Soul Bare Giveaway!!

 
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A small hybrid press announced a new community project called Soul Bare: Reflections on Becoming Human, created by Cara Sexton. The original call for submissions was announced on July 12, 2012, with a deadline of November 1, 2012.
 
It was to be a collection of raw, personal stories by some well-known Christian writers and some newly discovered. I considered it, looked at the list of contributors, got intimidated, and gave up before I put a word on the screen. 
 
Over the next few months I would have twinges of regret, wondering if I made the right choice. With the new year approaching, it was almost time to pick a new One Word for the year. My word for 2012 had been fearless. That same Cara Sexton had even created an image for me when I saw the same one on her blog.

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Fearless. I launched into 2012 with a list of things that scared me and I set about to meet each one of them as bravely as I could. And that year I accomplished an amazing amount of things, but apparently my courage was waning by then and I was already looking for a replacement word. 
 
Cara announced a new January 1, 2013 deadline for Soul Bare. On New Year’s Eve, hours before the deadline, I mustered all the fearlessness I could, pulled together an essay, and sent it off. Then promptly detached from that reality. It was a deeply personal piece where I revealed more of my story and brokenness in writing than I ever had before. I actually felt sick to my stomach after I hit send.
 
On January 25th I received an acceptance letter with congratulations. My piece had been chosen. 
 
I was overcome by elation mixed with disbelief. I had to read the email a few more times that week to make sure it was still true. The contributor list was emailed to everyone and there were even more illustrious names on it. Our edits were sent to us in June, and in July our bios were requested.
 
On March 29, 2014 the news we had been waiting for arrived: “The final manuscript is with the publisher now, awaiting the completion process, which will include a revised cover design, release date scheduling, and the like.” It was really happening!!
 
Until it wasn’t.
 
The press dropped off the face of the earth and left Soul Bare hanging in the wind. 
 
But God . . . 
 
He’s been at the center of this from its inception, and he was far from done with it. Cara took back the manuscript and sent it to agent Chip MacGregor who LOVED the book, shopped it to a few publishers, and by the end of June 2015, the offer was accepted and InterVarsity Press announced as the new publisher! Helen Lee took a chance on an anthology and I am constantly impressed by her. 
 
There was another round of major editing including a number of essays being pulled, and I doubted that mine would be chosen again. It was a long, nerve-wracking three and a half years of acceptance, approved edits, losing a publisher, gaining a publisher, losing fellow contributors, until I held my Soul Bare baby in my hands. 
 
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I am profoundly grateful for Cara’s unswerving faithfulness to this project. Without her vision and tenacity it would have been scrapped long ago. She battled severe chronic illness flare ups and a host of other scary medical issues but never let it cool her passion for Soul Bare. She seemed to always have a spoon left for us. 
 
I am deeply honored to be among such brilliant, brave writers and I want to give a special shout out to Sarah Bessey who gracefully endured my stalking her at The Festival of Faith and Writing and hugged me tight when she met me.
 
The writers who fill these pages with story and experience, lessons learned and regrets confessed, are some of the finest writers I’ve encountered. You’ll want to pause after every essay to tweet a quote, thanking them for their willingness to bare their souls, and may even want to bare yours. 
 
Soul Bare is coming out August 8th and you can preorder it now and be the first on your block to read it! I hope it meets you where you need it and helps you feel less alone wherever you are. 

The Mudroom is giving away 5 copies of Soul Bare, courtesy of InterVarsity Press! Send a tweet or like our Facebook page to enter. Winners will be chosen on July 30th. You can enter once a day. Share this post with your friends!

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Check out the first book trailer with Shannan Martin!


Finger Pointing and Neighboring

Black and White Neighbor

Like so many others, I am following the developments in Dallas, Minneapolis, Baton Rouge, Kansas City and Florida,

And I know that there will be fingers pointed.

I could point my finger at the police, who disproportionately kill unarmed black men, who are seven times as likely as white men to die at the hands of police. Pointing fingers at all police would be uncalled for, as we know that there are quality officers who love & serve their communities well.

I could point my finger at our news stations, who report black crime at greater rate than white crime. Even though black crime rates have plummeted in the past 20 years, the reporting of crime with black perpetrators is higher than the crime rate itself (75% to 51%). Neuroscience shows that when we turn on the evening news and see higher frequency of stories involving black perpetrators, our brains begin to link blackness with criminality–and the more this link is triggered, the stronger the link becomes. In other words, our brains are being trained to link black people with crime. And when white crime is reported the white suspects are often shown more favorably, as seen here.

Of course, pointing fingers at all media would be uncalled for, as there are quality reporters & networks doing the heavy lifting to cover stories fairly.

I could point my finger at Hollywood, for continuing to show that black communities are solely dangerous, ghetto subcultures–for routinely depicting black neighborhoods as a disorderly place in which youth cannot be controlled by adults, so police are needed to crack down on violence to maintain order. Yet pointing fingers at all movies is ridiculous, as there are some great films that shape our imaginations in healthy ways about culture.

I could point my finger at the NRA, whose answer to all gun-related violence is always, well, more guns. Just buy more guns. Pointing fingers at solely at guns and gun owners is not the answer either, as I know that there are responsible gun owners out there (although I do believe regulations should change, but that’s another issue).

We should be pointing back at ourselves. We cannot continue to think that racism will disappear over time–that people will just become better with time. Racism must be deconstructed. But we don’t know where to begin, the issues are so complex, and we don’t think of ourselves as part of the problem. I mean, we’re not racist–we have black friends, co-workers, teachers. Heck, we’ll adopt a kid from Africa and serve meals in the inner city (and what’s the white savior complex anyway?). We certainly can’t have a finger pointed at us, accusing us of being the problem, right? 

Here’s the thing. We can’t–no, we won’t–deconstruct a system without loving each other well. I’m not talking about the fluffy, feel good concepts of love, peace and acceptance. I’m saying that we cannot love each other well unless we know each other well. 

We do not know each other.

This idea is based on the simple fact that white people and black people live separate lives in separate neighborhoods. White exposure to blacks is minimized, (except for the evening news), even as the country became more integrated. From 1950 onward, blacks and whites became more segregated across municipal boundaries. After 1950, they not only lived in different neighborhoods; increasingly they lived in different municipalities as well.  In other words, blacks and whites now reside in wholly different towns and cities

We don’t live together. We don’t know each other. And my guess is that we are afraid of each other because of it.

So many things will continue to keep us apart. How can we start a conversation about how we can start to come together, to do life together, to simply be with each other and know each other? It’s radical and simple and it just may change all of us–and the world.

 

Ready to start that conversation?

How have you done this in your life, in your community, in your neighborhood?

Share with us in the comments. We want to hear from you.

Requiem For a BFF

Being the new girl in 8th grade was like walking over hot coals every day. All the other kids were a part of established cliques. Hormones and insecurity are a double rip tide that pulls under all but the strongest and most resilient of us during middle school.

It was a life preserver to have Karen draw me into her circle of friends during a ski trip. Her clique wasn’t “cheerleader popular”, but they were a pretty cool group. As time went on, we cycled between being besties and drifting from each to connect with others in the intense friendships that characterize adolescence. Karen and I found our first bond in our respective difficult home lives and our shared weed smoking habits, then as each of us came to newfound faith in our Rescuer, Jesus.

When I got married at the end of my sophomore year in college, Karen and I learned that the bond of true friendship was elastic in nature. Our lives went in different directions for a while, and our rubber-band bond stretched farther than it ever had before.

Our lives were different for a while, as I focused on married life and then starting a family, and she traveled abroad and finished college. We fell again into closer orbit after she and her husband started a family. We were together in the trenches of parenting, and our kids grew up spending lots of time together. Even after my family moved a couple of hours away midway through our kids’ respective childhoods, Karen and I stayed tethered to one another by phone call and visit.

I had a solar system of friends and acquaintances, and for years considered Karen the inner ring, my closest friend, fixed in orbit, always and forever my Proverbs 18:24 BFF. What a consolation it was to know there was always someone there who knew my story and was in my corner no matter what. When my husband and I went through two hellish church leadership experiences, Karen’s friendship proved Aristotle’s axiom true in my life: “The antidote for fifty enemies is one friend.” Karen was one of God’s most effective antidotes during those difficult periods, and a bubbly glass of celebration of our shared lives and faith during so many ordinary, extraordinary days together.

As our kids grew into adulthood, our once-synced lives again fell into a stagger step cadence. More than a decade ago, an excruciating breach in my family sent me to the Valley of the Shadow. Karen is one of the most committed party-creators I know, and as time went on, a long, hard season of clinical depression became a buzz-kill party guest and threw Karen and I out of sync in new ways. When Karen and her husband moved to a new part of the country, the rubber band binding us stretched far and thin, and our every-so- often conversations shifted to catching up on newsy bits and referencing our thick catalog of shared memories.

Certainly, there is something wonderfully comforting about having someone to call BFF. David had his Jonathan. Anne of Green Gables shared bosom-friendship with Diana Barry. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are an invincible power duo. But at midlife, many of us realize we’re in for (pardon the pun; I couldn’t resist) a duo-over.

This life stage brings often carries a shift in relationships. I wrote a piece for Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog a few years ago about midlife loneliness that follows after kids leave the nest and we discover some of our friendships may be fading as a result. I noted then:

Our kids scattered, some to college, others into the workforce or the military. Some friends relocated or put new energy into their careers. A few marriages ended. The easiest way to deal with the new distance in these relationships was to make excuses for it (“How did we get so busy? Let’s get a date on the calendar ASAP!”) or to try to pretend nothing had changed.

Midlife strips us of the things that formed our network of relationships in our 20’s and 30’s: children's activities or the drive to find meaning in a career. No one I know is riding in a red convertible with her empty-nester Gal Pals, singing along to oldies while heading together to a beach house weekend.

As I’ve matured, my friendships now look less like a rigid, closed-unit solar system and more like an open-source web of relationships. High school cliques and the comfort of having a best friend I could name carried me through first-stage adulthood, but were not sustainable as I moved into midlife. Now, I’m content to know there’s something “best” about each diverse, enriching, relationship in my life, because each is a gift from the Eternal One whose friendship has sustained me ever since the day Karen and I stopped smoking weed together and began following him.

Come Eating and Drinking, Come Hungry

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In my father’s last days, his hunger vanished. 

As he shrunk like a hollowed out husk, his spirit being gathered by the very hand of God, his appetites died within him. The hospice nurse handed me a pamphlet about the stages of death and closed her palm gently over the back of my hand. 

“Fluid and food decrease. Your loved one may want little or no food or fluid. The body will naturally conserve energy required for the task ahead. Food is no longer needed. As the end-of-life physical changes occur, your loved one is completing important work on another level. Emotional and spiritual changes may be manifested. An IV can be used for your loved ones comfort if oral intake is not possible. Loss of appetite is one of the final stages of death.”

Skilled hands slipped on latex gloves and threaded an IV into his veins to keep him hydrated and to limit pain but his lips had already spoken their last words and eaten their last bites. His eyes never opened again. 

He slipped easily from consciousness into a hushed body I no longer recognized as my dad. 

I didn’t know my dad without his appetite for life. 

As a girl, he would hoist me onto his lap and offer me love straight from his plate. He taught me that to offer a seat at a table was to invite communion and community. 

He sat on mud floors in dung huts beneath the Himalayas scraping small handfuls of dahl and rice into his mouth, eating hot momos cooked in the hammered pot full of sizzling oil spitting and hissing on the open flames. 

He held the white cardboard cone with fritz and mayonnaise, each bite warming me as we walked hand in hand from the street vendor in Holland. He ate oxtail soup and kim chee and lau lau in Hawaii. He scooped up menudo and posole with our Mexican friends, under the watermelon hued backdrop of the Sandia Mountains. He ordered lengua tacos from the tiny taco stands and doused them with fiery hot peppers.  

People always made room for him at their table. His fair skin and blue eyes were readily invited into so many cultures because of his love and respect for others’ customs and foods.

They welcomed him because he truly appreciated the great wide world of tastes and flavors, the halo of fragrance from steaming pots and sizzling pans. 

He was happiest sharing a meal because a meal shared meant an open invitation to belong to each other. 

But his hunger was no longer for this world. I watched as my dad slipped from his body into eternity. 

The hospital bed looked garish and oversized with his shrunken torso.The edema swelled his belly feigning a fullness he could no longer get from food and in those days it deflated like a balloon steadily losing air. His body sagged in dying, like the very soul of him had leaked out bit by bit.

And this was just one more part of it. This exhale where his body couldn’t contain him anymore. He was letting go of this world as God called him home, and releasing his appetite was one of the final tethers that broke.

Our bodies were made to be nourished. We are reminded as our stomachs groan and plead for food day after day that we are not autonomous from this world. We are bound by our physical needs. But we are also bound by the needs of our body and our body is always more than joint and sinew, marrow and muscle. Our body is a hungry church. 

Our bodies are sustained by the table.  After all, the Son of Man came eating and drinking. On his last night he didn’t preach a sermon, he poured wine and broke bread. 

It’s no wonder Jesus broke bread and drank wine and told us to remember. Because we forget so easily that we have communion and connection in the very physical act of eating and the very spiritual act of ingesting the life of God. That by passing the plate to our brother or taking it from our sister, we partake in the wild beauty of being fully alive. We embrace the body when we taste and know that God is good. 

We are fully awake to a God who created every burst on the tongue to tingle with the creamy smoothness of homemade ice-cream, or to steep in the flavors of summer fruit ripe and tangy, or to swell with the intoxicating scent of garlic and butter rising from the pan like holy incense.

We remember that we are not full of our own accord. We are made to worship the God who nourishes us while we gather as a body at the table. While we hunger and thirst, we remember we will know fullness of life if we taste and see that the Lord is good. 

Come hungry. Be filled.  

Meet our Newest Writers!!

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We’ve added some new writers to our Mudroom family and can’t wait to introduce you to them. You may already know them from their online presence and stunning writing. These women are thoughtful, gritty, and engaging, and you should be following them everywhere. Please join us in welcoming . . . 

 

Grace P Cho loves the power of the written word and believes that writing is her vehicle to lead and encourage others. She loves to gather people around the table to share lives and good food, and she hopes people will see more of Jesus through her blog. You can find her at www.gracepcho.com, Twitter, and also on Instagram. Grace’s latest post for The Mudroom: “Cooking and the Feeding of Our Souls.”

 

alia

Alia Joy is a storyteller, speaker, and homeschooling mother of three making her home in Central Oregon. She shares her story in broken bits and pieces on her blog and finds community where other’s stories intersect. She’s a cynical idealist who is always trying to find the beautiful bits in the midst of the messy and broken. She believes even the most broken stories have a redeemer and she’ll always dance to the good songs. She is a regular contributor at (in)courage, SheLoves, The Mudroom, and Deeper Waters and can be found on twitter hashtagging all the things, drinking copious amounts of coffee, and making goo-goo eyes at her husband. You can find Alia at aliajoy.com, on Twitter and on Instagram. Alia’s latest post for The Mudroom: “Coming of Age in This American Life.”

 

marlena

Marlena Graves is the author of A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness (Brazos Press 2014). Hearts and Minds Books awarded it the Best Book on Spiritual Formation by a First Time Writer (2014).  Marlena is also a bylined writer for Christianity Today and Our Daily Journey (Our Daily Bread Ministries). Her pieces have also appeared in Relevant and many other venues. She is the Minister of Pastoral Care at her church and an instructor at Winebrenner Seminary. She lives in NW Ohio with her husband and three daughters. Marlena’s latest post for The Mudroom: “The Place of Privilege in the Kingdom of God.

Cooking and the Feeding of Our Souls

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I’m becoming my mother. Whenever she comes to visit us, her greatest ambition is to cook for our family. She asks which of her Korean homemade dishes we’d like to eat, and even prior to her stay she prepares in advance by shopping for groceries we can’t find locally. She’s a lady on a mission. Her goal is to cook every dish she knows we’ll enjoy and to freeze extra meals to last us for weeks after. Each morning she’s up before the sun, and when I come downstairs I find her drinking her tea with something new simmering on the stove.

She overworks herself cooking for us, but even when I tell her to rest she has a hard time stopping. She wants to make sure everything is full- our bellies, the fridge, the freezer- and until recently I didn’t understand why this was so important, so inherent in her.

A couple of weeks ago I stepped down as an associate pastor at our church to prepare for our move out of state. It’s the first time being a full-time stay-at-home mom with no meetings to attend, no sermons to prep, no ministry or work obligations whatsoever. So how do I fill up this new space in my life? I cook. Instead of prepping for Sunday services, I plan for meals. Instead of having coffee dates with people, I shop for groceries with the intent of filling my family’s bellies and our fridge to bursting. I am becoming my mother, and I can’t help it.

But I’m understanding now that innate desire to provide food for those around you. The act of cooking runs deeper than merely wanting to satisfy empty stomachs. It is a medium for love. When I chop up garlic and make it dance in hot oil, when I sprinkle salt to season the meat, or when I mix sauces to make a marinade, it’s love. When my mother insists on cooking all the dishes she can despite her lack of rest, it’s love. When she wants us to eat everything she’s made even though we’re beyond full, it’s out of love. It’s for us to know, experience, and appreciate her tangible care.

The joy of cooking, feeding, and eating together bonds us with unexpectedly strong ties because love gets poured into creating a meal, and love is what’s taken in as we enjoy the food. So when we share food and conversation, our hearts and our lives naturally become entwined with those who sit at the table with us. We get to experience connection and intimacy, and we get to have community, whether it’s with old friends or with strangers.

This value in the relationship between food and friendship has been apparent since Old Testament times. We read about feeding others as a means of love all throughout the Bible, but one of my favorites is God’s hospitality toward Elijah in 1 Kings 19. After experiencing a powerful demonstration of God’s power against the prophets of Baal, Elijah goes into utter despair. Queen Jezebel is threatening to kill him, he is exhausted, lonely, and all he wants is for God to end his life. But God meets his needs with tenderness. He lets Elijah sleep and get rest. He bakes bread over hot coals and gives him water to drink. He is gentle. He is motherly. He cooks for him, He feeds him, He is present with him in a gentle whisper because that is His way of caring for His people, His way of satisfying our soul’s hunger.

Even when Jesus is approaching death, He spends His last hours eating together with His disciples. They break bread and lean into one another’s company. They don’t know it then, but they are getting a foretaste of the incredible demonstration of love that would soon be coming. Jesus shares a meal with them to give of Himself, and so He does with us every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. He invites us to His table to feast on His grace, to be nourished by His words, and to be filled by His presence again and again. But I’m learning it’s not only through the Lord’s Supper that we get to experience communion. On a daily basis whenever we cook, whenever we gather around the table, we and the people we feed get to taste and savor His soul-satisfying love for us.

Finding Love in the Present Tense

 

Finding Love in the Present Tense -- Ashley Hales -- The Mudroom

On the cusp of womanhood, we dreamt of boys who would sweep us off our feet, play the guitar, and in the sun-drenched summer days of southern California, carry a surfboard under muscular tanned arms. We wrote bad poetry and were waterlogged from long days at the pool. We ate cookies, drank Coke, and didn’t worry about waistlines while we spilled slumber party secrets. We traded best friend necklaces and dreamt of friendship that would always return like the rhythm of ocean waves.

We were 17 — babies in love. I wrapped telephone cords around my finger during those hours where we plumbed emotional depths. Conversations about the sunny future where our hopes and dreams always seemed to align perfectly. Soul mates. Destiny. Knight in Shining Armor. You name it — we trotted out each cliche, but they felt newly awoken in our mouths. There were novels written in kisses in those early days. But then there were budgets, moves, babies, and ministry that consumed all of our creative energy

Then, years later, there was the fresh newborn head smell that I willed my senses to remember. Each babyhood became somehow more precious because I realized how fleeting time really was. When before, I’d smirk at the coos from gray-haired ladies, now I realized I was well on my way to becoming one. By my third baby (I’m a slow learner), I had become used to the lack of sleep, the mess, the way motherhood pours you out from reserves you didn’t know you had. And I fell in love anew with blonde curls, sparkling eyes, and how I could fully be someone’s entire world. That my body, my arms, my attention could meet every need. 

Then there were the friendships forged over red coffee mugs, the ones where we owned our anger, our feeble steps of faith and doubt, how as pastor’s wives we felt broken, vulnerable, and confused about calling. How we just needed a date night to fall in love with our husbands again. How we vacillated between fiercely loving our children while also wishing they’d just leave us for a moment of peace. When we moved away and the miles separated us, I cried to you on the phone, shut up in my minivan: I didn’t know how to do life away from you. And now, you’ve lost your dad, I am miles away and I do not know how to hold up your grief that I cannot see. 

***

In the wide, gaping space of adulthood, we are in the present tense. We have left behind the years where dreams were curled in the future, little shoots of spring promise. We are not yet in the autumn of nostalgia, where the past has a hazy Instagram filter — where we only remember the baby smells and not the tantrum that cannot be fixed. Now, here, our feet are cemented in the present. 

There are some blissful people (I imagine) for whom the present tense is where they live, move, and have their being. For me, the present tense is not my immediate bosom friend. It is rather a spiritual discipline for me to chase beauty and sustained attention in the here and now. Finding the Kingdom of God in my laundry piles is not a cute way for me to hop on the hand-lettered, peony-picture-taking bandwagon. It is rather, a discipline to keep me sane when I hear the siren call drawing me back into a dreamland of the past or I start wishing for a different future. 

It’s easy to let self-pity have the final word. When the friendship ebbs, when the romance grows routine, when the baby keeps crying, I turn the inevitabilities of relational distance into an indictment that it is my fault. I am the failure. I cannot scurry enough, learn enough, be sexy enough, be gracious enough, to fill up all the cracks of belonging in my friends, husband, children. I have failed to be the world. 

There lies the rub: I have always wanted to be someone else’s entire world. But life keeps bumping into my self-centered idealism, scattering the rays of hope that I, like Juliet, will be someone’s sun. This fierce need to be all — though it can look like care and depth — is at heart, pride. It’s then that I need to get hit upside the head with a 2×4. Such a blessed knock out is a gift. It’s only then when I step back and say, good grief woman, you were never meant to be the sun, to have the world revolve around you, for you to be the source and sustenance of life. 

You were meant to be the moon — content to make your rotations, reflecting back glory, not a glory vacuum. But such a life feels claustrophobically small. It feels scary. It feels so counter to the “be yourself, do-it-all” mantra that is a white middle class woman’s birthright. Privilege has allowed me to stay in the dark awhile longer, to have the luxury to type words out on a screen. To see work as self-fulfillment. To not worry about the safety of my blonde children. To fret about square footage when others want daily bread. It’s time to redirect my attention to the sun. 

So, my friends, my children, my husband, my sisters across the world: I repent. I have been consumed by myself. I have carried your feelings and understood them according to my own narrative — even thinking myself such a great listener, so intuitive, so wise. I have inputted your pain, your grief, your dreams into a story where I have always been the heroine. We have dreamt dreams together, you and I, but they were not fully for you. They were always, at least in part, dreams about me. Here in the present tense, I want more for you. I want more for us. 

I want a Love that steadies, that is borne from the mundane, that floods hope in dark places. I know such Love will be the death of me. It was there at the end, when I bore down with each baby crowning, that I was sure I’d split in two, that there was not strength in me for a pain that redeemed. And yet, each time, minutes later, after the cursing, there was joy, laughter, and a newborn smell that was life itself. Dying to self is that same thin space, with a paper-thin veil between death and glory. But you see, Love has already given Himself for me. He has poured out Himself as a drink offering so that I drink the rich wine of God’s favor. I only pray that Jesus will be sweetest here in the present tense.

 

Image courtesy of the author.

The Fringe Hours That Fuel My Life

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The lock clicks as it slides open, a loud pop announcing the beginning of the day. I had already been waiting a few minutes outside the door for the restaurant to open, rubbing my tired eyes and stretching my muscles that weren’t yet aware they were supposed to be working this early.

Every Friday that we can work it out, we meet at the same table. I don’t wait for her to order anymore because I know just what she will want and even which side of the booth she will choose. We always say we will be done talking at eight but never are. We know that we’ll be late to the rest of the day waiting for us, but that’s okay. It’s these early morning breakfasts with my friend — the prayers said in this place — that sustain the rest of my week.

There is this aching need to sit with someone who understands that this moment is more important than the next appointment.

This friend and I met eight years ago through a small group in our church. She showed up at my house with a meal each time my babies were born. Her story of living overseas and coming back earlier than expected mirrors my own international journey. I wept with her when her dreams were literally crumbling around her, as earthquake after earthquake shook the fabric of her family’s home.

There are things we understand about the pain each of us carries that allows us to pray for each other in a way others just can’t. There are things we say in this space that we wouldn’t dream of repeating to others, but it is the words we don’t have to say that bind us together. We understand the loss and the hope behind our words without having to speak them into existence.

In a world of superficial connections, I can’t go long without hearing these prayers. Spoken out loud, passionate and raw — not polished and perfected. It’s these words that carry me to the Father when others just ring of hollow spirituality. It’s these early mornings that fuel my life.

***

The chairs squeak a bit as they rock back and forth, creating a rhythm almost like a lullaby. We sit inside for hours — eating and talking until our server stops coming to ask if she can refill our drinks. She gives up hope of filling the table with other paying customers so we have to flag her down to get a to-go cup, one last sweet iced tea for the front porch.

We said we would meet every month but it has been more like three since our last dinner. Only four miles separate our two homes but life can get so busy that finding a childfree night for me and an obligation-free night for my best friend can be difficult.

Even if it has been longer than we promised, we never give up trying to find a time to spend together. My husband kissed me goodnight before I left the house even though it was early evening. He knew I would stumble in just before bed; we always shut down the restaurant as we talk into the night.

She and I always laugh together about our wild nights — how this is the only place we shut down anymore. The irony that we sit in side-by-side rocking chairs after dinner isn’t lost on us. We are old friends even though we’re only in our thirties. Our friendship started in our early teens and has weathered all the drama of teenage girls, marriages, divorce, living together, and living continents apart.

We have fought with each other and fought next to each other against lost love, shattered dreams, and a friendship it would have been easier to let go of years ago.

Easy has never been our thing though. I imagine we’ll still be rocking here when we’re more suited for these rhythmic chairs, when our bones creak more than they do now. We’ve made it this far when common sense says our inside jokes should have stopped being funny in the nineties.

In a world of superficial connections, I can’t go long without hearing these stories. Spoken out loud, memories and dreams mixed together — one of the only times in my life I can be fully myself. It’s these words that carry me to the Father when others just ring of hollow connection. It’s these late nights that fuel my life.

***

I have lived on three continents and have met incredible people all over the world. I am so grateful for those experiences, but in all my journeys there are still only a handful of people who I have a real connection with day-in and day-out. It’s these connections that anchor me to who I want to be, that keep me sane.

These days work and kids and all the obligations of life can crowd out time for really being with people. I can find excuses not to make the time while I hide behind a newsfeed full of people who don’t really know me at all.

In these fringe hours of my life I carve out time for friends who’ve seen me through the good and the ugly — because I know there are more of both coming. It’s hard to remember that when the alarm goes off at five. But I hold onto these moments for dear life and I remind myself how much I need them.

I believe we were created for relationship — first with God and then with others. If life is all about relationships, it’s these moments that I want to define me. These fringe hours that fuel my life.

Lessons on Humanity from Hamilton

Photo Credit: Vogue

Photo Credit: Vogue

It’s no secret that my love for Hamilton runs deep and wide. I have succeeded in getting my husband and one child to like it, and I am currently on a mission to get a few friends across the pond into it. I made my own phone cases, I exercise to it 1-2 hours a day most days, and I finally have Guns and Ships memorized. Not that I’m obsessed or anything…

I’ve been thinking about what is so compelling about this musical and this casting and this story, and at first I didn’t know if it’s even something definable, something that can be named. When I was reading through the Hamiltome for the first time, I realized how rich this phenomenon is when it comes to creativity, and there is so much inspiration that can be mined from it. And I thought maybe that was it. But on my second read through, I wrote down a few things that jumped out at me and now that I’m looking at my list, I’m realizing that what I love about the world of Hamilton is how it teaches me to be human.

I have learned that it’s ok to be proud of your work. I had always been taught that to be proud of yourself was a sin, and that made it easier for me to slide into shame and low self-confidence. I think there’s something really powerful in being proud of who you are and what you do. I love the notes in the book where Lin just comes out and says how proud he is of different parts: “I was very proud of myself for the double meanings in this section, hence this note,” and  “But most of all, I’m Philip: I’ve written something and I’m proud of it and I want to show it to the people I love.”

Hamilton reminds us that there are subtleties to love and sexuality and it doesn’t shy away from showing us a full range of possibilities. “Laurens, I like you a lot,” is my favorite line in the whole show. My second favorite is the swoon-worthy “Hi,” in Take A Break. 

I love that both the story and the making of it invite us to think about legacy and our ambitions, and acknowledges the nuance and complexities and dangers in pursuing them. And when I think about the legacy that Hamilton is leaving, how it’s showing us the importance of diversity and broadening our imaginations, I’m reminded that we don’t go it alone. We all need a community, a cabinet of people to be surrounded by who help us and cheer us on.

When I read the sections of the book on the award-winning cabinet members, I am reminded that being human means having deficiencies, but that they don’t have to hold us back. The story of orchestrator Alex Lacamoire tells us that our weaknesses can influence our life for the better.

“Around the time that he began learning how to make a piano sing, his family noticed he was having trouble hearing….He was fitted for two hearing aids. Growing up, he sometimes wore only one of them, when his family couldn’t afford the other. In high school, he stopped wearing them altogether because he didn’t want to stand out. He kept playing though…he prefers to think that his hearing deficiency might have aided his life in music. Maybe it trained him to listen harder. ‘Maybe I’m more attuned to certain things,’ he says.”

Lin-Manuel teaches me that it is good to have faith in yourself. This guy goes to the White House, says ‘nah’ to what they asked him to perform, and does his own thing – even while being laughed at. Repeatedly! Who does that? Who believes in themselves enough to be able to do that? It’s so incredible to see. And I think about the documentary coming to PBS this fall – they started filming it 2 years before the show even came to Broadway. It is an audacious faith to believe that years from now, people will want to see what you have to offer. But isn’t that what we do with our lives? We believe that years from now, people will still want us and everything we bring around them.

Anyone who is human knows a big part of life is trying and failing. We are trained to see this as a negative. But the makers of Hamilton tell us it is a positive, and trying new things is worth it. “For if the most essential trait of the Hamilton team was relentless creativity, a close second was ruthless pragmatism. Lin, Tommy, and their collaborators shared an eagerness to try things – to try everything – to find what worked best. ‘New discoveries, new mistakes’ was the daily goal that Tommy had announced for the company at their first rehearsal.”

New discoveries, new mistakes. Being human means that not only can we change, but that we can change the world.

“Hamilton is laced with these shout-outs to the traditions that birthed it, both hip-hop and musical theater. These serve, in part, as invitations, a signal to people from diverse backgrounds that the show is meant for them…In this show though, the shout-outs have a subtle second meaning. They’re another way of saying that American history can be told and retold, claimed and reclaimed.”

Listening to the emotional complexity of life played out in the lyrics of Hamilton is as close to being in the presence of perfection as I can imagine. But no matter how seemingly perfect Hamilton is, the essence of the story reminds us what we already know – that life is not perfect. But the legacy Hamilton leaves us with is that even in the midst of imperfection and anguish, our humanity is worth celebrating, and life, while we have it, is worth living to the fullest.

#YayHamlet

 

I’m Not Good at Friendship. Or Am I?

Friendship

I’m not good at friendship.

Myers-Briggs tells me that I’m an INTJ, which is a fancy way of saying, “Doesn’t play well with others.” While I certainly don’t hate people, I don’t always understand them. Half the time I don’t even understand myself. Give me the world of the mind, the place of concepts and dreaming, not the confusion of humanity.

That retreat into headspace? It’s not all just how I’m wired. Wounding plays a role, much as I’m loathe to admit it. More than once my friend picker has been broken and I’ve ended up investing in unsafe people. Perhaps inevitably, this has led to lasting hurt. And so I’ve erected walls.

Save for a few who have proven to be true and were grandfathered into the “Don’t Get Too Close” clause, I have operated on the assumption that anyone new who crosses my path will hurt me in the end, no matter how genuine and warm they seem. When I find myself longing to get to know one of them better, I poke at the never-quite-healed sore and remind myself that the pain isn’t worth it.

So imagine how I felt when asked to lead a small group.

Bible study, sure. That’s my jam. I can talk about context and structure and meaning all day. But being involved with people? Being in charge of somehow bringing together an unknown assortment who would land on my doorstep?

No way.

But, you know, God has a sense of humor. I don’t think He likes to watch us squirm, but He is certainly all about getting us out of that revered comfort zone and into the place He’s prepared for us. A place beyond our control.

The first official meeting of what would become “Messy Mondays,” I was in the middle of beginning to wrestle through yet another broken friendship when this band of misfits of all ages and sexes traipsed into my living room and altered my life forever.

One of my rules for starting this group was that everyone show up in their sweatpants that first night. I wore no makeup, because if they were going to come to this group I was leading, they were going to get the “warts and all” version of me. The cranky me, really. I promoted both things as “vulnerability” and “authenticity,” but what it was really a defensive move. Level the playing field, so to speak. Nobody was going to look “better” than anyone else. Nobody was going to put on some show and slip through my defenses again. (Of course I didn’t stop to think too deeply about this. Anyone can put on show no matter how they present themselves).

Isn’t it strange how we can build walls when we think we’re working to tear them down? My idea of being “real” was one more way of keeping people at bay. Just goes to show that our human ideas and effort always pale in comparison to what God has in store.

Over the last year our group has dealt with divorce, chronic illness, disagreements over politics, differences in learning style, anxiety, depression. We’ve also had moments of intense joy and sidesplitting laughter. Along the way, I have slowly felt myself opening up to them as they have slowly opened up to me. In their honesty, I have been encouraged to be honest. They’ve accepted me in that. Even when I don’t make sense or even when they think I’m wrong, they accept me. In that I’ve learned to take leaps of trust. I’m learning to battle the lie that everyone and anyone will hurt me just because a few have.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be good at friendship. I’ll probably always feel awkward and a little out of place. I can’t make small talk if my life depended on it. My preferred plans for a Saturday evening include Netflix bingeing or reading. If I could communicate with the world solely through texting, I would. But, slowly, this beautiful, broken group is teaching me how to give it a go. They’re showing me that vulnerability can be a good thing. They are living out grace and acceptance.

That, I think, is the kicker. Acceptance. I am on a journey to learn to embrace who I am, flaws and all, for only in the embracing will I find the ability to cast myself into the arms of Christ and ask Him to remake what needs to be remade – in His image. Nobody else’s.

Their acceptance has led me to question my assumptions, like assuming I’m not good at friendship. What does that even mean? I’ve been trying to live up to some vaguely defined ideal that boils down to “not me.” Surely only the vivacious and outgoing can have good relationships. Surely only the life of the party will be the only one worth spending time with.

There’s a sharp pain that comes in realizing you’ve been living as if God made you all wrong.

If I were a betting woman, I’d wage good money on the belief that you’ve also dealt with this. I can’t be the only one on the planet who gets all goofy and worked up over what it looks like to be a friend. Can I just tell you, one struggling sojourner to another, that you’re lovely? That you, in all your quirkiness, are wonderful? I don’t want to know some fake version of you, some person you think I will like better. Don’t pretend for me and I won’t pretend for you and maybe, just maybe, we will naturally discover how to simply be together on this journey.

In the battle to accept myself so I can in turn accept others and let friendship unfold in an unforced or false way, Jesus has been telling me that I need to stop expecting others to be and do only what He can be and do. In short, I must rest in knowing that He is that forever and true Best Friend that my heart aches for. As I learn to nurture my relationship with Him in a new and deeper way, that will spill over into how I approach relationship with people. I can think the best of them instead of the worst, because I know that, if the worst does come, I am never truly alone.

So if we meet on the street someday, I’ll be brave and give you a wholehearted smile and a welcoming hug. Even if, right after, I blurt out some random historical fact.

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