Have you always had the opportunity to be heard? Maybe you should give it up for a while. Ask some people who are less valued to guest post on your blog, or make good use of the retweet. Ask a woman to preach at your church. To the girl who always gets interrupted when she’s talking with your group of friends, make sure you give her space.

Have you been fighting for a voice but no one will listen? Don’t stop now. Don’t let people tell you to sit down, because it’s their turn to sit down, not yours. Thank you, and keep going. Your stories need to be told. We need your narratives to alter a Church that has a history of hushing voices that are somehow different. So please, don’t stop, because without you we have no hope of a Church that will ever look different than it does today.

Missing in Action: Where Are You, Church? A guest post

June 17, 2015 was just an ordinary Wednesday. When twelve people attended Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church that night, not one had a clue it was their last. They kissed their families goodbye, grabbed their keys and started their engines.

The shots rang out across the nation as the nine fell, the nine to match the Little Rock Nine, nine taking a stand before nine fell. Five more than the bombing of the four little girls at 16th Street Baptist Church in Montgomery in 1963.

Those of us fortunate to have pastors who are sensitive to these things mentioned them in our prayers, said their names one by one, and prayed for strength and courage and kindness. Our country’s president spoke boldly about America and its pain, these chains of racism that still shackle our feet.

America, for the first time in nearly 50 years, is tentatively opening the door to this conversation once more.

And the majority of white churches across America remain silent.

 

Read the rest over here.

When our opinions no longer matter: LGBT and loving others well

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The internet has pretty much been in an uproar for the last few days over the news about Caitlyn Jenner, previously known as the famous Olympian Bruce Jenner, and her transformation and introduction into the public eye as a woman. I have seen opinions ranging from “YOU GO GIRL! Werk it!” to “Bruce will never be a woman. He is sick and needs serious psychological attention” and everything in between.

We sure like our opinions, don’t we? And more than that, we like to voice our opinions loud and clear for the rest of the world to hear them.

I used to have opinions about people who identified as LGBT. It was actually a topic I felt pretty strongly about. But then I had a friend come out to me for the first time. And I read the story of a young man who was raised an Evangelical Christian and was thrown out of his home when he came out to his parents as gay. And I read from my friend Ben Moberg about what it’s like to be a gay Christian. I learned that 1 out of every 4 kids who identify as transgender will attempt suicide at some point during their lifetime. Although LGBT youth make up only 10% of minors in the U.S., they represent 20% of homeless youth.

LGB youth are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide if they come from highly rejecting families.

And when I put faces to those numbers, my sweet friends being thrown out into the streets when they needed love and loyalty the most, changed me.

Those statistics are not okay.

The fact that we choose our opinions over saving livesis not okay.

What are we doing? What the hell are we thinking, that being right matters more than being kind. We are majorly missing the point, friends. If we haven’t figured it out by now, it doesn’t actually matter whether we think it’s right or wrong, because kids are coming out anyway and gender changes are still happening and they’re still going to, regardless of our personal convictions.

Because, while the Bible is gray about sexuality, the Bible has never been gray about love.

Love is not a gray area. There are no exceptions. No one off-limits. And we don’t have to agree with the life choices of someone in order to be their friend. (If you are only friends with people who agree with you, you are missing out on a much richer life.)

I don’t know what you believe, friend. But I hope you can set them aside sometimes to recognize that the world is much bigger than the lens you see it through.

Your opinions will not save you. Only God can do that.

Caitlyn Jenner is brave because she, of all people—a previous Olympian—knows that we don’t know how to accept people who operate outside of the norm. She knew there would be hate and there would be judgment, even from her own family. She chose to make a space for herself anyway. And I deeply respect that.

It’s time to stop the witch hunt, and it’s time to stop whining that we’re so persecuted that we’re actually expected to treat everyone fairly. It’s time to acknowledge that we have not loved others well. It’s time to acknowledge that we are beginners, not experts on this topic, and to start from ground zero and go up from there.

It’s time to listen, and it’s time to humanize those we don’t agree with. Otherwise we are no better.

An open letter to my soapbox

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To my soapbox:

It’s not you, and it’s not me. It’s both of us.

You have become my favorite poison, my drug of choice, what I turn to when I’m angry or hurt. You cheer me on as I shout over the sound of stories and heartbeats, real people with real stories that you’ve encouraged me not to listen to.

When I’m hurt or angry because someone says something stupid (which, on the internet, happens daily), you egg me on. You tell me to monologue. You tell me to preach. And in doing so, I lose the people I want to connect with most.

I have sacrificed empathy at your altar. I have given up listening and compassion to show up at your door. You have allowed me to believe that being right is more important than being kind. And I have become exactly like those I cannot respect.

Whenever I’m with you, I forget that there are real people on the other end of my words. Real people with real stories that really shape them and their entire lives up until the moment they share with me. I don’t know what brought them there, and I can’t assume where they’ve been.

My words need to be less about me, and more about the people I am connecting with. It is less about talking and more about a two-way street. I don’t want to talk at people, I want to talk with people.

In the last few weeks I have seen several people get on their soapbox. And I wanted to criticize them for not even paying attention to who they were talking to, but I remembered: how often do I do that? How often do I just talk, no matter who I’m talking to or where we are?

I. Am. No. Better.

In this season, I am finding that being teachable means putting down my shield and really listening: I’m letting go of the fear that if I listen, I will be swayed by anyone who speaks. And I am finding that I really am capable of discerning the voices in my life – the ones that speak with truth versus the ones that speak out of bitterness. And I am realizing that being teachable is equally as valuable as being the one teaching.

So, soapbox: preaching is for the pulpit. I created you, but now it’s time for me to set you aside and choose to listen rather than rant. There are more important things than platform. Words have no meaning if they don’t have ears to listen.

The power of words: compliments + criticisms + the vulnerability of it all

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I’m not an encourager.

I want to be, but it’s not naturally in my personality. If there’s no good in something, I’m not going to force it. If I’m not impressed I won’t blatantly say so, but I won’t lie either. (Sorry. I’m a tough crowd.) That, combined with the strong sense of self-sufficiency I learned from my mother (I love you Mom), and you have a very independent, perfectionist person.

Criticism is my home terrain. Self-improvement is my field of expertise. Honesty is my bread and a good work ethic is my butter.

Because of this, I never feel more vulnerable than when I am sincerely complimenting someone else.

A lot of us avoid compliments. And it took me a long time to figure out why, but I think I’ve found it – it’s one thing to send a Facebook message or leave a note, and it’s an entirely different thing to stare into someone’s baby blues and tell them how much their presence has changed you.

It’s scary. It’s vulnerable. Genuine compliments are hard. How do I look into someone’s eyes and tell them that they are irreplaceable in my life? How do I admit to someone how I have admired them from afar? How can I bare myself as the needy, confused, grateful person I am when all I want is to just be cool? JUST BE COOL.

Interesting how the more meaningful one is also the scarier one, isn’t it?

• • • • •

The people who know me will say I am hard on the people I love. This is because I want them to be the best versions of themselves, just like I want to be the best version of myself. Honestly, it’s a reflection of the way I treat myself. I am hard on other people because I am hard on me.

Criticism can be eye-opening, but when used without restraint it can cripple vulnerability. When your entire relationship is basically you pointing out the faults in another person, the relationship becomes really tiring and heavy and not a place where you feel safe to express yourself. In order to have a healthy relationship, you must be honest and also discerning.

Nowhere is this more obvious than the way I treat my boyfriend. I love him more than sleeping in, pie, and Netflix (3 of my favorite things), but I don’t let anything slide and he knows it. He’ll tell you he’s grateful because I’m pushing him to be a better person, but I know it doesn’t always feel that way. There are times when the compliments are scarce and the criticisms are many. I criticize because it’s safer for me to analyze him than to trust him. Sometimes my critique is more selfish than selfless.

• • • • •

He and I had a last-lunch-before-spring-break, the buzz of the dining commons around us as we talked about faith and God and identity and shame. And suddenly I found them – the words I had been searching for.

I looked him in the eyes, and I told him how he is living Jesus: in the way he works behind the scenes without recognition, how he makes time to help people he barely knows, how he is endlessly patient with me as I muddle my way through my huge, sometimes crippling fear. How those who humble themselves shall be exalted. How those who put themselves last shall go first. How the one who leads by example is the one who should be leading us from the podium. How he’s making me better, just by being himself.

His eyes filled with tears as I spoke and I knew, in that moment, that this is the most important work I do. Nothing is more important than this – extending tenderness to those I love most.

And we sat there, both blinking back tears and grinning and hearts as soft as butter, and there is no sweeter moment than one who is reminded of how much they are loved.

• • • • •

I know it’s scary. It’s tough as frick. But I hope you’ll tell someone how much they actually mean to you – how much you need them, and how they give you strength to go on. We forget how much power words have until we hear them, and once we hear the right words, we are never the same.