the sweet freedom of losing your shirt, & finding yourself.

Today, I feel the need to testify. Will you let me?

*major disclaimer first: As far as I know, I’m in the healthiest place I’ve ever been, spiritually & emotionally. I’m still here! I’m very much alive! I’m grateful. So please don’t read any sense of playing the martyr or victim here. Nothing could be further from the truth.  I share this only as testimony to the faithfulness of God; only because my cup feels so full, not because it is empty. 

The journey I’ve been on as of late has been a difficult one, but difficult in a different way than the journey just before it. I moved halfway across the country & attempted to reboot my life—broken, full of fear & self-loathing. There were so many moments I thought I would not make it. But Spirit seemed to keep me afloat, despite my best attempts at drowning. The experience has changed me so much. I’m a fairly sensitive enneagram two (if that means anything to you). I always needed folks to like me/love me, a little too much. And in the process of dying & being reborn, a certain fearlessness came. A need for integrity (not as sinlessness, but integration-to have all of me moving in the same direction), for wholeness. I could be in or out, loved or hated—but had to find a way to be true. So I started trying to live that way. I was saying the same kinds of things I’ve always said, in a way but maybe a little bolder and clearer—in a moment that is much more hostile to these ideas than when I started talking about them 20 years ago. I started to learn to live with a level of opposition and criticism that would have surely wilted me before.

An interesting thing happened in the midst of all this: I had expected to experience a certain kind of rejection, because I felt like my life had become such a failure. To my surprise, people were gracious. I’m forever grateful for this—for all the grace I’ve found. But the more outspoken I became about what I saw as a hijacking of the Church by what I believe to be a nationalistic, latently white supremacist agenda, I experienced much greater pushback than I ever did for anything else. I found that people are much more graceful to failure, than they are when they feel you are attacking a sacred cow. You can fall—so long as you do so on the right side of a party line. You can be forgiven for crossing any boundary, but the boundary of your American soil. I don’t mean to judge this harshly. I would have been just as defensive, in another phase of my life. 

Here’s the irony—and I’ve seen this play out in the lives of so many around me, across a few closely related categories: you speak out against the prevailing, dominant narrative…& ironically, some will say you “sold out.” You lose your shirt, & they say you did it to get more clothes. You lose your inheritance, they say you did it for the money. You lose your reputation, they say you did it for the fame. To be perfectly clear, none of these things have been remotely serious compared to the real suffering others endure for the sake of Christian convictions. I don’t want to make too much of that. But of course any act of obedience comes at some price (no more so for me than for anyone else, of course!). When you say that the house has become too small or the table too restrictive, or when you contend for those on the margins—the powerful will attempt to marginalize you. All of the most painful personal attacks I’ve experienced—viciousness, vitriol, threats, the trolls I’ve encountered that didn’t just seem annoying but dangerous—have come in the aftermath of this outspokenness. The character attacks didn’t come after my divorce, but after naming principalities & powers. Only then did people want blood. 

On the one hand, it’s not fun losing some of the speaking gigs, or being labeled—quite frankly, losing money; or going from a relatively comfortable life, to feeling like you’re always scrapping something out. But here’s the thing: when you do the best you can out of a desire to be obedient (not right)…and you don’t fight fire with fire, but trust God to be your provider & sustainer...God really does show up. The amount of times I’ve been beyond broke, & some random person showed some me some extravagant hospitality; or felt wounded, & some random person gave me just the right word in the right moment? I can’t recount them all—the ways God has given me the grace I needed, in just the right moment (or maybe what seemed like the moment after that, sometimes).

Yet there have also been many moments of feeling like a parody of myself, speaking words that seemed to carry some sort of authority somehow, but feeling ridiculous for saying them out loud. Playing the fool, a joke, a jester. “Who do you think you are?,” they say, & the truth is—no one in particular. Maybe less than that. You look in the mirror, & see yourself starting to age, the lines & white coming in, & really… what have you built? You don’t have a pot to piss in, just a lot of frequent flyer miles. 

But lanes start to open up that you could not have imagined before. Old doors close, but new doors open. Certain windows close, but now other ones open you had not even noticed before. Old community walk away, but God sends you new friends. The brook dries up, God sends you to a river. You get kicked out of the restaurant, God sends you the ravens. You lose your tribe, you find a people. You seemingly misplace your heritage, but go out and find out your true name. What is this strange new world? Where did this provision—this manna—come from? It’s not always tasty, but it’s keeping me alive; and there’s something new every morning. 

Ah, but sweet freedom!  To not be a slave to the Christian industrial complex. To not need the blessing or approval of anybody in particular, but the people who know me best, & love me most. To not be on the familiar path—but on a trail that Spirit seems to be carving out, clearing the brush seconds before it would seem to hit my face (well, & sometimes it does just hit you in the face!) I so often feel not just vulnerable but exposed, like I don’t ever know what I’m doing. Yet there always seems to be just enough lamplight, for one more step. I realize I can’t make anything “happen.” I can’t manufacture wind, nor waves. Now I’m not striving, I am just...surfing. Most things simply aren’t up to me.

I am not impenetrable. I am not impervious. I limp, for more than one reason. Oh, but sweet freedom! Sweet wind, sweet breath of God. I feel it in & on me, even as I write this now. Freedom to be small or large, to run or to just rest. Freedom to be whole, but unimpressive. Freedom to be the buffoon, the punchline, or to be the straight man. Freedom to choose a new adventure, or stay back, & take a nap. 

For all the things that discourage me in the world, I keep seeing new lanes open. I hear a new choir of bedraggled saints in the distance, a little off key, but there’s soul in the music again. Sons & daughters struck mute by a generation before, are making awkward, beautiful new sounds. The world may go to hell, yet. But in the wind, I hear another sound. A low rumble, getting louder. A sound-not brash but humble-yet, the volume is rising. People who have been trapped in very small spaces, are coming up out of their cages, & finding their dance, & their shout.

It’s a disaster out there (and in here), sure. I don’t know where it’s going. I don’t know where I’m going.

But I’m so glad to be right here, right now. I’m so glad to be alive. I would not choose to be born in any other time nor place, than this one. I know I’m not going alone, because there are way too many people who are feeling the stirring, and they are finding each other, more by the day. 

God is doing something new. A movement of the Spirit is coming that cannot be stopped, something bigger than all of us—right in the thick of the darkness. I do not presume to have any particular part to play in it. But to be here now, & be a witness? Angels peer their necks over the ledge for just a glimpse, of the beauty God will bring up out of these ashes. 

Let it shake. Let it burn. Let this small & blood-red screaming thing, be born into the world. 

Chaos swirls. Spirit broods. Something new crawls out of the black, covered in gore, & grace. 

In garbled speech, she speaks in new tongues. 

Her groans are rife, with praise.