Tag Archives: bravery

mystic

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes–
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

-Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Lately I see this gorgeous bit of verse everywhere.

I listened to a sermon about beauty yesterday; about how the Wise Men didn’t know they were looking for Jesus specifically, but they followed beauty and so they found him, eventually. The point was this: if you follow beauty all the way back to its original source, you will find Jesus, because anything and everything beautiful is from Him.

I love this. God seems more beautiful than ever when I think of Him this way.

I suppose it was the exact thing I needed to hear, because I just stopped what I was doing and built a pile of stones right there. I prayed, curled up on the couch while Silas tinkered, about beauty and seeing, really seeing, and melancholy and anger and making decisions that are fear-based, about my heart-dreams and my sins against my own heart. About love and regret and persistent pain.

I leaned against my dearest Friend, and wondered why at times I cannot trace all this beauty back to its Source. Why I am satisfied to tiptoe around these burning bushes. In the ordinary of our lives, there is such loveliness. There are whispers of what could be, of the true potential of all of us made in the image of the One who transcends it all. I need to remember this, in all of my interactions. I need to ask more people what they are dreaming of and where they see beauty.

Fear is strange because we fear our deepest desires sometimes. I fear becoming real, like the Skin Horse, because it means being worn down, but I’m worn down to exhaustion from retreat and withdrawal. Could there be anything more wonderful than being real? When you meet such a person, you remember. I sometimes think heaviness is my own personal thorn; I can’t comprehend all this energy and lightness around me except for the brief moments when it flickers over my head. I don’t seem to have many answers, but I recognize beauty, and I can give thanks for it.

Looking around is a good starting point.

I may never understand my own holding back. I may never deem myself worthy of such wild, limitless love. Oh, but may I continue to know it anyway. May I somehow point the way to the Source, gasping alongside the rest of creation at the glory all around us. May I be brave enough to believe it all matters.

I invite it. I want to be a mystic, taking my shoes off in ordinary places.

*originally posted December 5, 2012 on Noting Now.

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Resolutions

I am a fan of resolutions, not because I keep them all, but because they encourage intentional living. I think that, when peppered with a whole lot of grace, resolutions are wondeful.

This was my list for 2013. In bold, I’ve examined how each one turned out, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

  • have a monthly date night with Ricky.  Find a regular babysitter again, enlist grandparents, etc. This happened more often than not, but I’m not sure it was every single month. We were definitely more intentional about it, and living in the area we do now really helps, because there’s always something interesting to do.
  • have one day a week that is social-media free. I’m thinking Sunday; a true Sabbath. This didn’t always happen, but when it did I really felt the difference. It’s very much needed, for me.
  • invite people over for dinner more. We were good about this, but then we moved across the country. I hope for the kinds of dinners we used to have. Oh, how I miss our friends.
  • finish paying off my student loans (carryover from 2012) Done! Phew, that felt good.
  • ski! (another carryover, and should happen very soon) I was a bit freaked out (see this post) but I did it! 
  • keep reading at least a book every month (having a day off from social media should really help) Done! And when I wasn’t working a full time night job, I read even more. Imagine that 😉
  • find ways to write more Done! I started this blog (albeit late in the year) and have been pursuing a different depth of writing that’s challenging but rewarding.
  • finish Silas’ baby book, and start Little Miss’ Silas’ book is done, but I haven’t started Aimee’s. I did buy the supplies many, many months ago.
  • move toward a more specific nursing practice–by the end of the year I’d like to be working in just one unit. I got brave and interviewed for a Labor and Delivery position, and worked there from March until August. I learned so much and worked with wonderful people! The experience cemented my desire to work in this area and eventually pursue a graduate degree in nurse midwifery. I’m on the hunt for a job here, after the New Year, and I have wild hopes for a DAY position.
  • keep up the practice of letting go–letting go of my to-do list so I can play with my kids, letting go of my preference for a clean house so I can write/read/spend quality time people/pray/go for a walk/etc. I’m good at making lists and living by them. I’d like to be better at spontaneous enjoyment. This one’s a lifelong goal, I’d say, because it’s hard. It’s one of those everyday opportunities. Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t, but I don’t think I ever regretted it when I did. 
  • ….and on that note, I choose enjoy as my one word for 2013. I want to enjoy my life: my family, my work outside and inside the home, my place of worship, my relationships. I want to be brave enough to let go of burdensome things; to let go of any impulse to impress or prove a point. I simply want to do things because I enjoy them, thereby being who I was meant to be. Another lifelong goal; another thing I both struggled and succeeded to do. I found the courage to let go of some pretty major things that were painful and increasingly unhealthy for me, and as a result I feel lighter and oddly, a little lost. I suppose that happens when you make space for something new. I hope to find some things to fill that space in a healthy way in 2014. I’m hoping to write more about this as I process it all.

And now, 2014! Wow, that was weird to type. I think that I’d mostly like to keep doing what I found to work this past year, along with a few new focus points. So:

  • Monthly date night!
  • Find another Labor and Delivery focused job.
  • Social Media-Free Sunday!
  • Start and finish Aimee’s baby book.
  • Eat mostly whole foods, 90% of the time. Cheat on occasion and enjoy it immensely. (Lifelong food philosophy.)
  • Learn to ice skate. There’s a rink right next to our house that offers 30 minute lessons.
  • Be silly with my kids, every day if possible.
  • Keep reading. Keep writing. But write only what’s real.

Tomorrow I’ll be back with my word for 2014 and a fun announcement. I hope you’re enjoying these days of winding down, reflecting, hoping and pausing. I’m not rushing ahead just yet; not putting the lights and glowy things away (it’s only the sixth day of Christmas, after all) but these are the days I start thinking about how Christmas makes way for Springand all sorts of new beginnings. Here’s to dreaming and scheming.

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Imagining a Different Kingdom

This past week, I devoted a few hours to reading a Year-in-Review special magazine edition. I tend to love end of the year things, but this time the evidence of oppression in 2013 seemed to shout at me from the page: chemical warfare in Syria, the Boston Marathon bombing, three women imprisoned in a suburban house for a decade, a boy in a hoodie shot and killed as if it were his destiny, the high rate of sexual assault in the military, a song dripping with unapologetic misogyny being the big hit of the summer. The bad news in one day is fairly easy to dismiss, most of the time, especially because we’re so used to it. The bad news of a year, though? That makes everything go quiet in my head; makes hope seem utterly ridiculous.

Nelson Mandela died, and it seemed fitting for someone who chased after wild dreams, moving far beyond expectation, to pass on during a season of hope. The first anniversary of the shootings at Newtown fell during this season; it too seemed fitting. I drove around town with my two younger children buckled into their seats, listening to the remembrances on the radio, weeping for little AvielleAna Grace, and Dylan, for the unknown stories, for their brave parents. The world is still waiting, still groaning under a heavy weight.

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Yesterday we sang a hymn called Canticle of the Turning; one of many that I’ve never heard before. I’m most familiar with the hymns that speak of longing for heaven, and they are beautiful. But there’s a whole other kind of hymn: the kind that longs for justice in the here and now. This kind you sing with a shaky voice, if you can stand to sing the words at all:

From the halls of power to the fortress tower,

not a stone will be left on stone.

Let the king beware for your justice tears

every tyrant from his throne.

The hungry poor shall weep no more,

for the food they can never earn;

There are tables spread, every mouth be fed,

for the world is about to turn.

Though the nations rage from age to age,

we remember who holds us fast:

God’s mercy must deliver us

from the conqueror’s crushing grasp

This saving word that our forbears heard

is the promise which holds us bound,

‘Til the spear and rod can be crushed by God,

who is turning the world around.

When you press your ear to the ground, you hear all sorts of things.

Shane Claiborne speaks of the prophets who “invited people to dream of the world as it could be and not just accept the world as it is.” He turns guns into farm tools, even though there’s nothing much more valuable to self-protection than a gun; even though there is nothing much less valuable to immediacy than planting seeds. He imagines a different kingdom.

Greg Boyd does, too. He contrasts the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world in his book The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the ChurchIt’s an uncomfortable book, to say the least, even though I agree with most of what he says, because to believe these things and to act like I do are two different things. He writes:

The kingdom of the world is intrinsically tribal in nature, and is heavily invested in defending, if not advancing, one’s own people-group, one’s nation, one’s ethnicity, one’s state, one’s religion, one’s ideologies, or one’s political agendas. That is why it is a kingdom characterized by perpetual conflict. The kingdom of God, however, is intrinsically universal, for it is centered on simply loving as God loves. It is centered on people living for the sole purpose of replicating the love of Jesus Christ to all people at all times in all places without condition. (p. 47, Kindle edition.)

Some days this feels like nothing but imagination. Some days I have to face that it might just be. Then I hear Ana Grace’s mother Nelba speak of how she lit 28 candles to remember the dead (not 26, not even 27) and how she refuses to use words like monster to describe Adam Lanza, instead extending humanity to him. I think of how Nadia Bolz-Weber’s husband said to her that “every time we draw a line between us and others, Jesus is always on the other side of it.”

There is unfathomable light, in the here and now. Maybe it’s true; maybe God is turning the world around. I don’t always see it, but I hope it’s true.

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moving mountains

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. -Mark Twain

There was a time, not too long ago, when I thought I’d lost my faith.

At some point, I got the idea that faith was something that you either had enough of or didn’t. That it was something you had to grasp firmly or it might float away. That it could make God do things, that it made unwanted things disappear.

Poof. Problem solved.

Every time I talk about the big shift in my spiritual life, I must offer this: I don’t know exactly why I had all of the ideas that I did. It had something to do with culture and something to do with specific interpretations of Scripture, and something to do with me. All I can do is try to bathe it all in grace as I seek to tell my story of hope, my wilderness treasure. I do believe that I was astounded by the goodness of God at a young age, and that one thing has informed more of my life than anything else.

Part of my story is this: in the wake of a personal tragedy, I seethed and mourned and went to church, because going to church was what I knew how to do. But pain makes you slow down and take notice, and some things that had once been beautiful and life-giving changed for me. I saw ugly things where I once saw beauty. I shriveled in a system where I once thrived. The dissonance of worship lyrics distracted me, drowning out the melodies that used to soothe. I betrayed myself by trying to choke out the words, until I couldn’t anymore.

His love’s like a hurricane, I am a tree

Not bending. Breaking and breaking and breaking again, under this weight that feels nothing like mercy.

you walk with me through fire, and heal all my disease

Such words caused a searing pain in my chest. I thought maybe I could keep up, and the pain would eventually quiet down and I’d feel all of the good feelings again. But years passed, and it didn’t, and I didn’t. That’s when I thought I’d lost my faith. The goodness of God that I glimpsed as a child seemed gone.

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I’d like to pause for a moment and address the complexity of this issue; I hope you can hear my heart. See, we get a lot of mixed messages about God’s character. That He does cruel things but is a loving being, that His grace covers all except when it doesn’t, that he heals people except when He doesn’t.

Once I went to a dear friend’s church that had declared itself a cancer-free zone, and I wondered what they did with people who already had cancer. Or had lost someone to it. Or who were trying to find God again afterward. I imagine they would embrace such a person with love, but that’s not what was communicated. Our messy stories didn’t seem to fit into their vision statement.

When I was in the thick of trying to sort out all of those messages, I mostly tried to make myself invisible, but there were people who saw me. They noticed my absence and silence, and weren’t fooled by my pasted on Sunday smile. (Confession: I’m still trying to figure out how to stop going into pasted-smile mode on Sunday morning. It’s a weird thing with deep roots. If you relate to that, maybe let’s talk?) I’m horrible at asking for help, and I built myself a fortress of I’m fine, but I’m forever grateful for a few who helped anyway, who gave me permission to not be fine. If I can take anything away from that time, let it be that I see people better.

I’ve heard it said that if you’re looking for a Bible verse to prove a point, you will find it. Similarly, I’ve found that if you start to look for love in God, or peace in God, or a posture of service instead of judgment or violence or terrifying displays of power, you will find those things. But it’s a process, learning to accept that God might be better than you thought.

Can I tell you what I’ve learned? It’s been the best of news for me.

Christianity doesn’t offer answers for a lot of things. But it is beautiful, because it offers a God who weeps.

God is not vindictive, but redemptive. God is Jesus is God is Jesus is God. Whatever Jesus is like, God is like. 

Faith is not certainty, and certainty is not faith.

It’s really hard to live in the tension of what you know and what you don’t know, but if you can stay there, good will come of it.

Jesus told his disciples that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed, they could move a mountain, and nothing would be impossible for them. In my low moments, I’ve felt these words come down like a bludgeon. I have less faith than that tiny amount, I’ve thought. Maybe it’s because I have approached those words from a place of lack. But the point isn’t how much faith you don’t have, it’s how much you do have.

Faith is what made me ask hard questions. It’s what made me shake my head and whisper I don’t think that’s what God is like. That was my starting point.

Faith is what made me stare at my own personal mountain for several years, overwhelmed by its magnitude. Faith kept me there. Faith helped me to walk around it, note its structures, crawl into its caves. Eventually, faith became a pickax, quite useful for hacking away at the damn thing. Maybe there are faster ways to move mountains, but that’s not my story right now.

Thankfully, losing sight of God isn’t the same thing as losing faith. It’s faith that propels us to keep looking when we can’t seem to find His goodness in our current place. When we need to go somewhere we can see better, and hear better, and find our first love again.

Faith frees us to keep working on our own mountain, clearing away the boulders and brush, and looking to see what’s beyond that, and beyond that, and beyond that. It’s a good life’s work.

*Many thanks to Rachel Held Evans for the Mark Twain quote. I saw it on her Twitter feed and it stuck with me.

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a season of looking

On our first expedition, we drive twenty minutes to charismatic Episcopalian church in a nearby town. A friend back home went there for a few years and liked it, and so it seems a good place to start. They are in the thick of a church split, we discover quickly, and most of the congregation is working toward full fellowship with the Catholic Church. So, we find ourselves in Mass, with three young children and creaky wood pews, unprepared. There are no crayons or books or Goldfish in my bag. Still, there’s a young family just ahead of us with a toddler who’s creaking the pews and floor quite a lot himself, so we don’t feel so bad. No one seems to pay too much mind to our noisy little ones, and there’s a lovely message there: kids are welcome, distracting noise and all. We don’t exactly relax, but we’re not on edge either, and we follow along as best we can with the service. I sneak in a few moments to take in the words and surroundings. As time passes though, Aimee and Silas only get louder, and I can’t hear a single thought in my head, much less outside. Ricky and I give each other the look and slip out.

We find a fairly new church plant whose website and Facebook page look promising. They meet in an old building close to downtown, and again we find ourselves creaking on wood floors as we climb a curving flight of stairs to the small meeting room. They are already singing, and we file into the only empty seats we see after pausing in the doorway. The space takes me back to Chi Alpha, a ministry that Ricky and I were part of in college. The pastor plays an acoustic guitar and sings familiar worship songs, and we sing along easily. After the singing, we greet each other and the pastor’s wife offers to take the kids to another room, where they’re going to have a snack and Bible lesson. There are a few other kids there, and Nicky’s eyes light up. He misses kids’ church. We listen to the message, and I realize I’m leaning forward. Hungry. Lonely for the familiarity of it, but not completely sure if it’s what I want anymore.

I find a Lutheran congregation online, and their welcome statement draws me in. We again enter a building feeling a little unsure, looking for clues as to where the kids should go and where we should sit. We find a place in the back, sing some unfamiliar songs and feel a bit awkward. I realize, in this moment, that worship songs have a certain predictability to them and these songs don’t. We listen to a young woman read from Scripture, and murmur thanks be to God after the reader says the Word of the Lord. Our kids go forward for a very enthusiastic children’s message, then out for Sunday School. We listen to the Homily, and it’s not so much this is what God thinks as a more modest this is what I think this might mean.  Then, we sing some more, shuffling pages, trying to keep up. We pass Peace around like an invisible orb between the flesh of our hands, and that’s when things start to slow down. Next, the Table: the center of it all. The body of Christ, broken for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you. We make our way to the front to receive the bread and wine. The atmosphere is reverent, soft, earthy. Our children come back in for a blessing; the pastor kneels in front of each one, speaks a blessing over them, makes a cross on each forehead. Tears spring into my eyes; I feel a certain heaviness lift. It feels mystical but not complicatedThe elements, I remember hearing them called in church when I was growing up. Please prepare your hearts as the ushers pass the elements. Yes, exactly, it feels elemental. Afterward, our kids swing and play outside and we make easy conversation with the pastor and his wife. We’re not Lutheran, is that okay? Ricky asks with a wink, and his question is met with similar humor. This place is so different from what we know, but it could be home. It could be, but we’re not ready to choose just yet.

A few weeks pass and we decide to visit a church that another friend recommends. We find ourselves on a long driveway in a line of cars entering a parking lot. The building is massive. We find the kids’ wing, where we’re given a quick orientation by a very friendly woman. She assures us that the church is very diverse and that they only sing contemporary music, and maybe in a different situation I’d roll my eyes but her sincerity preemptively convicts me. We register as visitors and take multiple badges and beepers and numbers, then drop the kids off in their respective rooms and find our way to the main auditorium, just in time for the transition from worship time to announcement time. A group of young adults has just returned from a retreat. There’s a support group for the grieving. The men are having a special breakfast next weekend. It seems easy enough to get plugged in, to find a small planet within this enormous universe. The sermon is interesting, challenging, and organized. I can’t find fault with any of it, really, but I wonder if we would ever actually meet the pastor, if we went there. I already know of my tendency to shut down when I go to church, perhaps the potential for anonymity would only encourage more of the same. Perhaps I’m not really giving this megachurch a chance, because my heart went cold toward such things a few years ago. It’s not their fault.

//

Maybe I want more than can be given. I’d like some years back. I’d like to somehow disassociate Sunday mornings from sorrow, and suppression, and survival. I’d like to heal in public as well as in private. Me, always smiling on Sunday mornings, never quite able to show myself. Driving home, relieved. Driving home, sad. I used to belong. I want to belong.

I feel like such a cliché sometimes. Flirting with liturgy, criticizing my evangelical experience, cringing at my indecision.

Informing my thoughts are two selves: one who learned early to shrug off preferences and personal opinions, and one who is slowly learning to pay attention to them. There’s a whole generation of us, echoing each other, helping each other define what went wrong, looking for a way forward. There’s a reason for it.

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I want small, because small challenges me in important ways. Community, noisy children, thoughtful conversation. I want bread, wine and blessing, candles and Words. Oh, the words. I think it’s my mother’s doing, teaching us so many hymns when we were growing up. I can’t stay away from the words. Stirring words for the easy times,  soothing words for the rough.

A while back, I tucked away these words from pastor Brian Zahnd:

Orthodox beauty. Catholic mystery. Anglican liturgy. Protestant theology. Evangelical energy. I need it all.

Most likely, I won’t find all of these things in one building, but I have access to them. We won’t find a perfect community, but I’d like to find something that honors the way we believers all need each other. Because we do.

I do.

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all are fed

Recently I read a book called Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint  by Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. She’s intrigued me ever since I saw this video of her speaking at a youth conference last year, and actually Ricky and I visited her church in Denver when we were there earlier this year . She wasn’t there that particular Sunday, but that wasn’t really the point I suppose. I count it as a healing experience, something I tucked away in my memory for safekeeping. Church can be like this. Remember.

Nadia’s a good public figure to pay attention to if, like me,  you’re fascinated by what church has the potential to be. Her willingness to simply be herself is refreshing, when it’s felt to me for so long that in order to really belong within the Christian subculture I’ve known, a certain pretense is required.

See, I grew up thinking that I would gradually gain more and more control over my bad habits, not-so-lovely personality traits, and temper. That, through the process of sanctification, I would someday “look” like I should as a Christian. Because Christians are salt and light, right? So aren’t we supposed to stand out and be “better” in some ways? I don’t know how much of that to attribute to teaching I received, and how much to attribute to my interpretation of it, but it’s what I believed for a long time.

Life has only shown me that this isn’t the case. Every single day I disappoint myself in some way, and to be honest, it’s exhausting. Even when I respond to frustration in a way I’m pleased with, I still feel burdened by the frustration itself. That pretense I spoke of earlier–this is where it comes from. If people really know me, then I can’t lead the small group/sing on the worship team/teach the kids/mentor the youth. Those jobs are for people who have it together. What ministry can I have if I can’t even get a hold on my own issues? It’s no wonder that we’re really, really good at pretending. 

I used to respond to my own behavior vs. ideal conflicts by making spiritual to-do lists for myself. Pray more. Spend more time reading Scripture. Meditate on the fruits of the Spirit. None of these things are bad–in fact they can be quite helpful. But all of my efforts to be better have never yet changed my tendencies. And that has created a nasty cycle of self-loathing that I continue to fall into.

There must be a better way.

Nadia writes:

Yet despite my experiences of rejection and my years of theological education, countless prayers, an ordination, and a life centered on serving the church, I still have the same personality I was born with. I am often impatient and cranky. And my first response to almost everything is “f__ you.” I don’t often stay there, but I almost always start there. I’m still me. Yet the fact that I manage to now move from “f__ you” to something less hostile, and the fact that I am often able to make that move quickly, well, once again, all of it makes me believe in God. And every time, it feels like repentance. (kindle loc 192)

I almost always start there. Sure, some days are better than others, but we bump up against our true nature repeatedly. Maybe that’s what keeps us needing grace. Maybe the more we need grace, the more we extend it. Nadia tells the story of one of her parishioners, a man named Rick. He’s a con artist who has gone by many names and lied to a lot of people, and eventually shows up at Nadia’s church. She’s not happy to have him there, but she considers how Jesus would respond to someone like Rick. She goes on to talk about human nature and our struggle against it, and this is the part the really resonates with me.

Rick…is trying to be a real person for the first time in his life and he doesn’t really know who that person is anymore. But he sees a glimpse of it at the communion table. He sees it in the eyes of the person serving him the wine and bread, saying, “Child of God, the body of Christ, given for you.” That’s his repentance. (loc 192)

I love that she places repentance in an act. A movement away from hostility, away from falseness, toward the gift of bread and wine. Here, repentance is simply a movement toward grace. God takes it from there.

My ingrained, childish way of thinking demands a resolution to all of this. Before, after. Good, bad. Black, white. In need of grace, and then what? What is the antithesis of needing grace? Perfection, which is an impossible, exhausting, graceless destination.

“It hurts a little, being loved for who I really am,” he told me recently. Rick has been sober now for six months, he is getting help for his manic depression, and recently moved indoors. He is also one of the loudest people I’ve ever met and is so spastically hyperactive that I often wonder if he’s lying about taking his medication. He could be lying about everything, but that’s true of everybody. All I know for sure is that he’s still unbelievably helpful at every church function and that he is loved and wanted at House for All.

In the fall of 2011, during the Occupy Denver actions, he organized and oversaw all of the food distribution at the hub of the local protests. “Distributing food at Occupy Denver is awesome!” Rick chirped to me over the phone. “Everyone is fed. It doesn’t matter if you are a homeless guy who is scamming and doesn’t even care about Occupy or a lawyer on a lunch break.” He pauses. “The only place I’ve ever really seen that is at communion.” (loc 194)

May my repentance be to move toward grace today, rather than run from it. May the love I feel there enable me to love better, and may I move toward grace again tomorrow. I will need it.

Ricky and I went to see Nadia speak on Tuesday night in Washington D.C. as part of her book tour. There was also a lively conversation with Amy Butler, a pastor in D.C., about the future of church. The perfect church nerd date night, we called it. She read several passages from the book, including one about Rick, and commented that his is maybe not the sort of success stories that one typically hears from a pulpit: he was this way, now he’s that way. Rather, he’s still a mess, but he’s their mess now.

I’d like to be salt and light, really I would.  But what is it that gives flavor and warmth? I think it’s honesty. Vulnerability. And perhaps most importantly, kindness to others who are brave enough to embrace those things, and also to those who are still working up the courage.

I’m finding out that church can be as simple, and as miraculous, as approaching the table. All are fed there.

 

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