I took my littlest girl for a walk in the fading of the day. I only have grace for one day, and the day was nearly done. We’ve been overworked and tired lately, still recovering from that flu going around. Now we’re doing laundry, catching up, finding ordinary time again. Sometimes I lean against my husband in the kitchen and we just stay there, leaning, for a while.
A walk in the gathering light is always a cure for what ails me. I can’t even tell you what’s ailing me, but I feel it, and so I head for the trees. You see, I can still smell the tent city I walked through in Haiti a few months ago, I feel the clinging of the arms of orphans. And I have hundreds of emails of the hard stories of women wounded by the church as part of my research for my book, and then someone was mean to me.
Years ago, when I fell in love with Jesus and his ways, I lost my armour. Sometimes I feel the big important things, and other times it’s silly, petty, selfish things but I feel sadness and pain again, in ways that I didn’t when I had my barricades of apologetics, bravado, and explanations.
I recently finished the first draft of my beloved book, Jesus Feminist, and I’m feeling a bit more raw and exposed. I know this is why I feel out of sorts, like I just cracked open everything I ever believed and knew to be true, poured it out lavish, but it’s in this weird in-between place of waiting now. Sometimes I am so proud of it, so convinced of its brilliance, and other times I hope it never sees the light of day.
The question that gets under my skin the most, in the emails/comments/whispers/bewildered friends-meant-as-kindness yet again is this one: just who do you think you are anyway? Almost every night, when it rolls in again, I lay awake thinking, I have no idea, this is a terrible calling, I’m so far out of my comfort zone, I am not brave enough for this, and I have no right to speak out in my own voice, and I hope I don’t embarrass you, Jesus, I love you, please let me stay with you, I love you, stay with me. Pick anyone but me. Anyone else!
For me, joy and calling and goodness and purpose arrived hand-in-hand with social justice and suffering and vulnerability. I wish I could watch the news without crying. I’d like to ignore mothers in Newtown and Palestine, I’d like to forget about systemic injustice, hungry babies, sex trafficking, loneliness. It’s uncomfortable to care. Every small bit I do feels inadequate. Sometimes I’d like to numb the cold dark creeping.
I layered the baby all up, tucking all of her golden brown curls into a saucy little blue beret.We went up the hill and down the hill, down into the valley beside the Mennonite cemetery. Once we were safely away from the roads, I unbuckled her and set her free to wander. She promptly clawed into the dirt, scrabbling out small stones to present as jewelled offerings. She piled up dead leaves in the stroller’s undercarriage.
She hollered with delight, nose running, mittens discarded, the light magnetized around her, mud under her fingernails. She was so incredibly happy. I crouched on my haunches, just to see her round face a bit better, and I filled my fleece pockets with her rocks and dirt and frozen shrivelled rose hips. Her cheeks were glowing rubies, and she was hard at play.
When the sun fell below the horizon, the light blazed out behind the pine trees. This is it, I thought as I stood up, back straight, because this is my favourite sight: the inky blackness of pine trees, black lace relief burned out against the western sky as the last guardian of this date on the calendar cedes. It never lasts long, but it comes every day. Evelynn was still playing delight, and I stood, in the bright cold silence, and the fading light fell on me, tired and glorious and spent. I felt wildly, inexplicably happy, I could see my breath.
How is it that in this raw season, when I feel like my whole heart is thumping exposed, I have never been happier?
It’s true. I’ve never been so spent yet so joyful. I’ve never been more convinced of my calling and yet scared to walk it out. I’ve never been more attuned to the suffering and yet quick to everyday joy. I’ve never been so easily wounded and yet I love being armour less. I feel defenceless yet disinclined to pick up the sword. I can’t explain it but I stood in the middle of the field that night with my arms open wide, the echoes of “Who do you think you are?” running away like mice while my littlest one filled her fingers with earth. I’m her mama, I thought, I’m me, always, I’m yours, Jesus, and I turned and surveyed it all like the gift it is, open to all that came my way for a little while.
When it was time to go, I put Evelynn back into her stroller. She proceded to scream the entire way back up the hill. Once she had tasted freedom, she could not go back to her tame little stroller. She fought the restraints, and I wondered if she would be so indignant, if she hadn’t been so happy being free. I wouldn’t take her out – this isn’t my first parenting rodeo – but once she calmed down, I put some of her rocks onto her little stroller tray to play with while we walked back down to our neighbourhood.
I have been reading Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, lately. I’ve nearly run out of ink because I’m an underliner, a dog-ear-er, a “yes!” scribbler. That very night, I read this passage:
“In another very unexpected discovery, my research also taught me that there’s no such thing as selective emotional numbing. There is a full spectrum of human emotions and when we numb the dark, we numb the light. While I was “taking the edge off” of the pain and vulnerability, I was also unintentionally dulling my experiences of good feelings, like joy. … Joy is as thorny and sharp as any of the dark emotions. To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees – these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain…. We can’t make a list of the “bad” emotions and say, “I’m going to numb these” and then make a list of the positive emotions and say, “I’m going to fully engage in these!”
Well, now, then. That makes sense. I have supper dishes to clean up, prayers to pray, tears to cry, holy daily work to do, joy comes in the morning hand in hand with whatever may come. Glory to God.