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Somewheres

Somewheres

It might surprise some people to know that I’m a keeper of secrets. Many secrets, in fact. After all, I’m a blogger: by vocation, an over-sharer, a navel-gazer, an over-thinker with access to a medium. And yet there are vast swaths of my life that never make it to the public eye.

And the parts that do show up here or in a book or even on Instagram often only show up after I’ve wrestled the power away from them and I’m ready for my narrative to emerge for Everywhere. I heard Nadia Bolz-Weber call it “writing out of a scar, instead of a wound.”

***

But we all need somewhere to say the private things, the vulnerable things, the scary and true things, the victories and the defeats. “I need to say it somewhere,” we say. We’re wired for it, we’re wired for community and relationship, for connection.

So then the temptation is to say it Everywhere or to say it Nowhere.

Instead, I’m learning to say these things to my Somewheres.

***

I wonder if it isn’t easier to be honest on social media because we have curated our brand. Every one does it: by their likes, their groups, their filtered photos. We project an image of ourselves out into the world and then we want to interact with the world from within the boundaries of that image. It’s neater, tidier.

Because it’s the people who have access to the un-curated version of ourselves who might tell a different story.

My tinies might tell a very different story about me as a mother than what I’ve put online. My friends would be able to tell you that the whole picture of who I am doesn’t show up online, that in some ways I’m both better than that and so much worse than the public Sarah. Aren’t we all?

As Walt Whitman wrote, “do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

I need somewhere to be large and contradictory. Don’t we all?

***

A while ago, I wasn’t doing so good. I was struggling for a few different reasons. It was tempting to stay utterly silent and keep on until it resolved or until I got over it, as is my usual method.

I’m an INFJ (if you’re into that whole Meyers-Briggs thing) and in times of conflict or difficulty, we withdraw – big time. We go deeply inward and don’t emerge until we’ve settled whatever has been ailing us, until we have developed a nice story with a bow on the top. This is the great frustration of the ones who love me, I hear. I withdraw, I shut down, I retreat in times of conflict both external and internal.

So this is my learned spiritual discipline: I talk to my Somewheres.

I say discipline because that is what it takes for me to reach out during conflict. It takes intentional discipline to be honest while I’m still in the midst of the unfinished struggle. I had to say the words out loud: here are my contradictions. I don’t always do it well.

Ironically, I can be even more reluctant to share my victories than I am to share my imperfections. I have a lively horror of #humblebrag. And yet sometimes cool things happen, amazing things even, and I have found I need somewhere to unapologetically brag, too.

***

The Somewheres are my cure for the Everywhere and the Nowhere. Neither extreme is good for our souls. We can’t say everything to Everyone. It’s foolish and damaging to expose ourselves to every single person with an opinion, to let just anyone’s criticism or direction come to rest heavily on our stories.

And we can’t keep our contradictions, our multitude, all in either, we will be crushed eventually. I think our souls require some release: for wisdom, for perspective, for laughter, for tears, for even the holy act of hearing “I see you and I’m listening.” We need to receive from one another, receive the gifts that God has placed before us in our right-now lives. Paul wrote of this in Galatians 6:2 when he encouraged us to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” We need each other. People get a bit squirrelly when they refuse to lay down their masks. No one should be above getting their mail read.

***

“I need to say it somewhere. And you’re my Somewhere,” I said to my friends.

And so we embraced the word, this idea of being each other’s Somewhere. We are the Somewheres. Whether it was for an unapologetic brag or a tearful admission or a “here’s the whole story behind this thing” or a disappointment or frustration in every corner of our lives. Somewhere to say that that The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was amazing and your heart is broken and you can’t get your baby to sleep and you wonder if you’re wasting your life and your marriage isn’t doing so good and you feel alive for the first time and you are tired and you heard a terrible joke and you found a new paint colour for your bedroom and your teenager is giving you attitude.

I have found, too, that good Somewheres listen and see, but they also push back and challenge. As the writer of Hebrews said, we “stir up one another to love and good works.” (10:24) We will become truly human when we are truly communal, we’re made in the image of God, a communal Trinity God. Some part of our soul starves in isolation and in anonymous crowds. The best relationships are reciprocal, an intentional but un-choreographed give-and-take.

***

I believe we can be authentic in our lives. I do. I hope I am authentic, I hope my life is seamless, transparent even. I long to be the same person online as I am off-line, in church as I am in my neighbourhood, at work as I am in my family. I believe we can speak our truth and own our truth and unapologetically write it, share it, speak it, live it. I think it’s best to live as if there is no such thing as a secret, sure. And I believe that while we’re doing that, going through our lives unarmed and with our hearts broken and our hands open, that we still need – perhaps even more – a Somewhere, a safe refuge, a place to work out what is working in us. We can’t be everything to everyone, so why should everyone receive everything that we are?

***

Here are a few things you need to become Somewheres: An ability to welcome the contradictions in each other. Ferocious trust. Secret keeping. A shared sense of humour. A fierce belief in the inherent goodness and holiness of each other. An equal amount of butt-kicking and hair-petting. Bravery. Silliness. A common core. The capacity to laugh through tears. A bullshit detector. An aversion to the phrase, “I’m fine.” Unconditional welcome. Time, so much time. Openness to being challenged. A lot of small and inconsequential talk to lay the foundation for the big scary talks. Loyalty like blood. Showing up at the right time. Light for the darkness. And then there is the part you can’t predict or plan or program: magic. There needs to be a bit of that Holy Spirit drawing together, a sense of purpose and destiny, an answered prayer, a shared language all your own discovered at last.

image via lightstock

 

Continue Reading · community, faith, friends, journey · 44

Women are Scary :: by Melanie Dale

Most of the time when people write or talk about female friendships they either make it sound like rainbows-and-unicorns-and-cupcakes OR they make it sound like the worst experience of their lives. That’s why I’m so excited to introduce you to Melanie Dale. Not only is she a fellow fan of Doctor Who(!!!), but she wrote a book about female friendship I think almost every woman needs to read. It’s called Women are Scary (isn’t that a fantastic title?!) and it’s one of the most honest, funny, and helpful books for developing friendships in adulthood. I loved it and it made me love women even more. You’ll see what I mean when you read this post from her. Then find her online and buy her book. – S.

Women are Scary :: Sarah Bessey

The Doctor: “There’re a lot of things you need to get across this universe. Warp drive … wormhole refractors … You know the thing you need most of all? You need a hand to hold.”
From Doctor Who, “The Almost People”

For several years, I’ve been a Sarah Bessey fan, so as you can imagine, I’m geeking out a bit as I type these words and have pretty much given up trying to be cool about it.

So. I’m trying to write a post about how women are scary for the author of Jesus Feminist. The irony is not lost on me. And I’m using words like “wench,” “bossy,” and “burping,” which are like a triumvirate of female no-no words. Other women have always intimidated me, and I’m a weensy bit sweaty admitting this here.

But maybe you can relate to the utter weirdness of trying to fit in, of squeezing yourself into a mold that doesn’t seem to fit your kind of female. What do you do with women’s ministry and women’s retreats? When I was figuring out how to be a girl in the church, I felt like an expatriate living in a foreign land where I was expected to understand floral arrangements and how to make a proper cheese ball.

A few years ago, I was sitting in a roomful of women I barely knew, watching a video in which Bible teacher Beth Moore got down in someone’s face and declared, “I love women!”

Ooh, I thought to myself, I don’t think I love women. Women are scary, complicated creatures.

The very next moment, something inside me bubbled up and I prayed inside my head, “God, help me to love women.”

Nothing happened. I didn’t feel the earth shake or my insides quiver. I finished watching the video, picked up my daughter in the nursery, and moved on with my life.

Never did I suspect that God would answer that little prayer in such a big way. Looking back over the last couple of years, since praying that prayer, I’ve realized that God has completely rewired my heart. I find myself asking questions, listening to the hearts and hurts of the women around me, and offering bear hugs with abandonment. Where I wanted to run, I now leap to encourage. Where I felt defensive, I now celebrate our differences.

I still avoid crafts.

I attended my first women’s retreat in college, hosted by the women at my church. At that point I was still learning how to be a little bit normal, how to navigate female relationships. My life as a theatre major, a fairly untalented one, consisted of daily rehearsals in which I stood in the back and played the silent role of wench or maid and practiced carrying trays and not drawing attention to myself while wearing a corset and petticoat.

On the night of my first women’s retreat, I of course had wench or maid rehearsal in my whalebones and came to the retreat late, tired, and my insides just a little squeezed. My boobs were relieved to be out of the corset and away from my throat, and I guess I was exploring my diaphragmatic freedom, because before I knew what I was doing, I burped loudly in front of everyone.

I liked burping. Burping was awesome. And then an entire room filled with older church ladies turned to stare at me and I could tell they were mustering the good Christian grace for which they’d trained, and I realized that maybe my parents weren’t the only ones who thought burping in public was a bad idea. Having girlfriends and being a lady might require sacrifice on my part. No more burping wench-maid. I wasn’t sure what I thought about this.

Years later, I still love Jesus, and burping, and sometimes in spite of myself and my complete weirdness, I still go to these things called women’s conferences. They’re filled with lovely ladies and prayer and I’m always just a little on edge, like I don’t quite fit and if they only knew what was going on inside of me … you know, besides gas. In a room full of Christian women I always secretly panic that I’m going to somehow lose control and scream the f-bomb over and over until they drag me out by my Bible.

In the ’burbs where I do life, we live in an independent, isolated culture. We drive our cars into garages and close the doors behind us, and we can go days and weeks without interacting with the neighbors unless we’re intentional about making friends. If we can learn how to develop real, soul-soothing relationships, there’s no stopping what we can do together for our kids, our families, and the world. But first we have to stop being scary and scared of each other.

I witnessed the perfect illustration of female relationships as I waited for my kids in the pickup line at preschool. I watched as two three-year-old girls held hands and tried to walk in opposite directions. They yanked and yanked each other back and forth. They were very angry. They were bossy. They tried and tried to get the other one to go their way. Because their way was better. They knew. No matter how hard they yanked and yanked, they each had their own idea about the right way to do things. But in all the yanking and bossing, they never let go. They held hands tighter and tighter.

That’s a relationship with a girl. We hold hands. We don’t let go. Because we need each other. We yank and yank, but we don’t let go.

So find your girls, grab hands, and don’t let go. We are better together. Put on your best sweatpants and get started.

headshotMelanie Dale is a geek on a God-ride, a minivan mama and total weirdo who stinks at small talk. Her laugh is a combination honk-snort, and it’s so bad that people have moved away from her in the movie theater. She adores sci-fi and superheroes and is terrified of Pinterest. Author of Women Are Scary: The Totally Awkward Adventure of Finding Mom Friends, she’s also a contributor for Coffee+Crumbs and an advocate for Children’s HopeChest. Living in the Atlanta area, she blogs at Unexpected.org about motherhood, orphan care, adoption, and sometimes poo.

Continue Reading · community, friends, Guest Post, women · 21

Palms

lightstock_160956_medium_user_5073617

It’s Palm Sunday, I remembered only this morning. This season of Lent has passed me by, seasons do that sometimes. My baby girl is three weeks old today and so we did what we do, we took her to church.

By the time we dashed into the school gym through the pouring rain, everyone dressed with their teeth brushed, I was fully expecting someone to meet us at the door with a medal. “Here! You made it! Congratulations!” So I became ridiculous and greeted every other mother with a babe in arms with dead-serious props: “You made it, good for you! Good for us! Look at us, we’re doing it!”

I never really want to go to church. I just don’t. I’d rather stay home in my jammies and have a lazy Sunday. I like podcasts and books. I have a lot of weirdness about the Church as a whole, too: questions and accusations or frustrations, perhaps. I’m just built that way, some of us are. And I will choose quiet over crowds any day. But every Sunday that I push through that, I never regret it, I’m always to glad I actually got ready and put my children in the car and we went to church to remember that we are the church. I am always so thankful that I went – so thankful for the chance to pray for a friend and for familiar faces, for singing and teenagers in buffalo check shirts, for Sunday school and loud kids, for the way we stand to read the Scriptures in declaration over each other.

I think someday when I am old, I will conjure up the sight of us in the fourth or fifth row on the right hand side just to see us on these imperfect Sundays. I’ll see my gigantic husband delicately twirling our three-year-old in the aisle as she dances to the hymns and the anthems alike. I’ll see him lifting her easily up into his arms, how her flowered dress hung over his plaid-shirted arm and she stuck her chubby arms up in the sky like all the grown-ups around her, singing “hall-le-lu-yay!” and how she leaned out of his arms three times to kiss me SMACK right on the lips and then grin. I’ll see myself swaying with a sleeping baby at my breast, rhythmically patting her bum with my left hand, my right holding the hand of a tall and sensitive six-year-old boy who sings along to the songs. I’ll see my eldest daughter with her BFF colouring at our feet, turning the provided picture of a leper rejoicing into a couple of chicks with carefully designed clothes on and black crayon eyelashes, praising God. I’ll see how we were back and forth up the aisles at least three times with someone who needs to pee or nurse. I’ll see our friends and the folding chairs, all familiar, how I sang out over my life with my palms wide open.

And I’ll fall in love with my life from that distance, over and over, because I will love the sight of us, distracting and distracted and yet somehow doing it, the thick of our life together. I will see myself singing the words of the Psalms into my babies’ hair, I’ll see how we touched each of them, rubbing their backs, brushing their hair off their foreheads, holding their hands, loving them is just as much a part of our worship as anything else.

Hosanna in the highest. We’re not a liturgical church but I’m a liturgical woman. I always long for liturgy on the big days like this, I want the big church-y words and communion and prayers, the same every year. But my people are the school-gym dwellers, the flag-wavers, the “God has a word for you” ones and so I stay, I’ll always stay.

I spent much of the sermon in the mothers’ nursing room. I used to wonder why I bothered going to church when so much of my time was spent in the hallways with a fussy baby or toddler. But then I realised that this is part of church, too, the way that we talk in the halls, the way we sit on scratchy old couches in the staff room of the elementary school nursing without covers on, the way we sway while we talk. If I came to church just for the sermons, I would have left long ago.

But I admit that sometimes I go to church just to sing. I love to sing. I’m not a snob either. I have friends who poo-poo anything that’s not a deeply and rightly theological hymn, not me. I love the hymns and I love the big hairy worship anthems, I love singing Jesus-is-my-boyfriend songs and Scripture songs, I love simplistic choruses and I love when they play the piano and tell us to just pray to ourselves and the way that the melodies of our own mouths rise up, I’ll sing in the tongues I received as an eight-year-old.

Great is thy faithfulness, our Father and our friend.

It was a wonderful sermon this morning. Brian heard the whole thing, lucky duck, and he said that sermons like that remind him why he’s given his life to this, why we believe, why it matters. Maybe that’s what good teaching does, it gives us language for our minds for what our hearts already know or suspect.

This is what we heard: There is nothing against us or in us that can stop us from clinging to Jesus, from turning to redemption, over and over, turning again and again. And whatever happened on the cross, however we impose meaning and narrative and metaphors onto it, however we try to explain or understand it, this is the truest truth of it all: it was enough. The cross was enough and is enough, we are only responding to the abundance of redemption.

Hand me a palm branch, the King is coming.

 

photo via lightstock. used with permission.

Continue Reading · church, community, faith, family · 33

Confessions

Pride is a tricky thing, it makes liars out of us. If we don’t ever admit to our stumbles or our failings, our weaknesses and struggles, then how will we know when we’ve found our people?

I limped back to my community this week. It’s been a long year filled with work and travel, unblogged challenges and changes. In the push to finish this book before the baby arrived and roughly seventeen other complications over the past year for us, we haven’t been as present or involved at our church as usual, particularly over the past couple of months.

I’ve been ashamed of this, feeling as if I’ve sacrificed my local life to just keep swimming. What use is all this thinking about church and community (or for that matter, any of it – justice, beauty, mercy, grace) if we’re not actively involved in living it out in our real lives?

I needed to sing out ahead of my exhaustion so I did. I’m interrupted a million times in church – three tinies will do that to a woman – but I keep circling back, keep jumping back into worship, refocusing again and again and again. I need to hear my own voice singing promises. And I need to be with the ones I’ve chosen as my people.

We hadn’t been at church since before Christmas. My friends met me with hugs and, of course, they asked, How are you doing?

And my pride wanted to say that I was fine! great! never better! living the dream! blessed and highly favoured! (<—old school Pentecostal)

Instead, it was the craziest thing. I cried every time they innocently asked how I was doing. And I made myself say it, out loud: I’m not fine. I’m not okay. Yes, you’re right, I’m exhausted. I’m just so so so tired. I miss my life sometimes. I could use your prayers.

Forget dignity, I need restoration.

Forget pride, I need the prayers of the people who like us.

Forget anonymity, I need to be known even in these moments of emptiness and need.

Church is one of my safe places now. I never would have imagined saying that a few years ago but it’s true. It’s the place I can go when I am the reluctantly needy one. My friends promised prayers, a few even checked on me during the week here and there. I was met with hugs and tenderness, with kindness. It wasn’t much really. Maybe my friends would say it wasn’t a big deal at all, but it was enough for me. I felt seen, I felt like someone who knows me actually cared, I felt their compassion. This is more than enough.

One friend talked to me about arranging for a few meals to brought to us after the baby is born. I wanted to say, No, no, we’re fine, we don’t need anything. I think she saw right through my need to be independent, and she looked me dead in the eye: Sarah, you need to do this. You need to let people bless you. So I said yes, that would be wonderful. Please put me down on the list, yes, bring me food when I have a baby. Why is it so hard to accept help?

And I felt the difference this week, the heaviness hanging over me began to break up above my head, my energy has been slowly returning.

I continue to lean on my community, on the Spirit, and on Scripture. It seems easier to walk away from community for me, easier to be autonomous and anonymous but I find I need the strong three-strand cord more and more.

I longed for this for many years. And yes, our church isn’t perfect and, in fact, it makes me a bit crazy sometimes just like all churches do for all people who show up and put their hearts on the line.

But now, to me, church should be the people I turn to when I am tired, too. My one word for 2015 is Hold Fast, based on Hebrews 10:23, but just a few lines down from my pet focus right now are these words: “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshipping together as some do but spurring each other on…”

I don’t think we need a four-walls-and-a-non-profit-status to qualify as church but these people are mine and I am still learning to admit when I need something from them, too. I know Scripture commands us to confess our sins to one another, in order to be healed, but I am also learning to confess my needs, my struggles, even my true state of being. And restoration waits there, too.

So come all you who are weary and exhausted, all you who have poured out of your depths to fill another: be filled, be restored, receive for once. Wherever you find your church, let them be the ones you turn to when you are tired. Let us pray for one another, let us hold fast, let us confess.

 

Continue Reading · church, community, faith, Hold Fast, journey · 24

May God bless you with anger

Last weekend, I was in Winnipeg’s historic west end with the YWAM Urban Ministries and the Little Flowers community. It was a very dear time for me in many personal ways, absolutely, because I’ve been writing alongside of Jamie Arpin-Ricci as a Canadian theological blogger since the dark ages – back in the day when there were only about five of us writing about that stuff online and we were all so a-flutter over the emerging church, bless it – and he’s been very influential in my own life from afar over the years. He’s a bit of a misfit – a YWAMer who is a Franciscan priest in the Mennonite/Anabaptist tradition. Go figure, eh? But it works. In fact, the longer and better I know him and his work, the more respect I have – not too many folks you can say that about, I know. So having a chance to spend time with him and his wife, Kim, their son and their community was very life-giving.

But the weekend was more than just my own time sharing about Jesus Feminist and even more than our personal connection and conversations – it was also about justice and community, church and calling, all things that we talk about a lot here in this space, particularly on the grass roots level.

So I’m going to be writing through a few aspects of my time with these folks over the next weeks as their work and posture impacted me deeply – and I want you to know them.  I don’t have a big agenda or timeline though, I’ll just write as I can and look forward to the conversation that may unfold.

***

As you might have guessed from their church name, Little Flowers has been deeply influenced by Saint Francis of Assisi. This past Saturday was the Feast of Saint Francis so we had a conversation about the life of Saint Francis and if, like me, your knowledge of saints is pretty rudimentary at best, I’ll just say that he is way more than the guy on the bird baths and the pet blessings. We’ve domesticated our saints, perhaps, in order to make them fit on our pedestals. A good hint of the kind of man he was – and the order he founded of Franciscans – is to look at the new Pope Francis who took his official papal name from this saint with very clear purpose and inspiration.

Anyway, as a bridge into writing about the ideas that my weekend woke up in me, I wanted to share with you a Franciscan blessing that we prayed together as part of our small Sunday gathering.

And then I dare you to pray it.

franciscan blessing

Continue Reading · church, church planting, community, journey, missional, prayer · 14