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Bethany Suckrow | She Writes and Rights

From Ashes : When We Were On Fire Syncroblog

The morning after my 26th birthday, I am standing at the bathroom sink washing my face. I pat my cheeks dry with the towel and examine my reflection in the mirror, the corners of my eyes and the color of my hair. It’s weird to think that ten years ago, I was just sixteen. Who was I then? Am I so different now? What would she think of me? What do I think of her?

I leave the bathroom, but instead of going to my laptop to write I wander over to my closet, where I grab a dusty stack of Mead journals off the shelf. I climb back into bed with them, pulling the bottom from the stack, and open to the first pages.

On my sixteenth birthday my boyfriend made me a cake and wrote me a love poem and gave me a picture in a black frame, of us on a missions trip in South Dakota earlier that summer. In the photo I am sunburnt and smiling; his hand cups my chin possessively and he’s sporting eyeliner and my pink bandana.

We were on again/off again in a pattern that exactly mirrored his relationship status with Jesus. When he was on fire for God again, it rekindled our romance too, it seemed. I thought I could pull him back from the darkness. I thought I was safe as long as he went to church and said he believed like me.

But a week after my birthday, a week after he lit candles on my cake while we stood by his locker at school, our relationship was snuffed out once more and so was his relationship with God, and I was in the dark about all of it.

I’m sitting in my favorite spot on the couch, watching reruns after dinner and homework, when the phone rings.

“Hey, would you mind if I picked you up for a drive?” says a familiar voice. I’m surprised to hear it, and I hesitate. It’s late and cold and I don’t feel like leaving the house, and I also have a sinking feeling that I know what I’m in for. But my house is small and the walls are thin and we have things to say to each other that don’t need to be overheard, so I say yes and wait by the window for the swoop of his headlights to appear in our driveway.

I walk out to meet him and slide into the seat of his parents’ old Buick and he hugs me. I feel the cool leather of his letter jacket against my cheek and I shouldn’t feel this apprehensive but I do. Soon we are driving down back country roads, a mile or two from my house. The stars glimmer and the moon shines mutely over bare corn fields in the November night. The car glides along in silence.

I have been dreading this moment. It’s been weeks since we hung out, let alone since we took a drive to talk. Our late night drives were sacred, filled with big ideas about faith and church and school and friends and family and leadership and God. It felt like the deepest kind of friendship, we were brother and sister in Christ, we could tell each other anything. But he’s been freezing me out lately, probably in hopes that I’ll come to my senses and break up with my boyfriend, with whom I am still on again/off again. We are two children playing with a light switch, and I know it’s driving all of our friends crazy.

Now the moment has come when all the pent up frustration between my friend and I will come tumbling out in the name of “holding one another accountable.” We’re leaders in our youth group at church, this is what we do.

Finally, he sighs and pulls off to the shoulder and cuts the engine. The quiet is deafening. I brace myself.

“I’m worried about you, Bethany,” he begins. “I’m worried about our group and what all of this is doing to our leadership. You’re hurting our cause.”

As iron sharpens iron, so one opinion sparks the reaction of another. We argue, our angry words exploding between us in the darkness. We are shouting and crying and finally I stop cold.

“Take me home,” I demand. He doesn’t move and for a moment I’m scared that he will actually refuse me. “Take me home or I’ll walk there myself.” Finally he turns the key to start the engine again.

Once we’re home I slam the car door and don’t really speak to him again for months. It is the last time we go for a late night drive. It is the first time that I look at him and see him for the teenage boy that he is, human and imperfect and struggling to understand love and relationships and God and faith, just like I am. It is the first time I really understand that neither of us know what these things mean. It is the first time I realize that it is okay that we don’t know what these things mean. I’m beginning to wonder if our belief that we did know was what sent things up in flames in the first place.

Several months later, I break up with my boyfriend over the phone on a hot, lonely summer day when everything we had left to say to each other is gone. But this time, it’s different. I don’t hole up in my room, listening to music and crying. I don’t call up my friends to tell them what happened and repent of this ridiculous relationship yet again.

Instead, I march out to the shed behind our garage and wrangle my old, rusty bicycle from its hanging rack and pedal myself down the driveway. The sun blazes against my bare shoulders but the wind feels nice and I glide down the back roads behind my house alone, and I feel something entirely new. I think it is delight. I think it is God’s love.

I remember all of it so vividly – the missions trips and retreats and romances, the concerts and core groups, the worship sets and weekend bonfires. We had so much zeal. We had so much passion and fire for our faith that at times we were consumed by it, we raged out of control, we hurt each other deeply. Our relationships burned brightly and then faded and when the smoke was gone we wandered in the darkness, wondering where exactly we went wrong.

We didn’t understand then that “Christian” relationships don’t necessarily mean healthy or safe relationships.

We didn’t understand that our attempts to save each other’s souls were destroying our friendships.

We didn’t understand grace.

I really want to forget that girl. I really want to take this whole stack of Mead journals and all the angst and anxiety inside them and toss it in the trash. But oh, a piece of my heart is in there. The girl I was is wrapped up inside of the woman I am. So I keep them as a way of remembering that from the ashes of every burnt out belief rises grace and love and a new way of understanding God.

This post is written in conjunction with the When We Were On Fire Syncroblog for Addie Zierman. I have been following Addie’s blog for a couple of years now and she’s one of my favorite writers. Her book, When We Were On Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over, just came out this week and I can’t wait to finally get it in the mail in the next couple of days. I haven’t even read it yet, but I can tell you with confidence : Go buy it NOW. You won’t regret it!

On Grief and Friendship and Asking for What You Need.

My friend’s dad died last weekend. He had cancer. She and I were texting back and forth a few days after, about how to cope with it, about how to tell people. I found myself imparting the same advice that others gave to me when mom died, almost two years ago now. Enough time has passed that I can see with clarity the relationships and words of wisdom that helped me, and the ones that didn’t. It felt so healing and sacred to be able to offer that to someone else after all of the love and wisdom I have received. So I thought I’d share some of it with you today in honor of my friend who is burying her father today, and just beginning this journey of grief.

First of all, ask for what you need. It sounds simple, but it’s often the hardest part of grieving, or at least it was for me. I had been seeing my therapist for about three years before mom died, and she gave me this advice fairly early on. It took me a long time, even with my very best friends, to articulate what I needed, in part because I didn’t know what I needed, and in part because I was terrified of uttering those needs aloud. I think I was scared that by talking about it and asking for help, it meant somehow that I was giving up on mom, and giving up on myself. I would be admitting that we were not going to be okay, at least in the everyone’s healthy/no one’s dead or heartbroken kind of way. But there came a point, between all the hospital visits and emotional meltdowns, when I couldn’t hide the not-okayness anymore.

Usually, these conversations happened after we had just finished watching a really sad movie and were already crying, and then I’d be like “umm, yeah, so … things are really bad right now and I’m not just crying over the movie … I think my mom is dying, and umm, can you like, make sure I get out of bed and live my life after she dies, please? Can you make sure that I go places and do things and eat good food? Can you tell all of our friends for me that my mom died?”

I am profoundly blessed to have the kind of friends that wrapped me in their arms, cried with me, gave of themselves in ways beyond what I could even ask.

So remember that grief is the time to lean into your friendships, because the good ones can take it.

You will have friends that get squirmy when you start to talk about the hospital visits and test results or hospice care and funeral arrangements and grief. You will have friends that don’t call or write or show up for the wake. You will have friends that promise to be there and then just aren’t. You will have friends that want to be there to offer you comfort and support, but for some reason, it always seems that you wind up comforting them instead. No matter how hard I tried to be honest and gracious and patient and forgiving with those friends, some of them just couldn’t handle it. It was one of my worst fears, and it came true. And you know what I realized? It’s okay to let go of those relationships, or at least hold them much more loosely. Because there will be friends that never leave your side, friends that surprise you with their nearness, friendships that are forged through your loss, and those are the ones that will help you survive.

The morning that my mom died I called my husband and texted my three closest friends. I didn’t have to take on the daunting task of telling everyone I knew; they did it for me.

A couple of days later, my best friend called me on her way to the shopping mall. She was going to buy something to wear to the funeral service.

“Do you need anything? A dress to wear tomorrow? Tights? Waterproof mascara? Anything?” she asked me.

I didn’t need any of that stuff, I told her. But that gesture, small and practical as it was, filled another ineffable need : to know that I was thought of and cared for and loved.

And I didn’t wind up needing my husband and friends to drag me out of my bed or make me eat or make me live my life, but they did something equally important : they reminded me that it was okay not to be okay.

Instead of not being able to get out of bed in the morning or turning into a catatonic vegetable, I kicked into hyperdrive. After being so close to death’s presence, I suddenly had a tremendous energy for life. I poured myself into my art and my writing and my work, and for a while that was good. But what goes up must come down, and my friends were there to help me slow my pace and admit that I wasn’t okay.

Do the thing you feel strong enough to do, and we’ll help you with the rest,” they told me.

Almost two years later, I’m still learning to practice that profound vulnerability of asking for help, of admitting when I’m not strong or okay enough to handle things. Sometimes, all I feel strong enough to do is watch Harry Potter and eat my weight in ice cream. I feel way less pathetic when my husband and bffs are sitting there with me.

Grief comes in waves, usually prompted by the ebb and flow of life experiences. All of those firsts without the one you love. All of those moments when someone unwittingly makes a comment about cancer or death. Ride it out. Let it take you deep, and let it pull you to the surface again. Don’t fight it. Someday, you’ll find yourself on the shore. Someday, you’ll find yourself reaching in to help someone else out of the water.

Explicit Realities, Explicit Language

Today my friend Grace Biskie and I are doing a co-blog about using strong language to tell authentic stories. A full explanation of why we’re co-blogging this is in the post itself, but I just want to tell you before you keep reading that Grace Biskie is one of my favorite storytellers. She tells it true and she tells it hard and she tells it good, and every time, it wakes me up to something I didn’t understand before. We found each other online about a year ago, but of course, the world is so much smaller than that – we realized not long after we connected online that her husband was raised in the same Baptist church as me, and that I had seen Dave and Grace speak at my church about a decade ago! It’s been an incredible blessing to get to know her through her writing. Click here to read her post of for this co-blog.

Okay so, a little backstory to get us started : Grace wrote a post a couple of weeks ago for A Deeper Story, “Come Hither Young Men for I Have Sex Demons.” Catchy title, eh? Her post chronicles her experience as an abused young girl growing up in Detroit, and how it influenced the ways that she expressed herself sexually. Grace also references this post by a now infamous Mrs. Hall which shames teenage girls for posting “sexy” selfies on social media.

I love this part of Grace’s post,

“Love us, Mrs. Halls. Love us at 8 yrs. old. Love us at 11. Love us at 26. Love us at 36. Give us second, third, fourth, fifth chances. Teach your boys to love us too. Light switch theology doesn’t work here. If I could have flipped the magic switch to un-confuse myself, I would have done it eons ago.”

Like the powerful writer that she is, Grace’s post invites me into her reality. She helps me, a white girl that grew up in a rural Michigan farmtown, better understand what it’s like to be a prematurely sexualized young black girl in Detroit. She invites well-meaning but conservative, naive Christian women like the Mrs. Halls (and Bethany Suckrows) of the world to step outside our privilege long enough to understand why young girls sexualize themselves. And in that context, we no longer have the right to shame young girls for their behavior. The only right response is to love and affirm their inherent worth.

So I share Grace’s post on Facebook, and not long after, I get a private message from a friend from my hometown in Michigan, questioning the language that Grace uses to tell her story of sexual abuse.

“That’s not how A Good Christian Girl talks,” my friend tells me, and I think she means it both in terms of Grace using the explicit language and in terms of my willingness to share it. This isn’t the first time that I’ve been confronted about the language in the posts I’ve shared on social media. In fact, it’s not even the first time someone has confronted me about sharing one of Grace’s posts. Go read her guest blog for Micah Murray and you’ll understand why.

In her piece for A Deeper Story, Grace uses explicit language to describe the extreme sexualization and abuse that she experienced. It is as painfully honest as you would expect a post on childhood sexual abuse to be.

She reconstructs the eleven year old girl she used to be,

“This is the one Mrs. Hall would have blocked. This is the little girl who knew how to give a damn good blow job. This is the little girl that says, ‘Come hither boys, because I know what I’m doing.’”

She repeats the things that men have said in their pursuit of her,

“They look with greed and edge and a face that reads, ‘I want to fuck you,’ with an anger that’s frightening and disconcerting.”

But my friends want to know why Grace isn’t using polite language of a “Good Christian Girl.”

They want to know why she’s not using euphemisms to talk about her sexual abuse.

I’ll be honest, I cringed when I read those posts and I cringed when I shared them. True to my white, Baptist background, I’m shocked that young girls just like Grace live this reality every day. I’m uncomfortable because her language has snapped me awake to my own privilege. There’s no question that the language in that post is terrible, but it serves a very important purpose of clarifying what our culture wants to obscure. This is what language is for. This is what a good writer does.

And this is exactly what Grace is calling out in her post:

“The first time a boy came out directly to ask for sex, I was 8. He was 14ish. I believe my face went red and my cheeks hot with embarrassment [...] Truth is, I’d already had a lot of sex by then. My Dad and I had not called it ‘sex,’ and given my age it was not consensual, though – at the time – I believed it was.” (Emphasis mine.)

Euphemisms have no place in telling stories of abuse. Talking about it openly and honestly is what helps many victims heal from the shame and secrecy that kept them captive to their abusers. Not talking about abuse in a realistic way only perpetuates further abuse. My friend Dani Kelley explains this perfectly in her comment on Grace’s post today,

“There simply weren’t Christian words to describe the horror & rage & confusion I felt over so many betrayals, big and small. Profanity gave me the force of language I needed to name the evil, shine light in the darkness that seemed like it was going to devour me whole.” (Emphasis mine.)

This is why I asked, after responding privately to my friend’s questioning, if Grace wanted to co-blog about this with me. I wanted to her to talk about why using explicit language matters to her story, and I want to talk about why readers, no matter their opinion of swearing, should respect stories’ like Grace’s and Dani’s, raw and true and redemptive and messy as they are.

We in evangelical culture were raised to believe that there was such a thing as a “Good Christian Girl” and that we achieved this characterization by avoiding certain topics and certain language for discussing those topics. Explicit language was a sin. Politeness was prized, as was our modest dress and demure countenance. We do this because we think this will protect us from sin. But often times, the things that we believe will protect us are the very things that harm others. We create a culture in which it’s not safe for girls like Grace who don’t fit our mold to tell her story without being criticized for how she tells it.

It’s not bad enough that she lived through hell? Now she has to be polite and make everyone comfortable with her story as she talks about it? We get to criticize how people cope with and heal from abuse? Are we really not smart or wise enough to take language in its context? Can we not really discern the difference between using explicit language to accurately describe stories of abuse and using explicit language to abuse? Is our ability to respect others’ stories really contingent on how they tell them?

The reality is that abuse isn’t polite. It’s not a euphemism. It’s as ugly and filthy and scary as life gets. Explicit language keeps us awake to these explicit realities. Polite language, then, is a tool of the privileged.

Sometimes our discomfort over language use is a signal that the book we’re reading or the movie we’re watching is garbage. But sometimes, our discomfort over language is a signal that our “Good Christian” lives are being wrecked for a radical story of redemption. We need to have better discernment for this, because stories of abuse and sexism (and all the other awful isms) should make us uncomfortable. If our knee-jerk reaction is to clean up someone’s language before they tell us their story, if our goal is to keep ourselves comfortable in the face of childhood sexual abuse, we’re not honoring God.

Our polite language is a means of obscuring our hard-heartedness and apathy towards justice, and God isn’t fooled by it.

The fact that we’re more concerned with someone’s language than their story of sexual abuse should be a signal to us that we have completely missed the point.

So love the storytellers. Love us at 8 years. old. Love us at 11. Love us at 26. Love us at 36. Give us second, third, fourth, fifth chances. Love us when we tell it messy. Love us when we tell it clean. Love us when we’re cynical. Love us when we’re filled with hope. Love us when we’re hurting and when we’re healing. Tell our stories with us, too. Polite language doesn’t work here. If we could have picked peaceful, safe stories, we would have done it eons ago.

Please be respectful in the comments. You can have all the opinions you want about explicit language, but any comments that veer into victim-blaming or personal attacks will be moderated. I’ve never had to do that before here, but I’m not afraid to start. This is an invitation to listen to each others’ stories. Thank you.

My First Speaking Gig (!)

Yes, you read that right. I’ve been asked to speak at a friend’s cafe in Norwalk, Ohio this Saturday, September 28. Our friends from college, Dave and Tiffany Lamb, invited my husband and his band and me to share our talents with their community and we’re so thrilled and honored to make it happen. The show has been in the works for a few months, but the details just fell into place. Matt and my younger brother Adam will be playing music, and afterward I’ll give a talk about my (work in progress) book.

It feels kinda crazy because my book is still in submitting proposals-to-publishers stage, but I think it’s a good opportunity to get my feet wet in this business of sharing my story. Specifically, I’ll be talking about Healing and the Church, about how evangelical culture talks about terminal illness, grief, prayer and healing. I’m nervous and excited and all points in between, but I know it will be good. If you’re in the area that weekend, you are welcome to join us!

W H E N : Saturday, September 28 at 6:30 p.m.

W H E R E : Haven Acoustic Cafe (67 E. Main St. Norwalk, Ohio 44857)

R S V P : at the event on Facebook or here in the comments (do I have any readers in Ohio?! *waves*)

Prodigal : “It is Good : An Ode to My Body”

Hey, friends. I’m over at Prodigal Mag today writing about dancing and yoga and learning to love my body. This is a topic I’ve kind of avoided in my writing, so publishing this kind of feels like a big deal to me. I’m not one to call myself fat or lazy, but I do struggle to love myself the way I was made. In the next few months, I hope to explore more issues around my body image and getting rid of my fear. If you can relate, I’d love for you to join the conversation and share your story.

The instructor at the front of the room arches her hands high above her head and jumps up and down in time to the music, some Top 40s hit I don’t recognize. The class dances along in pace before me while I’m hoofing it at the back, missing half the moves despite how hard I’m concentrating. I’m a mess of sweat and wheezy breaths and heavy limbs and I’m a full measure offbeat, swinging my arms left when I should be going right.

My feet hit the wooden floor, stumbling into rhythm again just in time for our dance instructor, a tiny Asian woman with the energy of a rabbit and the voice of a drill sergeant, to yell,

“Follow my turn!”

We hop around at 90 degree increments and suddenly I find myself leading the whole class, flailing wildly out of sync as I crane my neck backward to keep my eyes on the instructor.

My plan to be invisible has failed miserably, not having accounted for the dance turns when I chose my spot at the back of the room. (Read the full story here.)

On Being Found.

My brother found this sweet boy abandoned on a country road last weekend. He was scraped up and filthy, no collar or microchip to guide him “home.” The vet told Jacob that from the looks of his wounds that he had been tossed out of a speeding vehicle. He’s only a few months old. Isn’t that sad?

But Jacob decided to keep him and we all got to meet him this weekend at the lake house. His name is Gunner, which seems fitting for his rambunctious personality.

A friend commented that Gunner may have been abandoned, but being on the side of the road like that when Jacob drove by was like winning the lottery. Watching the two of them go out on the lake in Jacob’s kayak this weekend, Gunner sitting peacefully between his legs, I couldn’t agree more.

Sometimes life is surprising that way, cruel and wonderful all in the same moment. We find ourselves at the intersection of the worst and best moments of our lives. Down on our luck, beat up, starved, abandoned, lost, and then we are found, swept up by unconditional kindness, healing hands, a place and people to call home.

-

P.S. I think I have a thing for writing about dogs. Look at that puppy face! Can you blame me?

Labor Day Weekend.

It’s Labor Day / Annual Family Lakehouse Weekend. (One of my favorite weekends of the year and one of my favorite places on earth with some of my favorite people.) We leave tomorrow but my bags have been packed since Sunday, that’s how ready I am for a few days off (of work and of internet access.) If that’s not a sign of how desperate I am for rest and relaxation, then I don’t know what is … except maybe the fact that I’ve suffered from insomnia for four nights running. As in, I lay wide awake between the hours of two and five a.m. with Fergie’s “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody” stuck in my head for no apparent reason. I liked that song until it became the soundtrack to the cycle of my anxious, deranged, sleep-starved-at-three-a.m. thoughts. I get up in the morning feeling like my brain has been running a marathon all night long. I’m verging on insanity.

So, the blog is a little neglected and I’m in need of a major rest and reboot. I’ll be back next week with some new words, though. Have a fun holiday weekend, friends.

Where Have All the Millennials Gone? Entitlement in the Economy and the Church.

One of the first things I noticed when I met my husband was his kindness. He can have a good laugh just as much as the next guy, but he never does it at anyone else’s expense. Sensitive girl that I am, I was immediately drawn to that quality. I felt safe. I trusted him.

This same sensitivity to others’ feelings is what makes him such a great musician and songwriter. He’s attuned to beauty and art. He tells me he’s not articulate about his feelings, but he wears his heart on his sleeve. He sings it.

But those same qualities that inform and inspire his talent as a musician are the things that keep him from thriving in his job as a security officer. It’s just not the work he’s cut out for. He’d rather use the talents God has given him to work as a full-time musician. And yet, for the past six years since he graduated college, he’s pretty much worked any job he can so that we can make ends’ meet, even the ones he hates. When we first got married, we held seven part time jobs between the two of us. From August to March of the past year, he worked as a security guard part time, taught guitar lessons, and led worship at our church. Today, he works full time as a security guard and teaches guitar lessons after his shift ends. He does odd jobs to make a little extra cash. He knows he has to get creative about earning an income as a musician. He’s no stranger to working hard.

But I’ve lost count of how many times our “loved ones” have made that implication whenever Matt talks about work. He’s been told everything from “you’re lazy and entitled and selfish” to “your music is just a hobby, now go out and get a real job” to “suck it up and stop being a pussy about your work ethic.” (Yes. Someone actually said that.)

Some men look at him and see his traits of kindness and creativity as weakness. But I look at him and see strength.

The narrative that my husband is lazy because he pursues a different kind of work than his father, a construction foreman, is the same one that the rest of my generation is being told when we talk about our desires to thrive in our work and pursue fulfilling careers.

You’re entitled” has become a straw man argument for why a large percentage of millennials  are struggling in the job market.

But is it really the job market we can’t hack? Or is it the 9-to-5/mortgage for a house in the ’burbs/2.5 kids + Fluffy the Dog lifestyle that is unrealistic? (The very same lifestyle in which even our parents are getting taxed out of affording?)

If the rest of our generation is anything like Matt and I, they’ve been working their asses off in crappy, unfulfilling jobs for close to a decade in a broken economy, and it has come down to two choices : surviving or thriving. Either we work the job we’re not fulfilled in and weren’t cut out for so that we can fit the lifestyle, or we adjust the lifestyle to thrive in the career to which we were called. And it is almost inevitable that changing our lifestyle means moving. To somewhere less costly, to a community less bent on pressuring people into living a certain way.

The job market hears us expressing a desire to work fulfilling jobs and pay our bills, and responds by telling us we have a false sense of entitlement. But I listen to it and hear my generation saying that they want to create a system in which classism is the system that gets broken so that the economy can thrive for everyone equally.

When Rachel Held Evans posted her article for CNN a few weeks ago “Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church,” social media and the blogosphere erupted with reactions, and reactions to those reactions. On and on it went, while I watched quietly as a familiar pattern emerged.

The same people looking for more fulfilling jobs in a broken economy are the same people looking for more fulfilling faith communities in an abusive and apathetic church culture.

And as younger generations expressed disillusionment with the system in which they’re expected to function, older generations decried their laziness and entitlement. The straw man argument returns.

Indeed, my discussions with my husband about finding more fulfilling work and a less expensive place to live feels eerily similar to the discussions we had when we were desperate to find a healthy faith community. We found ourselves in church after church where we were expected to function within the system without asking too many questions or seeking too many changes. We’re asking ourselves the same question, “Is it time to move on?”

Millennials see these abusive power structures and harmful theologies and say, “This system is broken and unless it changes, I can’t thrive here,” but their concern is met  with shaming and silencing tactics. We’re being told to “suck it up” and “work harder” and “stop acting like a bunch of pussies” and “in a few years you’ll realize that this is where you belong,” and “I don’t have a problem with it; why should you? This is just how things are.”

If the parallel between an economy suffering in the hands of the corrupt and a Church suffering in the hands of the abusive makes you uncomfortable, GOOD. It makes us uncomfortable, too.

Older generations of believers look at millennials’ desire to engage culture as catering to secularism and weakness toward sin. But I look at it and see a desire to embrace the marginalized and oppressed.

Let’s get real. It isn’t the millennials’ attitude that broke the economy. It isn’t the millennials’ mass exodus that is breaking their churches. The cracks in the system originated much earlier than that.

The cycle of shame that perpetuates hurtful comments about my husband’s manhood and work ethic is the very same one that oppresses our economy and sends masses of people heading for the church exits. There are huge, ugly parallels between “man-fail” shame and the “laziness” and “entitlement” shame that older generations are heaping on younger ones in a broken economy and the way that churches shame their fleeing congregants. It’s called patriarchy, and it functions for no one, not even the men.

It isn’t how we’re meant to live. It’s not how we’re called to thrive.

Yet at the same time, this discussion is not about pointing fingers and blaming the older generations for corruption and abuse, either. Are these the same struggles that generations before us experienced? Absolutely. Will we deal with it the same way as they did, too? Definitely not. Every generation is different. Even amongst members of our own generation, it will be as varied as unique as we are.

We have to get creative about all of it – about the ways that we earn our living and the ways that we thrive in the workplace and the ways we experience God and the ways we engage our culture.

Some of us will need to go off into the wild in order to better hear the voice of our Shepherd. Some of us will stay and tend His sheep. Some of us will keep watch for wolves. Some of us will tell stories and sing songs of the peaks and valleys of this faith and this time. Let us remember that no matter what each of us choose, all of us belong to the flock, and that the Shepherd doesn’t say to His sheep, “Suck it up.” A healthy community doesn’t shame its people into functioning within the established order when it fails to keep everyone safe.

We need to take an honest look at our strengths and our weaknesses – double-edged swords that they are – and learn to wield them well. I have hope that this is possible.

Some people look at all of this, the broken economy and dying churches, and see the end of everything. But I look at it and see a new beginning.

[Image.]

Four Years.

Yesterday I made him take the Myers Briggs test for the first time, and we discovered that he’s an ISFJ. (I’m an INFJ.) Reading through the personality description was one big Oooooh. I get it now! 

Today we celebrate four years of marriage. We’ve officially been married longer than we dated, and we’re closing in on a decade of this relationship. We met when I was 18 and he was 21, and we got married when I was 21 and he was 23. We’ve spent most of these years growing up together in order to grow old together. Despite how often our family (however lovingly) badgers us about when we’ll have kids, I’m so thankful for the time we’ve had together, just us, to work through things (mostly ourselves) and figure out what we want, together.

When we got married, I thought that by the time I turned 26 and we had been married for four or five years, we’d be ready to have kids. Now that we’re there, I’m laughing at my 21-year-old self (and I suspect Matt is breathing a sigh of relief.) We’ve both realized that while it’s good to set out with a plan in mind, it’s okay to change those plans and decide what works better for us, no matter how much people badger or how much time it takes to figure out how to make things work. Slowly, over four years, we’ve realized that our life will be uniquely ours, and that means we can make really different choices to lead us there. Different than we ever thought we would choose. Different than any choice our family and friends would make.

Sometimes it is so freeing to throw out old expectations and start over. 

We both sense this leading us toward new adventure in the coming year. We’re not exactly sure what it looks like or how we’ll get there, but we’re excited and ready. Here’s to another year (or eighty). I love you, Matthew Jason.

When I Say I Wouldn’t Trade It.

She would have been 52 last Sunday. We spent that weekend in Indiana, in the town where she was born, visiting her family whom we haven’t seen in five or ten years. The convergence of her birthday and our reunion wasn’t planned that way on purpose, it just sort of happened, a kaleidoscope of memory, of blessing, bitter and sweet.

Standing in the yard at Esther’s farm that day, fields of beans and corn stretching out in every direction, the blue sky vaulting above us, family all around, the ache settled in.

I miss you. I wish you were here. I’d give anything.

We always said we wouldn’t trade it. She even said it first. She was a leader in that way. Unflinching. Unwilling to let something like cancer ruin her, or steal her voice or her faith. It wasn’t a glossing over of the truth. It wasn’t a matter of pretending she wasn’t sick. It wasn’t an ignorance of the disease. No. It was her way of saying that life could throw anything at her, and she would keep moving forward. Looking back, wishing things were different, feeling sorry for herself, or giving up her desire to live and live well, that would have been defeat.

It’s a lot for a daughter to live up to. It’s a lot of gumption that, in my grief, I don’t always feel like I have. Cynicism sets in and I question whether or not saying things like “I wouldn’t trade” my mother’s illness and death for an easier life is synonymous with saying I don’t miss her or it doesn’t hurt or I’m fine, or perhaps worse, that other patients have to respond to cancer the same way as we have.

So what am I really trying to say when I tell you that I wouldn’t trade this, all this heartache, all this void, all this grief, for a life in which none of this had happened?

In Stranger than Fiction, there’s a part where Harold Crick is staying at his friend Dave’s apartment and the two are sitting at the dinner table eating, lost in thought, until Harold asks Dave a question.

“Dave, can I pose a somewhat abstract, purely hypothetical question?”

“Sure.”

“If you knew you were gonna die, possibly soon, what would you do?”

“Wow, I don’t know. Am I the richest man in the world?”

“No, you’re you.”

“Do I have a superpower?”

“No, you’re you.”

“I know I’m me, but do I have a superpower?”

“No, why would you have a superpower?”

“I don’t know, you said it was hypothetical.”

It’s a funny scene, but in previous viewings I’ve always kind of glossed over its poignancy. I thought of it again the other day while I pondered the meaning behind “I wouldn’t trade it.”

Whether we’re hypothesizing about the future or the past, whether we imagine having superpowers or we’re bartering with fate over terminal illnesses, we’re seeking a measure of control. We want to believe that we would willingly face death, knowing it was just ahead, and that we would make all the right choices and live like we mean it. We’re imagining a life in which God offers us two choices : Be a Better Person With Cancer or Be a Shallow Person Without Cancer.

We’re creating a sadistic god, a false dichotomy, a moral hierarchy, and a misunderstanding of sanctification that veers into atonement.

I heard things like “I wouldn’t trade it” and “don’t waste your cancer” and “everything happens for a reason” and “it’s all a part of God’s plan” for so long, that the subliminal message I interpreted from this cacophony of bad theology was that I wasn’t supposed to be sad about her illness and death. I wasn’t supposed to wish her back. I wasn’t supposed to miss her. That would be weak. That would be faithless. That would be defeat.

But in the last 20 months since she died, I’ve slowly realized that like every other cheap platitude, “I wouldn’t trade it” became an aversion to feeling my grief as deeply as I needed to. I said it when I was afraid of admitting to God that I was angry, bitter, lonely, and heartbroken.

And yet.

There was power in those words when my mother said she wouldn’t trade her experience for an easier life. For awhile I kind of lost the point of what she was really saying, and the cynicism set in and I wasn’t sure I believed all that hokey, hypothesizing, magical-thinking talk about hope and faith and prayer. But just like we have to grow up and find our own faith and beliefs separate from our parents’, I’ve had to figure out what “I wouldn’t trade it” means to me.

The hard truth is that a lot of the good, beautiful experiences in my life came at the expense of really hard, painful experiences like my mother’s death. I can’t explain why life is like that, but I don’t know that I want to anymore.

I’m more at peace living with “I don’t know” than when I staked my faith on having all the answers. I feel more free to miss her, not knowing why it happened, than when I believed her death was a moral to a story.

So when I say that I wouldn’t trade it, I don’t mean that I’m glad she’s dead. I don’t mean that I don’t miss her. I don’t mean that I wish this experience on others so that they can become a Good Person like I am, or that I expect them to process this experience the same way.

When I say I wouldn’t trade it, I mean that I wouldn’t trade who I am for an easier life. I wouldn’t trade the deep, beautiful, powerful relationship I had with my mother, or my other relationships that have deepened through this experience, for all the shallow relationships and physical health and earthly prosperity in the world. I will never regret learning the lesson that life is too short to compromise what I want out of it or who I am. It’s not a superpower, but it is a powerful thing nonetheless.

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