Le(n)t go and Le(n)t God

This Lent, instead of giving up chocolate or putting some restriction on myself equally as violent and unpleasant as “no chocolate ever!” (the horror–just personally), I will instead, as Kayla McClurg from Inward/Outward puts it, “[follow] my deeper intuition to embrace the disciplines that will help me ‘let go and let God.'”

Letting go. Letting go not as a static, one-time event that leaves me free from all future suffering and self-inflicted misery but as a constant cycle of moving in and out of conflicting emotions. It is a process of embracing our multitudes (“Do I contradict myself? Very well then; I contradict myself–I am large, I contain multitudes.” -Walt Whitman) and releasing old ways of being, over and over again. It is falling down and getting back up, always in a spirit of humility that says, “I trust you, God–I trust that I am loved and that You’ve got this.”

Last Thursday night, our community’s weekly spirituality night, Hillary began leading our Lenten study for the month of March. During the meeting, Hillary shared the following words from Kayla McClurg (love her and highly recommend exploring Inward/Outward) when talking about going inward towards our deep, dark places in the season of Lent: “All of us will face such times, when the crowded life must be left behind, when we must peer into the dark well of our own need, our lust for what we do not have, our weariness with what we do have, our temptation to do and be and possess far beyond our capacity, beyond God’s callings for us. Maybe our temptation is to rise high above our plain existence, or maybe we are scrambling to win last place. Neither is the humble path. Kneeling in secret on stones and barbed wire will not prove our devotion.” The words hit me hard–I knew it would be difficult for me to speak when we went around the circle to share our Lenten intentions and practices (anticipated by reading the thoughtfully assembled handout from my girl Hill). The words in bold felt like they were directly aimed at me, a marker of good writing, of universal truth. She clearly spoke with personal experience and her vulnerability was a gift–it caused me to reflect on what was stirring in my soul.

I’m tired of being tired of my worn out ways of being. I’ve been falling down a lot lately. This seems to be expected if you’re doing relationships with a hefty amount of vulnerability. I’ve been falling down and trying to pick myself back up–relying on self-knowledge and a determination to “BE BETTER!” In retrospect, I realize this is where I was getting stuck. I’m addicted to being in control. My temptation “to do and be possess far beyond [my] capacity” was plunging me into darkness every time. I am weary with myself and I haven’t been cutting myself much slack. St. Therese of Lisieux once wisely said, “If you are willing to bear serenely the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter.” This particular idea of acceptance, of accepting being displeasing in any way, proves difficult for me to bear. But I know what it looks like on the other side of all my self-deprecating self-talk, I’ve tasted the freedom, and I long to stay there. The problem is I’ve been relying on myself–coaching myself through it with discipline and knowledge. Here’s the thing. Knowledge informs my faith but it does not precede it. Feeling God’s love and letting Him pull me back up in humility is what makes my faith feel full and expansive. This is when I feel like I can breathe, finally offered space to love myself and the people around me. It’s an easy hole to fall in, and I’m learning to circumvent it more often, but it’s God who gets down in the hole with me, who offers his shoulders for me to stand on in order to crawl my way out. Maybe one day I’ll find a new path altogether–one without so many holes. Maybe come Easter morning there will be life anew.

Aside from my own played-out storytelling, I’m also trying to let go of controlling other people’s stories about me–whatever those may be… because how do I really know? It makes sense why I do it though–if I want so badly to control my own feelings, to distort them into something shinier and therefore more bearable, then of course, of course, I want to control other people’s thoughts and feelings about me. Because believing what they think is so much easier than figuring out what I think. For so long I’ve let other people define who I am, unable to fully grasp my own understanding of myself. The kaleidoscope of feelings constantly shifting inside of me made it hard to get a firm hold on my sense of self. Once I realized that I am not my feelings but instead a soul who feels feelings, I was able to start coming home to myself. It was a simple yet profound discovery and it changed everything. Something else that profoundly influenced me was reading Henri Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved. Reading his words, I was reaffirmed in my identity as Beloved. When I can hold onto this core truth and distance myself from my feelings, which can be so easily swayed by outside forces, I am able to stay clear and grounded. Again, it’s a process of falling down and getting back up. It’s a lifelong practice. But I’m trying to let go of needing outside affirmation and instead turning inward to receive the Love that has always existed. This is who I am. This is who we all are.

This Lent, along with letting go, I’m taking up. 1) I’m taking up the daily practice of writing down the things that delighted me throughout the day. Mary Oliver says the instructions to living a life are to pay attention, be astonished, and tell about it. I pray to have the eyes to see and ears to hear this Lent–cries of the hungry calling out for justice, but also the beauty that puts itself in my way moment by moment. I don’t want to miss the beauty always searching for what’s missing. I want to cultivate a spirit of thanksgiving and wonder. 2) I’m taking up radical self-compassion. The practice of being kind to myself in difficult emotions. 3) I’m taking up reading a daily devotional. For Lent, I am reading Wondrous Encounters by Richard Rohr. They are short reflections for Lent that include a piece of scripture and a “starter prayer” of sorts to get the pen flowing. I’ve learned a lot in the darkness of these early mornings, accompanied by just a book, pen, journal, and Bible. 4) I’m taking up running/yoga/park-walking during the weekdays. I’m taking up getting in touch with my body by moving it and listening to it.

So there you have it. My Lenten longings and laments. In this moment, I find myself in a space between grieving who I thought I was, the story I’ve always told myself, and stretching toward who God wants me to be–maybe who I was all along. Wherever you are and whatever story you’ve been telling yourself, hear me when I say you are precious and loved. Let that be where you start.

“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” -Mary Oliver

Two months of joy and sorrow in the city of contradictions

It has been almost two months to the day since we’ve last spoken! Ah, how tauntingly “write a blog post” has been staring at me from my to-do list. I have so much to tell you that it’s been overwhelming to even know where to start. There are things on my heart that I want you to know. Soon, so soon. For the time being, I’m going to just share the highlights of January and February. I could delve deep into any one of these updates, so to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the options and probably much too wordy, I’ll just lay it all out there. Life feels full over here–my heart is tearing at the seams with love and hope. I feel excited by and at peace with the future as opposed to terrified by the possibilities and unknown outcomes (aka anxiety). Ah, the retrospective growth. What are these new days of delight and trust?? It’s almost unnerving. Almost.

At the beginning of January, the New Orleans YAV house began reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, a civil rights litigator and legal scholar. I’d previously heard an interview with Alexander by Krista Tippet for On Being, so I was eager to dive into the text they so passionately spoke about in the podcast. I went into it assuming I knew nothing and was proven right pretty quickly. There was and still are a lot of political aspects that go unlearned and untalked (this can’t be a word) about in mainstream culture. My heart feels close to the issue of mass incarceration this year living in New Orleans, the city that puts more people of color behind bars than any other city in the world. Yes, the world. The house also watched 13th, a documentary that explores the history of race and the criminal justice system in the United States. It was a hard watch, emotionally draining, but incredibly important. Both are definitely required reading and watching for all Americans who advocate for racial justice.

Shortly after starting The New Jim Crow, we visited the Whitney Plantation. “As a site of memory and consciousness, the Whitney Plantation Museum is meant to pay homage to all slaves on the plantation itself and to all of those who lived elsewhere in the US South,” is how they describe themselves on the website. It’s the only plantation in the country that honors the slave experience and doesn’t try to romanticize the era or gloss over the horror and inhumanity. At the end of the tour, our guide urged us to remember that America’s wealth came from the free labor of our African brothers and sisters. I couldn’t help but hear Trump’s voice at his inauguration speech saying, “Make American Wealthy Again!” Does he remember where our wealth came from? Is he simply romanticizing injustice? Upon leaving the plantation, Hillary and I drove straight back into New Orleans for the Women’s March where we walked until our feet were sore. I was marching in response and resistance to Cheeto’s inauguration, but also against anti-LGBT laws, our criminal justice system, and white supremacy itself–just to begin. The resistance is real you guys. By the end of January, I was starting to feel burnt out.

It was indeed a heavy month so it was only fitting that I was tasked with the job of leading mediation at our Thursday meetings (spirituality night) for the month of February. I felt myself fall into more of an alignment that month and the overall state of our country became less overwhelming (slightly) as I figured out manageable ways of taking action and staying informed. I am deeply grateful to the Call Your Girlfriend podcast for keeping my spirits up and giving me laughter while still convicting me to take action and stay involved. Another podcast, The Daily by NYTimes, has keep me informed with fantastic reporting and storytelling. I love listening to their 20-minute daily show while making my breakfast. February was full of reading (Blue Like Jazz and My Name is Lucy Barton), meditation, and City Park walks. I also started a vocational discernment course through McCormick Seminary which has been illuminating, albeit a definite time commitment. I’ve been working on applications (going to stay vague on that one for now), keeping up with reading and classwork, attending our tri-weekly house meetings, and spending time outside the house as well. My plate feels full but in a really good way. Hoping I can keep the balance.

Speaking of balance, MARDI GRAS (!!!) held none of that ish. I ate an entire (gluten-free vegan) King Cake by myself and loved every minute of it. It was an exhausting couple of weeks and I could write a novel on it all so let me just leave you with some pictures.

Highlights were catching my first Muses shoe, Zulu morning with my housemates, watching the beautiful floats at Orpheus, and being eating cake for the first time in forever. The house was a wreck by the end of it as were our emotional lives but…worth it. We seem to be recovered and solidly stepping into the Lenten season.

As I type this, I’m sitting upstairs listening to St. Paul & The Broken Bones’ recent album Sea of Noise and it is well with my soul. Highly recommend for any and all humans who need some satiating tunes in this time of social and political turmoil. Just throwing it out there. On the table to my left lies my Lent devotional called Wondrous Encounters written by the Christian mystic Richard Rohr. Since it’s been so long since I’ve written, I aim to write more than just once this month. Coming up is a post on my intentions for this season of Lent and a reflection on Ash Wednesday, as well as some happy happenings that will help you know me better and get a sense of what my life really looks and feels like these days. As always, thank you for your support, in whatever form. I will forever be deeply grateful for the support the propelled me into this YAV year because it is, with absolute certainty, transforming me daily. Blown away by all of it.

So much love until next time!