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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 · 46

Famous

Famous :: Sarah Bessey

Famous people make God famous.

Famous people, big stadiums, big churches, big podcasts and inflated book sales. Bestseller lists and headlines in newspapers, stages and webinars. Football arenas for Jesus! Big concerts with jumbo-trons and livestreams. Thin, beautiful, charismatic leaders with hundreds of thousands of followers on social media tweeting and retweeting each other. This actor went to church! This athlete pointed to heaven and bowed his knee when he scored a touchdown! This pop star said the name Jesus once! Put the name “JESUS” in lights – score one for the Kingdom.

And if we want to make Jesus famous, well, what better way than to be famous ourselves?

***

Is God made famous on stages and platforms? Perhaps. Yes. Sometimes. Sure. It’s worth celebrating the good that is done, the people who hear the truth, the wounds that are healed, the Gospel that is preached. You do you, I say. If God has called you there, then be there as a fully engaged disciple, not as a hack using Jesus as your get-on-stage-quickly card. I think the stages and the bestseller lists and whatever have a lot of potential to do good, it’s a resource to be stewarded.

Fame is just a tool, perhaps. Sometimes it’s handled well, sure. But it’s often wielded recklessly, resulting in damage and wounds. not the least of which is inflicted on the soul and life of the famous one themselves. Let’s not pretend there isn’t a price to pay. Even small time fame that exists only in your own twisted heart is dangerous, be wary. The Gen-X kid in me remains suspicious, the line between “making Jesus famous” and “making ourselves famous for Jesus” is whisper thin.

Believe the hype.

***

But here is the question I wonder these days: Is it really fame that God is seeking?

I think God is seeking redemption, restoration, rescue, and reconciliation.

Famous is one thing: resurrection is another.

***

The Apostle Paul’s warning in his first letter to the Corinthians, “God didn’t send me out to collect a following for myself, but to preach the Message of what he has done, collecting a following for him.” (1:17)

***

Love is well-known and easily identified, it needs no stage and no bestseller status. God is famous in the family dinners and protest marches, in the re-reading of a favourite book to small children and in Wednesday night Bible studies open to the public, in the prayers of the unknown and the faith of the uncelebrated.

I wonder if fame is more a construct of our celebrity-obsession, but God isn’t the new celebrity to brand and make palatable for the masses – there is too much complexity and wildness for God; God won’t obey the spreadsheets.

It’s resurrection, resurrection, resurrection. Bringing the dead things to life, life into dry bones, beauty from ashes, sorrow to joy, day after day, choice after choice, step after step towards glory.

I think the greatest sanctification of my life happens far from fame, it’s repetitive and practiced. Making God famous might begin with walking away from our constructs or ideas of fame. Perhaps God is hiding in plain sight, off-stage, in the whispers, in the beauty, in the ride home in the dark after the big event has packed up and moved on like a circus.

***

We can confuse a lack of fame with a lack of blessing, perhaps, when the truth is that a wide open and spacious life is waiting in even the smallest and most obscure of moments, an abundant life, healing, wholeness, courage, love, all hiding in the crucible of everyday life, everyday justice, far from applause.

I don’t think transformation usually happens in a top-down celebrity driven experience. That might be a high, it might be exciting, it might ignite a spark, but the real long work of discipleship and transformation happens far from the stages.

It’s unsexy until you understand: this is it. This life we have right now, as it stands, is an altar, a meeting place, and there is holiness here.

***

Can we really speak of the God of the ordinary miracle of life when our lives are spent in manufactured experiences, curated for branding? Can we really know God in the details of our lives when we are separated from the goodness of our neighbours, our local communities, our families by our schedules and our platforms? I know I can’t and so perhaps this is more of a meditation for me.

Be here, be present in the life God has given to us, find transcendence and transformation and healing here, first, maybe always. Practice love here, in the life where you are. Maybe God doesn’t want to be famous, maybe God yearns to bring the dead to life, justice to the oppressed, wholeness to your body and mind and soul, and bring life more abundant, in the seeds of a right-now life.

Even for you, and in you.

 

image source

 

Continue Reading · faith · 45

Ron and Hermione

Ron and Hermione :: Sarah Bessey

We don’t have a big yard, its about the size of a couple postage stamps, give or take a few images of the Queen. But we do have a forest just behind the ordinary chain link fence, a dense coastal forest filled with cedars and squirrels, spirea mountain ash and coyotes. Every September, a mama bear and her cub lumber through for a few weeks and we keep our tinies inside or  carefully supervise them instead of what we usually do: open the door, set the boundaries – “this house to this house, our yard and your best friend’s yard” – and let them go. We have salmonberry bushes and blackberry bushes tangled up around a little creek that runs through, we poke our hands through the thickets, braving scratches, for the first berries of the year. By August, we’ll be sick of blackberries, the jam will already be made.

We don’t live in the wilderness, just a quiet little neighbourhood of semi-detached homes on the edge of town in the valley. We’re next to a blueberry farm. We have been thinking seriously about moving this year. We got so far as to buy a house and set our moving dates but then for a few reasons, it all fell apart. Now that it’s been a few weeks since that disappointment, I’ve come to see the grace hiding in that falling apart. It’s a small thing in the scheme of things, I know, but it loomed large for our little family and was the source of much conversation. We continue to weigh our options, should we stay or should we go?

And life continues. I’m in the midst of editing the new book which is slow going in this season. I stop frequently to nurse the baby or to make lunch or to pick up the tinies from the bus stop. I have a babysitter for our preschooler two mornings a week which is an enormous help. My husband takes the three big kids to my parents’ place for the day on a Saturday now and again, giving me the house and the baby to myself as I try to put a chapter to bed. Serendipitously, two weekends ago when he did that, it was a chapter about how discussions of theology need ordinary people to be involved, how well-educated and well-read and well-travelled scholars also need us low church experiential local folks talking about how we see and experience and know God, about how theologians are hiding in every walk of life. I wrote those words at my kitchen table with the youngest of four tinies beside me, snoring. Naptime writing is urgent writing, sometimes I think it might be my best thinking. This isn’t speculation: if theology – how we think about God and then how we live that out – isn’t for all of us, then what is it even for?

Caring for small children, being a homemaker, can be repetitive and ordinary: laundry, cleaning bathtubs, long walks made twice as long by wandering and questions, grocery shopping, nursing, all of it. Life is rarely as exciting as people like for it to appear on Facebook. We go to church, we participate in leadership meetings to shape the conversations of our communities, we pray for our friends, we make meals, I write posts and articles and books about God, we wash our minivans, we set up the sprinkler for the neighbourhood kids and hand out freezies to hopeful hands, we go to work, we talk about the people we know. Sacred and beautiful, sure, I’ll say that, but also slow and daily and sometimes monotonous, too.

But even in that ordinary work, I keep trying to give shape to the new world, to the dangerous possibilities of living our lives right now as if God saved everything, as if it is all redeemed or being redeemed. If what I believe about Love doesn’t find a roost here in my regular and ordinary and unremarkable life where I learn and practice what Eugene Peterson called “the biggest nouns and verbs,” then I have no right to those words in moments of transformation and change and importance. There are chickadees perched on the railings of the deck, just for a few seconds. They fly in, perch, flinch, and depart, over and over. I like to think they’re all checking for the crumbs leftover from the weekend of eating outside. Maybe they know which house has messy eaters.

My husband and I sat outside on Saturday night, watching the sun set. It’s nearly summer solstice and the days are long. We put the tinies to bed in broad daylight and settled onto our back deck, facing the forest. The sun sank behind the house and that last golden light of the day hit the trees. In the morning, the light is cool and white and sharpening; but in the evening, it’s warm and liquid, it softens the forest.

Brian and I talked about the regular things: should we move? should we stay? We talked about the kids and about work, about the plan for the week ahead. I’m distrustful of people who always seem to be thinking of deep spiritual things, always striving and going-going-going: I think they must be horrible to live with. I think we need the humanity of laughter and Netflix and ordinary life. We poured a glass of white wine each and wrapped ourselves up in blankets. Joe is reading under the covers with a flashlight, I think tonight he’s reading James and the Giant Peach. Anne has left Babysitters Club books littered around the house, Evelynn is devoted to Robert Munsch these days, of course – that slapstick humour perfectly suits her. I secretly love when they sneak-read. Is there any reading more delicious than that sneaky after-bedtime reading when you are a child? The evenings are still cold when the darkness gathers.

We were waiting for our owls. We have two owls out back, I’m not quite sure what kind, perhaps a western screech owl. We have heard that owls mate for life. I don’t know if that’s true or legend, but every year, we see two owls in the summer nights, year after year after year. Our owls come out to hunt. We like to sit there in the near-dark and watch them, swooping down to the forest floor, returning to rest on the branches of the trees with their prizes.

We had a long discussion about what to name our owls, pairs of names are always fun to consider. Romeo and Juliet? Peanut and Butter? Antony and Cleopatra? Nip and Tuck, á la The Blue Castle? Anne and Gilbert? Elizabeth and Darcy? We settled on Ron and Hermione since, well, they are owls and so the Harry Potter books are entirely appropriate.

I don’t think we’re going to move. And it’s entirely the fault of the forest. I live in a tidy little neighbourhood of identical houses, sure, and I don’t have a yard, I get it. But we have the silence of the night and a creek, we have Ron and Hermione, we have the trees, and I don’t think I’m ready to give that up. Maybe I’ll change my mind. A trampoline and a garden would be nice.

When life can feel a bit dull and prosaic, my forest nights somehow keep me grounded in the dense amazement of being alive. I remembered an old Roald Dahl quote I read once, “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

I believe in magic.

I believe in ordinary and repetitive and daily boring life and the way magic hides in plain sight.

I believe in church picnics and breastfeeding, I believe books matter and summer nights are for sitting outside while the sun sets. I believe in good coffee and eating berries off the bush. I believe in going for walks with children because they are so slow and perfectly inefficient. I believe our theology is formed in our lives and experiences, and I believe we need to listen to each other. I believe in working hard and loving what we do. I believe in unsupervised children and sidewalk chalk and sprinklers. I believe in kitchen tables and piles of books. I believe in windows being wide open while sun-tanned children go to sleep at a reasonable hour so that they can read under the covers with a flashlight. I believe in heavy blankets for cool summer nights and long conversations over a shared bottle of wine, I believe love lasts a lifetime even if it changes, and I believe in birdsong in the morning. I believe in owls.

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Continue Reading · canada, enough, faith, family, journey, love, marriage, moments · 38

Say Her Name

#sayhername (4)

Say her name.

Say it out loud: DaJerria Becton. A beautiful name, let your voice say it out loud.

Scripture tells us that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God – Jesus gives us ears to hear and then faith comes. I think there’s something powerful about our own voices speaking the truth out ahead of ourselves. Our words matter. Our voices matter. What we speak aloud often sinks its way into our soul and our memory and then into our actions.

So here is what we could say today: DaJerria Becton.

I believe that today the crucified and resurrected Christ is saying her name with us: DaJerria Becton.

You are made in the image of God, DaJerria, you are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are valuable. You are beloved.

She is not “Bikini Girl.”

Not “that black girl in the bikini in that video.”

Not “the McKinney girl.”

Not whatever terrible name she was called that day or in the days since as people cast judgment on her and her friends for the way the day ended: a white man’s knees pressed into her young back, forcing her face into the grass while she cried out for someone to call her mama.

“Someone call my mama!”

Her name is DaJerria Becton. 

She is just fourteen years old, someone’s child, yes, but she is her own person, made in the image of God. And she was brutalized, terrified. No matter what lead up to that moment, this was deeply engrained racially-motivated and sexualized violence. That man’s instinct was to throw her by her braids, a slender teenager in a bikini, to scream, to point a gun, to put the full weight of a culture that believes she is a danger because of her skin and disposable because of her sex right into her back.

There are a million reasons to be outraged: as a feminist, as a follower of Jesus who deeply loves the powerless, as a mother.

If anyone could watch that video and not feel the rage, the impotent need to rescue that child, then I have to wonder: how numb have you become to injustice?

Nameless victims are somehow easier for us to forget. But she’s not a nameless victim.  She’s not what she wore or what she said, she’s DaJerria Becton from Texas and she’s fourteen years old.

From the ancient tribal culture of the Bible to Boko Haram and ISIS to our own “civilized” societies, there are stories of the hundreds of nameless victimized women throughout patriarchy’s history. One after another after another, until our sisters somehow blur together. God’s global daughters aren’t a nameless, faceless sex. We have names. History glosses over us, we’re the collateral damage to the wars of men, and so our voices matter: lift them up and remember, we have names. We have stories, we have families.

Every woman matters. Black women matter, too. Aboriginal women matter, too. Poor women, too.

There’s  litany of names. One woman after another who has been murdered or damaged, made even more vulnerable often because of socio-economics or race or location. Here in Canada, our litany includes our aboriginal women – more than 500 murdered or missing as far as we know. We become numb to their faces, to their stories, it’s always one more one more one more one more in the news.

Let her be a person, not a news story or a litany or a victim. We will learn from the marginalized and oppressed, we will believe their stories. We will incline our ears and amplify voices. We will become educated beyond our own narrow context. We will not become numb and we won’t mind our own business, we will let our hearts cry out alongside of our sisters.

Say a name today.

DaJerria Becton.

We see you. We weep for you. We will carry you. We will pray for you and for your community. And we will never stop labouring for God’s dream for humanity to come true. We won’t give up and we won’t lose hope. 

We will be angry with you and for you – and then we will let that righteousness move us further out into redemption. 

Say a name today (there are too many to choose from, so many names, so many women.)

Jesus, be near to the brokenhearted, comfort the afflicted, bring freedom and truth and reconciliation. 

Today, go on, I dare you, say her name: DaJerria Becton. 

And let your heart break.

 

(This post was inspired by the powerful hashtag #SayHerName to raise the visibility of the Black female victims of police brutality.)

Continue Reading · faith, social justice, women · 22

What my parents taught me about parenting :: a new series

The experience of being a parent not only reoriented my entire life, but it has changed and is changing how I experience, know, and understood God, too. Mothering has consistently been a meeting place, or an altar, between me and the Spirit. It’s the hardest work of my life and the best work of my life.

Back in 2011, I wrote a series called My Practices of Mothering. At the time, I had a four year old, a two year old, and a newborn so I began to write through the things I actually do in an attempt to enjoy mothering during those intense years with tinies. (That series is now available as an ebook.)

Four years later, I have grade school kids, a preschooler, and a new baby – and I’m in the thick of my parenting years, or as I’ve taken to calling them: “The Tired Thirties” (with thanks to Madeleine L’Engle for that phrase!).

As I looked back at that ebook recently, I realized afresh just how much I rely on my parents’ wisdom and methods, words and habits. That’s not so different from anyone else: we all tend to repeat what we experienced as children, for better or for worse, often without a lot of thought to it. We often need to figure out which family patterns or generational habits to disrupt or discard and which ones are healthy or helpful.

To be honest, never in a million years would I have identified myself as someone just “wanted to be a mum” or even pictured myself as a mother – I was never the maternal type. I quit baby-sitting at 14 because I figured there had to be a better way to make money than that!

But when I became a mother, I found that the investment of my parents was an abiding deposit in my heart. I had a toolkit right from the start because of my parents: not only the capability for unconditional love and a heritage of faith – so key! – but even practical things or words or habits to pass along to my children or to make the experience of parenting fulfilling, even joyful and delightful, despite the usual struggles, pain, frustrations, sacrifices, and even boredom that also comes with parenting.

Sarah Bessey's Parents

I’ve always been wary of anyone offering up parenting “advice” when their children are not yet grown. It’s like giving out marriage advice when you’ve been married for all of five minutes. So this isn’t necessarily my “advice” because I am just such a great parent. (I’m not. Not yet anyway.) I am still very much in the trenches. I know I have much to learn and a lot of mistakes still to make. I imagine that in the future there will be ways that my children will say that I failed them.

But I have a strong legacy and wise mentors: I can share that freely.

My sister and I were very fortunate: we were raised in a tremendously loving, healthy, stable and godly home. Our parents were very young when they had us and some aspects of their childhoods were difficult, but they began to follow Jesus early in my childhood (if you’ve read Jesus Feminist, you know that story!). They quickly realised that parenting is an exercise in being spirit-led. There are no formulas here. There is no guarantee. What works for one kid, may not work for another. Principles help, but they must come secondary to deep and abiding and unconditional love.

Over the years, my parents have often gathered young people around them, pouring their wisdom into their hearts through relationship in matters of marriage, parenting, leadership, finances, faith, and so on. They are mentors to many in our “real life” already. I’m well aware of how blessed we are to live 10 minutes from them, to do life together on a daily basis.

So I’m starting a new series: What My Parents Taught Me About Parenting.

What My Parents Taught Me About Parenting :: Sarah Bessey

I’ve written occasionally about the stuff my parents taught me – like in that ebook – and then with other posts like Guard Your Gates. After that, I heard from so many readers about how they now use that phrase in their homes. It’s been wonderful to see how God has used that little phrase in so many families!

But I’ve also heard from so many fellow parents both online and in real life who simply don’t have parents that they wish to emulate. The reasons are complex, of course. So many feel alone as parents, trying to find tools for our experience, and yet frustrated or broken-hearted at the toolkit our own parents left to us.

We feel like we are figuring it out alone.

So many of us don’t have a legacy of healthy parenting behind us. And so we are the ones who are paying the price, figuring it out, trying to do it differently, so that our children will hopefully be a bit more free or healthy or loved than we were.

Or perhaps, like me, you’re actually pretty happy with how you were raised but you still love to learn from other people a bit further down the path.

I think that takes guts. And I think it’s the best work you can do as a parent. It’s hard and frustrating and its amazing. Your children will rise and call you blessed for it, I believe. It’s worth it.

And so I began to think, what if I just wrote out some of the things my parents taught me about being a parent? What if I started a series of posts about the way my parents raised us – particularly the habits or phrases or methods that I use myself now? I know that it helps me to write it out and articulate it but perhaps it may also help a few of us, too. It might add a few ideas to your parenting toolkit or perhaps a bit of hope to your soul. 

I have no idea how long it will run because I imagine I’ll exhaust myself before I’ll exhaust the lessons that my parents gave to me as a child and continue to give to me as a parent. But I’ll do my best to stay faithful to it and write a new post every week or so.

First post will be up tomorrow: “Have your own truck.” (That will make sense, I promise.) I’ll update this post with each new post so that you can easily find them all in this place.

Guard Your Gates

Have Your Own Truck :: On Empowering Our Children

 

Continue Reading · faith · 13