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The Party

A couple of weeks ago, my best friend and I were hanging out at her apartment, as we often do. While chatting away, our attention was broke by a sweet melody coming from outside. The music wafted through the open windows, interrupting our thoughts. It was so distracting and beautiful that we lost track of conversation.

We peaked over the lot to a small party gathered, shiny balloons pushed by wind, cans of beer held to smiling lips. Children ran wild, ducking in and out of hiding places, hyper from too many sweets.

Though it was a rather modest party, there was a full mariachi band in costume, playing as if to thousands. We sat on the couch in the dimly lit apartment, wondering whether we should crash the party. After a few minutes, the music and laughter forced us down the stairs.

Now, we are normally very reserved. We spend our evenings together clad in sweatpants, bra-less, with unpainted faces. These nights are intended to be utterly free from all artifice and pretending, with no expectations. We usually spend the evening chatting, pouring wine, and laughing over jokes only the best of friends share.

We were entirely unfit to join a party of strangers, but the music was too hypnotic. We approached the group cautiously, giggling at our uncharacteristic boldness.  Standing in the lot with our arms wrapped around ourselves, we swayed, unable to keep from smiling. The music was pure joy.

People began to notice us standing there, the only white people at the party. A man with a smile that took up most of his face came up to us. He welcomed us to join the party, to come closer. It didn’t matter at all that they had never seen us before. To him, we were just as welcomed as if we’d been invited.  Before we could even protest, cold Mexican beer was in our hands.

I felt honored to be invited closer, but shame too. I thought about all the people who burn with hatred at immigrants, believing they are the cause of all that is wrong with our society. There has been a lot of talk about building a wall, but these stranger’s kindness knocked out a few bricks to make a door. I see the love of God in inclusion, in acceptance, in making a bit more room. I don’t see it in walls, in labeling some people legal and others not.

It’s not my intent to preach a point here; I simply wish to relate a sweet experience that reminded me of our collective humanity. It’s so easy in this day and age to remove our hearts from the matters of people, to make people into issues, and issues into something that doesn’t have anything to do with us.

Jesus talked a lot about loving the stranger. These strangers showed my friend and I a lot of love, and in that love, I saw Jesus. They didn’t fear us or show suspicion, and they didn’t request anything of us, except to join in on the fun. I realize issues of citizenship, immigration, and borders are complex issues, so I won’t attempt to simplify them.

What I will state simply is this: Jesus has called everyone to join the party. Everyone. He has called us to love the stranger, to open up heart and home to them. My experience reminded me how urgently we are called to do this, without exception, without fear.

Let’s love the stranger and invite them to the party.

 

 

 

Shame

For years, I believed that the source of most of my problems was rooted in self-hatred and self-pity. I fully believed that the reason I struggled with self-destructive habits and beliefs was due to an innate abandonment of self.

It has been revealed to me, however, that my core issue is shame. All the self-hatred, pity, and perfectionism that I have wrought come from the same source: shame.

As I became aware that my self-destructive habits resulted from shame, I became increasingly aware of the moments I experience it. A few examples are:

  • Stepping onto a scale or seeing an unflattering photo
  • Eating a food that I (or culture) has deemed “bad” and fattening
  • Meeting an attractive man or going on a date
  • Comparing myself to other women on social media

This is a very small, curated list. Because I am an intuitive, introverted person, I am highly self-aware. This self-awareness has led me to discover that I experience and live through shame on a daily basis. Shame has kept me from pursuing relationships, my dream career, and having peace with God. Shame speaks to me every day, and this is what it often says:

  • “You’re so gross/ugly/chubby/unattractive. You’d be more valuable if you were prettier.”
  • “You’re a terrible writer and you’re not creative. Who the hell do you think you are? People judge you and dislike you, so you should share as little of yourself as possible.”
  • “You are too old and ugly to ever find a man who will love you. Nearly all your friends are married! This proves something is wrong with you.”
  • “You’ve wasted your life. You haven’t done anything important and now you’re in your late twenties and it’s too late. It’s your fault.”

Shame says some terribly wicked things, doesn’t it?

If I wanted to face shame in a fight for my honour, I’d have to grab a mirror, because shame is most often from myself. It isn’t a separate entity that I can destroy. It is a wounded and frightened part of me. Shame insists on perfection, and anything less is a disgrace and should be abused roundly.

This evening I listened to a few TED talks, and one in particular struck me so intensely that I burst into tears. One line in particular drew some fast tears: “Shame: I’m sorry. I am a mistake.” I have included an audio download of Brene’s TED talk below, and I urge you to consider her words. It brought some clarity to the cloudy musings of the past year, giving shape and meaning to them.

 

 

I share this deeply vulnerable post not because I want others to pity me; I share because I want others to know that they’re not alone in their shame. I am sick to death of hating myself, of wishing I had a perfect body and perfect soul, of reaching a place of heaven on a very broken earth. Shame may try to destroy me, but it can also lead me to greater vulnerability, which Brene claims is the “…birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”

 

Travel Diary: York to Bath

I shuffled back and forth along the sidewalk near the bus station, my hands shaking and my thoughts whirring. I didn’t have enough money for a ticket. I thought I’d be fine, I really did. I budgeted this trip, my very first time abroad, but it wasn’t enough. I’d mistakenly assumed that when I booked the B&B months earlier that they would charge the stay to my account. After breakfast on my last morning, however, they informed me in broken English that I still owed for my room. Shit, I hissed to myself. My face burned and my heartbeat shot up to my ears. Paying the hosts would deplete my account. I still had over a week left, and I was all alone.

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I went to the York Minster every day while in the city, as it is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Photos do not capture how arresting, detailed, and gorgeous this holy place is.

 

Despite it being around 3 am back in the States, I called my mother, frantic and guilty. My voice broke and tears streaked my sunburned cheeks. I felt like a failure. Her genuine concern for my well being was a solace for the embarrassment I felt, but salt to the wound of pride. Stuck in a quaint English town with no money made me desperate enough to ask for money.

I had just enough money to purchase a bus ticket after counting up stray coins and notes in my bag, but nothing beyond. I was due in Bath by nightfall, and the bus ride was estimated to be at least eight hours. When I arrived at the tourist center to purchase the ticket, I came up about five pounds short. I felt tears, unbidden, welling up in my tired eyes. The woman across from me was only a few years older than I, with chestnut hair, immaculate makeup, and a posh accent, I was humiliated to be seen at such a low moment in front of someone like her. I shamefully explained my situation, and she turned from me to rifle through her own purse to supplement the cost of the ticket. I could barely breathe out a word of thanks due to shame, but mostly from an overwhelming sense relief and thankfulness.

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Inside the York Minster, where I was content to walk quietly each day.

 

By the time I was on the somewhat dingy bus headed for Bath, the money from my mother was safely tucked into my account. I felt provided for, and suddenly exceedingly tired. Relief from high anxiety gives way to lethargy for most people, and I was not excluded from the phenomenon. I woke from fitful sleep to the feeling of dampness. I adjusted myself due to a dull pain in my abdomen, only to discover that I had bled through my clothes. Thankfully, I was clothed in black skinny jeans that wouldn’t betray my leakage. After the miserable day I had, of course I would begin my period on a dirty, nonstop bus.

The bus arrived in Bath at 2 AM, and as I hoisted my large backpack over my shoulder, I realised that I was the only person on the dimly lit street. I kept an alert eye, scanning the sidewalk as I paced back and forth, waiting for my taxi. I was dirty, bloody, exhausted, and starved. 

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Bath, England

 

After folding myself into the back of the cab, I gave the driver the address to my Airbnb host home. We both struggled to understand each other’s accents, but eventually we sorted out where to go. I couldn’t believe how steep the hills were; it felt like San Francisco, but on a much smaller scale. The driver stopped in front of a quaint old home with a wild garden partly obscuring its windows and door. It didn’t look like the picture, so I warily checked the lock. The hostess said she’d leave it unlocked for me, knowing I’d be coming late. I nodded to the driver, and he left me.

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The Airbnb host’s front door was besotted with succulents and greenery. She was an artist who lived with several cats, and always had bits of paint on her hands.

 

To be honest, I wasn’t even sure it was the correct house until I entered the guest room upstairs. Folded blankets, towels, and a note indicated I was in the right place. I tiptoed to the bathroom to shower, careful to not make too much noise. After toweling off, I stuffed toilet paper between my legs to create a makeshift pad. I laid myself on the bed, which was really just an IKEA mattress tucked into an alcove. Though uncomfortable, I quickly fell into dreamless sleep, feeling safe and provided for, and stretched beyond what I ever thought I could endure.

 

 

 

Travel Diary: From the States to Dublin

I arrived in Dublin shortly after six a.m. I was so disoriented and overwhelmed after my flight that I shuffled to the bathroom before going through customs. I waited in a long line with my passport ready, with a customs officer who was less than thrilled with his task. He told me I needed to sign my passport, and asked my reason for being in the country. “Holiday”, I replied cheerily.

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I then walked down towards the bus and taxi service. I knew the bus would be significantly cheaper, but as I was so exhausted and uncertain, I chose a taxi instead. It felt positively luxurious having a cab all to myself, after two days of zero privacy and limited space. The cabbie didn’t make conversation, but I was glad. All I wanted was to check in to the hostel and collapse into bed. He pulled up to a bright blue door where a man on a ladder was adding a second coat of paint. I gave the cabbie a crisp one-hundred pound bill. “We don’t see these every day,” he commented.  As he handed me my backpack, he warned me to be careful. He seemed concerned that I was on my own, and didn’t want me walking around at night. I smiled at his concern as I walked through the bright blue door into the hostel office.

A slight man with a thick accent informed me that I couldn’t check in until three p.m., but offered to stow my bag and allow me to hang around until then. I was hesitant to leave my bag, so I walked down to a cute little coffee shop. I ordered an iced quad shot Americano, which resulted in a furrowed-brow from the barista. “We don’t have iced drinks,” she replied. She offered me hot americano instead, along with an almond croissant. After sitting a bit in a sun-spot, perusing my phone, I decided on a refill, since I needed to stay awake. We chatted about coffee for a bit before I sat back down, next to an elderly gentleman with a newspaper.

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I drained my cup and ventured out on the street. I decided to turn right, past the hostel, and up the street. I passed a series of colourful doors, which were made especially delightful because they were attached to grey stone buildings. I came upon the beautiful Christ Church Cathedral, and decided to venture inside. I purchased a ticket that allowed entrance into the cathedral as well as the museum across from it. Up until this point, I had never been inside a cathedral. I was overwhelmed by the detailed beauty, even in my blurry-eyed state. The priest invited me to attend morning prayer, so after exploring the crypt, I sat alongside two Russian women. The priest led us through prayers, and then shared some history of the church, with trademark Irish humour.

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The museum across from the church was called Dublinia, and focused mainly on the medieval and Viking history of Ireland. The doorman offered to keep my backpack, but I was still hesitant. My back ached, but I didn’t want to trust anyone. Halfway through the first floor, I was so miserable that I returned to the front and asked if I could stow my pack. The man led me around to a Viking boat replica, and hid the bag there. “It should be safe there.” I still can’t get over the humour of hiding my backpack in a replica of a Viking boat. I continued through the museum, light as a feather, but very tired.

By the three p.m. check-in, I was overwhelmingly exhausted. My private room was three floors up a spiral staircase, so I dragged my backpack behind me, too sore and tired to actually carry it properly. After two days of zero privacy, closing the door to my own room felt like entrance into heaven. The room was plain, but very clean and comfortable. As I was in desperate need of a shower, I ventured down the hall to the washrooms. I was shocked by how cramped the space was, smaller than my closet back home. I fiddled with the shower, attempting to turn on its flow, to no avail. I stood wrapped in a towel, swearing at the shower head, until I realised it must be broken. I hauled my things to the next shower, nearly giddy when the water jutted out full and hot.

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I am a fairly small person, but in that tiny shower, I struggled. I had to hike my leg up and prop it against the wall in order to shave, and kept bumping the door open. I made wet footprints on the old wooden floor as I whisked my clean self back to the room. Since I was far too exhausted to find anything to eat, I went to bed hungry. I slept like the dead until late the next morning.

 

Bad Believer

I’ve struggled in my Christian faith. I’ve doubted, backslid, crawled forward, and failed. Growing up, I would recite the sinner’s prayer every day, just to “make sure” I was really saved. While away at college (a Bible college, mind you) I nearly walked away from the faith completely. But by God’s grace, I shakily remain His.

When I am alone with God, I feel secure in my relationship with Him. Being around His other kids is what trips me up. I compare myself to other Christians, deciding that God must like them better because they seem happier, more faithful, or better than me. I am in therapy and swear like a sailor when I am angry. I laugh at double-entendres, vote Democrat, and am a proud feminist. I am not an ideal Proverbs 31 Woman.

But Jesus loves me, this I know.

He knows my heart. He sees my efforts to change, and He knows I try to follow Him each day, in every area of my life. He didn’t make me His to be like other Christians. I follow Jesus, not religiosity! Though I may feel like I am on shaky ground in my faith, the truth is, I can’t lose Him. And He can’t lose me. His word confirms and promises this:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. -Romans 8: 35-39

What can separate me from the love of Christ? N O T H I N G.

Shame may tell me that I am not good enough, and that’s true. But that was never the point. I am being saved as much as I am saved, and it’s a life-long process. God is far more patient than I am with myself, and the only thing that keeps Him distant is me. When I choose shame over grace, I push Him away.

I’ve always related to the disciple Thomas–infamously known as Doubting Thomas. Growing up in church, Thomas was often made an example of how we shouldn’t be as believers. But he always gave me hope, because even though he was one of Jesus’ most intimate friends, he still struggled with doubt. He could have allowed shame and doubt to destroy his faith, but he didn’t. Instead he cried, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” And as Flannery O’Connor once wrote, that is “…the most natural and most human and most agonizing prayer in the gospels, and I think it is the foundation prayer of faith.”

I used to be afraid of my doubts, but I’m not anymore. Doubting has caused me to explore the faith, to make it truly my own. A fear of doubt shows a lack of faith that God can withstand questions and apparent contradictions. Some people are so afraid to acknowledge their doubts because they are afraid of what they may discover. I think we’re all afraid of being bad believers, but the truth is, He doesn’t see it that way.

If prostitutes, murders, thieves, doubters, and the ordinary can be celebrated in the family of God, that gives us all hope! Doubt doesn’t exile us from God, nor do our sins. We can boldly and confidently approach Him as we are, because forgiveness and acceptance is assured.

So whether you’re rough around the edges, or plagued with doubt, you are still His. There’s such a comfort for us in the consistency and faithfulness of God. We don’t need to waste time comparing ourselves to each other, or being afraid of what our doubts reveal about us.

Let’s all give each other freedom to pursue Him as we are, and leave all the judgment to Him.