A Place at the Table

A throwback to encourage y’all to be who you are and find tables that welcome you AND those no one else wants. It’s hard work, but it’s blessed work.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about life lately, specifically my place in it.

I’ve been to church on-and-off throughout my life, and I’ve been drawn back to it so many times that I don’t just work with one; I’m now planning to pursue a seminary degree so I can one day lead one.

It’s exciting. And nerve-wracking. And I honestly don’t know if I’ll get the money to do it.

But the thing I’m most worried about is…where is my place?

Where is my place in the Church? And in this crazy journey called life?

Where is the place for the girl who:

Watches The Simpsons and Family Guy over Veggie Tails and CTN?

Swears, thinks, worries, doubt, and talks a little too much?

Fawned over Lion King and Peter Ban instead of Belle and Cinderella?

Obsessively read Harry Potter when told it was bad?

Gets excited over the Banned Books list?

Comes from a very non-traditional family?

Pursued a degree in Philosophy and Religion over…anything practical?

Struggled with God, mercy, justice, love, equality throughout the years of being surrounded by those who seemed so certain?

Played in the marching band instead of sports?

Wants to lead boldly instead of submit quietly?

I’ve made my places at tables before. At church the spots seemed readily available, even in leadership. In band, I made my place by performing better (or worse) than others in my section.

But when it comes to Church, to ministry, to making my place in this world and giving life back after being given so much, there seems to simultaneously be too much space available and not enough.

I have so many dreams and ideas but am not sure which ones to pursue. I have so many fears and insecurities that I feel limited. I feel pressure from myself and “society” to make a decision now, and my feet are frozen in doubt.

I know a bit of what my place is not. I know I cannot work in an office, or simply be a scholar, or only be deemed worthy as someone’s wife and mother.

I also know the craziness and chaos of life in ministry. I worry that the constant pouring into others will drain me to unforgivable exhaustion, and I fear the harsh words from those who question whether or not I’m fit for my vocation, for every reason from my sex to my story.

But if I say with so many others that Jesus makes room for everyone at His Table, and if everyone truly means everyone, from the sinners and saints, the rich and poor, the gay and straight, the USA and the world, Christians and Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and Jews, I’ve got to accept that I’m part of that glorious Everyone, too.

But where will I sit at such an elaborate table?

The Lesson of the Jazzy Flute Solo: An Advent Story

Third Sunday of Advent

umc.org

I didn’t grow up in a liturgical church. I grew up Pentecostal, which avoided anything resembling “high church.” I never had an Advent calendar or devotional. I didn’t even know what Advent was until I was a sophomore in college. I told my Episcopal professor this sad fact, and she gave me a look of shock, mixed with a tiny bit of judgment.

Since then, I’ve participated in Advent. I’ve done the devotions, attended the services, and even eaten the tasteless chocolate. Now, I get as excited to celebrate Advent as I do Christmas. This season holds so much, the expectancy of Christ, his presence now, and his reign to come. It’s tension and time-travel. It’s amazing.

My fiance Bryce, our friend Scott, and I are starting a new Advent tradition this year. I made an Advent wreath (and a bit of a poor excuse for one) at my Episcopal Church.

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(When you have cats, your Christmas greenery options are limited.)

Instead of only lighting candles on Sundays, though, we light the appropriate ones every night throughout Advent. We have our own short service with music, Scripture, and prayers. I light the candle, play a song appropriate to that week of Advent, lead Bryce and Scott in prayers, and have one of them read the Scripture of the day. It’s a great practice for our little family.

This first week is about hope. Since Advent is about waiting for a hope that is both here and yet to come, I found the Taize song “Wait for the Lord” very appropriate. Before I rounded my boys upstairs to hold our makeshift service around the wobbly dining room table, I checked YouTube for a good version of the song. I settled on one with no instruments. It sounded solemn and somber, something that would evoke feelings of waiting in desperation for a light to shine in the darkness.

We gathered around the table. I lit the candle and hit play on my phone. The song started.

It was a great start. The somber chanting filled the room lit only by our purple candle. We breathed deep and settled into the atmosphere.

And then, just over halfway through the song, a flute solo began.

Not a classical flute solo either. It was a jazzy solo, one which brought thoughts of Kenny G. and elevators to mind.

Nor was it a short solo. It continued for the remaining two minutes of the chant and only became more jazzy and animated as the song progressed.

Needless to say, the once somber atmosphere crumbled a bit, and this irritated Lindsay the Perfectionist.

The song finally concluded, and we continued our service without anyone saying anything about the musical choice.

I went to my room afterwards to do some writing, and Bryce came in before heading out for the evening. “That was really nice,” he told me. He knew I’d been worried about doing a “good job” leading our tradition, and I appreciated his affirmation.

But I had to correct him.

“You mean it was nice until the jazzy flute solo broke in,” I retorted.

Bryce shrugged. “Actually, I thought the solo was very appropriate.”

I raised a quizzical eyebrow at him (or at least I tried, since I’m bad at raising one eyebrow at a time). “You think so?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” he replied. “It began solemn, which you wanted. But the flute built it up into a cheer.”

Huh. How about that.

That’s Advent, y’all.

It’s our waiting building up into a cheer. It’s journeying through the somberness with a stubborn joy at the heart of it. It’s frustrating to wait, because we know both how the story ends yet understand how the world still is. But we keep waiting. We keep chanting. And we keep playing solos.

Advent begins with waiting and ends with cheering.

It begins with restless expectation, and it ends with the beginning of God’s upside down kingdom.

The somber tune ends with a jazzy flute solo.

Thank God for that.

Communion in the Labyrinth: A Journey with Longing and Thanksgiving

labyrinth

It was chapel time on Thursday October 22, and my attending classmates and I were invited to walk up to the prayer labyrinth to take communion. This time, the ritual would be practiced differently; instead of taking communion before or after walking the labyrinth, we would take the meal with us to the labyrinth, and we would partake of it throughout our journey.

We took up a candle, our bread (including a gluten-free option) and grape juice, and two pieces of wood that would construct a table. When we arrived at the labyrinth, we stood in a semi-circle as our leader constructed the unsturdy-looking table, broke the bread, and blessed the cup. He broke off larger than usual chunks of the bread to place in our cupped hands. He then gave us the instruction to dip our bread in and partake in communion each time we passed the rickety table on our labyrinth walk. As we dipped the bread, we were to reflect on a deep yearning with which we have been wrestling. When we finally reached the center, we were to reflect on those things for which we were grateful.

My feet were itching to move, so moments after our leader finished the instructions, I found myself moving into the labyrinth, my hands still cupping my morsel of bread. I stood in front of the small table at the labyrinth’s entrance, and I dipped my bread in the cup and thought of my first great yearning: intimacy.

I put the juice-soaked piece of bread on my tongue, and as I thought about my desire for intimacy, I felt a moment of intimate connection with God in the meeting of Christ’s body and blood with my own body. I began walking through the labyrinth, reflecting on my desires for intimacy and from where they came. I desire greater intimacy with Bryce, with my family, with my friends, and with God (although I don’t know what that means to me anymore). I thought about the ways in which I push others away when the excitement of new relationships wears off and the harsh realities of putting in effort to sustain them becomes apparent.

Eventually, I passed the table again. I broke off another piece of bread, and I dipped it into the cup. As I partook of the meal, I thought of another great yearning: direction.

As I walked and chewed, I thought about my need to understand from where I have come in order to know where I am going. I want to understand the family that raised me, my Pennsylvania born-and-bred independent mother with her family of farmers. I want to understand my Arabic father, an immigrant and a man who knows how national conflicts can literally tear families apart, and the impact that his former absence and current presence has on me. I want to know what it means for me to follow God without following a specific tradition. I grew up in one congregation and now feel homeless and rootless, which is disheartening in a community of so many seemingly rooted people.

Once again, I passed the rickety table with the cup standing steady on top of it. Once again, I dipped the bread, and as I began to chew, I thought of another great yearning: solidarity.

As a rootless wanderer in the Church, I want someone to know and understand me as I am, someone who shares my journey, my questions, my fears, and my hopes and dreams for the Church and the world. I want to feel less alone, less like an anomaly in this Church that I have loved yet feels so foreign to me at times. I want to know that despite my lack of a “home,” others will take me in and love me as if I have always been part of the family.

Finally, I found myself at the entrance to the labyrinth’s center. I took my last bite of bread, dipped it into the cup, and ate my final meal. And as I did, I thought of another great yearning: a sense of belonging.

I want to know that there are people out there who want me to lead their congregations AND challenge their traditions, who want to embrace the outsiders AND see their place in God’s larger story, who value the stories of the Bible AND the works of Joss Whedon as tales that can teach us about the world in which we live. Is there a place for me in this large, wide world, in this large, wide Church to which I felt called long ago? Will anyone accept, listen to, or follow me as I am, or is my perception of the world and Church as large and welcoming something I’m kidding myself into believing?

With these and all of the other questions I had carried with me, I walked to the center. I looked out at the mountains in the distance and those continuing their journey around me. And I said thanks.

I said “Thank you” for those who didn’t let me run away, for those who stayed with me through it all, for those who have kept me anchored on earth when my head wanted to soar above the clouds, and for those who left and then came back. I said “Thank you” for EMS. I said “Thank you” for the things that have, are, and will be. I even said “Thank you” for the fact that life is full of despair, hope, death, and life, and it will always be this way until Kingdom come, and if for some reason Kingdom come still isn’t good enough for us, we will be well, and we need the darkness and light together. I said “Thank you” to Buffy, the Doctor, Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling, Joss Whedon, Steven Moffat, Rachel Held Evans, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and all of the other storytellers who helped me make sense of my journey.

After I said my thanks, I began my walk back. And as I walked through the labyrinth again, I realized not many of my questions had been truly answered, but I did walk out with a sense of peace and even understanding. By acknowledging and inviting my yearnings and the questions that come with them into the labyrinth with me, I was able to take them to the center and give thanks. I don’t think I was able to give thanks in spite of my questions, but because I felt free to let them live in me without a forceful answer.

I realized that it is possible to be thankful for the smooth paths and the struggles, the light and the dark. I realize this is a paradox, but what kind of theology isn’t to an extent? I’m starting to accept that paradox can be a part of my life without me trying to make perfect sense of it. Somehow, taking a journey with the things I most desire can result in me getting to the center and telling God “Thank you.” I don’t really know how this works, but I no longer need to know. At least for today, I am simply content to express my gratitude and keep on walking.

“I’d forgotten not all victories are about saving the universe.”

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http://imgarcade.com/1/lords-supper-powerpoint-background/

When my seminary schedule slowed down about 2 weeks ago, I watched a lot of Doctor Who (read “a lot” as “30 episodes in 3 days”). As a result, my thirst for adventure has been activated. I’ve had dreams of flying through different stars and galaxies with the Doctor and his many companions, meeting so many new people and creatures, saving the universe time and time again.

However, also as a result, my Messiah Complex has been enabled. I’ve been bored with the world, people, and life going on around me. I hunger to make large scale efforts to save my world and the universe at large. The “small things with great love” motto seems like a cop-out to avoid doing anything fun and actually life-changing. After “seeing” so many new and wonderful things, I understand why so many of the companions on the show found it so difficult to return to “normal” life on Earth. And once again, I understand a bit better why many Christians get burned out in the pursuit of doing “great and glorious things for God.”

To quench my adventurous yearnings, Bryce and I drove to the base of Reddish Knob this past Sunday afternoon to take a hike. We found a small, off-beat trail at the base of Reddish Knob, complete with a water crossing over a frigid creek and a couple of our own makeshift rock scrambles for good measure. Despite passing numerous trail markers, I kept asking aloud if this was actually a real trail, or if we were making it up ourselves.

About halfway through our journey, I began talking with Bryce about an episode in which one of the Doctor’s companions, Donna, became a Time Lord/human hybrid, but since her human body couldn’t handle the change, she had to lose all of her memories of being with the Doctor to survive. I asked Bryce if he thought it was worth living a “mundane” life if it meant having to lose all of those wonderful memories. Is life really worth living if you have to forget such beautiful and amazing moments? Is it worth it to lose all the “big” things to have the chance to live for the “small” things? I didn’t think so.

To answer my question, Bryce giddily took my hand and took me off the trail. A few yards away, he stopped suddenly and pointed through a gap between some trees, where a small, lone waterfall cascaded down the mountain. He told me that it was made by the moisture descending from the mountain, but if we had walked by it at any different time, we probably wouldn’t have seen it. He had been hearing it throughout the walk but couldn’t find it until now.

He smiled his big, goofy smile at me and said, “Yes. Life is always worth living, because there’s always a chance that something like this can happen. There’s always a chance to see something just as new and just as beautiful.”

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His words of wisdom reminded me of the sacrament of Communion.

Jesus took those everyday elements of bread and wine, something the people ate every day, and said each time they ate this meal, they would proclaim Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection until he came again.

Jesus’ words reminded me of the parables he told, of farmers, workers, and women making bread. These parables in turn reminded me of the story of Jesus performing the miracle of turning water into wine to keep an average wedding going.

These were not “universe altering” events to our competitive minds. These were such everyday, simple, and mundane things.

And yet Jesus says they are not so mundane but point towards the power of the Divine in the world, in the entire universe. With his life, Jesus forever took the boundaries between “sacred” and “mundane,” broke them, and fed them to the people as bread and wine.

I often get so caught up in wanting to do “big things.” Save the universe. Lead a large, relevant church that gets lots of attention. Write an Academy-Award winning screenplay. Become a New York Times Bestselling author. I’m not saying these dreams are wrong in and of themselves, but I often wonder if I’m missing the point in purely pursuing them.

Because I need to remember that there’s life around me, big and beautiful yet so simple. The blooming blossoms signifying the end of winter and the beginning of spring. My cat curled up next to me in the morning, his loud purrs in my ear the perfect alarm clock. The kids in my neighborhood riding their scooters. Helping their parents jump start their car on the way to seminary. All of this is life. All of this is mundane. All of this is sacred.

Luckily, not all of my Doctor Who binge-watching has completely removed this concept from my life. In the appropriately titled episode, “The God Complex,” the Doctor’s companion Rory is reflecting on an encounter he had with a boy named Howie, who had recently overcome a severe speech impediment with the help of a speech therapist. And Rory stopped and honored Howie’s achievement for the beautiful, sacred victory it was. In this moment, Rory realized that he had forgotten, in the midst of his spectacular, galaxy-wide adventures, that “not all victories are about saving the universe.”

Rory

I often do the same thing.

And then I remember when Jesus broke the bread and passed the wine. And then I saw the waterfall. And then I remember how my Aunt Karen called just to say “Hello” a few weeks ago. And then I remember someone in my small group who shared how far she’d come in finding her voice in a new, authoritative role. And then I saw people sending aid to Nepal and praying and acting for peace and reconciliation in Baltimore.

I remembered the things that give me the most hope that “All shall be well,” are all the seemingly small things.

It turns out they’re the biggest things we will ever be capable of doing.

Resurrection in the Prayer Labyrinth

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http://www.emu.edu/year1/faith

There’s a song by Casting Crowns that resonates so deeply with me called “The Altar and the Door.” Growing up in my Pentecostal church, I simply understood God’s grace and love. In those days, on the surface at least, I was so certain that no matter how many times I had to go to the altar, I could leave with confidence out those doors that I was turning a new leaf. This song kind of challenged those preconceived ideas about forgiveness and resurrection, but it still slightly reinforced my idea of God’s love. Now it hits me in the gut more than ever is because I actually understand the narrator’s doubts about his own merit, motives, and strengths. Now, I feel like I’m waiting at the door to go to the altar, but I’m too afraid to go in. Why? Because I know that before I know it, I’ll have to go through this whole process again, more times than I’m willing to admit. You could say I finally understand the song now.

Repetition can be really annoying, especially when it’s concerning my flaws, insecurities, and, dare I say it, sin.

Which brings me to seminary.

On the second day of seminary orientation, we were invited to walk a prayer labyrinth. They made it very clear that it wasn’t a maze, lest we be worried that in the midst of our prayerful walking we had to worry about getting lost. Honestly, though, I think a crazy maze would have been more realistic, as I find myself too frustrated to be prayerful in the every day because I’m staring at a tall hedge, wondering how to find my way out of the dead end and chastising myself over my poor direction skills.

I was the fourth person in my group to start walking the labyrinth, so there were three other people ahead of me on their journey that I had to be conscious of and make room for. There were some paths that were very short and had quick turns, and there were a few longer paths. After a while, I took off my flip flops so I could feel the hard, cool stones and damp grass under my feet. I remembered how as a child at my grandparents’ farm, I used to run around barefoot all the time. Whether it was rain or shine, through freshly mown lawns or cow-pie covered fields, over soothing grass or jagged rocks that ripped my little feet to shreds, the ground of my youth was too holy for sneakers. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed those more innocent days until I removed my shoes on this holy ground.

As I was walking, I reflected on what had brought me to seminary, my life thus far, where I was now in my faith. However, as I drew closer and closer to the center, where I could stand and reflect with God about the journey and enjoy a spectacular view of the Blue Ride mountains, I started to get worried about reaching the final destination. When I finally reached the entrance to the center, I hesitated. I realized that I was scared to enter the center of the labyrinth. Because suddenly it hit me: I’m going to be back here again.

I’ve returned to the altar so many times. I’ll return to that center of the labyrinth just as many times if not more so. And honestly, I’m kind of sick of it. And to be even more honest, I am sick of myself.

I’m sick of always finding myself back in this spot. I’m sick of having to confess that, once again, I’ve failed expectations, that I’ve failed in general, that I’ve let people down and disappointed them. In short, I absolutely hate admitting failure and defeat. I’m sick of admitting that I’ve been acting as human as Peter in his denial and as proud as the sons of Zebedee when they asked if they could be the greatest. I hate having to ask for mercy from Someone who has already seen me this way innumerable times, and the human that I am is only thinking of the times I have left until This One’s patience reaches its limit with me.

Because honestly, I just don’t get it.

How can God keep taking me back? Why does God keep loving me this way? What good does God see in taking me back and giving me the chance to start the day anew? Why does God still have that much hope in me?

On good days, I get it. On good days, when my hope for the world and my spirits for the day are at new heights, God’s grace is immeasurable. It only makes sense to me on those days. On bad days, I just don’t get it. On bad days, I’ve taken God’s place on the throne to issue judgment on the world and myself, because I think God is too damn exhausted with me to deal with my problems at the moment.

Because to be honest, resurrection doesn’t make any sense to me. Resurrection, for the longest time, was a one-time thing. You got saved, and while you stumbled every now and then, things were overall supposed to go pretty well for you. Now, resurrection is a long, exhausting, tedious process, and I honestly don’t see how God can keep throwing the second chances my way for much longer.

I don’t trust God. I don’t trust God to keep loving me, to keep giving me chances, to stick by me through my best or my worst. I don’t trust that my best will be good enough for God, and I definitely don’t trust God to love me at my worst, because my own shortcomings make me cringe. And if I can’t trust God in these ways, how can I trust others? If I can’t trust the Love within me, how can I trust the Love outside of me and throughout the world to not reject me?

Maybe that’s why I like the Psalms and the books of the prophets. They get this fear of a God who gets frustrated with them to the point of packing his bags and leaving us to our own destruction. And they’re a lot more honest and upfront about it than I usually am. But they also, like me, have this flicker of undying hope that maybe, just maybe, this God loves them enough to return and restore them, to give them another chance, to stay by their side in the midst of chaos.

Maybe God really does get that we’re human, that we mess up, that it’s not always OK, but still gives us the grace to die and live again, to be forgiven. Maybe God wants to open the door to forgiveness for us when we insist on locking ourselves inside and have even thrown away the key to our freedom. Maybe God really hates us stewing in the prison of our lack of forgiveness, for ourselves and the world around us, and for some reason wants nothing more than to let us out of it so we can truly live in love.

I still don’t get resurrection. I still am kicking myself for all the returns I’ll have to make to the altar, or the center of the labyrinth, in the future. But I have a few glimmers of hope.

I know that worry will consume me and doubts will plague me. I know that impatience, injustice, anger, and hate will get the better of me. I know I’ll have to come right back to the center, where the God of Love still stands for some crazy reason, and die to it all again.

But then again, joy will overtake me. Love will always be in my midst. Community will support me. Growth will come. Discernment will take place. And maybe, instead of always coming back to lay down all the pain again, maybe I’ll come back and thank God for the fruit of resurrection in my life.

I eventually walked into the center of the labyrinth with some of my peers, my fellow companions on this journey of faith. Some stared into the beauty of the horizon. Some bowed to their knees. Some wiped away tears. I stood there and got a bit snippy with God about all this resurrection stuff, and finally I left in the hope that even though I still don’t understand resurrection or God’s love and grace completely, I can still look forward to coming back to the center of God’s Love, even when I have my doubts that God will still be there.

Every day, I have a choice. With every breath, I have a chance for redemption. For some reason, deep in my bones, I know this.

But I still don’t get it. Not at all.

Community in Carpooling: Lessons My Dead Car (and Living Community) Taught Me

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http://www.cardomain.com/ride/135463/2000-pontiac-grand-am/

I knew that fateful February day in 2009, when Mom and I first brought home my 2001 Pontiac Grand Am GT, that it was not long for this world.

The first day, Mom and I found coolant leaking onto the pavement, so I couldn’t even take it back to Bridgewater for another week. In May, right before finals week, it overheated while I was driving on 81 and had to stay in the shop for almost two weeks. To this day, I still feel resentment when I think of watching all of my friends head home for their first college summer break in properly functioning cars while I sat in my empty, packed up room waiting for my car to get me home safely again. At least twice a year after these instances, the car would overheat on me and need more coolant, usually during the most inconvenient times. One such instance saw me briefly stranded at Bridgewater (again) on the last day of classes before Thanksgiving break. I swear that vehicle hated going home…

It was dangerous to go on long trips (beyond 2 hours) with it. The only trips I ever felt comfortable taking with it were to and from BC, home, NOVA, and basic errands, and even those didn’t guarantee an overheat-free journey. I constantly needed a container of coolant in my trunk, lest I find myself unprepared and stuck on the side of the road praying for a miracle to keep my car going. And perhaps the worst part: having to blast the heat in already scorching summer weather to keep the engine at a normal temperaature.

This car could really put me through hell.

And almost 2 weeks ago, it landed on its deathbed at an AAMCO shop, diagnosed with a fatal cracked head gasket that would cost at least $1600 to repair. Which would be way too much to invest in a car that is already worth half its value (or less) due to the previously mentioned issues.

While I resented this car’s problems in the duration of our time together, I was nonetheless saddened by its demise. In good times and bad, the car had gotten me from Point A to Point B in semi-reliable fashion, and for that I was eternally grateful. However, more than despair, I felt anxiety. How would I get to my two jobs throughout the week? How would I hang out with people and get to church? How would I get groceries or go to the bank? In short, I was seriously worried for my life without this panic-attack-inducing car. Because a hazardous car was better than no car at all. For a long time, I thought this car essentially held the keys to my survival.

And while I knew that other people I knew had cars and open schedules, an extrovert like me has some strong introverted tendencies. one of the strongest being that I don’t like to initiate conversations. Once they are initiated, I’m all in and am more than happy to talk the other person’s ear off, but usually, I tend to let people come to me. Combine that with my fear of rejection and vulnerability to others, both of which are probably co-related, and I found myself in quite the pickle.

Because the moment I realized my car was essentially dead, I realized I didn’t have the option of keeping to myself and not leaping out of my comfort zone anymore. My life immediately became more dependent on the provisions of others, which involved me being vulnerable and someone being receptive. And over a week into this, my car’s demise has taught me a lot about community.

Being vulnerable and open with others about this basic necessity of getting from Point A to Point B has led me to make beautiful connections in the most simple, everyday tasks. Going to the grocery store with my dear friend and former roommate Candace allowed us time to catch up while also finding an awesome Pandora station full of hilarious Broadway tunes. Carpooling to my friends Ali and Andy’s wedding allowed me to properly catch up with some awesome housemates I hadn’t seen in at least a year. I even got to connect with my manager at Bed Bath and Beyond when he graciously gave me a ride home after work one evening when no one else was available. And my roommate Erin showed deep trust in me when she let me borrow her own car so I could take Laney, my Little, to celebrate her last day of 7th grade by going to see Epic.

Suddenly, my solo commutes spent in the company of cruddy pop music and even more cruddy radio ads became times of catch up and bonding with some amazing people. The minutes I would spend driving to errands, letting my mind aimlessly wander through my seemingly never-ending to-do list, became times of sharing my dreams, fears, joys, and so much more with others, and they shared with me, all in the midst of checking off our routine checklists.

Basically, losing my car, and with it a small piece of my own independence, thrust me into the loving embrace of my community in a way I never imagined.

And through these experiences, I’m learning more and more that community is a lot about getting out of my own head and coming back to reality, a reality that demands my complete presence with myself, my surroundings, and others. I’m learning that it’s about figuring out who I am in the loving embrace of people who are here with me and for me by showing up when I need them most. In this community, we make room for each other by adjusting work and personal schedules and arranging rides in the midst of our already busy lives. Now, I get a little giddy when I get a ride arranged, because I know it’s time with someone I love dearly and who loves me enough to help me out when I’m in a rut. It builds trust and love, and through their devotion, these amazing people have shown this insecure girl that she is loved and worthy of being around. Sharing my stories on car rides and having these amazing people share their own stories with me reminds me of the sacredness of being close and open with others, of knowing I am being trusted and that I can trust them. Whether we are sharing joys and struggles in relationships, wisdom we’ve learned from recent or past experiences, or simply chatting about favorite Disney movies and making a trip to Sweet Frog, these commutes bind us closer together and build foundations for deeper relationships. For a girl with abandonment/trust issues and intense insecurities, these are gifts that keep on giving.

And they have shown me that life abundant isn’t in having everything; it’s in everyone sharing what they already have. These amazing people have shared their vehicles and, more importantly, their time and lives with me, and it is amazing just how much we can take care of each other if we simply shift our perspectives and schedules to intentionally make room for each other. Our daily routines hold so much opportunity for showing love to others if we simply allow time and space to embrace these opportunities instead of letting them wander by in the name of “getting stuff done.”

I like to think this is a big part of what God meant in describing Himself as the God who Provides. So instead of placing my trust in one of my own possessions, and even my own routine, I have now placed more trust in the loved ones who live, breathe, love, and provide for me with what they have received and for what they make room. 

So while I still get a big thrill in those now rare instances of driving on my own, and being allowed to surf through any radio station I want, and feel the freedom of driving on my own without wondering who will pick me up next, I still harbor deep joy in my carpool community, in the daily sharing, caring, and love that is always evident.

Because this community has both affirmed that I am someone worth loving and serving, and in doing so, have reminded me that all I encounter are worthy of the same love and grace that has been shown to me. And that is one of the biggest lessons a loving community can teach any one of us.

Why I’m Writing (A Sort-of Sequel to Why I’m Not Praying)

http://rosemaryalva.com/2013/02/27/writing-to-heal/

Tuesday was one of my rare days off, so my roomies and I had dinner together and watched This is 40, which is described as the “sort-of sequel to Knocked Up.”

While this post has nothing to do with the movie besides being influenced by the sub-title, I did want to follow up on my last post on prayer. I gave some ground on why I’m not praying anymore, and I heard some amazing responses as a result, so I hope to further the conversation by writing about why I write.

Since I was young, writing has been my niche. It’s been my go-to talent for as long as I can remember, and it’s been a powerful tool at putting into words what my tongue gets too tied to say or my own mind is too twisted by anxiety to express. It’s my way of processing, and, in its own way, it’s been my most consistent form of prayer.

Prayer is about connecting, and writing has connected me to the world around me in one of the deepest ways possible. 

When my mind becomes to anxious to make sense of anything, writing all the anxieties down calms my brain enough to take a step back and find perspective in  my life, and to tell the demons in my head that they are nothing but illusions.

When I’m too nervous to say something to someone when it needs to be said, good or bad, typing or writing it makes my thoughts and sentiments a bit more legible, and a bit more understanding and graceful.

When I have lots of fun ideas and stories brewing in my mind, writing gives them life and release and potential to be something more.

I feel connected to the ones who read my words. I feel connected to my own self, what I’m feeling, thinking, and processing on any given day, and it helps me to process my past experiences that still influence me today. I feel connected to the people whose stories I write, because even the stories of fiction are in some way inspired by my own experiences.

I write to feel connected with the people in my life. I’ve written letters to my mom on Mother’s Day and to my grandmother when her mother was in bad health. I’ve written notes to encourage friends in rough times and to remind them how special they are to me and to so many others. I’ve received so much love in the form of writing through letters sent to me from dear friends and family, asking how I’m doing, to encourage me, to tell me how special I am to them. When I worked at a summer camp in 2010, the most exciting days were the days I received mail from others, including my birthday when I received many cards from my dear loved ones, reminding me that while I was out of sight, I was no where near out of their minds.

I feel a deep connection to others when I write sermons that I speak to inspire and remind them of their worth and the love God has for them. When I wrote poems and stories as a child, I wrote about animals and books and things I loved so dearly; the words I wrote contained my deepest passions. When I read a post by Rachel Held Evans on doubt, or a book by Margot Starbuck about abandonment, I feel connected to these people I barely know because of our shared experiences. When I read the Daily Connections my fellow RISE leaders send to each other, I feel a deeper connection with them as they write about their fears, dreams, and lives. My cousin Emily wrote a beautiful note to my grandfather after he passed away, and when it was read at his funeral, it was another reminder of how much he had impacted our lives and how dearly he would be missed.

Writing has also been one of my most useful forms of therapy. I practically wrote my way through surviving adolescence, and I jotted down notes to calm me down at work on receipt papers and in the journal pages in the back of my planner. As odd as it may sound, writing helped me find the voice of Love within me, and I like to think this voice belongs to the God who is always with me and for me.

When I write, I don’t know if I feel closer to God as I once viewed him, but I feel closer to the core of who I am, which frees me up to be closer to the people around me, which frees me up to be closer to the world around me, which I believe in some abstract, six-degrees-of-separation way frees me up to be closer to God.

Because now prayer looks a lot like reflecting, with others and with myself. It looks like connecting with others, hearing their dreams, pains, and stories, and loving them authentically for who they are. And it looks like taking the time to know who I am and who I’ve been created to be. Prayer to me has taken on a whole new form, but if it connects me with the lives and pain of others and myself, I believe it is also connecting me with the One who made all of us.