Better Shredded than Strong [Guest Post]

Lonely Chair

In March, I had the opportunity to visit Colorado Christian University to speak and read from my new book. It’s always so encouraging to me to meet young writers who are learning to be authentic, to write without cliche, to notice God at work in the small details of their lives and write those details well. Emily Adams is one of these lovely students, and I’m so happy to share her work here today. Give her some love in the comments section, and then check out her blog!

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I am shredded. I am tired. I am drained. I am broken. The past several months have taken more of me than I ever had to give. For awhile, I thought I needed time to renew – time to re-solidify, re-strengthen, and re-crystalize. But I was wrong.

I realized my mistake when God revealed to me in a novel way a story I’ve known since I was a toddler. It’s the story of the Sower from Matthew 13.

“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given…But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path…As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”  

Matthew 13:11, 16-19, 23

We always view the Parable of the Sower through the lens of evangelists. We see the rocks, thorns, path, and good soil as different responses the lost have to the Gospel. But why do we limit it to only be relevant to salvation?

The “secrets of the kingdom of heaven” and the “word of the kingdom” are indeed for salvation. But are they not also for much more? They are the Word of God! The Word of God is the lifeblood of every Christian!

Can the Christian’s heart be rocks, thorns, paths, or good soil in response to the Word of God? I believe it can. I believe my heart was stuck in the path. I was so packed down, so solid, so strong, so crystallized that the Word of God couldn’t grow in me.

Did my strength allow the enemy to snatch away the Word of God from my life? I need to be shredded. I need to be broken. I need to be plowed. Only shattered soil is good for the Word of God to grow.

I would rather lie shredded before God than stand strong on my own.

When I am strong, I limit God. It’s not until I am shredded that I stop limiting His glory. It’s not until I am broken that He can pour out of me into others. The only way a fragmented vessel can stay full is if it continues to be poured into. I am that broken vessel. God is the giver of living water. The fractures allow God’s living water to flow from me to others. I am continuously being filled. I am full. I am free. I am flying.

“And the Lord will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.”

Isaiah 58:11

emilyadamsA recent graduate of Colorado Christian University, Emily is passionate about writing to share testimonies that encourage and inspire her readers. Emily is a news writer for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association where she composes stories of God’s work at the Billy Graham Library. Connect with her through her blog at tiptoepointes.wordpress.com.

What I Want You to Know About My Silence

Microphone

When we were in Mexico in January, I accidentally bought a racist mug.

It was the last day of our trip. The cab was waiting to take us to the airport. All week, I’d noticed through the gift shop window a particular deep red mug with an etched, Aztec-inspired circular print, cactus in the middle. Cozumel, Mexico, it said.

I bought it that morning from the hotel gift shop in a rush, counting out the pesos, waiting for the gift shop clerk to wrap it and stick it in the bag, knowing that Andrew was likely getting impatient, holding the cab, pacifying the kids, waiting for me because I’d said, “We need a souvenir! I know just the thing! I’ll just be a sec!”

Only when we got back home and I unwrapped the mug did I notice the caricature – a drunken Mexican man, passed out against that cactus, sombrero covering his face, tequila bottle lying next to him on the ground.

I gaped at it in my kitchen, shocked by what I now held in my hands. How had I missed it? How had I bought that mug without ever noticing what was dead center?

And I suppose the answer is as simple and as complicated as this:

I wasn’t really looking.

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Over the last month, terrible things have happened in our country. I am thinking about the Orlando shooting that targeted, so tragically and specifically, the LGBTQ community. I am thinking about those iPhone videos of police shootings of black men – stark evidence of a system that is broken. The one taken in here in Minnesota, just a few suburbs away, cycles through my head again and again – the shell-shocked woman, the dying man, the cop outside the window panicked, electric with fear.

I am thinking about the violent anger of the sniper in Dallas who targeted white policemen and shot them one by one. I am thinking about their wives, their children. I’m in church, sneaking peeks at our own county sheriff – a kind man whose daughter has babysat my children for years. I wonder what he is thinking as he closes his eyes during a song.

I am thinking all of these things, and yet, my voice has been absent in the Internet sphere in which I often write and blog, where so many conversations take place.

Silence is violence, people are tweeting.

To say nothing is to take the side of the oppressor.

And yet I can no more bring myself to jump into the social media fray of it all than I could add my voice to the cacophony of class discussion in school – even though my “lack of participation” meant I didn’t get an A. My finger hovers over the empty status box, but I can’t think of what to say.

Does not adding my thoughts to that pulsing, twitching thing called Twitter mean I’ve taken the side of the oppressor? Social media interactions have always been an ill-fitting suit for my soul, like Saul’s armor on that boy-child David. I never got the hang of it, and I’ve never been very good at protest. My work has always been more about writing about my journey to make peace with God, with the Bible, with faith – so that God can make peace in and through me.

So I did not add a French flag filter to my profile after the Paris shooting or a rainbow filter after Orlando, though I read the names, read the names, read the names over and over like a liturgy of loss, like a prayer of confession.

And I have to believe that, contrary to what the teachers always said, “participation” does not necessarily always have to be about entering the relentless, volleying classroom discussion – or the social media one. Sometimes it looks like something else entirely.

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In an essay in the New Yorker called “Memoir is Not a Status Update,” author Dani Shapiro quotes Adrienne Rich, who said “It is always what is under pressure in us, especially under pressure of concealment – that explodes poetry.”

Shapiro goes on to talk about the difference between writing a memoir and sharing a Facebook status. “In order to write a memoir, I’ve sat still inside the swirling vortex of my own complicated history like a piece of old driftwood, battered by the sea. I’ve waited—sometimes patiently, sometimes in despair—for the story under pressure of concealment to reveal itself to me.”

And what I want you to know about my social media silence around these giant, important cultural issues is that it is not a passive silence. It’s a soul-searching, heart-rending one. The buzzing quiet you hear when you turn to my social media feed is the sound of me, listening.

I have written two memoirs, and I am used to the quiet it takes for me to cobble meaning from madness. So I’m not writing Facebook updates or tweeting and retweeting the news, but I am sitting inside that swirling vortex of our complicated national history of race and injustice, of hope and despair. I am sitting with my own oblivious past, with the stories of others, with the wise words of those who do wear the armor of the social media protester well. I am letting it all gather pressure inside of me.

After all, it is only over the past few years that I’ve begun to understand that my faith does not inoculate me against racism. I grew up singing, Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow black and white, they are precious in his sight, but I’m just now learning that those worlds sang in a Sunday school classroom of predominantly white children is no match for the systems that reinforce a hierarchy of worth, for that thing Jesse Williams named in his BET speech an “invention called whiteness.”

I have been a Christian – albeit a wobbly one at times – all of my life. But still, when I dare to look deeply into the deep places of my own heart, I find that there are trace amounts of fear and judgment towards those who are different from me. Though I am desperate to live in the Kingdom of God, there is a part of me that has been formed by the systems of this society. I have to admit that I am prone, however unintentionally, to strip the humanity from those whom God loves, accepting the cultural caricatures embossed onto the mug, simply because I’m not really looking.

I am learning to look, to finally notice the planters’ warts of fear and indifference and naiveté that have grown inward and are keeping me from truly walking in the shoes of my brothers and sisters. I am asking God to burn, burn, burn them away.

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Still, the teachers were right in their way; we must participate.

To be a Christian is to choose, as Jesus did, to engage with a world that is so often broken and messy and fear-filled.

But I guess what I want you to know about my “silence” is that it’s not really silence at all.

What I want to say is that there are a thousand ways to use your voice, and it doesn’t have to look like Facebook, like Twitter, like a protest in the street, like a viral video.

It can be as small as a conversation with a friend, as simple as reading a book to your child. An email, a phone call, a hand stretched out into the darkness. It can be the gathering pressure of all the heaviness, slowing forming into poetry or prose in your soul.

Listen. Do you hear it?

There is a choir of voices singing a song of lament and protest and hope and justice. It is diverse and wide and beautiful, and you don’t have to have a solo to be part of it

All that is required of you is to show up. Let the music move you. Find your voice.

Sing.

Recovering from Legalism [Dear Addie Column #7]

recovering from legalism

I know I haven’t been around here much. Summer has been beautiful here, but it’s brought with it something of a writing malaise, and I have had a hard time getting words on the page.

I did manage this piece over at Off the Page though — my response to the following question:

How do you recover from a legalistic background? Some verses are still difficult for me to come across without cringing or being hurt. I already know most of the verses have different meanings than what I was taught growing up, but I still have a hard time healing. Even though I don’t believe Proverbs 31 should be taken literally, I still get exhausted when reading that passage. Please help.

My answer has to do with music, cover artists, and finding the people that help us hear things differently. I hope you’ll hop over and join me!

And I hope your summer has been filled, so far, with rest and beauty, grace and light. I hope to be back around her more soon!

Real or Not Real? [Dear Addie Column #6]

Real or Not Real

I’m over at Off the Page again today with my 6th “Dear Addie” column.

Today’s question is from a young woman who recently found out that her youth pastor, who she’d been very close to and who’d been formational in her faith, was a “manipulator and a predator.” This new information has cast much of her faith story into uncertain light. She writes:

“Sort of like Peeta Mellark in The Hunger Games, I found myself thinking back to ultra-spiritual personal moments and wondering, ‘Real or not real?’”

I was so drawn to this question because I think it’s one that many of us have found ourselves asking about our faith experiences. I know I have.

I hope you’ll click over and join us!