Close Contact, a re-visit.

On Monday, I asked if you were willing to take some risks for the sake of others (post here). I’ve asked this before. In February, after the Super Bowl, I asked if you’d be willing to enter into dialogue about what in our culture perpetuates sexual violence (post here). In March of 2018, I wondered if you’d be willing to spend time in community, to be vulnerable and open to the change that can happen there (post here). Today, I’m reposting this piece that I wrote one month — one month — before we went inside to protect ourselves from a pandemic. In this post, I explore what we have to gain from looking at the ways we have hurt one another and committing to do the hard work of healing those hurts. I was writing on a more personal/community level, but it seems that this type of work — this coming together, this commitment to vulnerability, this openness to change — is needed on a societal level right now. It’s gonna be hard, but if we are willing to take the risk, we just might experience a new kind of freedom.

Adapted in days of Covid: As we continue to distance ourselves from others, by working from home, by wearing masks, by keeping six feet away from one another, we long for the days when we could be up close and personal — when we could drop by one another’s homes, sit side by side in a movie theater, shake hands, and hug. Living in close contact with those we care about can have a positive impact on us. It lifts our spirits, it connects us to our humanity, it gives our lives meaning.

However, spending time in close proximity to others does come with risk — and not just the risk of disease. The moments we spend with others — our family, our community — are not often picture perfect; frequently they are characterized by friction, collision, and pain.

In fact, when I look back on the mental movie of my life, I can see the people I love most standing nearby as I have yelled, thrown things, and slammed doors; they’ve born witness as I’ve lain wounded, cried, and struggled to get back up. What impact must these moments have had on the bystanders? I am sure they have left marks on the people I love most. And when I sit with that truth, my body aches.

But, here’s the thing: we can’t avoid leaving marks on the people we love the most.

We. are. broken.

All of us.

And when broken people come close to one another, we hurt one another.

Hurt people hurt people.

And all of us — from time to time — are hurting.

I remember one particularly difficult morning during the soldiering years when our whole family was headed to join a gathering of friends for a meal. Everyone else was ready and waiting, but I was upset about something — probably a larger internal issue — and I couldn’t get comfortable with the way I looked. I closed the bathroom door, tore everything out of the cabinets, and began violently cleaning and rearranging as I cried. I was hurting so badly, but I didn’t know why, and I didn’t know how I could pull on a face that would not expose my pain for public viewing. My husband and my children — all in middle and high school by this time — could certainly hear me wailing and slamming as they watched the clock, knowing we were going to be late. When finally I emerged, tears wiped, make-up applied, and silent, they watched cautiously as I climbed in the car. We all rode quietly to the event, where I took a deep breath, got out of the car, and engaged appropriately (or at least more appropriately) with those who had gathered.

What impact did that make? How did I affect my children and my husband, all of whom were also hurting during this period, by processing in this way — behind closed doors — and then presenting a different face to those who were one step removed? What was I teaching them about pain? About emotion? About friendship? About community?

Of course many experience bigger hurts than my emotional melt down. When families and communities experience accidents, trauma, or disaster, all feel the blows and carry the resulting injuries. If one member of the family is injured in a car accident, everyone’s life gets bumped out of its rhythm — all those who care stop what they are doing, show up on the scene, rally to help, and adjust their schedules until further notice. When one person is the victim of a crime, all in the vicinity feel the violation — they experience fear, anger, grief, agony — sometimes for years after the fact. When someone in the family loses their house to fire or their livelihood is destroyed by hurricane, the impact can be felt by the children, the parents, and the whole community who might see the course of their lives redirected for decades in the wake of such devastation.

Not every hurt is remarkable, of course, some impacts go virtually unnoticed. Others are among the everyday bumps and bruises incurred with close contact.

The other morning, my husband of almost thirty years was driving me to work on one of the coldest mornings of the year. We were chatting matter-of-factly as he drove when something he said struck a cord and I felt defensive. I heard myself respond directly, and soon I knew my reply was sharper than I’d intended when I heard his tone change, too. Before we knew it, we were both feeling agitated and exchanging charged comments. We arrived at the office building where I work, said our goodbyes, and both tried to proceed into our days carrying the bumps and bruises from that conversation.

Now, because we’ve been married for almost thirty years and because we’ve done the heavy lifting that has taught us how to repair, he texted me within moments and I texted back. We both acknowledged our part in the conflict and agreed to table our discussion until later. We’d both felt the pain of contact, but we were willing to back up, reassess, and try a different approach that wouldn’t cause damage.

When you are willing, you can experience growth and change in your relationships with others. Over time, having experienced many collisions and close calls, you can learn how to navigate more safely, how to give each other a wide berth, how to forgive missteps and even outright hurtfulness.

In fact, if you are going to stay in relationships with people, you are going to have to learn how to consider one another, how to forgive one another, and how to give one another chance after chance after chance, because when we live in close proximity, we bump into each other, and sometimes it hurts.

It can be painful to think about the impact that our choices, patterns, and words have had on those closest to us. We want so badly to get it all right, but we never will. So, we trudge on, doing what we can.

We don’t have to — we don’t have to keep trying, keep trudging. We have options.

We could avoid this hurt altogether. We could choose to live as individuals — insulating ourselves from others so that we don’t hurt them and so that they don’t hurt us — but what would we lose in so doing?

We would lose the opportunity to love, to learn, to grow. We would lose the opportunity to forgive and be forgiven. We would lose the chance to laugh together, to share experiences, and to weep with one another.

This morning at church, right before I witnessed my friend and her husband give bread and wine to her aging father, right before I saw them, along with our pastor, envelop him in a hug and pray for him, I heard these words:

…what if our true selves are made from the materials of our communal life?

Where is there some “self” which has not been communally created? By cutting

back our attachments and commitments, the self shrinks rather than grows.”

Stanley Hauerwas

In my closest relationships I have experienced the deepest pain, and I have felt the fullest joy. Knowing I will continue to experience both the pain and the joy, I will not cut back my attachments; I will not shrink into myself. I will open my arms and embrace the brokenness that is inherent to all relationships, because our truest selves are indeed made from the materials of our communal life.

“Be kind to one another — tenderhearted, forgiving one another — even as God, for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.”

Ephesians 4:32

Of Reality and Social Media, a Re-visit

In Monday’s post, Honor One Another, I mentioned the effect of social media on the psyche of our culture — how comparing our own lives to curated perfection can leaving us feeling less-than. While that post was a challenge for us to recognize the inherent value in one another despite accomplishment or status, this post is a friendly reminder that social media does not reflect a complete picture of anyone’s lived reality but a collection of snapshots from our highlight reels.

’tis the season of social media celebration, is it not?

If you’ve scrolled through Facebook or Instagram in the last few weeks you’ve seen photos of families posed in their Easter best, grads celebrating in caps and gowns, and smiling moms lauded as nothing short of perfection.

How you doin’?

I’m feeling kind of shitty, if I’m going to be honest.

I mean, yes, I love seeing all these photos, I really do.

I am happy for ya’all.

I am.

But am I the only one who is tempted to compare my life’s reality with the curated perfection often portrayed on social media?

Am I the only one who needs to talk myself back into the world of reality rehearsing words like, “What a lovely photo. How great that they were able to capture it! Surely their lives are full of all kinds of ups and downs, and they managed to capture an up.”

I have to remind myself that I, too, recently posted a smiling family photo that reflects just a moment, not the totality of our reality. We take a photo and post it on a day where we all managed to get dressed, comb our hair, and gather ourselves in the same location. We don’t post one on all the other days when we are in yoga pants lying on our couches watching Netflix and trying to find the motivation to be productive.

We post the miraculous moments when things are as they should be — when family is together, when babies are well, when friends reunite, and when we are celebrating life.

We don’t post ourselves trudging through the grocery store at 11pm trying to find an “item to share” for the work party the next day. We don’t share our stories of hair loss and psoriasis. We don’t post when our families experience brokenness, or betrayal, or heartbreak. Nobody wants to see all that.

But when I’m scrolling, I forget that, and I start to imagine that the photos reflect the full lived experience of the people in them:

The mother holding her newborn spends 24 hours a day gazing lovingly at a blissful bundle swaddled sweetly in her arms.

The capped and gowned graduate is always photo-ready — hair coiffed, make-up air-brushed, and outfit fresh and pressed.

The family hugged up and smiling never experiences conflict — rather they live in bliss and harmony seven days a week.

And when I’m looking at images in that way, I begin to compare my life to their lives, and I start feeling shitty.

Why do these people look so polished? How do they have such happy lives? Why don’t they struggle like we do? Where is their hurt? Where is their brokenness?

I don’t imagine the same mother, pajama-clad, hair flying, as she runs to the crying baby in the middle of the night. Or the college student, sleep-deprived and underfed, stumbling into the final exam, barely earning enough points to pass. Or the members of that family shouting at each other, ignoring one another, or crying, each alone in separate rooms.

Because we don’t post that stuff.

We post images like this:

Me with my dad and my godmother on Mother’s Day

Not this:

Me, blogging right now.

We want to show the beautiful, the picture-perfect, not the raw, unfiltered, reality of our flawed humanity.

But, let me assure you, behind every curated photo — every moment of celebration, every coiffed ‘do, and stylish dress — is struggle, conflict, challenge, and disappointment. We are all broken. Even those who appear near-perfect.

Perhaps that’s the reason we love social media so much — we love to show the world that, “see it’s not so bad after all!” We might be a walking hot mess six days of the week, but on the seventh we managed to pull it together, so we post photographic proof that it happened.

When I scroll through social media with that mindset — acknowledging that my feed reflects exceptional moments — I am able to smile and celebrate with the people in the photos. Good for you, Miss Winston for getting your Master’s degree! Congratulations, Emily on running a 5K with your family! Way to go, Tiger, for shooting that turkey! You did it! Hooray!

You’re all doing a great job. I know things aren’t always as great as they are in your photos, but I’m glad you occasionally get moments that are good enough to commemorate with a photo shared on social media.

For those of you who haven’t had a photo-worthy moment in a while — and I know you are out there — it’s ok to take a vacation from social media for a while. If you just can’t see one more perfectly posed image, walk away — delete the app for a while, be kind to yourself. It’s ok to sit on the couch with your hair uncombed and your teeth unbrushed, especially if the brokenness is too palpable, too fresh, too tender. Watch some Great British Baking Show, read Ann Voskamp or David Sedaris, listen to Lauren Daigle or Stevie Wonder, lean in, cry, write some words, take a bath, get some rest.

The season of shittiness will shift and you will have another day of celebration, and we’ll be watching for it. We’ll laugh with you, we’ll cry tears of joy and celebration, we’ll click ‘like’ or ‘love’, and we’ll clap our hands.

In the mean time, if you want somebody to come sit on your couch with you–eating potato chips and flicking the crumbs off your chest — reach out. Plenty of us are willing to come into the swamp with you. And, who knows, maybe we’ll take a moment to post a picture.

a time to weep, a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;”

Ecclesiasties 3:4

Re-member, a Re-visit

Click the arrow to hear me read this post.

First published in May of 2019, this post recounts a message I heard the last time I visited my daughter’s church in Boston. Though I haven’t been able to visit in almost two years, I know that throughout the pandemic, they have been elbow-deep, putting their scarred hands to good use, in caring for their community and re-member-ing the body of Christ. What a beautiful work of reconciliation — seeking to serve and draw together those who have been torn apart by the world by offering them the love of Christ. May we go and do likewise.

I was sitting in a church in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts with a community I’ve visited several times before — a group of broken people who gather each week to hear the message that they are beloved of God — every one of them.

They come in dresses and jeans, sweatpants and suits, walking unassisted or rolling in wheelchairs, a mismatched gathering of ages, races, and socio-economic backgrounds.

Their journeys are varied, but all have found their way to a humble basement where the love is palpable. Smiles and hugs are offered to all who enter — whether they arrive early, on time, or halfway through the service. Strangers and friends slide over to make room.

Songs are sung in English and Spanish simultaneously. Prayers are written in traditional and modern forms, side by side. I am invited to “pray and sing using language that is meaningful” for me. The voices join in a beautiful cacophony.

A children’s message is delivered to the two children present, and since they are timid to come forward, two grown men make the first move, and sit at the feet of the woman giving the message, and everyone participates. “Does anyone know how to say ‘I love you’ in a different language,” she asks. And the adults in the room respond in Spanish, French, German, Basque, and sign language.

The pastor’s message reminds those present that the community as a whole experienced trauma not too many years ago when its main sanctuary was destroyed by fire. And, in this season of Easter, she tells the story of the traumatized disciples who had witnessed the death of their friend, their mentor, their leader. She reminds us that though we, like the disciples, have been traumatized, we have been loved.

Each broken person in the basement of the yet un-repaired building has been loved — held, watched, and supported through the healing.

She recalls Peter and the disciples shortly after Jesus’ resurrection, who, seeing that their lives of walking with Jesus in the flesh were over, resorted to muscle memory — throwing out nets and pulling in nothing.

After a long night of futility they return to the shore to find Jesus waiting on the beach. He tells these professional fishermen to throw their nets out on the other side of the boat — not the side that they’d been trained to throw out on, not the one they knew to be most fruitful, but a different side.

He was telling them, the pastor said, to try a different way. Don’t go back to what you were doing before; you’ve been changed. Do things a different way.

Don’t go back to what was; move forward into what is.

And the broken in the basement room — me among them — leaned in. Our scars are still visible. We are rebuilding strength, but the images of trauma remain. We long to be whole, to have our weak and jangling limbs strengthened. We long to walk, to even run.

The pastor cast her vision of restoration, of finishing the repairs of the sanctuary, of creating a space of healing for the community, of opening doors where others who are mismatched and broken can find love. She painted a picture of not going back to what was, but moving forward into what is.

And the broken in the room could see the image of doors flung open, of throngs flowing in, of scarred hands put to good use.

When the disciples tried the different way — throwing their nets on the unfamiliar side — they pulled in so many fish that the nets could barely hold them. They dragged their haul to where Jesus was waiting with a fire, ready to cook them breakfast after their long night. And while they were there, Jesus asked Peter, “do you love me?” Peter was offended — “you know that I love you!” And Jesus answered, and I’m paraphrasing here, “then don’t go back to your old life, man, you’ve been transformed. Spread the love that has been lavished upon you. Feed my sheep.”

The pastor held a loaf of bread in her hands and broke it in two saying, “Jesus said, this is my body, broken for you. Do this to remember me. Re-member me.”

In eating the bread and drinking the wine, we are not simply remembering that Jesus took bread, broke it, and gave it to His disciples. We are not only nostalgic for the time that he walked on the earth. We are not just focusing on His work on the Cross. We are also joining in His work of putting His body back together, of restoring, of healing, of re-membering.

That’s the work of Jesus. He re-members the broken who He calls to re-member his broken body — to pull it back together — to open the doors to the broken, to offer them something to eat, and to invite them to join in the work of re-membering the broken.

It’s pretty simple, actually.

If you have been broken, and haven’t we all, remember that you have also been loved — even in that brokenness. You have been carried, and seen, and possibly even restored.

If you have, or if you are on the journey, lift your gaze. Don’t go back to what you were doing before, but look around. You are likely walking beside the wounded — those who are limping and gasping and longing to be seen and restored. They yearn to be re-membered. Open your arms to them, welcome them in. Feed His sheep.

We won’t all do this work in a building in Jamaica Plain — although I can imagine a thriving ministry growing out of those ashes. Some of us will use our broken bodies in our work places, in our cities, in our churches, and among our friends. The broken are all around us. Let’s do our best to feed His sheep and re-member His body.

You are a Savior
And You take brokenness aside
And make it beautiful”

All Sons and Daughters, “Brokenness Aside”