I really want to write something profound and spiritual right now. I also would like to be able to breathe normally and sleep in tomorrow. None of that is happening.
I want to take the lyrics of one of my favorite hymns to sing around patriotic holidays and reflect on it phrase by phrase. This Is My Song is about loving your own land as well as seeing that God’s people and promise are not limited by borders or alliances. I might do my reflecting later, but for now, know that I will be preaching on leaving your homeland as you listen to God’s leading.
And maybe after I wake up from my epic nap tomorrow afternoon, deeper reflection will occur. Or not. No Promises.
I am not a person of high fashion. I never said I was, I never try to be, I never imagine that I shall be. I have my own fashion. But isn’t that what we all say, hipster millennial digital native generation that we are? We all claim to be unique… just as everyone else claims. Still, I have my own preferences for clothing, which tend to lead towards comfort and functionality at the cost of the cutting edge of… anything else really.
I learned about a year ago that my preference towards comfort in my clothes partly has to do with a hypersensitivity of my skin: I feel every single texture of every single stitch I wear, especially if one is out of place. It was odd, and then amazingly right, that a doctor asked me about my feeling about socks as a child. The verdict: utter animosity.
I still don’t like socks—though I’ve gotten to work around it in the wintertime by collecting soft knee socks—I wear my sandals at any chance I get. Not just any sandals, mind you, but my high tech, low profile, webbing strapped hiking sandals. Y’all, I love these shoes. They carry me well. They support my feet, knees, and hips through days of standing or hiking.
They are also a convenient way of identifying other kindred spirits. I look at shoes and see who is wearing what. And when I see someone I don’t know wearing these specific shoes, I can begin a conversation with them about what is on their feet. My shoes both connect me, and set me apart, partly because of the heavy price tag for these specific shoes.
I’ve worn these shoes in the blistering heat and when snow was still on the ground. They’ve carried me through deserts and rain forests, sometimes in the same week. These days, I don’t always wear them to preach, but sometimes I go with it anyway, if I am feeling rebellious or tired. They are part of my identity, however skewed that may be. They go with my favorite skirt, a hiking skirt that was designed by a fellow former Peace Corps Volunteer. And a scarf usually completes my outfit (with the necessary shirt of whatever sort).
An aside on scarves: I hate turtlenecks. I always feel like they are choking me, and I cannot stand that constant, or occasional pressure on my neck. It’s one of the reasons that I hesitate getting a clergy shirt—I am not sure that I want to get a hard band of plastic to sit against the most sensitive part of my neck. I fear I would be distracted and unable to do the work of ministry. Part of my sensitivity with my neck became more concrete when I was diagnosed with a thyroid condition, and my thyroid began to swell… and I couldn’t stand to have anything, or anyone, touch my neck.
Here is where it gets a little more odd. Though I hate turtlenecks with a vengeance, and have this utter sensitivity about what touches my neck, I’ve become deeply enamored with scarves. I’ve been wearing them as an integral part of my wardrobe going on ten years now.
Whatever it is about scarves, usually the wide and soft wrap style, I love to wear them. Perhaps it is the amount of control I have on where it goes and how I wear it. I have different scarves for each of the seasons: winter, fall, spring and summer. I now have too many to count, but I never turn one down.
I suspect that I like to wear them because they are a part of the protection that I put on when I go out. If the temperature is just a little too cool in an air-conditioned building, the scarf goes on tighter. Or it loosely drapes somewhere. Or it gets stuffed in my purse and pulled out at the next time I need it. I need one when I am driving to protect my neck from being rubbed raw by the seatbelt, and to keep my neck warm when the AC is on full blast. My scarves protect me, add modesty to my neckline, and help add a layer to my style.
My style may not ever be featured on the runway, and I may get flack from my family who doesn’t quite understand why I like to wear what I do, but it’s my style and I like it.
First, you begin with an onion. Cut off the root and the flower ends and then cut in half and peel off the outer layers. Slice longitudinally, holding the pieces together, and then cut across, lengthwise. The last few cuts may be the most difficult. Toss in a stock pot, place on the stove, add some olive oil (extra virgin, what else), and turn on the heat.
Now you are ready to begin making soup.
I cannot imagine what it must feel like to be married to me. I have so many unspoken rules. I have ways of doing things that have seventeen steps. My instructions for putting a pillowcase on a pillow could take a five minute youtube video. I am ridiculous.
The above is what I think when I am chopping an onion. The good news is that I am becoming better at figuring out how to teach without demanding things be done my way. Of course I think that my way is the best… however, that does not necessarily make it true. I have learned to teach, showing how I do it, and then watch my husband create his own way that gets the job done.
If I always assumed that my way was the best, then I would miss out on two very important things.
One, I would never learn a new way of doing something. Can you imagine going through life doing things the exact same way each and every time. To imagine that you got it right the first time and that you knew the perfect way to do it the very first time. That not only is incredibly arrogant, but it would also be boring. I love learning new ways of doing things. I love learning new things. And I love learning from others.
It’s why I love watching children. They try things out. They can try something one way, then come up with a solution diametrically different from the first. Their creative imagination astounds me.
Two, I would never be able to give up a task. See, if I think that my way is best, and there are others who are creative around me, and I think that something has to happen my way, then I would have to maintain control the whole time, never be able to rest, and never respond to the imagination of others. Not only is that exhausting, it is also terribly lonely.
I am continuing to learn from others, especially my husband, about the thousands of ways to get the task done. I move through this world, releasing control and learning about the creativity of others.
I love to cook. I am rather good at creating a new dish from the ingredients in my kitchen with no notice or recipe. It is one of the places where I can create with full liberty. But sometimes I don’t exactly feel like cooking, and so my husband steps in. And for him, rather than standing at his elbow, making sure he does it exactly my way, I allow him to do his thing, and he gets the job done. The soup still tastes delicious.
My parents gave me a jar filled with over six hundred small slips of paper written with conversation and writing prompts. This is the one of my responses:
As a culture, we often focus on things that we do not like about ourselves, either collectively or individually. We are too sedentary. We are too addicted to highly processed fast food. We are too distracted, too plugged in, too concerned with what the next celebrity fad diet is. We are paying too much for health care. We are Just. Too. Busy.
It is too easy to get carried away with what we are too much of. There seems to be no space for rest, no space to get a breath in edgewise among the midst of the chaos around us. The cacophony is full of negative chants and combative murmurs. It is no wonder that we have become more and more reliant on quick fixes that can do more harm than help.
So where do we go in the midst of this? Where can we find a space to breathe? How do we live, never mind hope to thrive in the midst of this distraction? How do we learn to find things we like about ourselves again?
What do I like about myself? The list of what I don’t like is much easier to write. It sometimes gets played on repeat in my head and I cannot shut it off. But to stem the tide of don’t likes: I seek those things that I do like.
I do like my ability to play with just about any kid I come in contact with.
I do like my pastoral instincts of deeply embedded empathy and compassion.
I do like my passion in singing, especially when I pull out all the stops and let the sound fill the room.
I do like my joy, the joy I receive from others, and the joy I have on my own.
I don’t know what your list will look like, but I hope you begin to build one on your own. The more we learn to forgive ourselves and learn to like the parts that are good about ourselves, the more we will be able to like others, and learn to love them as well.
Imagine how we could transform our communities if we learned to notice the things that were good in us first. We seek to be good, we yearn to find health, we long to express love to those around us.* We are hungry for justice just as much as we are hungry for a space to find rest.
I find the more centered I am, the more I am able to share love with others even when I am exhausted. I can only share the gifts I have for compassion and empathy and play when I am not running on less than empty. I find that energy when I can learn to like things about myself, and about those around me. If I am always focused on the negative, then that is all I will ever find. So instead, I seek to find things I like about myself, so that I can love those around me more deeply. Love shines in the darkest nights and draws me closer to my community. Love allows me to find beauty in the world. And that gives me more to like.
*This is my sister’s theory: “we all long to love.” She claims it belongs to the universe.
When I was growing up, we made all our Valentine’s Day cards by hand. The dining room table would be covered with pink, red, and white construction paper, lace doilies, crayons, glue, glitter, and markers. My sister and I would construct cards for our parents, our grandparents, and occasionally our cousins.
One year we were travelling on Valentine’s Day and mom got a bunch of tiny premade Valentines and hid them everywhere, under our pillows, in our seats, and on the windows of the van as we returned to continue our trip.
When I was in college, I made some Valentines by hand sewing hearts onto cards. I was able to use little plastic conversation hearts and other sparkles from a garland, and I had fun making them.
When I was in Peace Corps Kenya, I knew that I was going to be with a bunch of other volunteers on Valentine’s day, so I bought a few packages of cards to give out to my friends.
See, when I was in elementary school, I didn’t have a requirement to give Valentines to a collection of twenty to thirty classmates. The only classmate I had was my sister. I was home schooled, and so I didn’t have any other classmates. Perhaps that is why as an adult I have had more fun giving valentines out to others.
None of my valentines are romantic. I didn’t have any boyfriends when I was growing up, and the first valentine that I gave to my husband when we were first dating was a batch of heart-shaped sugar cookies. I don’t connect the hearts, chocolate, flowers and jewelry to this day. (He did take me out on a romantic date that first valentines.)
I know some folks who have anti-valentines days. I know some folks who will flat out ignore it altogether. Something has saved me from that bitterness. I had plenty of reasons to be bitter growing up: no one wanted to give me a valentine, there wasn’t any cute boy that snuck a valentine back to me, and I was far from being romanced on Valentines Day. But my joy with the holiday doesn’t come with what I get. I find my joy in what I can give to others. Especially on this day.
Not to be a martyr about it, but St. Valentine was a martyr for his faith, with little to no connection to romance. This really is a holiday created by the greeting card companies, and they manage to get a goodly part of our wallets. But even if the holiday is a construction, that doesn’t mean that I can’t use it for my own purposes.
Greeting card companies, I see your commercialization, and I raise you a healthy dose of good hearted generosity and friendship.
It’s what I hope to teach my children. We may not make all our cards by hand when they get into school, but we will learn that it is more about what we can give away, than what we can get from being the most popular kid in class. And I hope that we will find time to make a few of them by hand, because I want to pass on the joy of being creative and generous to my children. Maybe they will get some valentines in return, and discover a compassionate heart to befriend.