on being a sinner

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.

There seems to be a tendency to feel either exalted or humbled as I encounter God. On the one hand, God is father-mother, who gave God’s son to the world. Jesus wrapped himself in flesh and let my human skin brush up against mine. He did not recoil in fear of my dirtiness.

But there’s always this overwhelming sense that God is entirely other, ungraspable, untouchable, and separate from me. I am small, weak, and insignificant.

One day I’m floating because of God’s presence in my life. The other day, I feel not much different than the dust I came from. Instead of God’s love being a river of mercy flowing through me, in my wake I’m leaving grave dust. Do I change that much day to day? Am I both a beacon of hope and something that is not much different than an ant scurrying from one scrap of food to the next?

It’s a funny thing, this journey. And I don’t mean to trivialize it at all. How do I explain this…this bafflement over feeling like both a sinner and a saint?

Sometimes the words and actions that well up from inside me point to something so much bigger than me. Wisdom, truth, and beauty saturate the deepest corners so things that were once dead come to life in my hands. I am a city shining on a hill. I am beacon in the darkness.

And at the same time, there are moments of utter despair where insecurities and jealousies and judgments cloud the sky. I feel like everything I touch decays and turns to dust. There is not one good thing in me.

Is that where the truth lies—directly in the middle between the two? Am I saint and sinner both?

And maybe that’s where humility checks pride, right on that razor’s edge. I get to experience the knowledge that my best works are only ever dirty rags…but infused with the scent of Jesus my dirty rags become a healing balm to a hurting world. Connected to the vine, the life-giving sap flows through my hands and feet. This picture is one of continual constant connection to the Source of love. But when I treat the Source more like a gas pump, coming in to touch base and then careening off to do what needs to be done…that image speaks of separateness. I come back only when I am burned out, exhausted, and running on fumes.

Maybe this is another work of humility. Humility keeps me always in the presence of God—this love truly isn’t something I can sustain on my own. I am a sinner in need of constant connection to the Creator. I don’t get lost in my own beauty because the connection reminds me that it’s not me, but Christ in me.

But when I forget the connection, when I forget the Christ-in-me…

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.

And so it ebbs and flows…a constant need, a constant rebirth.

But here’s something else. Maybe God finds joy in my rebirthing. He finds joy in the process of me learning to return to him again and again, for the new awakenings and the re-awakenings. He is not baffled, exhausted, or frustrated with me learning the same things over and over again. Because each time there is a deeper connection, there is more of God and less of me. It’s slow, as most journeys are (at least to my human-ness). But this is where God is. God is in the journey with me, patiently holding my hand, as a mother holds the hand of a child learning to walk. When I let go and run and fall, God comes and scoops me up, holding and comforting me. God knows this is a journey. God sees the dangers and pitfalls and the places I’ll soar—yet, neither surprise or exasperate God. God just delights.

God sees me as I am—sinner and saint.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.

on Americanah (a book review)

americanahAmericanah

Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Synopsis

Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.

My thoughts

Speechless. This is storytelling at it’s best. She challenges the reader, but is such a beautiful weaver of words that I was swept into her story before I even knew what was happening. She weaves and moves so eloquently this felt like reading a dance—every move perfectly executed. This story is part commentary on race(ism) in America, part coming of age and part love story. It’s woven together so beautifully it catches one with surprise—and delight.

I love how imperfect her characters are. She didn’t spare her protagonists. Adichie created complex human beings who live in this real world. They were sometimes successful, sometimes failing. Their ideals were challenged and they were forced to respond, change, and adapt. Some places broke my heart.

As for the commentary on racism part, Adichie points out the obvious, but always with an almost question-mark, that leaves the book, as a whole, easily digestible for people who don’t want to see racism. This is done so well. Because Ifemelu is an outsider, she’s able to observe from a distance, which gives the reader the space to observe through her eyes. For example, she explains the simplest things—Ifemelu can’t buy a mainstream magazine for beauty tips because none of the models look like her—even though the magazine boasts it coveres all skin types. Because she’s an outsider, Ifemelu is “allowed” to notice and comment on these things.

Have you read it? What were your thoughts? Love it? Hate it? Ambivalent?

on filling empty spaces

I have a thing that’s holding space. It exists in my life in order to give me something to do while I wait. At it’s best, it’s a distraction from the waiting. It’s not bad or inherently evil. In some ways it connects me to the outside world and (theoretically) helps pay some bills.

But it’s just not mine. It’s not my dream, or my passion. It’s simply holding space for when my dream actualizes—for the thing that lights me up and makes me get out of the bed in the morning. I have glimpses of what it could be…but right now it feels so out reach and unattainable.

So I wait.

And I Noonday.

Over Christmas I felt the Spirit, pressing in asking me to release it back. To let go of this thing that was holding space because somehow it had become more than that. I wrestled, not wanting to give it up. I feel like I am part of something bigger—and it feels good. I don’t know how to fill the empty spaces…I don’t know how to sit in this season of unknowingness. I didn’t want to give it up because at least it’s something.

I whispered the words to a friend testing them out

So, I think I may be done being an ambassador for Noonday. I knew it was a space holder. I just didn’t think it was a one-year thing…

I think we hope our space holders will be more than just temporary. They hold space for a reason, mostly because at some point, it comforts us.

So I loosened my grip and brought myself back into alignment. I remembered who I am at my core. And I felt the invitation to stay here a little longer. It means setting boundaries—not giving all of myself over to this thing that is mine but not. It will mean saying no a lot more and watching some opportunities pass by. But it means I will also be able to say yes to things that matter a little more…and it means I’ll get to go a little deeper when I do say yes.

It means trusting this writing process. So many half-starts and unfinished words littering thousands of spaces on my computer; my dresser drawers over-flow with journals…I let that defeat me. I started to believe that was all I would have to show. Instead of trusting that as long as I come back to this place again and again, it will bear fruit. This is not wasted time, nor wasted effort.

It means getting back to my roots—I’m a story-teller. I’m a lover of words. I’m a lover of collaboration and peace-making. Whatever I do can be a part of that, but writing is my “way back to life” (Stephen King, On Writing). It’s how I make the world make some semblance of sense to me.

What about you? What are the things that are holding space in your life? And how do you come back to yourself when your space holders become more than that?

on love

dougsarahski21 years old, in college, before-and-after-class small talk.

Inevitably it would come up.

I’m getting married.

Looks of shock, surprise, disbelief. I tried to explain…

We’ve been together since high school…We know each other really well…

I don’t think people had a very flattering view of me. I always felt awkward and embarrassed. I don’t know when it happened, but now whenever this little tidbit comes up…

Oh, I married my high school sweet heart. We’ve been together for over fifteen years.

People think it’s sweet.

Wow! That’s amazing—you guys got to grow up together. That’s really cool.

I’m not sure when the transition happened. When did our’s become a sweet story? When did we move past that  awkward teenager phase to this thing that (sometimes-maybe) feels like an actual love story?

I’m not sure what to do with the then-now thoughts. In many ways I’m not sure what happened—we just stayed together, almost despite my best efforts. I love our history. I love our story. But it mostly feels like a whole lot of grace and a little bit of luck.

She told me once, sometimes it’s really obvious you guys have been together since you were kids.

You mean like when I steal his shoes and yank really hard on the bottom most lace so he has to unlace his whole shoe to fix it? That type of thing? Yeah—lots of things there. That was our first fight—and we both agree he was an idiot on that one. We were young and a little foolish, calling this thing we felt love.

But if we had listened to the skeptics, or given up, we wouldn’t have this story. There were so many mistakes and hurts along the way—so much baggage. Our history is littered with fights and tears and late night discussions and almost break ups. Darkness I never thought we would escape. Sharp, bitter disappointments on both sides.

Somehow we carved out this life together.

We had to grow up in love. How I understand love now would be different if I didn’t grow up in these trenches. I wouldn’t know how love stays and fights. I wouldn’t know that I can make the same mistakes over and over and over and experience forgiveness over and over and over. We had to learn not to hold grudges. Without our story, I wouldn’t know how to lose myself in a relationship, only to rediscover myself all over again. I wouldn’t know that love meant holding loosely—giving the beloved the room to fly and sometimes to fall. I wouldn’t know that love means support even when I don’t agree or don’t understand. And that while we are journeying together, we’re also on our own individual journeys, and that’s OK. I get to celebrate the times we meet up and travel together. I learned love means the space to breathe. We are two independent people learning to move in harmony, learning to hold space for the pieces we know and the pieces we are less familiar with, learning to love a person we don’t always like, fighting for affection and romance in the midst of real life.

I married the boy I started dating a month before I turned fifteen.

I don’t know anything else.

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