ONLY LOVE (every part of yourself) TODAY

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In a small group exercise recently, all participants were asked to rank our life identities or roles from 1-4, most to least important. Twenty-something of us sat with our papers folded into four spaces, our pens and markers unsteady for the task. We sat around the quiet room for a few moments and thought about what we call ourselves, what we do, who we care about, and what we dream to one day be.

Immediately I felt uncomfortable and conflicted with the assignment, but chose to go along with it. Some of us were moms, some dads, friends, brothers and sisters, lawyers and educators and students and nurses. Parents and grandparents. We were many things, but being asked to rank those things by their importance was a very difficult task for me.

Am I a Native American woman more than a mother, wife, or worship leader? Do my roles bump up against and fight with one another or do they feed into one another? What do they teach me about who I am and what I do, about how to be better in loving myself and others?

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For weeks after that exercise, I felt guilty that I’d put my identity as a native woman before my motherhood.

Until I went to a conference in Nashville. There, I’d decided to put pieces of my identity behind other pieces. I’d decided that in that space I’d be worship leader Kaitlin and not Native American Kaitlin. By the end of the conference, the fact that I’m Potawatomi became who I was in that space to all the people around me. I needed that part of myself in that setting, and by trying to stifle it, I’d denied myself my own voice.

Driving four hours home, I realized that every piece of who I am is connected.

My dear friend Rachel of Hands Free Mama has a new book coming out on March 7th, and her words speak to what I’ve walked through:

“…life– despite its challenges and daily disappointments– holds moments of joy, hope, comfort, and peace when we choose to start over and offer a second chance to others and ourselves…”

When Rachel writes about slowing down and stopping, about listening and curating moments for the sake of spending time with the people who matter most to us, she’s writing about you and me. She’s writing about our relationships, about our humanity.

But she’s also writing about the things going on inside our own skin, our own tendencies to not listen to ourselves, to neglect the parts of us that may be asking to be heard.

“I just want to celebrate you as you are instead of waiting for you to become what the world expects you to be.”

So if I don’t have to rank my identity and split who I am into pieces, can I love all of who I am called to be?

Can I Only Love Today, my Potawatomi self, my wife self, my worship leading self?

Can I love that all that I am bleeds into everything else that I am or ever hope to be?

There, I find both grace and responsibility.

There, I find grace for other’s stories too, an understanding that every part of our stories matters and makes us who we are today.

If I love all the pieces of myself today, I can love all the pieces of you today, too.

“I hope you feel brave enough to bare the colors of your soul.” 

Only Love Today.

Only Love [ your child-self ] Today.

Only Love [ your adult-self ] Today.

Only Love [ your broken-self ] Today.

Only Love [ your black, white, muslim, jewish, atheist, foreign, native-self ] Today.

Only Love [ your brothers and sisters ] Today.

Only Love [ your enemies ] Today.

Only Love [ the story of your neighbor ] Today.

Only Love [ all those people who are outcasts ] Today.

Only Love [ the outcast parts of your own soul ] Today.

Only Love [ when you have no idea how to love ] Today.

Only. Love. Today.

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Pre-order your copy of Rachel’s book today, and find daily reminders that all of who you are deserves love, and all of the love that you give deserves to be given.

Together, may we Only Love [ every part of ourselves ] Today. 

BEFORE: a poem

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Last week I spent a few days in Nashville at the Convergence Music Project conference– a group of church leaders coming together to figure out how to lead in a different way that reflects inclusive grace in our worship spaces.

I expected to go to this conference and sit and listen. I expected to meet one or two people, to keep my head down, to take notes and be still. I expected to keep my Native American self a little behind my worship leading self, to learn things that I could take home and apply in my own life and in the life of my church.

But what I expected, of course, was different than my graciously given reality.

There were only a few people of color at this conference, and it was pointed out in numerous ways, at numerous times. We all lamented that our group was not more diverse, and posed questions throughout the conference asking how this can change in the future. Convergence honors the voice of people of color, and I’m so grateful for that.

Still, I kept my head down and my voice hushed. I listened. But then, I was asked to speak. Then who I am– as a whole– came to the surface of my speaking and my listening and my interactions, and I realized again that I cannot separate who I am, not even for a minute. I cannot say that in this space I’ll be worship leader and in that space I’ll be native and in another space I’ll be mom and wife and friend. I am all of these things in all of these spaces, and they make me whole.

So, by the third day of the conference, I’d understood. The day before, Brian McLaren had taken us in an unexpected direction in a conversation about the Doctrine of Discovery.

The conference had taken a turn toward acknowledging the church’s complicity in the abuse of native peoples and African peoples, and throughout our time there the theme kept coming back up, kept making its way to the forefront– if we are to worship in our churches, something must change, be acknowledged, be reckoned with. 

It is a subject we can no longer ignore.

On Friday morning, we gathered for our own church service, our minds and hearts reeling and ready and engaged from three days of sharing and brainstorming a few new ways forward.

And when my friend Brian Sirchio stood at the front of the room and once more acknowledged what happened to my ancestors, and acknowledged why it is wrong that in my native skin I don’t know how to fit into the white church, I fell apart (again).

We listened to a man play two native flutes and we processed together. My shoulders heaved with both the pain of our history and with a great swell of hope– if the people in this room can see me, can see my African American brothers and sisters, we can see that a new way forward is at least possible– we can see that the world is literally shifting all around us, and we must be ready to hold onto each other in all of our cultural and skin colored differences.

That morning as the flutes played, I wrote. A poem poured out of me and my hand could hardly keep up with my heart. I stopped every few seconds to wipe tears, and I thought in that moment this is it. A piece of Kingdom.

I stood after the music was over and read the poem, and I felt a release. I felt a release inside of my own chest to find a way to be who I am, without the need to  compartmentalize. I felt a release to be who I am without dualistic ties, without categorizing my identity into neat boxes.

In these words, I released into all of us the permission to say that who we are today is a chance to move forward to who we want to be tomorrow, as individuals and as the church.

That is the greatest release I can imagine.

Before you knew me, you knew my story–

the story of humanity,

the story of breath in lungs,

eyes and hearts,

longing and desire,

the known and unknown parts.

Before I knew you, I knew your story–

the labor to grow,

the roots of your love,

the culturedness that

brings your being to life.

Before we knew God,

we were held in something,

a sacred womb

that does not let us go,

still,

a table that continues 

to get bigger,

more and more chairs

for a larger and larger feast.

This means that we were never alone,

you and me.

We were never broken before,

never 

stolen or battered,

maimed or abused.

In the Before, we were

held in eternal

Shalom.

In the After,

today,

you, me, 

our stories,

our table–

it grows bigger, still.

 

Amen.