Sh*tty First Drafts

“C” – daughter of The Broody Hen.

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”
― Anne LamottBird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

This writing gigue has me challenged, heavy-laden, filled with questions. I want to say stuff, things boiling in my head, words, phrases, ideas…but nothing can come out. There’s a block of words, a paste formed, a plaque allowing nothing to pass. I can clean bathrooms, vacuum floors, rage on a run but still that block sits and sits and pesters and pesters. Until I sit, until I write, the paste remains, preventing flow, preventing new truth, new grace.

I have loved this year of blogging. I have hated this year of blogging. Stretching, pulling, sifting. Words deposited on a page, forming something akin to a cohesive thought. I am consistently amazed and terrified at the construction of sentences, phrases, paragraphs, essays. The process is for the faint-hearted…those of us who in our vulnerability yearn to make sense of the impressions, the imprinted notions that knock and prey upon the doors of consciousness, who beg, yell, scream, bang their fists upon my unwilling fingertips, threatening that if I don’t type, things might just come out sideways.

And so this, my dear reader and friend, is my process. My shitty first draft (Anne Lamott, thank you), my stepping away, believing I am the laughing stock of all writers who have ever breathed and walked. Coming back, time and again, some days more than others, redrafting a sentence, moving a paragraph, omitting the snark, the attitude healing, the wounds grafting, the softening process inevitably reshaping me, my heart, my way in the world.

Writing, creating…our vulnerability formed into a product, to be consumed, to be judged, to be measured. Our creations published available to the world, for the world, to read our hearts, our minds, our insides even unbeknownst to us. This process of unfolding, taking the partly formed bits and pieces, creating a product, a useful package, wrapping it up, tying a bow around, pressing Publish. 

The finality, the stomach butterflies, the hands clammy, deep breaths. It’s okay, it’s out there. Pull it back, delete. No! I said too much. Deep breaths. Breathe. In, out, breathe.

For this recovering perfectionist, writing is necessary for me. There is no way to write perfect. Depending upon whom is reading, there is only good, good enough. There is only letting go, letting it be, living with the messiness, trusting the process.

I now recognize the metaphor for life. There is no perfect in marriage, relationships, parenting. There is no perfect in bodies, food, exercise. There is no perfect in decorating, home cleanliness, organization. There is no perfect in saying the right things, doing, being. There is only good enough. There is only trust and rest and do-overs and eleventh chances. There is only beginning the day anew, receiving grace, giving grace. There is only hope in mercy and better endings. There is only forgiveness and scar tissue and walking with a holy limp.

And the calming presence enters in. Dear child. You said it, thank you! I needed you to write that. Doesn’t it feel better? I love your heart, your voice. I love that you are using the gifts I’ve given you. Thank you.

Love Answers the Question

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How to put into words the weekend? How to accurately phrase an experience where you just had to be there? How does one describe the dawn or the dusk, the sweeping vistas of the prairies, the snow capped mountain peaks? Are there possibly enough words to describe the transcendent moments we experience, when it’s all about the goosebumps rising, the cheeks wet, the movement of the Spirit? What words can explain the grace, mercy flowing ever so freely upon each and every body present in the soaring cathedral of Saint Mark’s Episcopal in Minneapolis? What words can claim the experience, the absolute conviction of Truth and Love conjoined, arching and flowing ribboning in and through our bodies?

Why Christian? The conference I attended this past weekend employed many diverse female voices to answer this question. In light of current events in and around our world, when Christian has been and continues to be associated with war and violence, exclusion and appearances, racism and xenophobia, sexism and anti-LGBT, why do we continue to admit to Christianity?

Why am I a Christian? Why do I hang onto this religion? Why do I participate in certain spiritual practices? Why do I choose to worship God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus?

I discovered this weekend the redemption of a decade-long effort to reconcile my Christian belief with the actions of many Christians. All of the questions, the angry rants, the half-baked ideas whispered from the corners of my mouth to avoid discovery, the frustrated car rides after church, the dirt-road yelling on a run. The good Christian girl set aside, no longer an asset or necessary.

Fear replaced by defiance.

An underground of sorts has formed, a people wrestling and seeking…demanding a Christianity that can address the people who are woefully being ignored. All of it nailed to the cross this weekend, in a response of Me too. All of us here, doing the same thing. Here’s our attempt at the answer. Here are our fumbled offerings, our grasping for words to make sense, our seeming failures transformed somehow into this thing that might actually be working. Here are our exhausted hearts and bodies, our ideas, our harebrained notions that have resulted in love and beauty and grace in the most unassuming places. Here are the things I used to think and the way I used to live and here is how Jesus has brought life after death, after destruction, after hopelessness.

The sacraments, the tradition, liturgy. Communion. The person of Jesus, Love. Jesus as Bread, embodied, eaten. Bread that sticks in my teeth, chunks of mercy served warm, a morsel of great hope – hope for me, hope for the church, hope for the world.

Music. The rise and fall of voices, in four-part harmony reaching high into the vast, arching ceiling, flowing. The closed eyes, uplifted faces glistening with grief and grace, confession and repentance, self-righteousness replaced by humility. Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace. Streams of mercy never ceasing , call for songs of loudest praise. New life burgeoning forth from old – old benches, old floors, old plumbing renewing into a movement of unpretentious holiness, rough-hewn hearts softening from the old words, the old hymns, ancient text, through love.

Love. Love showed up. Love deposited Himself central in our gathering. We sang Love, we listened to Love, we partook Love dipped in wine. Go in peace. Your sins are forgiven. We feasted on Love and departed in Love.

Why am I a Christian? Because Love said: I want you to be with me and I want to be with you. Love came to me, to us, to this world as a squalling infant of questionable status and unrefined origin into oppression and fear and greed. Subversively, Love said Follow Me. Lay it all down and follow me. Love was mocked, bloodied, a refugee, abused. Love knows.

I am a Christian because this Love was embodied and knows suffering, not just my personal woundedness, but Love redeems the suffering of the world, Love redeems the fear dispensed by the powerful forces. Love calls out the mighty, the proud and gives hope to the weak, the humiliated. Love sees starvation, thirst, sweat-drenched, shivering and provides a way. Love beckons Trust Me. My ways are not your ways.

Love gives hope. Love ushers in a new day, over and over and over again. Love takes our notions and ideas, love reveals our humanity and calls us out while redeeming all things at the same time. Love, in the moment of our surrender provides breadcrumbs of persistence, justice, freedom, renewal, ultimately filling our broken spirits, our empty cups.

Love sees. Love knows. Love invites. Love comforts. Love compels. Love encourages. Love frees. Love listens. Love questions. Love understands. Love grows.

The Love of Jesus is far beyond complete understanding, but as we practice receiving Love for ourselves and in turn, giving to another we get glimpses. Glimpses of the wild grace, the abundant mercy, the unabashed pardon propel us toward more and more and greater.

Jesus is why I am a Christian. I am beyond grateful to the women that introduced me to Him this weekend.

It was beautiful. Better than perfect, it was good.

If you’d like to learn more about Why Christian? visit #wx2015 on Twitter. Many were diligent to Tweet the best parts. If you are curious, for more information check out the website.

Tightrope

photo credit: Tightrope via photopin (license)
photo credit: Tightrope via photopin (license)

The American Church is being faced with many questions that need answers. The Church was created to express the love of Jesus in the world, to be His hands and feet, His heart, moving about, drawing people in and together, providing respite for the broken, the hurting, the oppressed, the “sinner”. This goal, independent of political affiliation and certain theology.

We have it all backwards in our American Christianity. We say we love people, but essentially, those who participate in certain behaviors (generally sexual, by nature) are not welcome unconditionally. We say: Your sin separates you from God, therefore it is my responsibility to tell you this. So, since I love you so much, I have to ask you to limit your participation in this body. How does this demonstrate love? How does this create an open environment for people to explore, to ask questions, to seek safety?  It creates a tightrope, where we are all terrified to be found out, our shortcomings, our shame stay in the dark where they fester and smolder and wreak havoc in all the other areas of our lives. Shouldn’t our church be the place we can work these things out without fear of judgment?

We say, I love you too much to let you continue in your sin, so you must repent before you can fully belong, before you can fully be yourself in our body. Doesn’t this put us in the precarious position of determining the definition of sin, determining the worth of an individual? Doesn’t this place us in the role of God? Standing in the way of the perfect, redeeming work of the Holy Spirit?

This track never ends well, the result is superiority, condemnation, hypocrisy…which fly in the face of love.

Present logic places the onus upon the weary, tired traveler, upon the person who desperately longs for relief, a soft place to rest, to recover, to dwell in safety. Instead of providing the warm bed, fluffy pillow, steaming bowl of soup with delicious buttered bread, we withhold. We essentially say: Sit here, drinking fountain is over there, ring the bell if you need anything. When you’re done, let us know, we will open the door. Oh, and while you’re at it, the floor needs a good sweep and mop.

All of this leads to potential ruin, for both parties. The marginalized individual is further shamed, put in a place of having to defend oneself, proving worth and value, alone. And the growth of the church body is hindered. It is a beautiful thing to participate in someone’s story, by walking through the valley, being present in the pain, celebrating the manifestation of a new understanding, a new expression of mercy.

In my opinion, the responsibility is on the leadership, the congregation, to say: We love you, we want you here. Please be patient with us. This is about you, about us learning and about you feeling safe to be yourself as you’ve been created. The church may be required to step outside of their bubbles of comfort, their ease of worship, their presumed superiority, potentially threatening the bottom line: the programs, the budget. As love is shown, as people step up, this is where we get to participate in the actual work of Jesus, the hands and feet, the heart.

In deciding to adopt a policy of love through seeking to understand, through humility, through asking questions motivations must be examined. Are we making decisions and recommendations based on fear? Fear of losing our contingency? Fear of what people will think? Fear of God’s wrath? Frankly, any fear is misplaced. Any fear is unholy. Anything done in fear is ultimately going to separate us from one another, but worse, from God and the beauty and generosity of His love. As comfort is challenged, fear unmasked, honesty can rule, integrity and vulnerability will shine forth.

Is the Church in crisis? I hope so. I hope the Church in America is being called to the mat. I hope the faithful will stand up and say: Not on my watch. Love will win. And my job is not to be judge and jury, but to be present in the lives of others, to be the light I’m called to be, and that light has nothing to do with fear, or control, or calling out on sin. All of this is the work of God.

Jesus came so we could see the beautiful alternative to the Law. Jesus came so we could be rescued from this exhaustive need to display our holiness. Jesus came so we could love freely, taking risks, being vulnerable with one another. Our response must be humility and grace. I cannot see things ending well for the churches of our nation that fail to live this.

Flight of Despair

 

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference. -Elie Wiesel



Despair. Utter, gut-wrenching, immobilized despair. I had nothing, I could give nothing other than a few words on a page. In a final ditch effort to redeem the waning day, I did what I do. I took a walk. I prayed. I cried. I questioned.

God and I needed to have words. She needed to hear my heart. I needed to grieve, question, lay it down, confess. I wasn’t angry, just so so so sad, so many questions, so few answers. My heart broken over the state of millions in the world, the state of lives in my world. I had chosen ignorant blindness for the Middle East, the problem seemed so vast, so overwhelming, so far away. But that picture, that story, the boy, the weeping father…it changed the game. No longer a them thing or an over there thing, it became a that could be me thing.

At the end of myself and my power, my understanding…I wept. Tears of desperation fell while Clem and I traipsed the one-and-a-half mile circumference of our local reservoir. Sun dipping below the jagged mountain-line, illuminated clouds and sky. Mirror image reflected in the still waters. A regal heron perched on the rock shoreline, surveying my same view, I’m sure with different motivations. Geese arriving all at once, circle-landing, roosting for the night in bobbing numbers. Bald eagles perched high in the distant cottonwoods. Their undeniable rectangular forms silhouetted against the dusk. Another heron alighting across the sleek liquid surface.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air: they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? -Jesus (Matthew 6:25-26)

My faith frayed, tattered, dragging. How can this be? This utter helpless hopelessness? How is this possible? How is it allowed? Why? The ache of my personal struggles, the suffering of friends, the stories, commingled with the pain of the world, the cries for relief, yearning for death. Groans of the nations.

Pleading questions with no answers, fear stretched out, the last bits of power and self-righteousness conceded. Nothing. Nothing left but my sobs. And finally, the only response available, use me. The beckoning of surrender, Be Still and Know that I am God. The final moment, knowing in my human-ness that I am Peter – fully capable of denying the call of my Savior, my best friend, my companion, pretending I never even knew Him. The humility and powerlessness reverberating with tears, eclipsing of pride. Ego shrieking for significance alongside the letting go.

God asked me to take a walk, to lay it out there, on the trail, at sunset with the birds as our only witness. She listened and responded in Her most abundant ways, through beauty, through creation. She urged me to rest, to lay my head on Her formidable bosom, to concede control, to dwell. God knows my humanity. She knows my capacity for love, grace, mercy AND apathy, rejection, hate. I am all this. And yet, I am called. I must respond. I must continue to choose discomfort, to see, to learn. The temptation so great to ignore, to continue in blindness. To focus on only the happy and never the suffering is like music with all treble and no bass; the paddle board without the fin…scooting from one thing, drifting to fill me, my emptiness. Easily forgetting, our capacity for joy equals the degree to which we experience suffering, whether it’s our own, or the empathy and compassion we carry for another, the burdens we choose to bear, the weight we own because we can, because we are human.

Gazing over the water, the many birds kept safely, reminded of the meticulous care given, their numbered and counted feathers.  Wondering about the millions of refugees seeking a place to lay it down, to live life, to fill bellies…wondering about the questions and pain in my own neighborhood.

What if through our surrender and love, the power becomes greater than our fear and impotence?

Nearing the end of the walk, completing the circled trail, light disappearing – a sense, a small voice sweet and still:

Thank you for trusting me.

Too Many Whys

I didn’t respond well. We had an argument, well, more of a silence…the charged kind..where the molecules in the room morph and bend to create a foreign sense. We all know when it’s happening, there’s just no true way to describe or define. Why are you mad? I’m not. Yes you are. What did I do? I’m leaving you alone like you wanted. Whatever. Slam slam, walk away. Go to work, get kids off and running, find the lost cats.

Why can’t I let this go? Apologies happen, no big deal, a misunderstanding. What’s wrong with me today? Why? Is everyone okay? Kids? Yep. Friends? So far. Family? No issues that I know of.

Why the pit? Why the proximity to tears? What’s going on? All morning, a foreboding sense. All morning, feeling wronged but reacting so inappropriate. All morning, trudging around like grief my dearest pal.

I settled down just now to catch up on Facebook, to peruse Twitter, to read my fictional tale. An image, a story..I’m undone. I can’t breathe, silent weeping. Jaime and Ramon are installing a new front door. No need to alarm them. Crazy lady.

The little boy, looks just like my neighbor. Face on the beach, like he’s taking a solid nap. His little tennis shoes, red shirt, blue shorts…how I would have dressed my boys.  No life, gone, extinguished. A Syrian refugee family aimed for Canada. A man required to do what no father should have to do, conducting triage for one’s own family, left behind to provide the tone for the grief we all need to feel. The questions: What if this was us? What if that was my boy, my baby, my sweet sweet little man? No words, only swollen eyes, heavy hearts, questions with no answers.

I sit and watch my chickens, my large back yard, new paint on my house with new door currently undergoing installation. So many blessings. So much abundance. I WILL NOT feel guilt. I will not allow my life to be wrong. I do my very best to see it all, to count, to place appropriate credit. At this moment, however, I carry gratitude and grief simultaneously. One in each hand, like a balance. I hold wonder and confusion together. I bear my own blessing and deep deep pain for the plight of these 4 million Syrians, the 3 million Iraqis, looking for a glass of cold water, looking for a place to lay their children’s heads, a place to create a life free from utter despair. Desperation.

My tears just waiting to be let go. My mind reeling with questions. My heart breaking for the mothers, the fathers trying to do what is right and best for the future of their babies.

I remember our flood, the one that displaced our own people…Lyons, Longmont, Boulder, Estes Park…some for months, some for forever. The rallying, the heartfelt desire by churches, families, schools, businesses to offer the abundance, to make small sacrifices of comfort to provide relief. Posts on social media alerting the masses of how to help. Response poured in from all over the nation, a beautiful experience. Restoration in the faith of humanity. You see me. You love me. I needed you and you came. Thank you.

We now have this opportunity.  Let us keep our eyes wide open. Let us see and recognize when it’s our turn to jump in, to bring hope, salvation, supplies, shelter. Let me pressure my government, post a hashtag on Twitter, open my own home. We all have reasons for “not right now”. We all are busy. We all have lives, budgets, stress. But what if? What if this is our generation’s Holocaust? What if this is our test, where we can finally answer: Yes! That is how I responded. That is what we did. 

Instead of wondering…

*Ann Voskamp has provided a set of resources, opportunities for action. Please pray and ponder and do what you can, where you are moved. I will do the same. Please keep me posted and let us encourage one another in this good work.

Dear Aylan … dear world with a refugee crisis, dear all of us who have needed to be welcomed in

*Also, here is the article link. Please be careful, the content is graphic. I personally need to look at it to carry some of this burden.

http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2015/09/03/437132793/photo-of-dead-3-year-old-syrian-refugee-breaks-hearts-around-the-world