Good Friday. We call it good because we know what happens on Sunday, but the first Good Friday was anything but. The weary world that rejoiced at Christ’s birth now groaned in grief at his death.
Growing up, the part of the Crucifixion story that transfixed me the most was the tearing from top to bottom of the veil separating the inner court of the Temple from the Holy of Holies, where God lived.
This is still the jewel I most cherish from my evangelical upbringing: that we can know God for our selves. There is no veil separating us from God. The pain of our humanity – grief and death – ushers us into a knowing of the sacred.
I discovered the OR Principle last year while standing in a fitting room, and it changed my life.
My wardrobe includes what is essentially a dozen variations on the same loose, soft material, you-can-breathe-in-it Loft blouse. One can never have too many of these blouses, and I was trying on a new one for summer. I looked in the mirror at my bare arms and thought, “I really HAVE to work on toning my arms.”
The words floated in my brain, and each letter was tipped with the same stones that line a flagellant’s whip. This is always how such thoughts appear to me. A whip that was handed to me in a fitting room many, many years ago when I was just a child, when someone pointed to my stomach and told me I needed to “lose that belly.” The whip was given to me as if it were my birthright as a woman. I was to carry it with me for life. It was to be used as necessary to force both body and soul to submit.
As women, whenever something doesn’t fit – whether it’s a blouse or a job or a relationship – our first instinct is to think of how we can change our selves. That is the default solution. That is the norm. Our realities and our bodies are the aberrations to be controlled. Squished, contorted, fit into the appropriate space.
But this time, as soon as I began to calculate how many gym classes I needed to take and how many calories I need to not take in order to get my arms in shape, a new thought formed and even escaped through my mouth: “OR.”
That’s exactly how I said it. It was a bold, 20-point font OR.
“OR, designers could start making shirts with some damn sleeves on them,” I said.
And everything changed.
In the year since, every time the whip appears above my head, there is an OR right behind it, gently placing its hand over the one holding the whip.
When I am feeling trapped by a problem at work or home, OR opens a door: “This situation is hopeless. I’ll never get it right. I’ll never be good enough. OR…… there may be a different way that I just haven’t thought of yet.”
OR is an invitation to a bigger life. OR opens up space.
OR has a great sense of humor. OR is the wise woman I’ve always wanted to be. The one who has seen it all. Who knows that the energy of her wild spirit should not be used up in keeping a running mental log of calories. OR knows that the way to get a bikini body is to put a bikini on her body. OR knows that it is also perfectly fine to want sleeves on her shirt. OR’s body is soft and strong and sturdy. It exists outside the purview of others to judge. She is soft and strong and sturdy. She exists outside the purview of others to judge.
I am soft and strong and sturdy. I exist outside the purview of others to judge.
You do, too.
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I’m a big believer in Praise Reports, as we used to call them in Sunday School. Not because I want to make my life look like it’s perfect – you know I’m also a big believer in #keepingitreal.
I believe in Praise Reports because gratitude and contentment are practices, and I have found the more I practice, the more natural they feel. I believe in Praise Reports because I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety for a long, long time, and one of the most powerful antidotes is having a full cup emotionally. So when I experience goodness, I try to let it all in, drink it up, get full.
So. Praise Report: I love having returned to my job as a freelance fundraiser/grantwriter/social media guru. I’m currently focused on the last bit, and I love that I get paid to use social media to communicate. I find it engaging and exciting and meaningful. And fun. Did I mention fun?
And I love that I have more afternoons to pick this girl up from the bus stop. Just look at her. Those ridiculous dimples. Those eyes through which her smart and funny and creative soul shines. The upturned cuffs of her jeans with her Chuck Taylors, which I know she planned just so, because she loves putting outfits together, and I could see her being some sort of designer one day.
Yoga classes are like church services for me in that they are a time when I am open and honest and vulnerable with my self. Last summer, I was dealing with some challenges, and being with the heaviness of those challenges in the rawness of yoga was too much. It had moved from discomfort to pain, and it stung. I had to stop attending classes for awhile.
And that’s ok.
In yoga, the whole point is your breath. In vinyasa flow yoga, teachers will tell you that if your breathing becomes too labored during practice, if you can’t maintain that steady, long inhale & exhale, come back to child’s pose, where you lay your forehead on the mat, chest draped over your knees. All tucked into a safe cocoon, resting your weight on the earth, sinking back into a rhythmic breath. Because yoga isn’t how far you can lift your leg in the air or behind your head. It’s breathing.
Not going to yoga class for awhile was my returning to child’s pose.
It was easing up for as long as it took for me to catch my breath. As long as it took for things to become lighter again.
Of course, it was also a sign. When things are heavy, it can mean an opportunity for us to grow stronger. It can also indicate that something needs to change. Sometimes, as it was in this case, it is both.
Last week, I gave myself a present of a month-pass to yoga. I’ve been to several classes since then, and it feels so, so good to be in that room again, breathing, expanding, being strong.
Breathe with me, wherever you are. Let your breath carry comfort to the hidden places where pain is stuck. Let it open you up to possibilities, those you can dream of and those you can’t, for joy and wellbeing.
Breathe with me.
PS I call this image Tree Pose with Trees. The best kind of tree pose. Obviously.
Two passages of Scripture are on my mind this Inauguration morning, from the Psalms and from Isaiah:
“Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.
Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry…
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted…”
“God has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”
God is Love, and we are here to do Love’s work, to bind up each other’s broken hearts, to do good, to seek peace, to work for freedom. Let’s do this. Also, let’s give out a lot of hugs today. I am pretty sure Jesus said that, too. The disciples just forgot to write it down.
Every night of every December, I look down this hallway as I’m going to bed and think about one of my favorite verses, “A light shines in the darkness…” And I think about how we are celebrating the arrival of a Middle Eastern family seeking refuge. How salvation is found in places deemed unorthodox or even heretical. But you must follow the star you know by heart, the light you recognize as your hope and truth. Also, this year I’m thinking about how the top of our tree is a little crooked. But mostly, you know, the light and darkness stuff.
The tears that just wouldn’t stop last Wednesday began to scare me when they still weren’t drying up by the time I put our girls to bed around 8pm. I realized that I was reacting as if someone close to me had died.
That seemed preposterous, but it was how I felt. I am old enough and finally wise enough to know that the only way through feelings is… through them, so I sat with how I felt. And I invited a friend over, because Mike was at a work dinner, and it was too much to sit with alone. As we talked and I cried some more, I realized that what died was a hope that I had, an expectation that I was going to wake up and there would be a woman president-elect. A hope that millions of women were going to be vindicated by seeing our selves in one of the highest places of power that exists. That I was going to be vindicated.
In the days since, I’ve begun to name other things that died, or that it feels like died.
Stephen Bannon has been named Trump’s chief strategist. Before joining the Trump campaign, he was best known for being the executive chairman of alt-right Breitbart News. Headlines for his stories on the Breitbart website are stomach churning. One of many examples: “Does Feminism Make Women Ugly?”
I grew up in an environment where feminists were often jeered.
It took everything I had to pull my self out of there.
Two days after my fifteenth birthday, yet another boy at church made yet another comment about my weight. I was too chubby. The next day, I stopped eating. Within months, I dropped from 145 pounds down to 70.
The boy’s comment was the tipping point, but it wasn’t the whole reason for the anorexia. I had been too big for a long time. I took up too much space. I had way too many opinions, and I insisted on defending them. Obviously, I ate too much, when other women were able to contort their selves and their bodies to whatever thoughts and size were acceptable. To not take up so much damn room.
I couldn’t be a real woman until I could do that, too. So I did it.
A year or so later, I overheard adults at church talking about feminism, how shrill those feminists were, how wrong. I went home and wrote a poem that included,
“I am beautiful
Though I do not believe it myself.
But I must be,
for God made the stars
and they shine, and I know
His hand made me.”
Along with the crystal-clear message that I was taking up too much space as a woman, I had also internalized the message that God loved me and made me. We humans are so messy, capable of holding contradictory beliefs.
Thankfully, as I was perilously close to permanently damaging my health, the latter message won out. When the choice was most acute, I had just enough faith that God’s love made me worthy of being alive that I started eating again.
It was even harder coming to a place where I owned my own thoughts and beliefs, without apology. It wasn’t until I was 25, living in another country and working on a master’s, that I would say I owned my self. All my choices, all my mistakes, all my responsibilities.
To do that, I had to let go of religious beliefs about women’s places, which I had been told were essential to the salvation of my soul. Women being pretty and pure and deferential were a big part of that salvation, reinforced by cultural mores.
I threw off the patriarchal mantle under which I had been born. I married a life partner with whom I am an equal. I made my own choices about my body and life. I gave my little girls my own last name.
What has died this past week is my belief in how much of the mantle’s reach I had been able to throw off in my own life. There is more of it, and I cannot stand it. I remember it. It makes me feel like my throat is choking. It is that against which I would expend every cell of my body to fight off from overtaking my children. It will not cover them. It will not. I will work against it until my dying day.
“Fat Shaming Works”
“Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive & Crazy”
“Would You Rather Your Child Had Feminism or Cancer”
“There’s No Hiring Bias Against Women in Tech, They Just Suck at Interviews”
These are just some of the headlines of Breitbart News, and just examples of the sexist ones. There are also the racist, anti-Semitic, and nationalist headlines. And now the man behind Breitbart is chief strategist for the President of the United States. His power to shape policy and thus the every-day lives of Americans is real and potent.
Thus, I grieve.
(Don’t worry, I’m going to get to work, too, but first, grief and self care.
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” ~Andre Lorde)
Just voted. As I walk away from the polling place, I can feel my heart in my chest. It feels like it is wrapped in love.
There is an old, deep wound that I carry, that I’ve carried for almost as long as I’ve known my name. It is a girl child in a church pew, in a church where there could never be a woman pastor. The church believed in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, so I didn’t understand why the Holy Spirit in me wasn’t as qualified to lead as the Holy Spirit in boys, but apparently it wasn’t. I wasn’t.
I grew up, read and traveled and lived both in and beyond the church, and there were more, similar woundings.
I’ve largely made my peace, mostly by saying, in actions & words, “That’s bullshit.” Today I said it with my vote.
I light a candle,
As I putter about the kitchen,
A candle for the mothers
Who are tired
Who want to live freely
But that path was not cut for them,
So they – so I –
Am cutting it now.
In the kitchen
In the office
Through our home so our children may follow
I am preparing dinner
But my soul is kneeled
With my hand on the soft, green
moss covering a rock
And the other on my heart.
From the time I was a preteen until I was about 24, I was ashamed that I was not the effortlessly shiny, attractive person that other girls seemed to be. When I moved to London to get my master’s, I began coming into my own and stopped being embarrassed. I remember the moment this new reality crystallized for me. I had made a mistake at work, and I thought, “Hmm, I am not embarrassed of my self. I want to do it differently next time, sure. But I’m an alright person regardless.” There are still moments when I hear the internal question, “Should I be ashamed of my self for this?” And from deep within, the answer comes, always, “No. A thousand times, no.”
In that vein, I offer Brene Brown’s Manifesto: “Showing up is our power. We are the brave and brokenhearted.” Oh the beauty in brokenness that is brave enough to show up.
The oldest runs back to give me a kiss, the youngest turns and waves. I watch them walk with their daddy, heading to the bus stop. Will that be it – the last time they turn to say good-bye? Will today be the day that someone fires into their school and preschool? If a gunman bursts into their classroom, will they be able to hide in time? Will a patient or visitor at the hospital where my husband works begin shooting in the cafeteria while he eats?
Yesterday morning, while I was groggily pouring cereal and packing lunch, less than two hours away other mothers’ children were gunned down. Mercilessly. I keep thinking of seeing the back of Alison Parker’s wedge heels as she tried to run away.
I bet Alison and Adam Ward’s mothers feel like I do, that their children are the very best of themselves and their fathers, mixed with their own star dust and bright sunshine, shining so brightly.
I live in terror of their light being snuffed out.
“The fact that 20 six year olds were gunned down in the most violent fashion possible, and [Washington, D.C.] couldn’t do anything about it, was stunning to me… A lot of people will say, well this is a mental health problem. It’s not a gun problem. The United States does not have a monopoly on crazy people. It’s not the only country that has psychosis. And yet we kill each other in these mass shootings at rates that are exponentially higher than any place else. What’s the difference? The difference is that these guys can stack up a bunch of ammunition in their houses and that’s par for the course. The country has to do some soul-searching about this. This is becoming the norm.”
– President Barack Obama, June 2014
Tonight I was thinking of how to explain to my seven-year-old why we were attending a vigil for Charleston. I decided to tell her we were going because that’s what you do when you feel sad, or when others feel sad: you get together, and you love on each other. Second, the families in Charleston would hear about the vigils all over the country, and it would let them know that they are not alone. The third reason, the explanation that I saved for another night, is that decisions are made by those who show up. Tonight it was a vigil, but our attendance was representative to the community that we will show up, not only in words and prayers, but through our votes, which is one of the most powerful tools that we have (yes, government is an oft broken system, but I do believe that our votes can help fix it, and it can pave the way for justice).
This phrase came to my mind, and I think it sums up what I am most passionate about in this life: Justice is a community event.