Muscle Memories

by Dulce

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My son has been begging for karate lessons for months, and we agreed that it would be better for him to actually learn than just make up his own moves on his sisters. We got the oldest two kidlets signed up, and it only made sense that my husband or I join too since we would have to wait anyway. My husband elected me.

I was secretly excited. I had earned a blue belt in the same system back in my teens and had loved it. But, hello. That was twenty years ago. I had stopped my second year of college because of schedule conflicts and had never gone back.

As we warmed up, I noticed that the sensei was probably half my age. We stretched in ways that my body had not even attempted in decades. Fifty pounds and four kids had altered my center of gravity. At one point, we stood on one foot to stretch and I toppled over. The poor sensei nearly turned purple holding back a laugh. I was beginning to question if I was just too old for this.

Then we began a series of blocks, kicks and strikes. Suddenly I realized that they were flowing naturally. The hours of practice when I was younger made these movements seem smooth and natural. We shifted into defense scenarios, and I didn’t even have to think as I slipped out of different holds. Despite the time and the changes, the muscle memories took over and helped me through.

**************************

“I need to tell you something.”  I smiled down at my daughter and she giggled. “I know! You love me and you like me.” “Yes! And I love you when you are sad, and I love you when you are mad, and I love you when you are happy, and I love you all the time.”

A few hours later, she was angry at my refusal (again) to buy ice cream bars. “I am sorry you are disappointed, sweetie. I love you and I like you.” Her chocolate brown eyes rolled as expressively as any teenager. “Yes, I get it! You love me forever and you like me for always,” she huffed.

Bedtime. I lean over her, and she is half asleep. “I love you and I like you all day and all night.” Her eyes flutter closed as she mumbles, “I know, mom. You love me forever and for always, and more than that and more than that and more than that.”

We say that to each other so many times a day that it has become a reflex. But I know something that she doesn’t, yet. Many years from now, when she is figuring out just who she really is, and disappointments run much deeper than ice cream bars, she may find that her center of gravity has changed. She might be carrying more burdens that threaten to knock her off balance. In that day, I want the muscle memories to be so strong that her subconscious will kick in automatically, and remind her deep in the core of her being that I love her forever and like her for always, and more than that and more than that and more than that.

 

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Finding God in Spin Class

by JenJ

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We were about half way through the class. The room was dark, but for the black light that illuminated sweat and tears. Fans were blowing, but not hard enough. I truly began to consider the fact that if I left now, it wouldn’t be too humiliating.

We started a long and hard climb. The music began to build and she asked us to close our eyes. She had WAY more energy than the rest of us, but as a longtime instructor, knew when to bring in the big guns.

“FIND YOUR POWER.”

With my eyes closed and my resistance building, I pondered her command. Then without even knowing why, I was transported to a hiking trip I took in college, while studying abroad. Where were in Switzerland, in lush green hills overlooking a lake. What we thought would be a fun and pretty trip turned out to be one of the hardest climbs I’d ever taken.

I was grouchy then, too.

For far too many times in my life, I’ve said the words, “I can’t.” That day, I was encouraged to keep climbing by sorority sisters and once we reached the top, I was truly stunned by the beauty before me. I saw miles and miles of twists and turns, lush vegetation, and views that almost made me cry. I surveyed God’s beauty that day and knew that no one and nothing else could have created what I was seeing. It was magical and majestic and a testimony of His power.

The song ended.

Now, we were asked to take a seat and scootch back. The tempo picked up and she wanted us to flush out our screaming legs. It was time to turn down the resistance and pick up the pace.

Into her microphone she yelled, “FIND YOUR JOY.”

I closed my eyes again, trying to keep my internal bitching to a minimum. I’m not a mystical person, so I was tempted to roll my eyes at her request. But before I knew it, a vision came to me.

This vision had come to me once before in a dream, but as a skeptic and cold robot, I just shrugged it off. But today, in this class, being fully awake and painfully alert, I allowed myself to explore it.

I’m sitting down, heavily pregnant with my left hand touching my belly. I’m in a state of bliss. It’s so real that I can feel my fingertips touching the skin that protects my unborn child.

I wonder if it’s a gift from the Lord.

It freaks me out a little, but before I can delve into this “sight”, the song changes again.

I didn’t realize it, but the class has come to an end. The music is now soothing and we begin to stretch. As our arms are clasped overhead and we’re leaning to the right, she quietly says:

“FIND YOUR PEACE.”

I continue my cool down and think about the fact that the quiet times I have, whether they be surrounded by family and close friends or alone in a bubble bath with a good book and even better glass of wine, are moments of peace provided not by myself, but by the Father.

And then I feel guilt.

My relationship with Him had been really dry lately…shamefully so. I’ve been a shell of a Christian for a while. I talked a good game, but internally, haven’t had much to show for this relationship that I claimed to be first and foremost in my life. I had snatched a fist hold of control and hadn’t let go until this moment when I found God in spin class.

I hated that class.

I loved that class.

 

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The Loneliest Wedding I’ve Ever Been To (Not Really): Singleness, Marriage, and Jealousy

by Levi Rogers

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Every time a couple gets married, two single people die.

                                                                        Leslie Knope-Parks and Recreation

 

People in the town I live in (Salt Lake City) will use the word “show” to describe multiple events, usually only two or three of which are actual “shows.” Movies, concerts, plays, poetry slams, etc., are bundled up in the title of “show” as an all-encompassing “event.” So, when last summer I found myself attending more weddings than a Mormon grandmother, I found myself thinking that in true Utah fashion, I went to a lot of shows that summer.

My roommate Mike was marrying his girlfriend Dani after nearly four years of dating. My friend Josh ordained the wedding and I was a groomsmen along with a few others from our church. That wedding marked the first of many for the summer. I’d already been to one in April, then another couple was getting married in Portland, another in New York in early September, and I had two other friends who are getting married in other parts of the country.

Oh, to be in your twenties!

Weddings when you’re single are the happiestloneliest of times. You are happy, excited even, but sometimes, not all the time, you feel a slight twinge of loneliness because you are not married, maybe not even close.

Mike’s wedding was held at The Point, a ballroom on the sixth floor of the Huntsman Cancer Institute, which is remarkably, shaped like a point. The room’s walls were made of glass and offered a near three hundred and sixty degree view of the entire Salt Lake Valley. The whole room funneled into a triangle shooting straight between the Wasatch mountain range on your left and the Great Salt Lake to the right. At first we all thought it was eerie to have a wedding on the top floor of a cancer center. It felt disrespectful, irreverent. But maybe dark places, places of death, can also hold places of light and life. Maybe the people who built the Huntsman Cancer institute knew this. Or maybe they just wanted to make money. Either way, the view was incredible. As I stood with a drink watching the sun set upon the Great Salt Lake to the west and bits of pink splash the white tops of the mountains to the east, I realized I had never been happier to live in this city.

 

I hang out with a lot of people who disagree with the very concept of marriage. They have no desire to get married. They’ve seen their parents’ marriages fall apart and sometimes even their friends and feel that marriage no longer works. Some think of it is a failing traditional moray or archaic family structure. Some think of marriage as a social construct, unnatural to the natural world.

But if we do want to enter into a relationship with another person, we want someone who is solely committed to us, which is why marriage can be a beautiful thing and why it should also be made available to all. I guess the question turns to whether or not we really do desire intimacy, like deep down in the subways of our soul, and if so, then marriage seems like the best option to achieve this, even if with it brings exclusivity and therefore, jealousy.

In the Old Testament God is portrayed as a “jealous” God. Something I understand but has never quite sat right with me. Sometimes reading through the Old Testament can feel as if God is a God who forgot to take his medication. In the Old Testament we see an angry, jealous God reminiscent of Al Pacino on PCP. This is the God who smites Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone, okays genocide, and wipes out entire nations of people. He is wrathful. He is powerful. He is Zeus with lightning bolts. A God who smites those who get to close to the ark, who makes people wander around deserts for forty years. A God who wipes out humanity with a single flood and decimates all who get in his way.

In the New Testament we meet a God who is loving and gracious, forgiving and compassionate. This God loves sinners and hangs out with outcasts. He accepts you for who you are. Both of these Gods are one and the same. The Just and the Loving. The Jealous and the Gracious. It can be hard to make sense of.

Some people preach a gospel of the righteous, indignant God. These are the street corner solicitors, the proud pissed off preachers. They push God into your jugular because God is angry with you and you are going to hell. God is a God of fear, awe, and respect. He must be appeased. You are sinful and if you do not repent you will go to hell.

Others preach a gospel of love and grace. They hang out with the disenfranchised doubters, the scandalous sinners, and speak that God is love. God is a friend and Jesus a lover of the broken.

And both are, to some extent, accurate views of God. God is righteous and loving. It is a hard paradox for me to accept. It seems like God was a little angry, had a few, and then got real friendly with us. When did God transform from a dictator to a peacenik?

My old roommate’s stepdad was an alcoholic. The guy was a jerk, but when he drank, he would just get real friendly and start handing out money. It seems that God is the same sometimes. One minute he’s drinking and the next he’s handing out money.

But I guess we all know that if my friend Mike came back with another woman from his honeymoon, we wouldn’t just say, “Well, that’s Mike!” And when Dani, came back, fuming eyes-on-fire-sort-of-angry we would support her in her wrath.

 

The only form of jealousy I can conjure up right now is that everyone in this wedding party is all coupled up. I always feel horribly selfish when I start thinking about myself like this at weddings, yet here I am, to celebrate someone else’s life, and all I can think about is how none of the bridesmaids are single. Really? None of you are single!

At weddings I find myself getting nostalgic about my past relationships. In high school relationships seemed simpler. You liked someone, they liked you. There was no conversation about what your five year plan was, your past relationship baggage, or where this relationship was going. Or no, scratch that, you knew where this relationship was going—it was going to last forever! That’s where it was freaking going.

When I was a junior I dated a girl named Becca. She lived in Evergreen. She had long curly hair and made purses out of Capri sun packs. We would make out all day in parks, like one of those disgusting teenage couples you probably snicker at now. When she left at the end of the year to move to Hawaii with her family, I thought I might die. I didn’t, luckily, but I remember the next time I saw her and how different it felt. We both went to college, had life happen to us. A year and half later when we caught up I realized that things would never be like they once were, both of us flying through the summer night air as if we were invincible. We were adults now.

As we all left Mike’s wedding that night a summer in the past, you could feel the summer air start to roll in off the desert. It reminded me of the first night of summer, the first night of the year when you can stand outside in a t-shirt and feel comfortable, warm even. I am glad that God gave us seasons. And I am glad that Salt Lake has them.

 

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The Witches’ Lilacs

by Gretchen

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My grandmother told me witches lived in the ruins of an abandoned apartment building near her home. She went on daily walks around her neighborhood, so I believed her. She knew everything. Every house had a number and she had the corresponding footnote. She knew the names of the dogs who barked at fences and gates. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she knew the name of each floating goose at the park lake few blocks away. She could have pointed at a small, scraggle of a bird paddling away from the flock, and said, “He’s Lawrence.” I was young enough to shout, “Hi, Lawrence!” in his direction and fold him into the list of my forever friends.

The day I heard about the witches, she herded me around one corner, around another, and then we stopped in front of a mostly-vacant lot. The only thing left of the structure was a basement with a few thick white crumbling walls standing above ground. Lilac bushes in full bloom grew in clusters around the walls.

“Witches,’ she whispered, ‘live there.”

I made a note to never go there, which was probably my grandma’s goal. She was unconventional, like Lawrence the Goose.

I considered the building and the lilacs and what I knew of witches. It didn’t seem like a witching sort of place, aside from the decay and loneliness. Yes, maybe witches could live there, but the lilacs seemed outlandishly out of place. They grew in my great-grandmother’s yard on the other side of the state. She was no witch. She went to the Baptist church. A van picked her up at her house every Sunday morning. When she prayed over Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas roast beef, Easter ham, and Fourth of July potato chips, her voice trembled with love for her Lord. It shook. Her voice never shook when she talked about John Wayne, perfect meringue, or bowling. My mom pointed it out once, telling me to pay attention to great-grandmother’s voice the next time I heard her pray. I learned the word, reverence.

So, instead of hearing what she prayed, I listened to how she prayed. Reverence! It was different from a Sunday school teacher’s prayer before punch and cookies. It was nothing like my dad’s rote dinner blessing or my secret plea when I was alone in bed at night: “Please, don’t let our house burn down like The Walton’s. Amen.”

Did God like shaking prayers better than regular prayers? I formed that impression because everyone always wanted her to pray when we gathered together. The food was surely blessed and so were we. Nobody ever got sick or choked and our bodies grew. When I was a bit older, it slipped that calf brains were often part of Easter morning breakfast, mixed with scrambled eggs. The prayers of a good, reverent woman explained why I didn’t keel over, stone cold dead because I ate the brains of a baby cow. It was the only explanation.

I considered the lilacs growing in the witches’ lot. They could grow everywhere, even where it was ugly and scary? Eventually, I learned you could snip lilac shoots and replant them into any little bit of earth and they’d grow with a decent measure of sun and water. They don’t mind skirting the steady, the whispering, the silent, the barren, or even the crumbling and decrepit as long as they are fed. Loveliness sprouts despite, making the ruins fade until all you see, standing on a sidewalk, is a reminder of something really good. The hard lonely ruins don’t diminish the beauty of what’s wild and providential. Rather, thriving evidence of provision makes ruins into a shining palace. Reverence isn’t in a voice, a skyward look, or in perfectly folded hands. The wind swells and swirls as dainty purple blossoms rock in clinging bunches. Funny. Lilacs all smell the same when they’re in full, glorious bloom.

No, grandma. Witches can’t live there.

 

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He sits with women

by Kelley

claude

 

He sits with women. When trouble comes, the mamas and widows gather at the edges of peril and my husband finds them. He joins them.

Last week flood waters rushed in overnight killing some of the most vulnerable children and displacing over fifteen thousand families from their homes. Almost as fast the Red Cross erected at makeshift camp on a nearby soccer field. At the invitation of the director, my husband drove out on the first day to survey the situation and agreed to sponsor the camp.

He gravitated to the women, all sitting together surrounded by children and swaddling the tiniest ones. He sat among them, listening to their stories of loss and sharing in their sadness. Tears, groans and sighs all in an attempt to exhale the heaviness of the day. He sat with them for hours, refusing to rush their lament. He confessed to me that he cried, too.

As he told me about the rest of his day, other scenes flashed before my eyes.

When the marketplace fire destroyed the hub of the local Burundian economy one Sunday, he sat with the women on Monday morning. One told him, “We went to bed as business women and woke up poor.” He listened, unhurried by the demands of the day; he stayed with them. A few days later he invited them back and offered them Fanta and donuts, he made space for them to sit and tell stories of lost kiosks and inventory, not enough money to buy food for their families, the fears of being locked out of the economy. Again, he witnessed their heartbreak. Together they spoke, cried and prayed.

Just this past December he heard rumors of patient prisoners held at a local hospital, trapped there because they couldn’t afford to pay their bills. He decided to investigate. He found sixty-eight women in the dismal courtyard, sullen and despondent after months of captivity. He sat with them. He listened. The words pierced him. He couldn’t conceal his sobs as he told me about their conditions. Some were dipping into depression and saw no hope for any other kind of a future. His morning plans instantly derailed as he committed to hours with these women, mourning side by side.

Once our phone call ended, I realized the story all these images told me. He sits with women as they mourn. He is unafraid of their pain. He enters into the rawness of loss and listens well to their lament. Eye to eye, hand in hand, he touches them and is touched by their despair. He holds the space for them. He hallows the space, somehow.

If we believe the prophets, grief must be given voice. The devastation pressing from the outside, the despondence rotting bones from the inside must cry out. After the loss lament needs her say. Traditionally it’s been a band of women who learn the songs of sadness and act as a catalyst for the community. They go first with howls of anguish cracking the veneer, summoning the courage to say things are not yet right among us. Their tears make way for others to cry so an entire community can address their pain and collectively suffer the loss.

Only then, when lament at last rests, can hope emerge. Only then, once the ground is fertilized with salty tears, can the seeds of hope sprout. So thank God for the women who weep. They prepare the way.

I wonder if my husband intuitively knows what the prophets know – grief is the seedbed of hope. Go to the place of pain, sit there and listen, allow yourself to feel the discomfort and even the hot tears scalding your cheeks. The Spirit works through the lament for those who have ears to hear, eyes to see and time to sit with sadness.

And if the Spirit is at work amid the lament of these women, then my husband sits in the perfect position to discern the tender spots; the deep needs and maybe even anticipate the direction hope will enter from. Hours shared in grief may be the most holy and hopeful thing he can do.

He sits with women. And in that moment, I could not love him more.

The Day I Thought an Egg Ruined My Life

by Emily Maynard

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“Could you just not do it that way?” I blurted out.

I could blame it all on being tired, I guess. I’m an introvert, which means sometimes I run out of words completely. When I’m tired, even forming words into sentences seems like too much effort. Being kind and explaining my ideas gently is nearly impossible when I’m running low on energy.

I just want a quick snack so I could get on with my studying for the night. My boyfriend and I had just talked about my favorite way to make a fried egg: a well-heated skillet, plenty of butter, and don’t cook it too long after the flip.

My boyfriend, offering to make it for me, cracked an egg into a pan he had just put on the stove. And that’s when I snapped at him.

Could you

Just

Not

Do it

That way.

So while I could blame it on being tired, really I was just afraid.

I actually thought an egg was going to ruin my life.

I was stuck. Not because of the actual egg, of course, but because of what it would mean for our future.

In between the split second when he cracked the egg into the cold pan and I shattered, the worst-case scenario for my life flashed past: I would be stuck in a partnership with someone who couldn’t even bother to make eggs the way I like.

For a moment, shame and fear took over. I felt like my options were to blurt out anything, even if it hurt him, or silence my own preferences. I cannot live with the silencing; it’s taken me so long to find my voice.

I grew up in a community where female submission was the highest value a girl could hold.

I have seen so many women submit to being used, who cater to the desires of husbands and families while their own needs go unnoticed, who are pushed to the back by their churches or social structures, who succumb to the weakening of their voices and powers until they can barely whisper. It’s a lie of Patriarchy that says the most spent, silent woman wins.

I am terrified of that happening to me.

In my years of dating through my twenties, I’ve flittered about without forming too many deep romantic affections. I haven’t had to confront the fears involved in actually partnering my life with someone else.

But now, there’s someone else in my kitchen, and I’m learning to make room for him without shrinking my self.

My kitchen has always been my meditative place. I like being in there alone, losing myself in the half-creative, half-familiar process of cooking. I’m a planner and intuitive, so cooking uses the best parts of me. It’s relaxing, after a long day of solving other people’s problems at work, to decode my cupboards and refrigerator and make something for me.

It’s an active reminder that I can nourish myself. It’s my practice at gratefulness for small things, like the smell of the Viennese cinnamon that my sister got me for Christmas,  the sound of popcorn reinventing itself under pressure, or the sight of a bright yellow egg yoke sizzling away in a pan.

And since I’ve been living with myself for a few years now, I am pretty good at making all my food exactly the way I like it.

That’s not something I’m ashamed of; I’m actually quite proud that I know my desires and can accomplish small goals. I never want to lose my ability to take care of myself.

But I’m also feeling the strong tension of this other thing, too. This thing that is made up of friends and children and partners and families that pulls us out of an isolated “I’ve got this one, thanks,” and asks us to be vulnerable.

It asks us to let someone else make the eggs, even if they’re not perfect, because partnership matters more than perfection.

It asks us to speak up, strong and kind, and trust that we will be heard.

It asks that we apologize for blurting out our truths in an awkward, hurtful way.

It allows us to try again. (He did, by the way, and that egg was delicious.)

I don’t know much, but women, I want to hear from you.  How do we have strong, steady voices and listen in turn?  How do we be self-caring, and good friends or partners? How do we fiercely pursue our desires, but not to the disadvantage of others? How do we deal with the shame that chases us every day and says you don’t even deserve a good egg?

 

image credit: Krista Kennedy, CC BY 2.0

To All of Us on the Fringe

by Andrea Levendusky

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I’ve just finished a session at a youth conference. This weekend, I decided I would tell my story. Whatever handful or hundred-ful of girls decided to come and listen, I’d be honest. I’d speak clear from where I’ve been. In sixty minutes, in two separate sessions, I shared. I talked about Jesus, grace, sin, affairs, abuse, lies, legalism, and every little corner of my life that led me to finally falling on my knees and admitting that I am incapable of solving my own mess. I cut open the proverbial jugular and stood on the hope that if I became less, maybe Jesus, grace and the Gospel would become more. If I could juxtapose my poor decisions against the “scandalous grace” of the Gospel, than perhaps some of these smart and amazing teenage women would find freedom on the edges of their faith. My prayer was that through my vulnerability they might see Jesus. Maybe they’d see a refuge for their own story. Maybe somehow the two might meet in that dusty cavernous place of empty hearts and the empty grave.

As I finish and pray, I watch the room of girls stir and a line forms to talk with me. Their faces are etched with pain, brokenness, and streaks of make-up lined tears. I stand with each, listen to story after story of abuse, sin, self-hatred, self-sufficiency. And the tears, oh the tears.

One woman comes up to me at the very end, and I know her face. I’ve seen it throughout the years, popping up in my Facebook newsfeed, here and there. I know she’s a woman who prays and she will gather a list of needs and take it to her knees, and this is the legacy she is leaving. I know this. I see it in her beautiful aging hair and her slight smile as she steps toward me.

“I want you to know,” she says, as she takes my still shaking hands in hers. “Your brother wasn’t the same all those years. He was a broken man. He never stopped waiting for you to return.”

I nod, and my tears are starting to catch in my throat. She pulls me in for a hug and I realize that this is the moment she may have interceded for over the past 9 years.

“Thank you,” I say into her ear, as the girls still wait behind me. “Thank you for praying.”

And never before have the words meant so much to me.

—-

It was nearly 7 years ago now when my brother Derek and I finally stopped talking altogether. A few months before my wedding, he had sent a final letter, pleading with me to reconsider. The man I was about to marry had left his wife and children for me and all the reasons I gave Derek that it was the “right” decision did not equal “right” and our family fractured under the weight of my choice.

In the wake of the affair, I left the ministry that Derek and I served in together. We went from being shoulder to shoulder in worship and heart, to toe to toe in beliefs and anger. I dodged his questions. I lied. I left New York and ran to Texas, and hoped that maybe distance would make his judgement of my sin lessen. That perhaps if he didn’t see me, it wouldn’t hurt him as much. If he didn’t have to see that I was still with this man, that I had no intention of leaving him, that I wanted to avoid confrontation, maybe Derek would eventually come around and accept me and the life I had made for myself.

I wanted to go on with my life and make my choices as I saw fit. I didn’t want anyone telling me it was wrong. And instead of fists and screams, we used words. Begging and fighting, we threw letters across thousands of miles with rhetoric and daggers because our family was shattering and our hearts were breaking and I was obstinate.

The man I was marrying had run off with me, leaving his wife and children behind, and in spite of all my misgivings and doubts along the way, I just wanted someone to tell me that the decision I made was okay. That marrying him after it all was somehow the most redemptive thing.

But my brother did not see it that way. In his final letter to me, he told me he and his wife couldn’t support our decision. They had disfellowshipped with us as believers and after we had rejected the discipline of two churches, they had no reason to believe that we were in any state of repentance or restoration.

Marriage did not change that.

I just wanted him to give me his ok. I wanted the acceptance in my heart. The unrest ate me alive.

I’ve just written my siblings about the news. “I’m writing a book about all of it,” I tell them. “I just wanted you all to know. I love you and I’m so thankful for redemption. I just wanted you to know.”

They reply with verbal cheers, words of blessing and continued affirmation that we can all hold this story up to say “look what the Lord has done”, dancing around as we used to do in our old pentecostal days.

“We were all confused, and were all trying with our limited understanding to do what we felt to be best and with a good conscience,” Derek writes to me now. We have found friendship again, and maybe more than ever before, a kindred brokenness. I see in him a brother, not just in flesh but in soul. This is something I’d never thought I’d feel again. “Surely we all erred, but it was because we wanted to save you. Breakthrough came (at least for me), when I gave up trying to save you and left you with the Savior.”

In the last 7 years, I’ve carried a child into this world. I watched my own marriage fall apart under the weight of sin, infidelity, and the absence of faithfulness. And now, after years of working through restoration, as God brings it in small doses and placid lines of grace, I am sitting next to Derek as we worship. We have cried. We have apologized. We have seen restoration and peace where we both once doubted we’d ever see it again. We are both the ones who found grace where we least expected it. We both discovered that the party of the prodigal son is for both sons, not just the one who returned.

A young girl confesses to me this weekend that she is tired. She doesn’t find joy in Christian living. It all feels like too much. “I’m exhausted of it,” she says as the tears stream with mascara down her cheeks. “I don’t want to try anymore.”

I say what I feel needs to be said, the thing that finally set me free and I hope it sets part of her free today. I hug her, and we pray, and I say, “Maybe it’s ok to stop trying. Then perhaps, you’ll see Jesus still takes you in, even if you’re not sure. Better to stay in the wrestle for years than to keep faking it or just walk away.” It’s somewhere in the middle of all the questions, when we see we can’t save ourselves, I tell her, that we finally understand where Jesus becomes the Savior. As long as we’re trying to win our own lives over with good, we’ll never look to the one who is only good. I see her, her tiny legs of lamb faith are tired and she has sat down on the edge of the field and I want to tell her, “Child it’s fine. Stay here. Jesus will not judge your weariness. Better to rest than to run and break your legs, or leave and fall off the cliff. Better to rest these legs and stop trying.”

I want to tell her that I will pray. I tell her to email me. And I hope, someday, I will see her again and grab her shaking hand to say the words that she never stopped being His.

—-

“Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (see Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last ‘trick’, whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school.

‘But how?’ we ask.

Then the voice says, ‘They have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’

There they are. There *we* are – the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations, but through it all clung to faith.

My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.”

- Brennan Manning (from The Ragamuffin Gospel)

Image Credit: “Braken Growing Through” by David Reece licensed under CC BY 2.0

Sing Us A Song

by JessicaB

Old Piano

 

The walls are lined with pink upholstered chairs but few of us are sitting. We’ve circled around a shared past on one end of the room, refusing to admit that our feet are sore from standing. It’s an unexpected reunion and we’re just so glad to see each other, so willing to shift back into the comfort of friendship, of hugs and laughs and jibes.

 

Occasionally one or the other of us glances over at the slideshow on the corner monitor. Did we ever really look that young? Has it really been so long?

 

***

 

She looks beautiful, she really does. It’s unreal, unnerving. It would seem perfectly natural for her to yawn, stretch her arms, and sit up.

 

But she won’t.

 

So we stay in the far corner, the one that doesn’t smell like lilies.

 

***

 

Her son is handling it well, we’re all really impressed. And that’s largely why we’re here. It’s hard to break the bonds made in high school. Before texting, before blogs, before Glee, we were those nerdy artistic kids. Band and chorus geeks, in all our late 90′s glory.

 

He was the Piano Man.  Too many times to count he commandeered the  piano in the practice room and belted out some of the best Billy Joel we’d ever heard. His raw ability was clear, his people skills magnetic. He’s always had a way of seeing the best in others, in making you feel good about yourself.

 

He got that from her.

 

***

 

She taught for 32 years. About half of us sat in her Biology room. She refused to give up on people. Very few managed to fail her class, she had a stack of extra credit that couldn’t be exhausted. There was always another chance.

 

Life is nothing but chances when you’re 17.

 

***

 

Most of us are a bit fatter now, a bit more tired. We have mortgages and kids, scars and demons. It’s been nearly 15 years since piano medleys and Smashing Pumpkins were our life’s soundtrack, since the world was our oyster.

 

There’s a point, so subtle that you don’t notice it, when all of a sudden you’re the grown ups. And you’re not sure when it happened, and even though it has it’s magical wonderful bits, you still just kind of want to go back. Back to when things were simpler. Back to the glory days.

 

“Son can you play me a memory?
I’m not really sure how it goes.
But it’s sad and it’s sweet,
And I knew it complete,
When I wore a younger man’s clothes”

 

***

 

Eventually the crowd trickles away and only five of us stand there, knowing it’s time to go but not knowing how to leave. So we form a small arc around her. She really looks so pretty in her scarf.

 

“I kind of feel guilty for laughing so much”, her son says.  And yet it’s felt right, it’s felt good in a sad kind of way.

 

He digs a box of Altoids out of his Goodwill suit and we all take one, share in a kind of odd, grief communion.

 

And then, finally, we walk out.

 

 

 

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