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.

 

I wouldn't dare call myself WOKE when there's still so much waking to do..png

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.

 

What Does it Mean to Become an Adult?

 

I’ve been thinking for the past six months or so about the process of becoming an adult. This idea was brought on by a few things in my life, one of them being the fact that after ten years of marriage, we are in desperate need of a new couch. I walk across my house, eyeing the black piece of furniture that has been so kind to us over the years, over four moves into different living spaces in different states and seasons of life. I look at her, despondent as she is, and say to myself, I’m ready for something new.

 

I’m ready to be an adult.

 

I will be thirty this year, and it seems that after publishing a book last year and beginning therapy this summer, I’m coming into my own way, at least for the next season, at least for the next month. And while I’m so grateful to be where I am, there is always this nagging voice, much like the one that comes right before New Year’s Eve, right before resolutions are pinned to the wall and written in our planners: get your act together, that’s what adults do.

 

Make more money.

Clean up your house.

Figure out parenthood.

Get your exercise schedule together.

You need to work harder.

You’re lazy.

Adults know what boundaries are.

You should know more by now.

No adult actually watches Netflix this much.

 

 

If ever imposter syndrome abounds, it’s in these kinds of thoughts and feelings, telling me I’m not enough.

 

I’ve seen people my age and into their early thirties who have nicely dressed kids and the perfect patch of yard outside their dream home. They get up and go to work every day, they make wholesome meals and attend church regularly.

 

They are doing adulthood right.

 

…right?

 

Then I think about a lot of other adults I know. People with scars and stories, people who are still trying to get it together in their forties, fifties, sixties. In other words, they’re human.

 

And what I realize is, that’s what we all are, and the dream of being “an adult” isn’t as cookie-cutter as we say it is.

Adulthood, instead of a series of steps, is an ever-forming cycle of being human on this earth.

 

Adulthood isn’t that you’ll have kids and a spouse with a perfect A-frame house. That idea carries with it the American dream, an ideal held by the wealthy but unavailable to the poor, an idea that says things need to look and be a certain way to be successful.

It leaves out a lot of us.

 

And the ones with the perfect yards and the pristine children are also struggling with something, trying to learn what it means to love and live a better life, trying to learn what their journey looks like in that cycle of things.

 

So that’s what it must mean to be an adult: an awareness of our ever-evolving stories, an awareness of our scars and what they teach us to be in the world.

 

I’ve just started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with my sons, and at the beginning of the book, not long after Harry received his infamous lightning bolt scar, Hagrid asks Albus Dumbledore if he should remove the scar so that Harry can live without it.

 

Dumbledore responds with this:

 

 Scars can come in handy.

 

What if adulthood means we find ways for our scars to come in handy, for our mistakes and our successes to integrate themselves into our story?

 

 

What if we hit adulthood for a few years only to realize we need to turn back to our childlikeness?

 

There is this idea that if we get ourselves together, if we fix what is broken and clean up what is messy, that means we are healed forever, we are ready to be healthy in every way and will never make the same mistakes again.

 

But, dear friends, that is not humanity.

 

Maybe being an adult means realizing there is true, sacred beauty in childlikeness.

Maybe being an adult means we are called to remember our smallness in a huge world.

Maybe being an adult means we become a lore more like Fred Rogers and a lot less like Donald Trump.

Maybe being an adult isn’t just about independence but about recognizing our interdependence on a world that needs us—our gifts, our wholeness, our love.

 

What if our old, beat up couches and our ungroomed yards are just as much a part of our journey to adulthood as the pristine yards and the brand new pieces of furniture?

“Our work, then, is to become the healthiest possible version of who we uniquely are,” writes David Richo, author of How to be an Adult in Relationships. Maybe being an adult is endlessly asking what can bring us true joy and call us to life.

 

Maybe being an adult is realizing that working through healing is a necessary part of our wholeness.

 

In that case, the house isn’t the most important thing.

In that case, our children will be loved as we learn to love ourselves alongside them.

In that case, we learn to do this work in community, and we become stronger together.

In that case, the comparison game can’t get to us anymore.

In that case, as we dream about the kind of person we want to be tomorrow, we know that who we are today can count our successes, too.

 

In that case, adult on, friends. I’m right there with you.