Having Grace for the Person You Have Been

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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.

 

The Displaced Soul: finding home again

I think that perhaps many of us underestimate what it means to be displaced.

We hear stories of war, of families ejected from their homes.

We see apartment evictions and job loss.

But there is also displacement that happens slowly, over time, trickling into the spaces in which we live.

Sometimes the season we find ourselves in is raw– emotionally, spiritually, physically, mentally– and we find that we ourselves have become lost to what once tethered us.

We just moved out of a two bedroom apartment into a three bedroom house in a coveted neighborhood at the center of our city.

We do not quickly forget the grace of God that brought us here, and because of that kindness, it’s not quite real that this is ours for a season.

We’ve been here a week, but somehow we are still expecting to go back to that apartment at the end of the day.

But with every morning we wake up and go to the front window to see bird feeders and blooming flowers, we realize that this is truly our space.

And suddenly we realize that while we so needed that little apartment, we were a little displaced there, waiting for something else to come along and bring us home.

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We forget that where our bodies go, our souls go, too–

and we leave an imprint on the walls of that apartment, on all our past spaces.

We leave those imprints for someone else and we acknowledge that his new place is for everything that we are and everything that we hope to be, the culmination of stories and hard work and dreams holding themselves within its walls.

Not everyone has the luxury of hand-picking a home, but we all choose what we bring to the home we have.

We choose simplicity or busynesss; we choose which broom to sweep the front porch with; which room will carry the home’s heart; what music will play while we do the dishes at the kitchen sink.

Our children choose where they will read their books and imagine that they are flying into outer space; they will choose how to sleep in bed every night and how long morning cuddles should last.

And so, every choice made is tethered to who we are, giving life or taking life away; giving grace to our souls or telling them that they have some things to work on.

It may not take a physical move to change us, to remind us of the grace around us.

It may simply mean looking, seeing what we thought wasn’t there before.

So we plant a small garden, we watch something grow, we get to know the neighbors we already have, we engage community and tether ourselves to something, remind ourselves that we are alive and well.

In all things, the way we inhabit decides the way we will live and move and have our being.

So for now, for us, that means morning coffee by the hummingbird feeder, a few moments every now and then to rest instead of hurrying along.

It means a place for my husband to work and think and dream by an open window overlooking the garden.

It’s an art desk for my oldest, Eliot, to color and imagine the world as bright as can be.

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It’s a cool, red wood floor for our husky to sprawl out on and rest in his old age.

And it means a front lawn where my littlest one takes his Goodwill-bought toy lawnmower and walks back and forth, back and forth, clearing space for new living to begin.

And if we cannot find our souls here, we will have a hard time finding our souls anywhere.

So let us place ourselves when we find that we were once displaced, and let us lean into grace, into peace, into the glorious good where it finds us in our everyday living.

Amen.

Advent, Day 20: you can always start over

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It’s the holidays, and with the New Year around the corner, I bet more than a few of us are already inspecting ourselves, asking what needs to change.

My dear friend Rachel had some really sweet and wise words for me the other day.

She reminded me, with a quote that I’d actually posted days earlier, to be soft with myself and with the people I love most around me.

It’s the end of the semester, so as we gear up for the holidays and all the warm feelings they bring, we are also settling the end of a few intense months of grad school.

Travis is working hard to get his last papers done, I’m working (so hard) to try to remind myself to be more patient and more available to my boys.

But in the midst of all of it, I’ve still yelled.

I’ve still gotten frustrated over something small, I’ve still given an eye roll or snarled an insinutaion here and there.

And while I was writing to remind myself to be softer, to be kinder to my own human soul,

I was bearing it down with the guilt that I’d spent another day not being as loving and perfect as I’d hoped to be.

Remember those ancient words that tell us grace comes fresh to us every dawn?

It means you and I get to start over.

It means I can tell my boys that I’m sorry for yesterday and that I’ll try again this time,

that traditions can start new

and that every single moment can be

an opportunity to transform.

Can people change one day to the next?

With the celebration of Advent and the coming of

the Infant King,

yes,

yes we can.

Hallelujah for fresh mornings.

 

 

 

The Advent Failure

The wicks of our Advent candles have barely burned as they should, so they are simply little black fingers curling toward the ceiling, begging for heat and light.

Our mouths have barely spoken of exactly what Advent means, what the manger scene gives to all of humanity.

We have been lying in our beds, on our couches, any square inch of space that takes away the flu-aches. And when the fogginess rises away from our brains, we see clearly that we have failed.

We don’t really know who Jesus was or is. Our home is void of peace and void of The Word that is all words and all life.

We are lazy and selfish, we are busy and tired. We are failures every day that we try to rise.

A friend reminded me of what another friend told her, that Advent is a time of deep grieving and soul-ripping repentance (emphasis added).

So in the very midst of my failure, I look heavenward. I look at the wooden manger scene brought home 5 years ago from Uganda.

I look at the unmarked and unexamined words of Bible pages, and I try to take repentance into the deepest parts of me.

Yesterday at church, my kind friend and pastor reminded all of us that we’re all broken, all failures, all mismatched and wonky, the lot of us.

And I sat there thinking Yes, yes, it’s true. How can God be so big that He loves all of us in these broken-hearted messes?

Then I remember that God is not broken. And His whole-heartedness encompasses all of our creaks and tears, yes, even in the tiny baby cries echoing along the shaky walls of the cold winter manger, ever since then and evermore, His wholeness surrounds us.

I haven’t told Eliot the entirety of the Christmas story, who Jesus is, what He should mean to us, the glorious peace of the Word living among us, because I don’t know how to speak it.

I haven’t told him, and I haven’t kept promises to myself, promises to love better and with more mercy.

But what I can do is the light the candle, watch the glow, repent, remember, and move forward in the newness of grace, outstretched before and around me.

Come, Jesus, come.