Having Grace for the Person You Have Been

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

 

I am in the middle of writing my second book. Anyone who has written a book, or even an article that is published, knows the embarrassment that comes with looking back on something you’ve written and wondering, How on earth did I think that? 

Our cheeks flush red and we hope that our current Twitter followers don’t judge us by our ignorance. We hope that they will understand how much we’ve grown, how much work we’re doing to be better than we once were.

I wrote a piece a few months ago on the death of John Allen Chau, missionary to the Sentinelese Islands who endangered an Indigenous people, and they acted to protect themselves. As I read the story, I thought back to the young woman I once was, the young woman in the baptist church who was so sure that she would save the world and bring the people around her to Jesus. Love was mixed with colonization, and I had no idea that I was playing a part in one of the greatest tragedies to happen upon mankind: destroying one another in the name of Jesus.

And so, as I write my second book, I fear for the woman I will become and the one I am now. I feel like I’m learning a thousand lessons a day from Twitter and parenting alone, so what if I read my own words two years from now and I’m disgusted with what I see?

There, it seems, I must find grace for who I once was. I must find grace for the woman I have been.

It took some time for me, in therapy over the last year, to learn that I need to look back with a constant love note to the girl I was, the girl who didn’t understand fully the systems that shaped her. She was full of love, but sometimes had trouble finding the right outlet for it. She was fueled by community and connection, yet she didn’t have words for it.

I know now.

And yet, I don’t know much.

And when I’m older, I will say the same things.

I meet people all the time who, when I tell them something about the struggle of being Indigenous or a part of our history that is often covered up, they say, “I just didn’t know, I’m so sorry.” In that moment, I’m not looking for an apology; I’m pointing to our education and church systems that have so badly prepared us for conversations like this, systems that erase the stories of Indigenous peoples and people of color.

I’m looking to say, “You didn’t know, but now you do. What happens next? What you will do for the next generation?

Our dearest Mary Oliver said,

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Well, perhaps one thing we should plan to do is know RIGHT NOW that we will be disappointed in a few things about who we are.

Perhaps if we know RIGHT NOW that we will be ever growing, ever changing, ever evolving, we will have more grace even for future us.

I live in a spotlight on social media, as do many. Educators, activists, commentary writers, journalists, religious leaders, politicians– we are put under a scrutiny that is well-deserved, because we are speaking on behalf of not only ourselves but those we wish so much to better care for.

I speak on behalf of my own story as a mixed woman who is Indigenous and white, and yet, when others see me, I represent so much of the Indigenous story. It’s not right, of course; we are not a monolith, and we have individual experiences, layered with privilege or lack of it. We’ve got to be honest about that, too.

There will be plenty of unrelenting criticism.

There will be plenty of rage over things we’ve said and done, over things we’ve left unsaid and undone.

And there should be, because we are looking in a mirror. We are asking to see who we really are as America, and we are asking for our systems of oppression to be taken down. That should happen, and the way of grace says that it should happen with holy fire.

Perhaps, in this space, if we begin with grace for ourselves, we will learn to follow with grace for one another.

We live in an era in which people like to out-woke one another, all in vain. But I wouldn’t dare call myself woke when there’s still so much waking to do.

 

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This statement allows me to recognize that I haven’t arrived, and if I haven’t arrived, neither did the nine year old me whose father had just left, and neither will the 80 year old me who is struggling with what it means to age with kindness and sometimes feel alone.

This statement allows me to apologize when I get it wrong and work to make it right, like I’ve seen others do.

What if we chose the way of grace?

What if, when we know our own faults, we also know our own strengths?

And if we know our own faults and our own strengths, can we call those out of each other when the time is right?

Our systems of oppression must be toppled. That will never change.

The question is, what kind of people will we be in the midst of it?

We can be people full of grace and full of anger, make no mistake about that. Our anger leads us to ask questions, and grace is the partner that holds our hand along the way.

Can you feel that?

Can you believe that?

Perhaps the child that still sits in a chair in the corner of your soul is asking you to tell them something.

Perhaps the young adult that still rests at the pit of your stomach wants you to say, “It’s okay. I get it,” and mean it.

Perhaps the person that you’ve sought to understand but can’t needs you to step into the fray and speak, “I want to know your story and understand.”

With grace.

With grace.

With grace.

 

Healing America’s Wounds: The Only Way Is Through

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Design by Chief Lady Bird

 

Recently I celebrated my 10 year wedding anniversary with my husband. We decided to get tattoos that day, his fifth and my first. My design was by Chippewa/Potawatomi artist from Canada, Chief Lady Bird, and it’s a symbol of the seven fires of the Potawatomi tribe. As Kasey, our tattoo artist, began the work on my left arm, I felt my body go back to the same space I inhabited when I gave birth to my two sons without pain medication. I would take slow, steady breaths during those contractions, leaning into the pain as I went, and I took slow, steady breaths every time Kasey put the needles to my skin.

 

Pain is a thing we can’t go around.

 

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I started therapy last month with a trauma counselor in my city, and I’m learning that when we begin the process of opening wounds to take a look inside, it hurts. It hurts for a long time, because at some point we begin to realize that putting bandages on those wounds doesn’t always do the healing.

 

We’ve got to ask how our wounds got there in the first place and what pain can teach us as a partner in the process.

 

In America in 2018, we’re all walking around, wounded. And as we begin to have conversations about how those wounds got there, engaging in collective dialogue about justice, reconciliation and reparations, people either lean into those conversations, or they run.

 

And on social media, those conversations can be entered into and left with the tap of a button. We are reactionary instead of compassionate.

We choose to harm each other instead of healing most of the time.

 

But if we truly listen, we’ll see that the only way is through.

 

This phrase, or a version of it, has been echoed by writers throughout time like Robert Frost, who said it in his poem, A Servant to Servants:

 

He says the best way out is always through.

And I agree to that, or in so far

As that I can see no way out but through—

 

It’s becoming more clear as we look at the collective work of healing, that it’s going to take time, that it’s going to be painful, and that the only way out of it is through it.

 

But we have to first convince ourselves that our own healing is necessary.

 

First, we have to choose to love our own story enough to want healing within it. Are we willing?

 

I had to decide that the things I’ve experienced, the trauma that is a part of me every day, is worth recognizing, worth processing. And because I’ve seen my own life’s story through this lens, I’m more aware of the life stories of others who are working through their own trauma.

 

Are we willing to do the digging necessary to find ourselves here, in 2018, more loved and willing to love?

 

The tattoo on my left arm is a symbol of my own healing. It’s a symbol of the healing of a people. It carries a dream for all of us as indigenous people, but the only way to get there is through. So I light my tobacco, my sage and sweetgrass, and pray. And slowly but surely, I find my way back. Slowly but surely, I find a way to love.

 

We’ve got to walk through our healing as a people, and as a nation, we’ve got to talk about the wounds that we’ve carried from the beginning, wounds that stem from white supremacy and racism, hatred and misogyny. And we’ve got to recognize that healing must happen from every side, from every perspective, because we belong to each other.

 

America’s history told from the oppressed side is very different than the side of history we’ve actually been fed. Indigenous people and people of color have lived a history here that is covered up and ignored, a giant bandage with the words get over it scrawled across the top.

 

But to be people who create wholeness for ourselves and for others, we’ve got to open ourselves up and keep opening, removing those bandages to reveal the wounds we’ve carried for generations. We’ve got to choose to ask how our wounds got here in the first place, and then we’ve got to do the hard, uncomfortable, painful work of healing together.

 

For me, getting a tattoo was a choice. It was a choice to endure the pain, to mark my body with something significant that will be there for the rest of my life.

 

So it is with our communal pain. We must choose together to lean into it, and to stick with it, so that we can see what becomes of us on the other side.

 

Because, dear friends, the only way is through.

 

 

 

 

Grief Has a Voice (Are You Listening?)

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At the worst of times, in the worst of places, we hear the whisper.

“There’s something more to this,” it says.

“Lean in,” it implores.

We aren’t often told that the Holy Spirit and Grief are partners.

Mostly, we’re taught a narrative that they oppose one another, that we should trust the Spirit but keep the words of Grief far, far from our hearts, because she will surely tell us something we don’t want to hear. She will surely break us and we won’t know how to put it back together again.

But if we imagine Grief and the Spirit as partners, the voice of God takes on human flesh all over again, for Jesus's life was full of grieving.

He grieved as he left home, when his days of carpentry were over.

He grieved when he moved through the wilderness and into his calling.

He grieved from Gethsemane.

It taught him who he was.

And every season of shedding a piece of his identity only to take on a purer one required the work of Grief– holy work, indeed.

We are people who numb, fix, and manipulate pain.

But Grief has something important to say, whether we want to hear it or not.

I suggest we try.

Because when we realize that we are not the only ones who are grieving– that all of humanity grieves, individually and collectively– we understand how the Spirit works.

The Spirit, birthed from Jesus himself as a gift to us, leads us out of isolation and toward one another.

And when we get there, it doesn’t mean that Grief’s work is done, that we’ve arrived at a place of joy, with no more sadness or sorrow.

It means that we continue listening to what Grief has to say, and we do it together.

She teaches us to care for our enemies.

She teaches us to forgive.

She teaches us to let God mend our hearts.

She leads us out of racism, sexism, greed, bigotry, and idolatry.

She calls us toward wholeness, if we only let her do the work.

And the Spirit holds her hand along the way.

So my friend, next time you hear Grief whispering for you, pay attention.

She is a gift in a form we don’t always understand.

But her voice is universal.

We are a nation grieving.

We live on an earth that grieves.

We go to church and synagogue and temple with grieving people.

We share sidewalks and cubicles and turning lanes with others who grieve.

That’s why Shalom’s work is not yet done.

And for all the distortions of peace that come with our bodies and souls, Grief and Shalom are partners, too, teaching us that community always works alongside the moving parts of everyone.

And we’ve got to work through the pain to get to the other side.

“First the pain, then the rising.”

–Glennon Doyle Melton

So may we lean in.

May we listen.

May we grieve.

And may we journey toward Shalom together.

 

Amen.

Let’s Talk About Healing

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Friends, I believe we are spiraling.

Despite our best efforts at becoming less individualistic in our society and in our churches, we still run in circles and cycles of loneliness and exhaustion. We still long for community and connection.

We are spiraling downward in cycles of religious bigotry, Christian empire, and toxic masculinity.

And when we want to heal, we think it must come quickly, from Point A to Point B. We don’t think of healing as a process of taking steps forward and steps backward, of having grace for the long haul.

And because of that individualism by which we operate, we are repeating those toxic cycles again and again, and they are leading us into toxic conversations in person and on social media.

So, friends, I’d like to talk about healing.

A few weeks ago I shared that for Lent I am giving up my ignorance of institutional sins like racism, sexism, ableism, religious bigotry, colonialism, and others. I decided that I have to look for those Old Habits that Die Hard. I have to be paying attention.

But you see, this requires some painful thought processes and conversations.

It requires us to dive headfirst into the pain of our own lives, into parts of ourselves that perhaps haven’t been healed yet.

And yet, the Spirit bids us come.

I attend a Be the Bridge group in Atlanta, and in our latest meeting we talked about the difficulty of holding truly healing conversations on race through social media. Often, it requires face to face conversations in which both parties are willing to say, “I’m listening,” for true healing to occur.

In my mind, there are three aspects to this that we need to truly heal, at least bit by bit:

 

First, we have to see God and Sacred Mystery in our midst. 

I like to call this tethering. To be stable in the work we do on a daily basis, in the conversations we have with others, we have to be willing to notice God in our everyday circumstances. That’s exactly why I wrote my first book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places.  I wanted to explore the idea that all of us are capable of being mystics, of living lives of contemplation, of seeing and experiencing holiness in our everyday messes and mishaps, in our joys and celebrations.

Recently I attended a women’s book club to talk about the process of writing Glory Happening. It was an honor to sit with a group of women who spend so much time together, to hear them admitting openly that they want to notice the presence of the Divine more, that they want to dig their hands into garden soil or go on longer walks, just to notice.

I was led into the kitchen by the young daughter of the family hosting the book club, and she pointed me in the direction of a chalkboard hanging on the wall. A prayer from my book was written in little-girl-handwriting, and it took my breath away.

 

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This family is choosing, together, to find God in the unexpected places of everyday living, and like I pointed out to them that day, while we were gathering in a circle drinking coffee and talking about seeing God in our midst, it is work.

It is work to make ourselves stop long enough in a crazy society of distractions and illusions and addictions to notice what is sacred and waiting for us.

But it is worth the work.

 

Second, we have to see God and Sacred Mystery in ourselves.

In Potawatomi culture, we ask, “How is your fire burning?” As the People of the Place of Fire, we were literally the people who tended to the fires traditionally, but still, we have an awareness that there is a sacred fire in all of us, and we are called to tend to it, to notice it, to respond to it when it is beginning to go out. It requires self care and self examination. But it also requires us to look without shame and judgment, something I only learned a few years ago.

Growing  up in the Southern Baptist Church, legalism mixed with my own ability to self-judge meant that I had journal pages full of confessions and hopes that I wouldn’t be abandoned by a God with a gavel and Naughty-or-Nice list. Self-examination along with self-love were difficult to come by, and it’s taken years of unlearning to get to a point (sort of, almost) where I can at least attempt to see myself the way God sees me.

Can we all work toward that?

Can we admit that to heal means we have to see our own stories and our own pains alongside God’s love for us and not separate from it? Can we acknowledge that God sees us as divine and good, even when we are tired?

I spent a few days at an airBNB in the mountains of North Carolina recently, and found that it’s extremely difficult to sit with long bouts of silence. We can do a few minutes, we can meditate and hold our prayer beads, but when it comes to hours and days of silence, of the raw reality that it’s us and the Divine Mystery, it is intimidating at first. It’s terrifying to be naked like that.

But then, if we dare to go, we find that we are really just there to heal from something, from all of the things that hold us bound to our own cycles of self-destruction.

If we dare to go, we can look at our lives with God, and find that healing is not only possible, but a beautifully close reality that we are invited into if we are only willing to say this is the hard stuff, and I’m going to go there and then find a way out. 

 

Third, we have to see God and Sacred Mystery in one another. 

It seems, if we follow the call to love our neighbors as ourselves, that we’ve got these last two steps backward, but I believe that many of us struggle just as much (if not more) to actually love ourselves, and then it damages our ability to love one another.

This is where storytelling comes in. This is where community comes in. This is where truly breaking away from an individualist life comes in.

When we learn to see ourselves and our stories with clearer eyes, we take them to our community, to others who are struggling to learn their own stories, to fight against their own fears, to pick up their own hopes. We do this together, and we have our moments of “Me, too” or “I am listening” or “I had no idea it was like this for you.”

Compassion building and community building go hand in hand, and when we cut ourselves off from communion with others, we lose aspects of ourselves, aspects of Divine Mystery.

 

So, let’s keep talking about healing.

Let’s keep acknowledging that what is hard about life doesn’t have to be a lonely struggle, but a journey we walk together, hand in hand, arm in arm, steady, slow gait to steady, slow gait.

Let’s remember that we cannot heal the institutional brokenness of the world unless we learn to see that the world is sacred, that we are sacred, and that our call to love one another is a sacred call.

Maybe then, healing will come.

Maybe then, we can answer the question and say, “Yes, yes, our fire is burning and it will not go out.”

 

We hold hope and despair, one in each arm, and we cradle them close to our chest, because they both have something important to say at every moment.

Glory Happening

 

A Chemical Reaction of the Soul

chemical reaction: n. a chemical change that occurs when two or more substances combine to form a new substance.

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I’ll be the first to admit that I know little about chemistry.

But recently I had a conversation with my son about chemical reactions, how something as simple as baking a cake becomes a chemical reaction–because the cake can never go back to being flour, salt, sugar, or eggs. It has transformed.

Neither can my coffee, that is ground and immersed in water inside the coffee maker, go back to being the original bean again.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the process of deconstructing or decolonizing my faith.

I’ve written about it here, and if I stop with one piece, I’ve obviously missed the point.

About two years ago I had a conversation with a friend that ended in the realization that I am no longer the person I was in high school and college.

My perspectives on faith and the church have shifted, along with who I believe should be included and excluded in such matters.

It seems I’ve become someone else, but still hold in tact the original essence of who I’ve always been.

Is it possible to have a sort of chemical reaction of the soul? Is it possible that we transform so that we cannot be what we once were?

I believe that’s a healthier version of ourselves, and if we’re really honest, fighting transformation will leave us unhappy, missing out on new aspects of ourselves that are waiting to be discovered.

When we refuse to change, to evolve, to transform, we become stuck in only what we’ve known, because we’re scared to ask questions. But the question-asking, the wondering and wandering– it’s what helps those chemical reactions of the soul take place. All of those substances combine in us to bring transformation.

My coffee, steaming in my cup with cream and sugar, will never be a coffee bean again.

It has some sort of new purpose.

Just the same, my life journey today, seeking my Potawatomi identity and asking the American church how it can be better, is a version of myself that cannot forget what it has seen or go back to what it once was.

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If coffee transforms, so can we.

And each fall leaf,

every flower,

every bird’s egg that hatches,

each child that grows and matures,

a caterpillar that will become a butterfly,

every pumpkin pie or fortune cookie or veggie omelet–

a chemical reaction in the world, a transformation.

So if we aren’t who we were yesterday, and we’re not yet transformed into who we’ll be tomorrow, who are we today?

Maybe we simply ARE,

this transforming thing,

the cake that’s still in the oven,

the coffee that’s being ground.

Maybe we’re inside the middle of transformation, where it hurts a little, the caterpillar making its way toward the butterfly.

While we are in this cocoon, dreaming of who we’ll be, working toward it, we acknowledge that this space, right now, is necessary and good in the process, and we cannot skip it.

You and I are in the midst of our chemical reaction of the soul, and we cannot go back now.

The only way is forward,

and into glorious, unknown light.

Amen.