Yoga mats and Fire Pits: On Space for the Broken

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A Blessing for the Brokenhearted

There is no remedy for love but to love more.
– Henry David Thoreau

Let us agree
for now
that we will not say
the breaking
makes us stronger
or that it is better
to have this pain
than to have done
without this love.

Let us promise
we will not
tell ourselves
time will heal
the wound
when every day
our waking
opens it anew.

Perhaps for now
it can be enough
to simply marvel
at the mystery
of how a heart
so broken
can go on beating,
as if it were made
for precisely this—

as if it knows
the only cure for love
is more of it

as if it sees
the heart’s sole remedy
for breaking
is to love still

as if it trusts
that its own stubborn
and persistent pulse
is the rhythm
of a blessing
we cannot
begin to fathom
but will save us
nonetheless.

– Jan Richardson

I showed up at my church with stars in my eyes. It was love at first sight and the service time was perfect for us. Sunday evenings. When we moved into a bigger venue, and to the proper-church time of Sunday morning, before noon, it took a toll on my body. I had been living with fibromyalgia for nine years then. I knew what I needed, and it wasn’t a cute outfit and a spot in the third pew to the front. I didn’t know what would happen when I walked into church in all my broken glory, but I did it anyway.

It was cold outside and my feet would only allow me to wear my oldest flip-flops. My upper body was wrapped in my most comforting hooded sweatshirt and my knees breathed from my ripped jeans. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sit in a chair for any length of time. I brought in my yoga mat and rolled it out in the aisle. I sat there, in the aisle, in the clothes that made me feel safe. I worshipped, I listened, I cried.

When you are in pain, church is often the hardest place to be. 

No one blinked an eye. It became so normal it was as though no one saw it and on the days I couldn’t make it at all, my friend (who happened to be the pastor’s wife) would call after church to see if the extra sleep had helped and would I be available for lunch. I forgot about it really, that it was weird for a woman to be sitting on a yoga mat in the aisles of the church auditorium.

But then, my pastor thanked me for my brokenness. 

On a normal Sunday with my yoga mat under my arm, my pastor stopped to tell me that my brokenness was holy. He wanted me to know that my willingness to show up with my unhealed body on display on my yoga mat in the middle of the aisle made space for other people. He wanted me to know that he valued me. Just as I was.

I think it was this space that finally allowed for the healing to come, the space for me to be broken. I showed up every Sunday, and there was space for me to be broken. And every once in a while a woman I love would tell me that she believed that I would be healed. Sometimes it made me angry, sometimes it made me sad, mostly I would brush it off. Every once in a while, I would believe her. Maybe healing could come for me.

And then one day it did.

This wasn’t the first time a church had made room for this broken body of mine. I was blessed by a youth leader who said yes I could go on the physically grueling mission trip, and yes I could sleep in the van whenever I needed to. I was loved by a church camp who let me take a nap in the middle of the day, every day, for two years. Even if I looked fine, even if I pretended I was in the moments I wasn’t sleeping in the infirmary.

No one ever pushed healing on me, even as they prayed for it, even as they wanted me to be healed as badly as I did.

I know that there is space for brokenness in the church, because I was broken and the church made room for me.

I hosted an IF:Gathering in my living room this past weekend. Well, sort of in my living room. The TV with the live stream was on in the living room, but there was a place to rest upstairs, there was guacamole being made in the kitchen, there were conversations happening in my dining room and a fire pit in the backyard. Rumor has it someone broke an empty bottle against the fence in my backyard. For sure one of my kids peed on the floor.

It was all so messy, and I think that is the way I like it, perhaps even what I long for.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved so many of the things that happened on that stage in Austin, streamed right to my living room via the magical powers of the internet. (I mean, I could barely lead a discussion after this talk, I was just a blubbery mess.) But I wish somehow, when the church gathers, there would always be more room for the fire pit.

The fire pit, where the women who had quietly emailed me, asking if there would be space for them, escaped when the messages brushed up against wounds that aren’t going away anytime soon. Even though they have begged and pleaded, have written the words of the Lord on their hearts. The fire pit where we talked late into the night. I sat and witnessed their pain and their struggle. We wrestled it out together. I listened and poured more wine. I didn’t need to keep screaming at them to claim their redemption. I know it is coming as sure as I know the sunrise is on its way.

Even if the healing never comes this side of heaven, I see God right now, in the brokenness.

I know the stories where the mess has already been redeemed are important to tell. I love those stories, believe me I do. But I long for the time when the redemption is so deeply believed in, that there is space for stories that are not yet redeemed, that there is room for someone who has nothing to offer but her brokenness, not yet healed.

I believe the brokenness is beautiful….I think God does too.

I long for the day when the fire pit is pulled right inside. When there is space for brokenness and space for healing. I long for a time when my story and my church are not the exception, where people say to people:

Isn’t church the place where all those broken people gather and love on each other?

The brokenness is an offering. Even before it is healed. The brokenness is holy too.

When you are hoping it is different this year

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The girls Halloween costumes were still in the laundry when the grocery store switched out the candy aisle to all things red and green. Is this really happening already? I haven’t even gotten my spider web wreath off the door. This christmas candy aisle transition was months ago. I still have the spider web wreath and the laundering of the costumes on my to-do list.

Can I tell you something? Even minor holidays have the potential to throw me into a tizzy. All parents have things that matter to them and things that don’t. What the girls wear on a daily basis, or even to church. What they eat. These are battles I mostly don’t fight. They are shoulds I have managed to mostly turn off. But on holidays? The should yard stick comes out. Valentines day and my kids aren’t wearing hearts: If you really cared, they would be red and white and adorable, get it together mommy. Halloween and we don’t get the perfect photo or a ton of candy: You could do better if you didn’t work. These pictures are forever, you are depriving your girls of a fleeting childhood experience! You didn’t hit enough houses! You could have done more.

If St. Patrick’s day without matching green tights sends me over the mommy-guilt edge, you can only imagine the beating  I manage to give myself with the gigantic tinsel covered Christmas yard stick. I got the girls too much, I didn’t get them enough. I should have baked, decorated, sung, watched holiday movies, partied more. I’ve done the more. It leaves me exhausted, crawling into the new year with nothing left.

The tricked out more more more Christmas extravaganza leaves me feeling empty, not full to the brim of awe and inspiration over the gift that Jesus Christ really is. It leaves me empty and sad, like the trees on the curb, used up and dry.

I want it to be different this year. I want the joy to the world and the peace on earth. Not the joy for just this too expensive moment and the can I please get a moment of peace around here. I’m scaling back, I’m dialing it down. I am making more room for the contemplation of a savior born, a God incarnate. I want less good stuff and more good news.

I want to leave the Christmas season full and bright, not dried up and used. For me, this means the advent candles. The Bible readings, the savoring of the old story through new eyes. The physical representation of the physical birth I believe in. The more accessible fisher price version my kids play with. A chance for my children to play with baby Jesus.

Yes. I am hoping it will be different this year, and I am preparing the room for it to be better.

My friend Tara Owens is a spiritual director. I met her through Story Sessions, and the wisdom she pours out is incredible. You haven’t heard a woman pray till you’ve heard Tara pray. She is offering an Advent ecourse. I think this would be a great way to focus on the good news of the season.

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Let’s Just Be Us

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We went out on the town in my mini-van, car seats still in the back. The very first place we sat down we all began apologizing. “I’m sorry I need to sit there.” “I’m sorry I really need something to eat.” “I’m sorry I take pictures of everything.” “I’m sorry….”

“New Rule!” I announced. “No apologizing any more. Let’s just all be who we are. Let’s not apologize about it.” Then I swallowed the apology coming up my throat. I have been told I can be a little bossy, and I am sorry about that. We joked that we were going to order our drinks based on our personalities. But then I did. I ordered “the more you ignore me, the closer I get.” My sister Jill calls our style “pushy-friendly.” The drink came. Pushy friendly is delicious.

We stopped apologizing on Saturday. This gave us more time to laugh. And laugh and laugh and laugh. I keep trying to explain to people how great Saturday was. How funny it all was. How perfect it all was. Explaining everything that happened, it is like me trying to capture that moon.

It keeps coming out like this. Washed out, the focus on the wrong thing. 20131019_230024

 

When really it was like this, by Alison Luna. Full of color and music. Laughter tucked into angles.

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Or this, by Jennifer Upton. The truth shining brightly just behind the clouds. Moments of focus clear and crisp.

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I am glad I don’t have to tell this story by myself. I can’t capture the moon in the way these other ladies can. I do not have a photographer’s eye. I won’t apologize for that, or even see it as a weakness. I’m done apologizing for who I am. It wastes a lot of time, time better spent laughing and weeping and scribbling dreams on table clothes.  I do what I am born to do, and they do what they are born to do. It is all holy, especially when we are doing it together.

Let’s do life together. Let’s not apologize for who we are. Let’s just be us.

 

 

I am From; A She Loves Synchroblog

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Today I am linking up with SheLoves Magazine. I just love them, all of them, all of the time. I love their heart, their open arms, their vision for the women of this world. I love the way they walk the walk before they ever talk the talk. I love the way they host link-ups like this so we can really get to know each other and talk about the things that matter.

This poem is an excercise I have done many times in the classroom with my students. They always turn out beautifully and they always surprise both the writer and the reader. I hope you do one even if you don’t have a blog. I hope you would be willing to share it with me.

“I Am From”

Adapted by Levi Romero; Inspired by “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon

I am from baked potatoes and sweet corn

From second-hand cars and homemade birthday cakes.

 I am from the a small house on a big corner lot, where everyone who knew us knew where we hid the key.

 I am from the huge oak tree in the front yard where we promised to meet in an emergency.

From the side yard dogwood grafted together long before we got there blooming both colors just in time for mother’s day and prom pictures beneath the pink and white cross-shaped blossoms.

I’m from hymns and advent candles and big brown eyes

from Easter sunrise service down by the river with a quilt a piece and the gospel choir there to keep us warm.

I’m from if it is really important to you, and if the library has a book on it we can probably figure it out.

I’m from you must be a Michael with those eyes and the famous France temper. The full names of us and all our cousins sung to us at night.

I’m from Words of LIFE! yelled in frustration and of course they can stay for dinner. I am from a table where there is always room for another chair

I’m from Hoosier country from all sides if you go back far enough. A place where truth and grace and welcome are as abundant as sweet corn in the middle of July.

The template for this can be found here. Try it. It is fun.

Popcorn and Communion with the Saints

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I started serving popcorn for dinner on Sunday nights somewhere in the month of June. It is a way for me to honor the sabbath. Maybe that sounds like a Jesus-pass to do something not totally healthy and a little lazy, but it is quickly becoming a sacred time in our family. We do nothing on Sundays. We rest. We eat popcorn off of paper towels so there are no dishes to do. We go to bed early. I am thinking about declining all social invitations (If you know what an extrovert I am, you know this is an extreme move).

I posted about the popcorn on my Facebook page and my cousin quickly responded that this was a learned behavior, an inherited right. My Grammy had popcorn for dinner every single Wednesday night. If she did it, of course I could! So we have been sabbathing on Sundays, with popcorn for dinner. And it has become more than just popcorn.

It has become a communion with the saints. A time where I remember the people, especially the women, who have gone before me. Where I think about my Grammy, and popcorn for dinner, and how everything in her living room was a shade of mauve, even the child’s rocking chair that was passed down to me. My girls sit in that chair in my living room. I spray painted it orange because I love bold colors (and spray paint) and I wonder if Juliet will paint it some other color and remember how her mother liked bold colors so much the living room looked like a crayola crayon box.

I remember asking my catholic friend what “the whole saint thing was all about anyway.” I was as tactful at sixteen as I am now apparently. I don’t remember what she said, but what I heard was that it was sort of like asking someone who was a little closer, to put in a good word for you with God. I liked it. I started praying to the saints sometimes, or more accurately asking them to come pray with me. I use the term saint loosely. I use the term communion loosely.

I don’t mean to be disrespectful to the officially recognized saints, I pray with those guys too. I particularly like the idea of having the honor of praying with Mary the Mother of Jesus, or Mary Magdalene. But those ladies aren’t really my go to. My great-grandmother, Doris Burgess whose faith was as legendary as her cookie jar is someone I think of often. My Grammy Michael, a labor and delivery nurse, I always would pray with while I rocked my babies. She adored babies. My cousin Rachel, who was on her way to her very first social work job in Chicago when she died in a car accident, I like to pray with her about my really hard cases at school. And I would pray with my great-great Aunt Ruth about politics (which she still regularly talked until she died at over 100) but she wouldn’t approve of the way I vote.

I know that this sounds all woo-woo and weird. But the older I get the less convinced I am that heaven and earth is separated by any kind of hard-line. Death really does seem to be the next great adventure. So some pray to Mary the mother of Jesus as they seek the will of her son. And I, I pray with my Grammy on Sundays in the living room. We eat popcorn, and she is sympathetic to the life of a working mom.

What They Don’t Teach in Teacher School: What light-skinded means

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As I work on my manuscript I thought y’all might like a sneak peek. My book is at least partially about how the lessons I learned in teacher school were completely un-useful my first year of teaching. Check back next Tuesday for another lesson I learned the hard way, or look at the list compiled in the tab up top.

What Light-Skinded Means

I had one inter-cultural education class. It was taught by a blonde haired blue eyed professor. Her name was Midnight Sun. Half Swedish, half American Indian, Professor Midnight Sun had been raised on the reservation. I wish I could tell you that I paid attention to every second of that class, but that isn’t exactly true. I do remember a lengthy discussion about Columbus day, and how the Europeans discovering America was not exactly a happy day for my professor and her people.

The one good thing we did in that class, was have a service project. We were forced to volunteer in places outside of our cultural comfort zone. Twice a week my friend Karl picked me up and we spent time at the boys and girls club. I learned how to do two things at the boys and girls club. I learned how to play carpet ball, and I learned how to smack talk. I have never played carpet ball again, but the smack talking has repeatedly come in handy. No one can teach you how to smack talk like some nine-year-old black kids waiting for their momma to pick them up.

At the time I thought I knew a whole lot about race, especially for a white girl, especially in comparison to my classmates. This may have been true but I was still severely lacking in the knowledge I needed. It shouldn’t have been my students who first taught me all of these things.

I opened the semester with a short story called “A Visit to Grandmother” on the recommendation of my colleagues. They said that the conflict was really obvious and the students could relate to the characters . They seemed to know what they were talking about, so I took their advice. I didn’t have time to read the story ahead of time. I hadn’t yet wrangled the beast of weekly paperwork I was required to turn in, and at three days into school I was already behind on my grading.

We read the story out loud together. The students and I took turns reading as we stopped every once in a while and I asked them questions. We tracked the line of the plot on the board. We got to the climax and the father in the story confronts his mother (hence a visit to grandma’s) for showing obvious favoritism to the father’s older brother. The father in the story claims it is because the older brother has lighter skin than him. We put that on the board and finished the story. Then we went back to talk about it.

“Okay, why does the father think his mother favored the older brother?”

The kids responded readily with the answer. “‘Cause the older brother is lighter than him.”

“Okay,” I said, “but that is ridiculous. That doesn’t even make any sense. What do you think the real reason is that the older brother was favored.”

I think it was the first time that school year my class had been completely silent. The students were looking at me like I was the ridiculous one.

Did you know that discrimination amongst black people based on how light or dark their complexion is, is a thing? Yeah. It is. It has been a “thing” in America since the slave owners started favoring their biological children with the slaves and placing them in the house to do the easier work. My students told me all about it, in broken bits and pieces spewed to me from shouting one on top of the other I got a pretty solid education about skin color and discrimination within the black community.

My students were trying to describe various skin shades to me. There was coffee, and caramel, and coffee with cream. There was light-skinded and very light-skinded. Then there was black. One of my students was so dark the kids called him “Black” like it was his name. He had skipped class that day so the kids were trying to describe to me who it was they were talking about skin tone wise. My eyes had not yet adjusted to all these shades of brown, and I was still having trouble deciphering between them all.

“You know, BLACK.” They kept saying to me, as though that should be the only descriptor I needed. They didn’t bother to tell me where he sat, I wasn’t even sure which period he was in. “You know Ms. Norman, BLACK, the black one.”

It slipped out of my mouth in frustration “You are ALL black!”

The kids stared at me in horror. How could I dare say that? Of course there was a difference. But there wasn’t to me. I had no idea what they were talking about, and now they knew.

Now I get it, I get just how offensive that was. I get that I wasn’t seeing them the way they needed and wanted and deserved to be seen. They taught me how to do that my first year, that beautiful brown rainbow of students. They taught me how to see all of them in all of their shades. They taught me about their experience and how it differed from mine. I am grateful to those kids, for being so willing to teach me. But I wish I could have given them a teacher who already knew. Those kids deserved a teacher who had been taught about race in teacher school.

Hotdogs, Baseball, and Holy Communion

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I pop in my contacts and smear on some red lipstick. It matches the skirt that I am wearing, the colors of the home-team navy, white, and lipstick red. Baby’s first Braves game for both of my girls, a milestone that means something in this hometown we have chosen for them. Gaah, I love this city.

When I remove my glasses to put in my contacts so that I can wear my new shades to the game, I become aware of just how tired my eyes are. I am writing a book this summer, and my computer sits on the kitchen counter perpetually opened. I steal sentences and shove them into my manuscript as my girls play in the kiddie pool or I marinate the meat that is going to go on the grill. Writing a book also means procrastinating the writing of  a book, and my twitter feed shows I have already become an expert at that.

It is a strange thing, online community. I have found real and true community on line, lead by a woman who shows us how to bring all of our pieces with us. To give our lives as offerings, holy and broken. But I have also found my own selfish tendencies, to unite with those who think most like me and declare all others unworthy of my time.

Before I found community online I found it at my church, spending weekends crashing on my pastor’s couch. My husband was out of town and they let me bring my dog. I tagged along to the grocery store, became a bonus soccer mom and both our butts went numb as we cheered for their son. Somehow our different views on the female role in the church never came up.

Our church has gotten bigger since then. There are more people  in the pulpit rotation and I sometimes wonder if this surrogate family of mine will grow into a shape that excludes me. I notice elder appointments (still no women) and phrases in sermons preached by men whose views make me nervous some days. I dissect re-tweets and question motives  and worry that one day there will be no room for me. It isn’t an easy thing, being a feminist at a Baptist church. It isn’t easy, bringing your entire self to be loved.

I confess too often my heart is encased in fear. Will there come a day that I am unwelcome, if others aren’t welcome could that protect me?

But today we aren’t gathered to hear the word of the Lord. we are gathered around a grill lit by a blow torch, eating hotdogs and sharing mustard. Summer Life is what our church calls it, the events from June through August where we get together simply so that we can be together.

One of the other moms mentions a recent facebook status of mine. how it ministered to her. We may disagree on the finer points of gender identity formation, but there is so much grace in knowing that another parent has two kids with a licking problem. (Seriously, what is up with that?)

At the kids space in the ballpark I wrangle with women who are in the same phase as me, or just beyond it only my oldest is the age of their youngest. There is so much they have to teach me. They have wisdom and grace and they pour it into me until it is surely running out of my pores. They have no idea how affirming this is. They think we are just swapping stories, sticking one more straw into the seven dollar coke. It seemed so important, when I was not sharing hotdogs, mustard, and stories of our children putting their tongues where they do not belong (No. Really. What is with that?), these differences of ours. It seemed so important that we are on opposite sides of so many theological arguments.

But when I am standing with them, eating with them, listening to the wisdom they have garnered going before me on this path of motherhood, we are simply sisters in Christ. We are just doing life together, loving our kids and Christ the best we know how. We all are rooting for the home team after all. There was no bread or wine, only hotdogs and overpriced coke. But there was communion, and it was holy. I came home fed.

Today I am linking up with Imperfect Prose.