If I have realized one thing about myself this summer, it is that I often shrink. Not always physically but often mentally and emotionally. I take the back seat when I really crave the driver's. I have always considered myself fairly confident, so I came to this conclusion with a bit of surprise and regret. My recent reflections come from transitioning to a new sphere, the working world, and I see that my past confidence was only in academia in my role as student. Now, in many new situations, such as teaching or a different type of social environment, I shrink back hoping to be as small as possible. If I do in fact share my opinion(s) at all, it is with meek hesitation. Perhaps this is another aspect of a quiet observant personality or my Southern upbringing. But what if it is bigger than that?
Ladies do you hear me? Is it just me or do you automatically remain quiet around positions of perceived authority, often male, or sugar coat your helpful critique so much so that you would be better just handing out actual cupcakes? Do you stay quiet unless asked, a dutiful follower of the societal structure?
I may be late to the game but I am currently reading milk and honey by rupi kaur (yes it should be lower case), a small book of poetry full of hurt, honesty and triumph but most importantly strength. rupi gives us her beautiful words, pouring out so that we may be filled. Sometimes, as the reader, I am overcome with anger at how the world works, and then turn to a sweet restful place, a happy happening. Each page is my new favorite but this poem struck out to me:
you tell me to quiet down
This little piece, full of intensity, a call out, was in the section titled "the hurting" but at first, all I could see was triumph, because as a writer who was so open to these hurts, rupi was not put out. These hurts, the societal repression of strong women, is not just a reflection on hardships but also a call out to all women to not stand to be silenced, put out, light or fluffy. It is a calling to walk with strength, dignity and confidence. Speak out when something makes you angry. Point out inequality. Do not settle. I, We, You should feel important enough, confident enough, pretty enough to let your voice fill a room.
Last year left me worn and tired. So when it came time for me to think and reflect on a New Year word (something I always do, read about it here and here), I was overwhelmed. It did not seem like I was done with 2015 much less ready to start 2016 head on.
I spent my Christmas break in Augusta, GA. It was a much needed reprieve from the fast-paced, crazy city life. Since I was not working or schooling, I had plenty of quiet time for thinking.
But still no light bulb moment.
My three weeks at home were full of rest and self-reflection but still no insight.
But you, Lord, are my shield! You are my glory! You are the one who restores me. I cry out to the Lord and he answers me from his holy mountain. I lie down, sleep, and wake up because the Lord helps me.
It was not until I was driving through the desert on the way to the CFB National Championship (Go TIGERS!) did I feel that still calm voice. Ironic, since I was about to enter one of the loudest stadiums I have ever experienced and over all the weekend adventure was quite hectic.
Perhaps it was the mountains calling or a new symptom of clay withdrawal. Either way, with unyielding confidence I knew that this year would be Refresh. The thoughts behind this decision stem from the ceramic studio. One of my favorite qualities of clay is that it can be reused. You can play with it without the pressure of finality. But even clay gets exhausted, the platelets no longer line up, the strength waivers and the consistency clumps. So you take the clay and refresh it. This is just as important and strenuous as throwing or building. You reclaim it, pug it and then wedge it repeatedly until the clay is ready again. In summary, you refresh the clay.
By choosing the word Refresh as my focus and goal, I am recognizing the difficult past couple of years and my exhausted state, but most importantly that I need to work to get back to a ready point. I need to fertilize the field and get ready for rain (Thank you Facing the Giants for never ending metaphoric gems).
Jesus replied, "Now you believe? Look! A time is coming- and is here!- when each of you will be scattered to your own home and you will leave me alone. I'm not really alone for the Father is with me. I've said these things to you so that you will have peace in me. In the world you have distress. But be encouraged! I have conquered the world."
They weigh down my purses, they hide away in mason jars and sleep in the crevices of the couch. They are kept but found useless. I am talking of dead pens. For some reason I can not let them go as if one last drop of their ink will save me from a future pickle.
Maybe this comes from my need to fill pages, to constantly record my lists and document my dreams. If I have a paper, a napkin, a scrap; I will fill it. Lines and marks constantly flow from my sporadic yet stubborn soul.
But really my hoarding of spent pens reflects my need to hold on to past memories as if these will bring order and safeguard from change. Even after they are exhausted from laps around my head and tireless moments of reflection, I keep them to mull over yet again. The memories that bring hurt and few positives are as necessary as dead writing utensils; they can teach me no more. Yes, I have learned and grown from them, but post-humorously they must be bid farewell. The hardest step of moving past and growing from hardship is finally letting go, yet it is the most important step.
My hoarding does not guard against unwanted change, rather it prevents peace, a calmness that would nourish further flourishment. This is my little Christmas wish, no less exciting than hippopotami, I wish for you O Father to take my tough memories and fill the void with peace for the new season.
When I was little, my favorite, most ingenious prank to pull was tying my little brother's shoe laces together as he innocently watched cartoons. As the TV held his complete attention I would tighten and twist and quadruple knot his laces into an unmanageable mess. It always ended up the same when the cartoon ended: my brother cried, I was sent to my room and my mother diligently untied every knot until my brother could again use his shoes for the designed purpose. Yes, I was a little devil child.
Since the Pope's visit a couple of weeks ago (I meant to get to this earlier, alas, grad school), I have been thinking about knots physically and metaphorically. In Philadelphia, a group of artists created a community based, interactive sculpture called Knots Grotto, designed and built by Meg Saligman, Dan Ostrov, and Stephanie Cole. It is a beautiful piece that invites visitors to write down their challenges, wishes, hopes, and prayers, then tie them onto the grotto, so adding a literal knot. The artists also collected knots by mail and at local pop-up events for months in advance, making for a wide encompassing project with many participators and a large impact. The work was inspired by one of Pope Francis favorite devotional paintings Mary Undoer of Knots by Johann Georg Schmidtner.
There are many examples of prayers said by Pope Francis to Mary, the untier of knots but this one is my favorite:
Holy Mary, full of God’s presence during the day of your life, you accepted with full humility the Father’s will, and the devil was never capable of tying you up with his confusion.
Once with your Son you interceded for our difficulties, and full of kindness and patience, you gave us example of how to untie the knots in our life.
By remaining forever Our Mother, you put in order and make more clear the ties that link us to the Lord.
Holy Mother, Mother of God and our Mother, to you who intie with a motherly heart the knots of our life, we pray to you to receive in your hands (the name of the person), and to free him/her of the knots and confusion with which our enemy attacks.
Through your grace, your intercession and your example deliver us from all evil, Our Lady, and untie the knots that prevent us from being united with God, so that we, free from sin and error, may find Him in all things, may have our hearts placed in Him, and may serve Him always in our brothers and sisters.
Since, I am a protestant, I do not pray to Mary as intercessor but I still find comfort in the idea of our heavenly mother and father working to untie the many knots in each of our lives because Lord knows there are many. There are the knots, obstacles and daily happenings that keep us from really truly living to God's fullness such as maybe a tiring job or unhealthy relationship. There are the knots that keep us tied to something else, a distraction. But then there are also the positive knots that are our ties to the Lord, they show us a path and lead the way. I am reminded of a trail at camp called the Beaver Pond Trail that is marked by a rope full of knots that help visually impaired campers walk on the path. They feel the knots and know they are on a safe path and that soon they will reach a braille plaque with information just for them. These are positive and comforting knots.
I am reminded of knots as obstacles at camp as well. During staff training one summer, the Hope Females had to work as a team to go through a spiderweb made of knotted rope. It is complicated and we can only make it across if we work together as a team. After one day of knowing each other we had to be honest and physically close to work together which was at times very uncomfortable for those of us who have a large personal bubble. But we eventually made it and came out on the other side as a real team. Friends and family can act as undoer of knots as they carry, push and support you past life's obstacles.
The sculpture, Knot Grotto, asks each participant and viewer to think of the many obstacles and negative knots in their lives and release them. By tying them together into something beautiful the problems are given to the community for support, each member can work together to get the others past so in a way making a positive knot, a reassuring spot an the path. The prayer talks about Mary uniting knots which is a beautiful image, with her pristine fingers diligently untwisting our messes like my own mother did back in the day, but perhaps what is even more comforting and relevant is that God works through wondrous ways and he can use others to also untie the bad knots and point to the knots that eternally bind us to Him.
The move to Chicago has been, to put it mildly, stressful. The months before were full of doubts, tears and fears. Many times I felt lost and as if I had made a BIG mistake. Pre-move, when people asked me about the move, "Are you excited?", or asserted "I bet you are so excited! You are probably ready to be there already!", I would smile and nod as my eyes gave away my true feeling. Terrified.
Since getting here, each day has brought new blessings from friendly doormen, to new jobs and Chickfilla! PTL!
I want to back up a bit...
Back in May on the return car ride from NOLA, a friend wanted to play a psychology question game. He asked a series of questions, one of which was " describe my favorite place. Where would I want to live? and why?"
That was a tricky question because I love to travel and I really just can not see myself settling one place, at least not yet. I answered that I would like to live at Lake Lure, NC (where Dirty Dancing was filmed!) because it was beautiful, and peaceful. I had sentimental feelings about it from a family wedding years past but had not been in a long time.
My friend said that Lake Lure and all of my accompanying feelings represented my relationship with God, that I felt sentimentally about it and it was a place of comfort, but I had not been in a long time. Those words rang true and it haunted me the rest of the summer. Honestly, I still have a hard time writing it now because the truth is scary, broken and imperfect. I really had not been in a comfortable relationship with the Lord in a while, I was treating our relationship like a distant but cherished memory.
About two weeks ago, I decided that I had to stop waiting for a spiritual high to find me, instead I needed to begin trekking up the mountain. I began to pray with a goal to bring back this daily habit that I had forgotten. I wanted to be in a real, and present relationship with my Father after year of letting Him get lost in the shuffle that was undergraduate student life.
Today I read a chapter of The Church of Mercy by Pope Francis called "Be Guided by the Spirit." The title caught my eye when flipping around and I was hoping to find some insight. Maybe a step by step guide to life? That would be nice, right? Pope Francis begins by telling us that we live in a world skeptical of truth. We hear this everyday as people worry about religion, politics and events, not able to stand strongly on one platform, but rather being swayed by the currents of society. We worry about personal, daily questions as well: what job? who to date? where to live? what should I order at this restaurant? But if the answer bit us or tattooed itself across our arms, we would still be skeptical. We are weak and full of doubt.
But we should not be because the Lord "will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:13), since he himself is "the Spirit of the Truth" (John 14:17). Weekly, many churches recite the apostles creed like little drones. I am reminded of this creed as I read the Popes scriptural references, "Jesus is The Way, The Truth and The Light..." Wow perhaps instead of going through the motions I should take those rituals through deep consideration.
Pope Francis goes onto say that to recognize this Truth we must be led by the Spirit. I learned a new word; Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as a Paraclete.
Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to his disciples (and us!), to help them and guide them. The Holy Spirit will guide us "into all the truth" (John 16:13 again); " not only does He guide us to encounter with Jesus, the fullness of the Truth, but He also guides us "into" the Truth- that is, he makes us enter into an ever-deeper communion with Jesus, giving us knowledge of all things of God. And we can NOT achieve this by our own efforts." (Francis, pg. 44)
Wow, just wow.
This is where I had gone off track. I was lost because I could not find the Truth without the Holy Spirit. Pope Francis ends with a reminder for everyone to pray daily. He wanted his readers to ask themselves if they have really taken steps to know Christ and the Truth? Are we open to the Holy Spirit? What steps our we taking to "ensure the faith governs the whole of our existence?"
The Whole of Our Existence.
Our Whole Self.
This is beyond my comprehension. Just try to think for a second how powerful the Lords calling on our lives would be, how loud and clear it would be, if we listened and sought with Our Whole Self.
When I look back at dessert times, lost and grey, I see my priorities. God was a Sunday thing and a work thing. I did church a lot because it was my job and I felt like I was supposed to be there. On Sundays I go to Church. On Wednesdays I wear pink. The Lord did not get my whole self. I was divided between school, social life, entertainment, commitment, plus that search for "true love" that every good southern church-goin' girl is gripped by.
Yesterday, I was listening to a podcast by The Jealous Curator (I highly recommend *****). She was interviewing an artist and art professor named Mark Bradley-Shoup. He said that his recommendation for all of his students upon graduation was to literally schedule time for their studio work. You must carve time away to work in studio or it will get lost in the shuffle of crazy life and your art will suffer or even cease.
I began thinking about my relationship with God in this way. I needed to make it a vital part of my week. But He is even more important than my studio practice, so really He should be everyday. But really, one step further, Christ wants Our Whole Self, so we should be praying continually. Think "Constant Contact" and how you get so many ridiculous emails and reminders about emails (not saying your prayers our ridiculous...).
I want to end this never ending post, (I hope you read it to the end and did not give up half way. I would have given up half way...) with this thought. Jesus says that if you knock repeatedly the door will be opened to you (Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:5-10), but you must get out of your own little apartment cubby-hole world to knock on that door!
Over the past couple of weeks I have learned a whole lot about teaching and leading in a classroom setting. My classes are 3 hours for 5 days and how I fill that time is completely up to me. Woah, that is a lot of freedom and responsibility...
I teach with one main goal that my students are creative, expressive and make something they are proud of. I like to allow for choices and freedom which may mean they face obstacles and mistakes. They may get upset, with me or themselves or the silly tiny piece of wire that just won't bend the right way. Then they figure it out. It is that shining, spectacular light bulb moment that I teach for.
Balance is the little piece of wire I have been struggling with all summer. I want to find the perfect balance between freedom and direction. I like to give demonstrations and guidelines but that can also limit my students' creativity because then they will simply copy what I am doing. They will probably mimic me perfectly without mistakes and then no light bulb moment. Where is the creativity in that? On the other hand if I give my students complete and total free reign, my classroom will turn into a chaotic war zone, glue, wire and paint flying everywhere. They will not be able to focus on one thing that they could learn and grow from, so again no Ah Ha moment.
I have turned to simple demonstrations followed with free make time to find a pretty good balance (pretty good, as in nothing is ever perfect. I am only human). At the beginning of the class I outline the project, give an example and show them the techniques they need to know. Then I always give some suggestions on how they can explore the material and personalize their work. Then its Go time! You can see the knobs and wheels turning in their heads as their tiny fingers start moving and the room gets quite. The quite never lasts but hopefully their drive and focus on making something they are proud of does.
God is our great teacher. No I am not comparing myself to God in my classroom. Not even close because God is perfect, with never ending patience and mercy. He gives us free will to make and do things which sometimes means we run into obstacles because we make mistakes and this world is not perfect (that is an understatement. Have you seen the news lately?).
Life is tough, sometimes I wish that God had just not given me so much free will and that I just mimicked him and did everything perfectly all the time. But free will is love. Love is God watching His children make giant messes until they fix the problem and experience the light bulb moment. No free will would mean no light bulb moment and no personality or individuality. That would be pretty boring and sad. Our Heavenly Father is the great teacher who is with us always, guiding and supporting us so that we can be the best we can be and make something we are proud of. He also gave us a demonstration on how to live in the world, that demos name was Jesus. He was flesh but also perfect and holy. He loved without boundaries and was selfless and humble even when surrounded by temptation. Like any good demonstration it shows us the end product goal, shows us how to get there and then lets us go and create!
As everyone is aware, from the bombardment of Instagram posts featuring first dances and throwbacks, today is Fathers day. I am blessed with a Daddy who has taught me about Clemson football, the love of line and buildings and the importance of a budget that a try very hard to keep. My earthly Dad has taught me what true, selfless love is so that I can better grasp the never ending, all encompassing love and mercy of my Heavenly Father.
Today though I did not get to spend a delicious lunch with my Dad feasting on barbecue, instead I am in South Carolina, the state that is on every news network and who fronts the topics for every talking head. Yes, it was a tragedy, but so much so that I honestly could not grasp it and pushed it of my mind. I did not understand, nor did I want to understand why someone would hurt people and a community that I love. Charleston is the place that I have vacationed every summer for my entire life. It is a city rich with culture, history, good food and beautiful people. So why?! Why was this happening to my favorite place?
I decided to just not think about it after scrolling through my Newsfeed and seeing all my friends from Charleston heartbroken and my strong African American friends yet again upset and hurt from the brokenness of society that creates divisive racism.
Too hard. Nope I did not want to think about it.
That was Thursday.
And that brings me to Today, the Lord's day; when we file into our Homes, our safe places, our churches.
We talked about the Prodigal Son today and about the hardship of returning to our past after mistakes. I could not help thinking about those at Emmanuel AME returning to their Home, and how hard it was going to be to face those slightly more empty pews on Father's day after so many strong earthly Dads and Moms had been ripped from their hugs.
After my Mema's passing I did not return to my home pew for three months. It was too hard to face that void. Today, just three days after tragedy struck, the Emmanuel AME congregation is being so brave and is returning to their sanctuary. They are facing the void, the pain and the broken pieces just three days after their world was overturned and the rest of the world began watching to see what would happen. All eyes are on them. The Charleston community, but especially the Emmanuel AME congregation is showing their true selves, their bravery, their strength. They are facing a tragedy the best way possible, together. They are not making the issues more divisive instead they are shining a light on the unending love of the Father that can take brokenness and make something whole.
All these pieces
Forbes recently published an article about Pope Francis and his smile. This smile seems to be set on the pope's face at all times, it warms up a room and creates a surge to know more about him. This still relatively new pope is very popular and his secret seems to "be the joy he spreads".
This was not news to me, as it probably stirred no surprise in you. When he took the papal seat in spring 2013, his smile was the first thing that earned the world's notice. What I did begin to think about though, is my own smile. Not in a is it pretty or attractive sort of way, but more of do I smile? Do I exude happiness as the Pope does? For we all have the same reason to be happy. We have a hope in the Lord Father that is much greater than any worldly problem; we are loved! Loved to the moon and back and much much further.
Back in second grade my mother told me that my teacher liked my smile and had said that I smiled all of the time. Well, after that great compliment I wanted to not disappoint my teacher and to always smile. But a week or two later my teacher asked my mother if everything was ok at home because I had stopped smiling. Well you see, when I tried to consciously make myself smile, I could not do it. Smiling is only natural, it can not be forced, or we all know what that looks like. Smiling is a reaction the body makes when the soul is just too happy that it must overflow into the physical. Smiling is not just the mouth but the pouring out of harmony and goodness out of every pore of being.
The Lord Father gives us such good news in the gospel that we should be overflowing and smiling with our entireties. He is so good! No little problem at work or school can cover that up!
Oh sing to the Lord a new song;
For the past five days I have been in New Orleans, Louisiana with the Clemson Wesley Foundation, working in the blistering NOLA heat. When I first decided to go on the trip my main decisive factor was that the city was on my bucket list and Wesley trips are usually fun. This is sad to admit post-trip because of the silly, self-centered nature of the reasons; the bright side is that they made me commit to working hard for a great purpose. Last week was definitely no typical first week of summer!
My reasons were like so manys' who go for voluntourism experiences (aka a mission oriented vacation, key word vacation). Once I got the hammer in my hand and saw the wasteland before me, I realized this adventure was much more than an instagrammable moment. We worked for three days building the exterior walls for 10 new houses we were doing the grunt work to prep for the Build-a-thon, a push to build 10 houses in 10 days to commemorate the anniversary of hurricane Katrina. It has been ten years and the city still has visible scars, the neighborhood we were in in particular was still barren.
I love building walls because it is something I can visualize and understand, plus it is the support that the roof stands on. The walls and then the roof come together to shelter and protect a family, there is nothing more special than that. It is amazing how some wooden studs, some installation and a bit of dry wall can block out the elements to create a comfortable space for a family to live and love.
My favorite part of the week was meeting one of the future owners. She was overjoyed, and pouring out thankfulness and humility. She had earned it though! working 350 hours on 8 other houses so that she too could one day turn the key and enter a home of her own. There is nothing more special than that.
You can see pictures and track the progress on the New Orleans Habitat for Humanity Facebook page.
From my speech at Wesley Eventide, April 15, 2015.
I did not want to talk about this year, this hard year. I did not have anything to say that anyone would want to hear.
It had been just that. Hard. Difficult.
Where was I going to get a sunny, happy speech out of my cloudy times.
I live under this idea that I must be happy all of the time. Ephesians 4:26 right? Do not let the sun set on your anger. But what if I am tired and angry and that is all I am, all I have?
None of my plans had worked out and I am left JADED.
We talked about this word once before in youth group long ago... jaded... I did not understand what it really meant then.
I understand now.
Jaded means to have too much of something. This year I had had to much Church. I was tired and disappointed with the Church and this exhaustion had turned to anger. What do you do when you are angry with the Church, this place I love and cherish more than anything? What do you do when you are angry with God, even? What now? I was left unprepared for these many feelings, it is a side of faith not covered.