If we ever went out for coffee, I’m sure she would come up.
I’d order the darkest and boldest roast on the chalkboard menu and I’d ask the barista to leave room for milk. I’d pour three packets of Sugar In The Raw into the thermal cardboard cup, stir in a drop of skim milk and slip the cardboard sleeve onto the base of the cup like a dress. While I wait for you to fix your drink, I’d scan the room for the perfect table. The one in the back-left corner, up on that one little stage-like step would win me over. Right next to the sad, half-empty bookcase with the board games that are missing all of the important pieces.
On the walk over, I’d ask if I could have the seat with its back to the door, because I get distracted easily and I want to be all there with you, the whole time. (You might not believe me and just think it’s a selfish request to avoid the sun shining like laser beams straight into my eyes, but I promise you, if I sat in the seat facing the door, each time that silly little bell jingled when the door opened, my eyes would shoot right over your right shoulder.) I’d sit down in the creaky schoolhouse chair, square my narrow shoulders to yours, rush a sip of coffee and burn my tongue on the boiling mud. I’d do my best not to swear under my breath – but I might.
And as the blisters form on my scalded pink tongue, I’d tell you all about Grace.
I’d tell you about the time I first saw her – how I was just seven years old, sitting on one of those road map carpets in an upstairs room at church and she just waltzed right on in.
Ms. Jane was up at the felt board and square in the middle of telling us about Joseph and how his brothers sold him into slavery. Grace came traipsing in, unannounced. Like a rapturous hurricane, she spun through the room – twisting and twirling, glittering and gleaming – incandescent in her resplendence. I was all but stunned by her beauty. And though she didn’t mean anything to me that day, the image of her artistry gusting through that room never left my mind.
I’d tell you about the way I really got to know her. I might struggle to explain it at first, but I’d tell you all about how somehow, she just became “real” in my life. I’d tell you all about how I was only 12 or 13, but for whatever reason, Grace became one of those nagging friends who you love –but just never leaves you alone. I’d tell you about how guilty I felt when I passed up an opportunity to introduce her to my friends or was too prideful to share her friendship with one of the mean girls. But Grace never got mad.
I might start to cry when I tell you about this next part, but I’d tell you all about how I left her. How I abandoned her one night in the dark, cold air of my childhood bedroom and left her for bitterness. Her irrevocable refusal to let me hold a grudge was infuriating, so I crossed my sassy 16-year old spaghetti arms and told her we couldn’t be friends anymore. For almost two whole years, I missed her.
When I did not-so-great things with not-so-great people, I longed for Grace.
There was reconciliation, of course. I’d tell you about that too. About the time Grace scooped me up into her mesmeric arms before the words I’d prepared and rehearsed and re-rehearsed for weeks could even push their way through my lips. I’d tell you about how she hugged me like I’d never been hugged before and offered me tea and graham crackers over and over until I finally said yes. We sat for hours – there in her tiny country kitchen – and traded stories about the 730-something days we spent apart.
I told her how I always knew I’d come back.
She told me how she always knew I never really left.
I’d tell you about the time she challenged me the most – and I’d tell you how I was actually thick in the underwood of one of her gusts right. now. I’d tell you how I was being stretched and poked and pushed by the blow of her momentum. I’d tell you about all the ways she’s been delicately shoving me into her waters and refusing to help me out until every last atom of my body drips and glistens with the residue of her mercy. I’d tell you that because of the way she’s invading my life – at times unwelcome and utterly maddening – Grace is reinventing it.
I’d tell you about how Grace reminds me every single day that grudges are prison cells we build up around ourselves when we’re too scared to let the offense change us for good.
And I’d tell you how I’m letting it.
I’d really want to hear all about you too, though, so I don’t know if we’d get to it all. You said you only had a couple of hours and I don’t really want to hog the conversation or anything. I’m a talker these days – spilling my guts to just about anyone who’s patient enough to wait for it to get good. But that’s the thing about Grace though, you know? She’s one of those people who’s so amazing that you just can’t help but want to show her off to anyone who’ll listen.
Photo: Creative Commons // Matt Batchelor
This post is a slightly modified version of something I wrote and posted earlier this year. Recently, this has been coming up a lot in conversation around me – in fact – last week, I confessed to my small group that it is often times harder for me to love the Church than it is to love people who completely disassociate with God and Christianity altogether. In the interest of engaging in something worth talking about, regardless of where I stand today, I thought it was timely to re-post these thoughts. See for yourself? I would love to hear what you think!
This is going to sound awful.
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you thought differently of me after reading this article. But for the sake of vulnerability and in the name of honesty – I need to come clean. I need to get this off my chest.
Sometimes, I’m embarrassed to own up to being a Christian.
Sometimes, there are moments of utter humiliation that trap me in my cubicle and I shy away from the word altogether. In a desperate attempt to completely disassociate with the ignorance, hate and monotony it’s synonymous with, my tongue and lips work independent of my heart and brain, smack together and blurt out the most liberal thing I can think of. And suddenly, right there in a conglomerate of muted-grey half-walls, I’m standing on a soapbox of civil liberties defending same-sex marriage.
Or something like that.
But it’s not because I’m ashamed of Jesus. Or God. It’s not even because I’m scared of standing up for some of the counter-cultural truths spelled out in the Bible. It’s doesn’t stem from an embarrassment of personal convictions that are, at times, fodder for comedy in secular settings.
It’s because of us.
It’s because there are some of us who slap the label on like it’s a new Michael Kors bag and we walk around the city calling people fags. Bibles in hand.
It’s because some of us make others of us sign waivers saying, “I solemnly swear I will never watch a rated R movie,” or “I won’t ever shake my hips to music in public.”
It’s because there exists places in this world where funerals of slain children are picketed because of the belief that “God sent the shooter” as punishment for our sins.
It’s because we make people who had/have sex before marriage feel like the scum of the Earth by not allowing them to serve in our churches.
It’s because we treat homosexuals like patients instead of humans.
It’s because we write checks to charities, seal the envelope and then write all about it on our Facebook wall.
The word “Christian” has become synonymous with everything that is antonymous with Christ.
And I want nothing to do with it.
But in a sort of post-rant reflection, I realized, in part, that I shoulder some of the responsibility. Because the “us” implies a “we” – and I, of course, am a part of it. So I admit it. There have been plenty of times where I’ve exemplified, if even on a smaller scale, the same kind of hate – the same kind of faithful ignorance that drives a rusty nail into the very heart of God. And I’ve done it in His name. For that, I am ashamed and infinitely apologetic.
Perhaps my desire to dissociate with the “C” word doesn’t seem calculated, but immature, rash and reactive. Perhaps it has thrust you into a frantic scribble of prayers for me in your thick and tattered journal or perhaps you’re rejoicing as a non-believer who’s been waiting for me to renounce my faith for almost two and a half decades. But can you wait a minute?
My faith was, is and always will be in Christ.
Not in Christians.
And it’s the confusion between those two juxtaposed ideas that throws us all into a frenzy of agitated finger-pointing – no matter what side of the fence you’re walking on. Because, at the end of the day, it’s not about us. And it’s most certainly not about me.
It’s about a perfect grace-filled man who not only considered all of the above, but all that is infinitely uglier, and said, “I love you still.” And it’s because of this – and only this – that I can say with confidence and the utmost conviction that I love the Church, the Body of Christ and the brilliantly broken tapestry that He calls His own.
Photo Credit: Creative Commons // Sean McGrath
There will be days when all the Gorilla Glue in the world won’t hold you together. Days when every crack, chip, nick and dent is unwillingly drawn to the surface and to the whole world, the grossness of your structural damage is revealed.
There will be days when you do nothing but crumble. Days when you’re just one small fraction of a millimeter from defeat and your bones have all but disintegrated into a pile of shadows on the floor of your apartment.
Oh, love. There will be days.
There will be days when the only comfort you find is staring at you in the sticky bottom of an empty mug. Days when the hot and thick honey clings to the ceramic like an unwanted memory, an unwelcome encounter and an unspoken confession.
There will be days when you’ll do all you can to pull yourself out of bed, brush your teeth and your hair, stomach 24 ounces of black coffee and drive yourself to the office. Days when traversing the distance between your bed and your couch is so exhausting, you’ll count yourself blessed when you finally arrive and sink deep into the repose of microfiber.
Oh, love. There will be days.
And when they come – because as much as you pray against them, oh, love, these days will come – you must run.
Into the darkness.
Into the hurt.
Into the betrayal.
Into the pain.
Into the past that weighs heavy on your soul and anchors you to everything you vowed to leave behind. There are far better things ahead.
Run toward it all. Sprint. Gallop. Ride head on into the brokenness and collect the limping parts of yourself.
And when your legs get tired and the box labeled “BRUISES” becomes too heavy – crawl. Get on your hands and knees and maneuver inch-by-inch-by-inch. With each extension of your arm and bending of the knee, shove the box forward and bear down into the wreckage. Push through.
Oh, love. There will be better days.
There will be days when you realize that what holds you together is infinitely stronger than any force that will ever attempt to rip you apart. Days when every scar personifies deliverance, when every blemish tells a story of grace misunderstood and when strength is born from ashes.
There will be days when you do nothing but soar. Days when your progress brings you just one small fraction of a watt away from outshining the sun and you illuminate the sky with every ounce of your beaming brilliance.
Oh, love. There will be better days.
There will be days when all the comfort you find is wrapped up and packed tightly in the arms of a Savior. Days when His presence alone is enough to prop you up on the highest mountain where – like the first thunderstorm of summer or the look on your father’s face when he sees you in your wedding dress or the feeling you get right before you shut your eyes to lean in for a kiss – you gulp in the wonder and you agree that it is good.
There will be days when you’ll do all you can to force yourself to slowdown, to take a long minute to be found in stillness and absorb a life teeming with richness. Days when you can’t help but find yourself in a cadence of gratitude and as you latch onto the second-hand and time goes on, it seems like the whole world is – even for just one second – singing the same song.
Oh, love. These are the better days.
And when they come – because for as long as you’ve prayed for them, oh, love, they have finally come – you must run.
Into the radiance.
Into the healing.
Into the redemption.
Into the joy.
Into a here and now that promises a tomorrow and propels you toward everything you know deep within your weightless soul. There are far better things ahead.
Photo: Creative Commons / Vanilly-Moon
“I don’t really understand that expression.”
The confession hung sluggish in the sticky air and nearly caught itself on my lips as it tumbled clumsy off my tongue. I turned my face and looked at him. As I squinted into the stifling glitter that filtered through the trees, the backs of our hands brushed and the caffeinated butterflies sent a ripple of nerves up to my chest.
I had a crush.
(An all-out, middle school crush—complete with notebooks filled with my first name scribbled next to his last and an AIM password that paid homage to his dog.)
Our evening walk was half spur-of-the-moment and half-last-resort. It was mid-August – 2003 – and the entire northeast was black and powerless.
No air conditioning.
Though the late-summer sun besieged our backs with no relief in sight – we were 14 and stir crazy.
So we walked.
Six, seven, eight times around the block – we walked.
“What don’t you get? Kill time. Pass time, ya know?”
We turned the corner onto West 21st and, again, our hands kissed. The butterflies were consistently skittish, but this collision infused them with so much kinetic energy that I thought I might combust.
“I understand what it means. I just don’t get why anyone would want to kill time.”
The conversation fell silent and our tacky legs sauntered along the asphalt as car after car fussed by in the summer fever. With each syrupy lunge toward New York Avenue, I tried to wrap my head around the logic.
As much as I tried to defend him, I couldn’t.
Just under two years before I watched daughters lose fathers; wives lose husbands as 220 stories of smoldering metal tumbled down onto our City’s heroes. A rayless red sky hovered over our island and an Armageddon of grief lay like a pit where twin Goliaths once stood watch. For days we wore red, white and blue – for weeks we held out hope that our heroes would be found alive in the rubble.
I saw mothers, fathers, friends, teachers, cousins wail in disbelief when a beloved 13-year old boy was snatched from their hands. By a coward in a sedan who didn’t even stop. I watched the flowers be placed week after week in front of that cross on the corner of West Hills and Lockwood – and I watched in disbelief as I, too, mourned an abbreviated future.
Together, we would grow a few years older, and together, we would watch friends say goodbye to parents, grandparents and cousins. We would watch them dress up in tuxes and black dresses and give final farewells to the cheeks they used to kiss, the knees they used to sit on and the hands they used to hold.
Together, we would put on caps and gowns; maroon and white polyester cloaking us into adulthood. Together, we would file into an auditorium, line up in alphabetical order and march onto a football field with 470 of our friends. One by one by one, we’d shake the hand of a man we made fun of for four years, walk across a stage and look for our parents in the bleachers. Together, we’d throw up our caps, celebrate a milestone and eyeball a future we were all eager to reach.
Together, we’d go off to college, be separated by 700 miles of America and make new friends and new memories. Together, we’d come home on Christmas break, drink around our friends’ dining room tables and play Would You Rather until our giggles became fits of alcohol-infused hysteria.
We’d get grown-up jobs, move off to different states, and have committed-grown-up relationships with the grown-up man/woman of our dreams. We’d go through break-outs, break-ups and break-ins and, apart, our lives would change together.
When we got to New York Avenue, the traffic thickened and, like the air, it was impenetrable.
“Slurpee?” he asked. “I can hear the generator… they’ve got to have ‘em.”
“Okay. But wait.”
“I don’t want to kill time. I don’t want to be a murderer.”
“Okay, Diana. Let’s just get slurpees.”
Photo: Creative Commons // Dani Mettler
Dear Adulteress Writer,
I just heard the news and I couldn’t help but write you. I’ve muted myself long enough and I cannot remain silent any longer and watch this happen to you too. That’s what all of this is, you know, something that is happening to you. As much as you think you are fighting it, you aren’t. All you do is let this happen – day after day – without so much as putting your hands in front of your face to stop the blows.
I know it’s a last-ditch effort and I know I’m being invasive AND abrasive – but you need to know the truth and I can’t not tell you. I’m sure by now you’ve convinced yourself that you’re just like everyone else, that your penchant for words is as idealistic and half-baked as the little girl who grew up saying she wants to “change the world.” But I want you – no need you – to know that it’s not. I need you to know that you are different.
Please. Don’t go through with the divorce.
All of this – this passive happening – is so much more than meets the eye– and if I have to be honest with you (simply because no one else will), I must then tell you this: Neither the physical act of writing nor your deep-brewed passion for the art of it all did this to you. There is no elusive factor that is missing from your diagnostics, no insufficiency holding you captive and no oppressive force keeping your words trapped inside your soul.
The evolution of you is happening – so, so much is happening – and you have no idea how to process it all. So you run. And you hide. What once was a pleasantly native art to you is now a foreign act of discomfort. You can’t verbalize what’s going on because this happening has you by the throat. It pinches and it twists and it makes you gag until your eyes start to water. Every last muscle in your puny little body; your frail bones and your withering strength – they shove this love away. Deep down into the pits of what’s good and what’s gone. And like me, you’ve sat silent in fear for too long.
Please. Don’t go through with the divorce.
I know there are things that look sweeter; easier, less time-consuming and effortlessly perfect. Maybe painting. Or cooking. Or running. (I bet you think you could be a really fast runner if you changed all those writing sessions into runs.) Sweet soul, do not be deceived. I saw them, too. But I promise you this: What glimmers and glows in the radiant beams of that giant ball of fire – those too are cast over by shadows when the rainy season comes. There is not one surface on this great big earth that can escape the violent storms; not one particle of soil that has been eternally spared from a deluge.
Press on toward this love. Even if your eyes are stinging and you’re squinting to see the promise – it’s worth it. The work, though laborious and arduous, is always worth it. Perhaps that is your downfall – forgetting that it’s worth it. Get it in your head, okay? You’ll learn, like most things in life, that love is always worth it. And your love – this love, is no different. You must remember that it’s worth it.
Because some days, remembering that it’s worth it is all that keeps you going.
Because some days, you’re not going to want to write.
Some days, you’re going to feel like there’s not one syllable you could form that has not been formed better before you. You’ll feel like you’re unoriginal, inexperienced, unworthy and incapable of rolling a ballpoint pen across the empty lanes of a college-ruled highway. You’ll believe you’re not enough – and you’ll fall victim to the thought that the clicks of your fingers against the 26 faces of the alphabet create a cacophony of noise instead of a melody of fascination.
Before your feet even touch the cold hardwood floor – because as many times as your grandma insists, you simply cannot sleep with socks on – you’ll give up. You’ll pack it in, call it quits and throw your hands up in self-deprecating defeat – and it will happen hours before you even start. The day will go on – the coffee will be made, the bills will auto-draft out of your diminishing bank account, your gas light will come on and you’ll think, “Eh. I can make it to at least Thursday,” – and you’ll passively wash your hands of your passion. You’ll convince yourself it’s for 24 hours – a week, maybe– because you “just need a break” and “work has been so busy.”
Don’t let it go, dear.
Because one day, if you don’t treat it right, this love will leave you.
You’ll come home from work – late, again – on an idle Wednesday and you’ll push open the door with your elbow; hands full with junk mail, a leaking travel mug and a crumpled up sales presentation.
“Honey… sweetheart, are you home?”
You’ll set down your belongings, trail into the kitchen and look for traces of your love. “Sweetheart? Hell-oh?”
You’ll walk by the bungalow office on the way to your bedroom and get a whiff of the stale air that hides behind the sealed door. But then you’ll realize it isn’t sealed – that it’s cracked ever. so. slightly. – you’ll stop.
“Hello…? Where are you?”
Gently, careful not to open the door any more than you have to, you’ll squeeze in. As your spine brushes up against the doorframe and your head makes a dent into the stagnant air, you’ll see it. And for a split second that will seem like eternity, you’ll hold your breath. And then you’ll swallow hard.
In the intimate space where a refurbished librarian’s desk once stood: nothing. In the corner, where your grandfather’s coat rack stood like a giant next to the malleable armchair: nothing. The towering bookshelf. The cable knit rug. The replica Monet tiles in the hodge-podge frames. All of it. Gone.
You’ll run into your bedroom and grab a yellow legal pad and a pen and you will, like a crazy person, sprint back to that vacant office. On the floor, right where your desk chair once stood, you will sit, and you will face that window that you always gazed out when the words wouldn’t come – but they’d come, oh, love, they would always come. And you’ll gaze. For hours and hours and hours on end, you will gaze.
Nothing. Not one word will make the trip from your brain to your ears to your arm to your pen to your pad. Not. One. Word.
Please. Don’t go through with the divorce. Don’t give up. Don’t walk out. Push through and hang on – not for something better, but for the getting better. The grass is plenty green right where you’re writing. Turn back, okay? This love needs you as much as you need this love.
Fight for this love. Fight before it’s too late.
Better for staying
Photo: Creative Commons // Kristin Nador