On moving and moving on

A couple of months ago Mark and I had a falling out with our third housemate, and decided to look for a two bedroom apartment. For those of you who don’t know, Mark is my good friend and long-time housemate. We lived in an intentional Christian community together for several years, and four years ago moved into a three-bedroom apartment and have been renting out the third bedroom. It was a good plan, I think. We needed to leave the community, and our incomes are both on the low side, and this way we’ve been able to rent out the larger bedroom and pay a little bit less.

I was in the Christian community for seven years, and it was a hard seven years. In many ways it was a toxic environment for me, though despite that (and maybe a little bit because of it) those were years of a lot of inner growth. But it was a community, a family, and hard as it was I was scared to leave, to go off on my own. I was so scared I kept putting it off, year after year, crisis after crisis, until the time came when the decision was taken out of my hands and I had to leave. Mark and I started looking for three bedrooms. We trekked around Boston with realtor after realtor and saw some awful places. Tiny apartments, filthy apartments, bizarrely shaped apartments. It was extremely demoralizing, and the days until we had to move were ticking down. Then we found this place.

This house, where we’ve been for the past four years — it’s gorgeous. It’s spacious and sunny, up on a hill on a tree-lined street, with two porches, a great view, and rabbits living in the back yard for crying out loud. The third bedroom is actually two rooms spanning the whole third floor, so we were able to rent that out at a higher rate than we paid for our bedrooms. I have no idea how it was in our price range, or how we were the only viable applicants. Just to add to the drama and the miraculousness of it all, the landlords didn’t accept our application at first but decided to have another open house — and no one showed up! So at the eleventh hour, just days before we had to leave the community, we signed a lease for Primrose Street.

This house has been such a place of healing for me. After years of struggling in the community and being afraid to leave I found myself spending glorious solitary hours sitting on my porch watching the sun set over the hills as the birds sang in the trees all around me. I rolled out my yoga mat in the large, wood-paneled living room, in front of the working fireplace, and felt my body healing as I stretched. In the winter I chopped garlic and onions, potatoes and carrots in the kitchen and filled the house with the smell of hearty soups. I bought viney plants and watched them slowly take over mantles and bookshelves. I chatted with Mark in the evening, grateful to have a friend to talk to and grateful when we went to our separate corners of the house, introverts respectful of each other’s need for solitude. I’d been so scared to leave, and look where I’d landed. My heart rose up with the words of the Psalms:

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
    you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    surely I have a delightful inheritance.

I felt God’s message to me in my very bones: “Don’t be afraid.” As Frederick Buechner has so beautifully expressed it in his definition of grace: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

But almost as soon as we’d moved in here I knew there would come a time when we’d have to leave, and I knew it would be really hard. I thought that time would be when our landlords decided to move into the house themselves, since that was their long term plan for the place. But after this last experience of disagreements and miscommunication with the third housemate, Mark and I both agree that we don’t want to have to keep finding and coping with a third person. For even as the house has been such a wonderful place of quiet and healing, there have been conflicts and struggles with our various third housemates. Beautiful and terrible things seem to always come together, don’t they?

It was a hard decision, but I know it is the right one. And I don’t want to be afraid of moving on to the next thing. I was afraid for so long before, and then when I wouldn’t take the leap of faith myself I was pushed, and landed somewhere wonderful. I don’t want to be afraid again. I want to trust that the same Spirit that led me here will lead me to the next place.

And now, right now as I type, we are in the eleventh hour again. We’ve given notice here for June 30th and we haven’t found a new place yet. We thought we found something but it fell through yesterday afternoon. Today is June 16th, officially less than half a month till we have to be out of here. Two weeks, if you prefer things in tidy sets of seven. Mark is in Connecticut helping with his grandmother’s funeral preparations. Right when things got crazy here with our housemate Mark’s mom broke her arm and his grandmother started failing, so he’s been down there for three months now while I try to handle things up here. We’re both struggling with health issues both chronic and acute. Everything seems to be happening at once.

Last night, in the midst of all of this, some good friends from my days in the community came to visit. They are a family of five and one of the things that made it so hard to leave the community, and I’ve greatly missed popping next door to hang out in their kitchen, or Shima stopping by for some of the iced coffee I always had on hand, or the kids knocking on my bedroom door to tell me about their adventures. They sat in my kitchen last night, amidst the moving boxes, and we caught up. They had just bought a house in Atlanta, and Steven shared with me how impossible everything had seemed. He’d applied for a promotion with a pay raise that he wasn’t sure he’d get, they’d been living in a rented house far too small for them, and buying a house seemed out of the question.

“All these pieces had to come together and it seemed impossible,” Steven said, “And I prayed and said, ‘God, you’ve got to make this happen, because it’s not something I can do. It’s all in your hands.'” And they did come together, all of them.

“Yeah!” I said. “That’s how it is for us, now. But you know, it’s better this way, because we see the reality of the situation. Everything is in God’s hands, but the people with all the money and resources don’t realize it. They think they’re in control, but that’s just an illusion.”

“Right,” said Steven, “Exactly.”

I’d been stressed out when they said they’d texted to say they were coming by last night, because everything was happening at once: We’d gotten word of that one apartment falling through just as I was loading the toddler I nanny into the car to pick up his sister from kindergarten, and Mark and I were trying to communicate about maybe appealing the decision and next steps if that didn’t happen. But what a blessing to spend time with old friends from the community I’d been so scared to leave, to hear how God had provided for them, and to exchange words of encouragement and hope. Shima said she’d pray for me, and I felt confident that God would hear her.

And how wonderful to have evidence of God’s redemption in the flesh, old friends who had been through the hard times with me, who have had hard times themselves, to embrace each other with forgiveness and love. Turns out I hadn’t left community behind — it came with me, and it will come with me on this move, too. I will set my viney plants on other mantles, roll my yoga mat out on other floors, and other birds will sing on other trees outside of other windows. There will be beauty, and there will be pain, because life always has both mixed together. I don’t want to be afraid.

***

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On women (bloggers) and authority

“Look! Look! Look!” cried Lucy.

“Where? What?” asked everyone.

“The Lion,” said Lucy. “Aslan himself. Didn’t you see?” Her face had changed completely and her eyes shone.

“Do you really mean——” began Peter.

“Where did you think you saw him?” asked Susan.

“Don’t talk like a grown-up,” said Lucy, stamping her foot. “I didn’t think I saw him. I saw him.”

“Where, Lu?” asked Peter.

“Right up there between those mountain ashes. No, this side of the gorge. And up, not down. Just the opposite of the way you want to go. And he wanted us to go where he was—up there.”

“How do you know that was what he wanted?” asked Edmund.

“He—I—I just know,” said Lucy, “by his face.”

The others all looked at each other in puzzled silence.

A few weeks ago Christianity Today published an article by Tish Harrison Warren entitled Who’s In Charge of the Christian Blogosphere. The article suggested that there was a crisis in the church because women bloggers were writing and teaching without clear ecclesiastical (church) authority. It engendered a lot of discussion on Twitter, which I spent quite a bit of time reading. There was the usual hyperbole, anger, and miscommunication that happens in online discussions, but amidst that were women of various backgrounds and perspectives engaging in genuine dialogue, wanting to understand as well as be understood.

The issue, in some ways, is very complex, and it is not my intention to dive into it all here. There is, for example, the whole 2000 years of church history, with debates about who is in charge beginning almost as soon as there was a church — Paul challenging Peter, Apollos challenging Paul — and continuing with Rome breaking with the Eastern Orthodox church in 1054, the Protestant reformation in the 16th century, and the church I currently attend leaving its denomination a few years ago for doctrinal reasons — and tens of thousands of breaks and schisms in between, resulting in an almost uncountable number of current Christian denominations. Then there is the issue of women being in leadership at all, which is still, sadly, debated.

But I am not here to discuss church history or ecclesiastical structure. I am here today to tell you a little of my own story. And here it is:

As a Christian, woman, blogger, I am not under anyone’s authority. I tried it: It didn’t take.

“Her Majesty may well have seen a lion,” put in Trumpkin. “There are lions in these woods, I’ve been told. But it needn’t have been a friendly and talking lion any more than the bear was a friendly and talking bear.”

“Oh, don’t be so stupid,” said Lucy. “Do you think I don’t know Aslan when I see him?”

“He’d be a pretty elderly lion by now,” said Trumpkin, “if he’s one you knew when you were here before! And if it could be the same one, what’s to prevent him having gone wild and witless like so many others?”

Lucy turned crimson and I think she would have flown at Trumpkin, if Peter had not laid his hand on her arm. “The D.L.F. doesn’t understand. How could he? You must just take it, Trumpkin, that we do really know about Aslan; a little bit about him, I mean. And you mustn’t talk about him like that again. It isn’t lucky for one thing: and it’s all nonsense for another. The only question is whether Aslan was really there.”

“But I know he was,” said Lucy, her eyes filling with tears.

“Yes, Lu, but we don’t, you see,” said Peter.

“There’s nothing for it but a vote,” said Edmund.

“All right,” replied Peter. “You’re the eldest, D.L.F. What do you vote for? Up or down?”

“Down,” said the Dwarf. “I know nothing about Aslan. But I do know that if we turn left and follow the gorge up, it might lead us all day before we found a place where we could cross it. Whereas if we turn right and go down, we’re bound to reach the Great River in about a couple of hours. And if there are any real lions about, we want to go away from them, not towards them.”

“What do you say, Susan?”

“Don’t be angry, Lu,” said Susan, “but I do think we should go down. I’m dead tired. Do let’s get out of this wretched wood into the open as quick as we can. And none of us except you saw anything.”

“Edmund?” said Peter.

“Well, there’s just this,” said Edmund, speaking quickly and turning a little red. “When we first discovered Narnia a year ago—or a thousand years ago, whichever it is—it was Lucy who discovered it first and none of us would believe her. I was the worst of the lot, I know. Yet she was right after all. Wouldn’t it be fair to believe her this time? I vote for going up.”

“Oh, Ed!” said Lucy and seized his hand.

“And now it’s your turn, Peter,” said Susan, “and I do hope——”

“Oh, shut up, shut up and let a chap think,” interrupted Peter. “I’d much rather not have to vote.”

“You’re the High King,” said Trumpkin sternly.

“Down,” said Peter after a long pause. “I know Lucy may be right after all, but I can’t help it. We must do one or the other.”

So they set off to their right along the edge, downstream. And Lucy came last of the party, crying bitterly.

When I say I tried being under authority, what I means is that I tried it for decades, with many different churches, pastors, supervisors, “house parents” and vaguely defined “community leaders.” By “didn’t take” I mean it made me seriously ill physically, emotionally and spiritually. It took me years to recover, and in some ways I am still recovering.

Not all the relationships of authority were bad. I’ve had great mentors, employers, and teachers. I studied under many amazing professors at seminary, did internships under wonderful pastors and lay leaders. The difference, I’ve found, besides the people themselves, is that in the great relationships the authority was clearly defined and limited. In the bad ones, the ones that did the damage, the authority over me was broad and poorly defined. Employers in Christian organizations gave me advice/instructions on my living situation, friendships, healthcare. People claimed authority over me I had never agreed to by virtue of their age and gender.

They dropped off to sleep one by one, but all pretty quickly.

Lucy woke out of the deepest sleep you can imagine, with the feeling that the voice she liked best in the world had been calling her name. She thought at first it was her father’s voice, but that did not seem quite right. Then she thought it was Peter’s voice, but that did not seem to fit either. She did not want to get up; not because she was still tired—on the contrary she was wonderfully rested and all the aches had gone from her bones—but because she felt so extremely happy and comfortable. She was looking straight up at the Narnian moon, which is larger than ours, and at the starry sky, for the place where they had bivouacked was comparatively open.

“Lucy,” came the call again, neither her father’s voice nor Peter’s. She sat up, trembling with excitement but not with fear. The moon was so bright that the whole forest landscape around her was almost as clear as day, though it looked wilder. Behind her was the fir wood; away to her right the jagged cliff-tops on the far side of the gorge; straight ahead, open grass to where a glade of trees began about a bow-shot away. Lucy looked very hard at the trees of that glade.

“Why, I do believe they’re moving,” she said to her self. “They’re walking about.”

She got up, her heart beating wildly, and walked towards them. There was certainly a noise in the glade, a noise such as trees make in a high wind, though there was no wind to-night. Yet it was not exactly an ordinary tree-noise either. Lucy felt there was a tune in it, but she could not catch the tune any more than she had been able to catch the words when the trees had so nearly talked to her the night before. But there was, at least, a lilt; she felt her own feet wanting to dance as she got nearer. And now there was no doubt that the trees were really moving—moving in and out through one another as if in a complicated country dance. (“And I suppose,” thought Lucy, “when trees dance, it must be a very, very country dance indeed.”) She was almost among them now.

The first tree she looked at seemed at first glance to be not a tree at all but a huge man with a shaggy beard and great bushes of hair. She was not frightened: she had seen such things before. But when she looked again he was only a tree, though he was still moving. You couldn’t see whether he had feet or roots, of course, because when trees move they don’t walk on the surface of the earth; they wade in it as we do in water. The same thing happened with every tree she looked at. At one moment they seemed to be the friendly, lovely giant and giantess forms which the tree-people put on when some good magic has called them into full life: next moment they all looked like trees again. But when they looked like trees, it was like strangely human trees, and when they looked like people, it was like strangely branchy and leafy people—and all the time that queer lilting, rustling, cool, merry noise.

“They are almost awake, not quite,” said Lucy. She knew she herself was wide awake, wider than anyone usually is.

She went fearlessly in among them, dancing herself at, she leaped this way and that to avoid being run into by these huge partners. But she was only half interested in them. She wanted to get beyond them to something else; it was from beyond them that the dear voice had called.

She soon got through them (half wondering whether she had been using her arms to push branches aside, or to take hands in a Great Chain with big dancers who stooped to reach her) for they were really a ring of trees round a central open place. She stepped out from among their shifting confusion of lovely lights and shadows.

A circle of grass, smooth as a lawn, met her eyes, with dark trees dancing all round it. And then—oh joy! For he was there: the huge Lion, shining white in the moonlight, with his huge black shadow underneath him.

But for the movement of his tail he might have been a stone lion, but Lucy never thought of that. She never stopped to think whether he was a friendly lion or not. She rushed to him. She felt her heart would burst if she lost a moment. And the next thing she knew was that she was kissing him and putting her arms as far round his neck as she could and burying her face in the beautiful rich silkiness of his mane.

“Aslan, Aslan. Dear Aslan,” sobbed Lucy. “At last.”

So as a writer, as a blogger, I am not under anyone’s authority. But I do have a lot of really smart, wise, loving friends and family, old and young, Christian and not. I listen to their advice. They listen to mine. Sometimes they’re right. And sometimes what they tell me doesn’t jive with my own experience or what I feel God is speaking to my heart. Then I’m so glad they’re not my pastor or supervisor, because I am free to say, thank you, but God is calling me in a different direction.

The great beast rolled over on his side so that Lucy fell, half sitting and half lying between his front paws. He bent forward and just touched her nose with his tongue. His warm breath came all round her. She gazed up into the large wise face.

“Welcome, child,” he said.

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”

“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.

“Not because you are?”

“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

For a time she was so happy that she did not want to speak. But Aslan spoke.

“Lucy,” he said, “we must not lie here for long. You have work in hand, and much time has been lost to-day.”

“Yes, wasn’t it a shame?” said Lucy. “I saw you all right. They wouldn’t believe me. They’re all so——”

From somewhere deep inside Aslan’s body there came the faintest suggestion of a growl.

“I’m sorry,” said Lucy, who understood some of his moods. “I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?”

The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy. “You don’t mean it was? How could I—I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that … oh well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you. But what would have been the good?”

Aslan said nothing.

“You mean,” said Lucy rather faintly, “that it would have turned out all right—somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?”

“To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No. Nobody is ever told that.”

“Oh dear,” said Lucy.

“But anyone can find out what will happen,” said Aslan. “If you go back to the others now, and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me—what will happen? There is only one way of finding out.”

“Do you mean that is what you want me to do?” gasped Lucy.

“Yes, little one,” said Aslan.

“Will the others see you too?” asked Lucy.

“Certainly not at first,” said Aslan. “Later on, it depends.”

“But they won’t believe me!” said Lucy.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Aslan.

My authority to write, to speak, to tell my story, does not come from having a pastor or a bishop or a priest overseeing me. My authority comes from Jesus who said, “Talitha koum” — “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” My authority comes from the angel at the tomb who said to the women, “Jesus is risen — go tell his disciples.” My authority comes from Jesus who spoke alone to the Samaritan woman at the well, and in whom many believed because of her testimony. My authority comes from the book of Revelation where John wrote, “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” My authority comes from Peter and the prophet Joel, who said, “”In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” My authority comes from Jesus’ last words to his disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.” My authority comes from the Spirit within me, from the fire in my belly that compels me to write.

Friends, do you have something to say? I believe so strongly that if you have something inside you longing to be expressed, there is a good change that it is something someone else needs to hear. Have you been waiting for permission to speak? Good news! You are free! We have been waiting around for someone to unlock our chains, but it turns out the chains have been loose the whole time. All we have to do is stand up straight and step forward in faith, and they will fall off of us.

Love,
Jessica

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As always, I have more to say but I am running late. Come follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and join in the conversation! (I’ll tell you a secret: I’m feistiest on Twitter!)

And if you haven’t had a chance, stop over at my birthday post and take part in my self-love project, going on the whole month of May.

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As you love yourself, a birthday project

Good morning, friends! It’s my birthday today, and I have a (hopefully) fun project I’d love for you to take part in. Earlier this week I wrote about a photograph of people in London clasping the body of a man to prevent him from taking his life, and asked you to study the photo and think about who you identified with. I then shared a passage from Matthew where Jesus answers the question, “Which is the greatest commandment?” Jesus’ answer was, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” I asked you to notice that there are actually three people God is calling us to love in those commandments: God, our neighbor, and ourselves.

How can we love our neighbor as ourselves if we don’t love ourselves? How can we treat people as we would want to be treated when we often can’t even treat ourselves with kindness and respect? In a culture where women and femmes especially are taught to examine our every flaw, outward and inward, to apologize for everything even when it’s not our fault, to be meek and submissive, to be beautiful but not vain, and to view our own emotions as unreasonable and manipulative, it can be hard to know how to simply love ourselves. (Not to leave out the men-folk — I know you can struggle with this, too.) Self-love is viewed as narcissistic, vain, selfish, or overly-indulgent. But, guess what! There’s a loophole! There’s one time when it’s okay to be self-focused, to pamper yourself and accept pampering from others, and to accept compliments about your appearance — it’s your birthday! So since my birthday is today, I’d like to share that dispensation with you. And since I don’t want to put too much pressure on one day (and since it is going to rain all day today in Boston) I’m claiming the whole month of May as my birthday and ours. Hey la! It’s our birthday month! Let’s celebrate!!!

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to give you five suggestions of ways to treat yourself, to celebrate your life and practice some self-love this May. For each of you that does one and leaves a comment about it, I will donate $2 to Together Rising. I’m poor right now, so I’ll have to limit it to 15 commenters, but I really want to get up to 15 so please play along. It’s my birthday, after all, and this is what I want for my present. Here are your choices:

  1. Have a selfie photo session! You can put on your favorite clothes, jewelry, and make-up, or snap a picture after a work-out — whenever you feel most lovely and most like yourself. Find your light and your favorite angle, snap several photos and choose your favorite one. Then study it for a moment and tell me two or three things that you like about your face. My selfie is the one at the top of this post. I turned toward the morning sun and took a photo from above. I’m not wearing any make-up, but I love my freckles and rosy cheeks, rightfully earned at playground and parks, and the friendly crinkles of my crow’s feet. You can read more of my thoughts on selfies here.
  2. Eat or drink something that you usually deny yourself. This can be as simple as cream in your coffee when you usually have skim milk, or as decadent as an ice cream sundae (it’s our birthday!). And — this is a two-parter — don’t beat yourself up about it. You don’t have to punish yourself with thoughts of shame and disgust every time (or any time) you eat something the diet magazines tell you you shouldn’t. They don’t know you or your body (and, frankly, their science is pretty shoddy). Let the soft animal of your body love what it loves (thank you, Mary Oliver!). You can read more of my thoughts on eating here.
  3. Take a 20 minute vacation. Leave the dishes in the sink and the emails unanswered and go for a walk, or read a book, or sit on your porch and watch the sunset. Sleep in an extra 20 minutes, or get up 20 minutes early and do some yoga — whatever would make you feel loved and cared for. If you need your significant other’s help to make that happen, ask for it.
  4. Buy yourself flowers, or a house plant, or — what else do people get for themselves for treats? I mostly get plants. If you can’t think of anything else, I recommend getting a tiny mint plant and putting it outside in the biggest pot you have. By mid-June the pot will be overflowing with mint. If you don’t like plants, feel free to substitute your own favorite treat here.
  5. Notice your negative self-talk and replace it with a truth. If we talked to our friends the way we talk to ourselves we wouldn’t have any friends left. Notice if you are saying things in your head to put yourself down. I had a friend who constantly called herself stupid. I tend to say, “What is wrong with me?” when I do simple things like forget why I came into a room. (There’s a scientific explanation for that, by the way.) Think of a truth you can replace it with. I have gotten in the habit of saying, “I’m doing my best, and that’s enough,” to which I often add, “and so are most people.” You might also try, “I am God’s beloved child, made in the divine image” or even Stuart Smalley’s “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”

Okay, I have to go pack for a quick, fun, last minute birthday trip to New York City to see some friends. Happy birthday, everyone, and I can’t wait to hear what you got yourselves!

Love,
Jessica

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Love your neighbor as yourself

Four days ago in London a man climbed onto a bridge to end his life, and passersby gathered around him and held onto him for two hours to keep him safe until help arrived. (Thanks to James Rhodes for sharing this on Twitter.)

Meanwhile, I spent several hours last week reading endless Twitter arguments about whether women bloggers ought to be under ecclesiastical (church) authority. Listen: Those discussions are necessary. Amidst the frustration and vehement disagreement, wise, loving people shared their perspective vulnerably and listened well to each other. But I am afraid that we have mistaken the calling of the church. It’s good to have theological discussions. But they should not be where most of our energy and resources go.

This picture, those arms stretched out through the bars of the railing — this is what church should look like. Study it for a minute. Actually, study it for several minutes. Look at the bodies in the picture. Look at the tension in the muscles, the pain and struggle in the faces, the wrinkles in the clothing. Look at the person whose arms are wrapped around the man’s neck, whose face is so intimately close to his own. Look at the person who squats near the man’s feet, whose arms clutch his legs, whose face we cannot see because he has chosen a position of discomfort and service over one of glory. Who do you identify with in the photo? The man whose desperation led him to climb over the railing of the bridge? See how he is held, how much even these strangers value his life. Do you identify with the helpers? Can you feel the man’s calves under your arms, shaking with the fear of death and the fear of hope?

Now read this passage from Matthew 22:

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Who are the people in this passage? Who are the people we are told to love? I have to run off to work now, but I’ll write more about this later this week. (And I do have some things to say about women bloggers and authority, too.) In the meantime, please consider: What does it mean to love God with all your heart and soul and mind? What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? What does it mean to love yourself?

Love,
Jessica

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P.S. I just realized what the photograph reminded me of: Rembrandt’s painting The Return of the Prodigal Son.


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Remember your training

rememberyourtrainingI had a small anxiety attack last night. I’ve been sick for three weeks and couldn’t sleep ’cause I was coughing so badly, and worried about my parents, and worried about our world, and my heart started beating too hard and I started thinking things that aren’t true, like:

Nobody likes me. Everyone is mad at me and probably talking behind my back about being mad at me. I’m a mess, and this panic attack is proof of it.

I didn’t believe those things, but my body was reacting as if they were true, panicking, trying to fight or to flee. But I remembered the things I’ve learned about anxiety and put them into practice. I took deep breaths — through my mouth, since my nose was hopelessly stuffy. I breathed Psalm 23 in and out: “The Lord is my shepherd” (in) “I shall not want” (out). I got through the psalm and I felt a little better so I did it again. Then I used my phone-a-friend lifeline and texted Gina. Good job, she said. Psalm 23 is what you pray when you can’t pray anything else. Then she prayed for me. I still felt unsettled, but my heart rate had slowed, and I knew that things would look better in the morning. Or at least that I would be able to think things through more clearly in the morning, and figure out if there was any reality behind the thoughts.

And sure enough, when I woke up, once two cups of coffee had staved off the cough medicine hangover, I asked myself: Do you really think your friends are mad at you? Do you really think they’re talking about you behind your back? And, no, I said, they’re not. And do you think a panic attack means you’re hopelessly messed up? No, I said. Everyone has bad moments, and we all have to get through them the best we can.

I love what Jen Hatmaker wrote on her Facebook page today:

Our family went to a Texas basketball game last week, and as always, it is hilarious to sit by Remy. She doesn’t understand sports and never picked up on proper cheering, so she has her own special brand of yelling. One of my favorites from last week was this (always said with full sincerity):

“Keep trying! Make it into the basket! Remember your training!”

LOL. Wondering if any of you need to “remember your training” today? Nine times out of ten when I face a dilemma, I already know what to do. I know what to choose. I know what to apologize for. I know what to hand over to God because He knows how to run his own world. I know who to call. I know to get my nose in the Bible. I know who to forgive. I know what to stop doing. I know who to speak up for. I know its time to get over myself. I know how to act like Jesus.

It’s all right there in the training.

Keep trying, sisters! Remember your training. Most of us know what to do; it’s just the doing of it that is hard. And truthfully, it isn’t even the doing of it that is so hard as much as the DECIDING to do it part. The worst of the battle is usually borne out in our minds; once we put our hands to it, we discover relief, healing, joy, peace.

I’ll go first. I have gotten sideways with someone and I am going to call her today. I could not, because women especially know how to fake it and sidestep and let unresolved conflict weaken a relationship until it is a ghost of its former self, but I’m going to press in. (WHEN DOES LIFE GET EASY??)

Remember your training. Do the thing that needs to be done.

When the depression and anxiety got really bad ten years ago my mom and various therapists tried to introduce me to breathing exercises, cognitive behavioral exercises, and various prayers like the welcoming prayer. I tried them, but at first they didn’t work. They seemed like such weak tools in the face of such strong emotions. It wasn’t until I’d practiced them for a while that they started working. When I read Remi’s exhortation to “remember your training” I thought of last night. It was because I’d practiced so much and sharpened my skills — by praying, meditating, doing yoga, and walking myself through the bad times — that I was able to perform the play I did last night. Even sick as a dog, coughing and going through tissues at an alarming rate, my training kicked in. To be honest, I didn’t really think it would work when I started breathing deeply and reciting the psalm. The anxiety felt too physical, too irrational. But just as the muscle-memory from years of training kicks in when an athlete feels the ball in her hand, my body remembered what to do. Deep breaths slowed my heart rate, the words of the psalm calmed my thoughts. Contact with Gina made me feel loved and important. And trust in the morning to smooth the rough, shaky angles of the night got me through.

Puffy eyes warm heart. :)

Puffy eyes warm heart. 🙂

How are you all doing? Is there something in your life you know how to do right now, but you just have to remember your training? Or do you need some more practice before it becomes second nature? Do you have all your life-lines in place? Should we have a team meeting before the big game? Alright, my metaphors are becoming jumbled, and it’s time for me to take some more cough medicine and go to bed. Hang in there, friends. Its winter, but spring’s a-coming.

Love,
Jessica

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Come follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and join in the conversation! (I’ll tell you a secret: I’m feistiest on Twitter — especially lately!)

Oh, and here’s the full Psalm 23 if you need it.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

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Activism needs introverts

img_2397The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
~1 Corinthians 12:21-26

Hi friends, how have you been? There’s so much going on in the world right now, and I’ve been wanting to — needing to — write, but my health hasn’t been great. Migraines, then a shoulder injury, then a cold, plus probably some depression, though the symptoms could be migraine symptoms, too.

My body’s limitations have been a frustration to me for most of my life, in how they limit my own well being and how they limit the volunteering and activism I so much want to be a part of. I am only working 30hrs a week right now, but that is enough to sap my resources and make it hard to do much else. I made it to a book discussion about Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, but the other things I wanted to do in January — go to a SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) meeting, go to the Boston Women’s March, go to Logan airport to protest the Muslim ban, go to the protest of the Muslim Ban at Copley Square on Sunday, get back to volunteering at Horizons for Homeless Children, volunteer as a baby cuddler at MGH — were beyond my grasp. Even making donations isn’t feasible for me as I struggle to not only pay the monthly bills but to pay off debt from when I was really sick eight years ago, though I did manage (very) small gifts to TogetherRising for refugee aid, and Black Girl in Maine (paying WOC writers for their work is important) and to contribute to having a sandwich named after a friend of mine who died from suicide ten years ago.

I spend a lot of time and energy wishing I had more energy, that my personality was stronger, that leaving the house didn’t make me nervous, that talking to people didn’t exhaust me. But I am trying to do less of that, and focus more on what I *can* do. I can think deeply about things, and I can write (albeit slowly) about them. I can listen well, and hold contrasting ideas in my head without trying to find a facile resolution. I can write (again, slowly) poetry and stories. I can support and cheer for others whose have more energy and extroverted personalities. I can babysit for friends while they go to protests.

I watched a wonderful TED talk the other day by Sarah Corbett of the Craftivist Collective entitled Activism Needs Introverts. She had me hooked when she started out the talk by confessing that she used to hide in toilets (British for bathrooms). Here was someone who had dedicated her life to activism, to making the world a better place, and she was an introvert like me! I have hidden in toilets, on stairwells, on sidewalks, and many other nooks and crannies — and that’s when I could bring myself to leave the house. Sarah said that introverts are important to activism because they are good at slow activism, intimate activism, and intriguing activism. Do give it a listen — she speaks to extroverts, too, and she has the most adorable accent.

I know not everyone who reads my blog is an introvert, but many of you may have also been wondering what your part is in this strange new world we find ourselves in. In the bible passage I quoted up top, Paul is addressing a controversy in the early church about spiritual gifts. Some of the early Christians were doing extroverted, strong personality kind of things like preaching, prophesying and speaking in tongues, and looking down on other who didn’t have those powerful, charismatic gifts. But, Paul said, there are other kinds of gifts — wisdom, discernment, healing — that are not a flashy but just as important. Paul compares the church to a body, and says that even though different parts of the body have vastly different functions, they all depend on each other for survival. The arms, legs, and head may seem to be the most active and important, but without the quiet beating of the heart, the rhythmic breathing of the lungs, and the kidney and liver working to process toxins, the arms, legs, and head would be lost. We all have a part to play, and no one’s part is less or more important.

Frederick Buechner said that, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” What is  that place for you? What are you good at? Are you our lungs, breathing oxygen and peace in and the bad air out? Are you our liver and kidneys, processing the toxins of the world to keep us healthy? Are you our brain’s left lobe, thinking clearly and logically, solving problems and cutting through misinformation and sloppy thinking? Or our brain’s right lobe, seeing colors and patterns missed by others, creating metaphors, art, music, and fantasy that speak deeply to reality? Are you our legs, pulling on your boots and getting out there leading us into battle? Or our mouth, speaking truth to power, speaking with courage and kindness? Whatever you are, we need you. We can’t do it without you.

I love this Twitter thread by thirst trap thexology, who calls herself a “scholartivist”:

We’re gonna need folks to do a /whole bunch/ of different things in the coming years, so now is a good time to take stock of your skills

Do you have money? Support folks who don’t. Give to individuals doing work you can’t, give to bail funds, give to marginalized folks

The streets aren’t for you but you’re good at child care, cooking? Set up a daycare for activists during protests, make food etc

Lawyer? Defend protesters. Policy wonk? Find and exploit flaws in proposed and existing legislation, maybe come up with alt proposals

Artist? Writer? Creative? Dreamer? Give us space to escape to, help us imagine more beautiful futures. You’re so important right now.

Whatever you are good at, it can be of use. Put your skills towards a more beautiful future.

Every single one of you has a skill set that we will need. Every single one of you. Find your lane and work it. We need all of us.

I need you, You need me, We’re all a part of God’s body. You are important to me, I need you to survive.

I’m sitting on my couch writing this, shivering and coughing, covered up in several sweaters and a blanket. I wish I was sitting with the lawyers at the airport. (Those lawyers, man — they are giving me hope.) But I do not have that skill, or that ability. What I do have is my computer. I have my network of friends. I have my blog. And I have prayer, which I still believe in, even now, even more now, even more. Pray for me, and I’ll pray for you. March for me, and I’ll write for you. And one of these days, daggummit, I’ll make it to a protest, too. Maybe a sit in, because standing is tiring. But for now, I write.

Love you all. Thank you so much for reading.
Jessica

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Come follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and join in the conversation! (I’ll tell you a secret: I’m feistiest on Twitter!)

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