Bone Deep Beauty

Most unhappy people need to learn just one lesson: how to see themselves through the lens of genuine compassion and treat themselves accordingly.  — Martha Beck

bone deep box
Photo by @jessicolejackson on Instagram (I’m sure I took pictures of my box too, they are . . . somewhere).

I have spent the last year feeling ugly. Not skin-ugly but soul-ugly. Dorothy Parker wrote, “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.” And I some way I felt this characterized me.

Sometime in the spring of last year I stopped writing because I feared the things that would come out would be ugly, angry and dark. Those were the things that were coming out in my relationships.  I felt overwhelmed by fear and anxiety and I felt completely abandoned. That feeling of abandonment turned to anger, and anger turned to resentment. It was a deeply painful time and writing about it felt like spoon-feeding people my pain.

I’m a pupil of the likes of Julia Cameron and Laura Doyle, so I thought the answer was better self-care. I exercised, I sought out sunshine (quite the quest in the Pacific Northwest), I got counseling, I treated myself kindly on days I wanted to bite everyone’s head off (if only I could have treated them so). But no amount of bubble baths could wash away something that was bubbling up from inside me. Continue reading

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God is the Fat Lady (Paul)

Running Dudes

This is part of a series: I’m taking a moment in the lives of people in the Bible to see how it might be relevant to our lives, today. That moment may be just part of their story, or it may be all we’re told about them. Either way, you should read it directly from the source. This week’s story comes from 1 Corinthians 4:3-5:

I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

If you’re very attentive to detail (or read my first intro), you might have noticed that I do these posts Sunday and Wednesday, and that today is neither, no matter what time zone you’re in.

On Friday morning, with several assignments for last week still undone, and 30 emails in my inbox requiring action, I took off for a 4-hour drive to see a friend who’s only briefly in California. After a 2am turn-in, I got up for a 7am Skype, went running, responded to five personal emails and no work emails, patched together a page on my website with freelancing rates so I could respond to a work email, drove several more hours with friends to an incredible waterfall, walked a couple of miles into the forest before we decided we probably weren’t on the 1.2 mile loop, and drove another hour to search in the darkness for hot springs and discovered only cows.

We got back into town by 9pm, in time for me to leave for the 4-hour drive back home, where I needed to be for the arrival of my parents the next morning. Thanks to their handy GPS, they arrived in the late afternoon (just in time for me to miss a meeting), giving me time to clean the house, do some laundry, further ignore work and think of run-on sentences for blog posts. By the time they left this morning I had missed/cancelled two more meetings (of the four I had today, and which I was up at 6 to cancel), the actionable emails in my inbox had amounted to 57+, and my ability to recognize much less create run-on (or any) sentences had diminished greatly.

I was overwhelmed, not by a rallying GIT-ER-DUN cry, but by curiosity . . . how long I would have to sleep to just make it all go away?

The difficulty with that plan of action was that it’s reasonably hard to get fired from a job you’re not getting paid for, and all of mine fall into that category right now (no matter how decent the rates I put on my website are). One of the non-actionable emails I’d received, which were of course the ones I gave first attention to, contained two parallel lists that made me laugh aloud.

This first was a recount of my friends’ last several weeks, “we’ve had sickness, injury, vehicles breaking down, appliances not working, insomnia . . . ” And the second was a list of Paul’s own experiences recounted in 2 Corinthians: “ . . . as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger . . .

My friends acknowledged the same thing I felt, that reading the two lists together they felt that, though worn-down, they still had a lot to be grateful for.

The next email, now getting down to business, was a first-look at a blog post from one of my bosses on taking every thought captive, most particularly the thoughts we have about ourselves. This idea also comes from 2 Corinthians, in the same chapter which Paul condemns as unwise those who “measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves.”

It struck me that “measuring yourself by yourself” is exactly the motto for our modern, busy, driven world: Beat your own high score. Try harder. Run faster. Work smarter. Fail. Fail hard. Fail better.

Paul writes, almost with a shrug, “I don’t even judge myself.”

Not that Paul was against running fast, running to win. I don’t know if Paul was an athlete, but he sure seemed to understand what it takes to be a competitor. I recently read a great book by an Olympic and World champion on the mindset required to win in extremely intense sports. One of the things he says is winners don’t count their score while they’re still in the game.

Paul had good days and bad days, ups and downs. Like that time he was mistaken for a Greek god and had to stop the people from making sacrifices to him, and then the same people (on the same day) stoned him to death (apparently, but he revived/resurrected). Through all that, and everything he mentions above, he never becomes weary in well-doing. He’s not judging himself.

I’ve become weary in the two times my browser has frozen since I started writing this blog post. I became weary the three times Skype crashed at 6 this morning before I could get a simple message across, and I’ve basically been weary every moment in between. And all the while, I’m making judgements about myself.

Before I’ve begun on days like today, I’ve decided I’ve failed. Before I’ve even seen if I will succeed, I’ve labelled myself unsuccessful.

The problem with this kind of accounting is it doesn’t, well . . . account for everything. It doesn’t matter that I finished the novel ahead of time because the revision’s taking twice as long as planned. I’m not content with the organizing that’s done for the conference, I’m only concerned about what I have left to do. Well sure I posted to the blog, but it was A DAY late . . .

And beyond all those things I’ve failed to see is the leisurely breakfast spent with my parents who I haven’t spent time with in months, and what the roar of a waterfall and the laughter of good friends can do to my soul. And there are other things I know I don’t see, things only God sees. “He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart.”

And Paul doesn’t say, “And He’ll disparage you.” Only we do that. Paul doesn’t say anything at all about God mentioning our faults or failures.

We each will receive our praise from God.

Sugar in the Salt Shaker

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness . . . 
Matthew 5:13
 
“I hate that voice,” she says. “That’s the fake-Emily voice.”
 
It’s already past midnight and she’s regaling me with all my worst detractions, one of which, I’ll own, is an uncanny knack for duplicity . . . It comes to me as easy as the flip of a coin, causing me to forget that most people don’t have two faces.
 
But every pretender knows there will always be someone who sees through your crap, and she’s mine.
 
“It’s just that I love you and I want to know the real Emily,” she says, dredging up the old, familiar fear that there is no ‘real Emily,’ nothing behind all these masks. I’m created by circumstance.
 
No. I’m a peacemaker, I say to myself, it’s in my nature to see both sides of every argument. Is that the same as playing both sides? I just want to be liked. I just want to belong. I don’t want to upset anyone.
 
“The truth sets free,” she insists. And it occurres to me how very upsetting that truth is. How very unlike me. 
 
And this too: she wouldn’t be telling me if she was concerned with whether or not I would like her. My redemption exactly at odds with my mode of operating. Thank God she isn’t me.
 
set you freeYou see at some point something, big or small, tore a hole in me. Something was cut out and the wound labelled with the caveat, “Truth will tear you open.” Interpreted: “You can’t be who you are and be loved.”
 
And who am I? A night light to sooth fearful sleepers?
 
No, “You are the light of the world.”
 

This is how I live my faith, as if Jesus had said “You are the sugar of the earth.”

 
Random acts of kindness. Spreading little bits of sweetness wherever I go. I make sure to thank the lady mopping the floors in the public restroom. I smile at strangers. It’s a rough job but someone’s got to do it. You’re welcome, world.

 
Sugar is popular. Take for example, brownies (first ingredient, sugar): Popular. Salt on the other hand? Sure, we’ve been told that it’s the combination of salt + fat that makes snack foods so addicting, but if you’re ever stuck at a restaurant shaking one of those impossibly finely-holed salt shakers over your food for over half a minute you’ll realize how quickly people begin to look at you like you have a death wish.
 
And it sure feels like a death wish, like a tearing open, to be truthful in some circumstances. If I thought hearing it was hard . . . Can’t we all just be sugar?
 
Salt is so . . . so caustic. It’s used for abrasion. Preservation. Melting ice. Raising the boiling temperature. A little too much and the dish is ruined. Are you sure that’s what you meant, Jesus?
 
Salt, it hurts. If you don’t believe me, shave your legs and then go swimming in the ocean. It hurts. 
 
But it heals. It cleanses. It cures.
 
And so she rubs her truth like salt into my wound, killing the festering bacteria of lies, but leaving the cells undamaged, speeding healing . . . It lays bare the farce of my self-glorifying instead of God-glorifying testimony, my half-truths that have imprisoned me, my sugar-in-the-salt-shaker platitudes, all that Oswald Chambers calls “gentleness and winsomeness without curativeness.”
 
“It is a disadvantage to be salt. Think of the action of salt in a wound
and you realize that. If you get salt into a wound, it hurts, and if God’s children
get among those who are ‘raw’ towards God, their presence hurts.
The man who is wrong with God is like an open wound.”
Oswald Chambers
 
God, our Source, don’t toss us out to be trampled by men, though we have lost our substance. Hew us again from the Rock which we came, that we may preserve, heal, cleanse, and if need be, abrade. For without salt, life cannot be sustained. May we not let the open wounds of the world fester to save face, or the spirit raw towards God heal over, unchanged, and so be sweet in the mouth but bitter in the stomach. Remind us again of the light we are to be, that we may, in love, speak the truth that sets men free. Amen.

Taking Possession

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon when I was called away from a lunch with friends at a new restaurant in one of the upscale markets, to a shabby one on the backside of town for a Pizza-Hut family council.

The whole fam, plus assorted groupies, gathered around a long table piled with a literal smorgasbord of menu options. My niece kept playing “can you match the plate to the wallpaper” (I kept breaking the rules) and “what animal does my ketchup make?” (my sister-in-law dipped her pizza in it before I could guess), while my oldest nephew boxed his grandfather in the eye and I coaxed and begged and pleadingly-smiled my youngest nephew out of his “wrap” and into my arms.

Those are the perfect moments. Not the pizza-divvying and punishment-dispensing, the moment I walked out of the din and into the sunlight of the patio, with one of the newest of God’s creations blinking blearily up at me. It didn’t matter that it was a broken cement patio where shady men leered at us from the corridors and rats scampered through the rubble by where we were sitting, I was holding a little piece of eternity in my arms.  (Uh . . . don’t worry this is not all going to be a gooey auntie post.)

Half an hour later, I was making my way back home, alone in an auto, when we came to the intersection of two major South Delhi roads. As we pulled up past a backed-up lane of traffic, my driver slowed suddenly and I saw the reason for the delay: a street boy, maybe 4 or 5 years old, lay on his side in the road, a pool of his own blood almost surrounding him. His hands were shaking and he was calling out, but in that feeble way one does when they’re in shock. Another boy was standing at his head, and some men were running forward from somewhere in the line of traffic.

Again, there moments when the din of the world dies down, and even the roar of the traffic and the pounding of my heart went silent for that blistering half-minute. And then it was gone. We had driven on past.

Honestly, I don’t know if he was hit by a car two minutes before, or just hit at the right angle in the nose by the boy standing next to him. Often here, if someone wounded approaches you for help, bystanders will shoo them away and say it’s not even real human blood, when all I see is real human pain. A little piece of eternity lying broken out on the street.

I keep asking myself, if it had been someone I know, would I have stopped? The kid of someone I know? Even someone Indian?

Now why does that question come to mind? Because (so I make the excuse) for all I can ask myself how I would handle the situation in America or with Americans, there is just no corollary here. I’m more afraid of my utter, inherent inadequacy, than I’m afraid of the actual situation. I’m the wrong person for the job, unfamiliar with the language, the culture, emergency procedure, local help. I’m the outsider. I’m . . . well, I guess I’m the Samaritan. Except for the choice I made.

And I keep asking myself, what if he had been mine? My nephew? My niece? How quickly would I have leapt from that auto rickshaw?

The parable of the good Samaritan was told to a man who wanted to justify himself by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” (Really? Who do I have to love?) And in the story the Samaritan distinguishes himself by claiming the broken man on the side of the street as his neighbor.

He claimed him as his.

“Go and do likewise,” Jesus said.  Because whether or not I recognize the kid, I do know his Father. And he is mine.

For everything belongs to you — whether [people],
or the world, or life and death, or the present and the future.
Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
1 Corinthians 3:21-23

Living Mystery

I wonder when my life got to be that at 7:30 in the morning I’ve been up for two hours (I overslept) and I’m already wondering if I’ve wasted too much of that on Pinterest and how many calories were in the green tea I had for breakfast.

Stairs to our place. Credit: Erin Glosson
Stairs to our place. Credit: Erin Glosson

Already I’ve read my Bible-in-90-Days portion.  I’ve done my three pages of writing, though I cheated and counted my homework for the 21-day course I’m taking.  Along with my course reading, I’ve read on the economy, how to tone your arms in 6 weeks, and from the New York Times.  Puzzled over stocks, drank my liter of water, and in a wild act of rebellion put my laundry off till later.

I recently lost one of my (various and sundry) jobs.  My friend suggested I put my TESOL certificate to good use and pick up some spare cash at his language exchange business, and I might have balked.

Balked.

He raised a “Don’t you need the money?” eyebrow at me.

And I blushed a “Yeah I really do,” and bit my tongue.

But.  But . . . The income is not my real concern.  I never really worry about money beyond “Do I have enough small bills to pay this auto driver?”  I do, full disclosure, sometimes worry about whether or not I worry about money enough.  I mean, whether I should start worrying about money.  Especially now I’m less a job . . .

So I’ll just say it:  My pocketbook may be hurting, but my pride is hurting more.  It began to hurt the minute Accounts Payable started to exceed Accounts Receivable and money going into savings became Zero and then started to inch into the negative decimals.  My self worth took a blow when I could no longer list my profession as a Writer, because all I was writing “professionally” was editorial notes.  A TESOL certificate is one thing, but what about . . . you know . . .  my degree?

You see, I don’t worry about my wallet; I worry about my portfolio.  I don’t worry about having a job; I worry about having a career.  I don’t worry about tomorrow; I worry about ten years from now.  And when I look back I don’t want to see a decade defined by abundance — my daily experience — or even that love that so marks my history, but . . . sense.  I want to be explainable.  And I’m not.

So just back up for a moment.  No, further.  Step away from the 20% of my life that everything I’ve said thus far encompasses.  The early morning hours, running, reading, writing, working, my ridiculous regiment of self-will (um, I mean, discipline).  Stop trying to figure out how many companies/people I work for (I don’t even know).  Look at the person.  Look at the life.  What do you see?

I see the prayer house where I live.  I see hours spent in alone in the prayer room and leading worship sets that sometimes no one comes to.  Outside in the street I see sewage floating by and children living under the closest flyover.  I see community and I hear laughter.  I know the kind of friendships I’ve longed for all my life.  And I see people sick and broken and hurting all around me.  I hear prayers that they will be healed . . . and sometimes they are.  And all of this is so unquantifiable, so unreasonable, I don’t even want you to know about it.

The street where I live. Photo credit: Erin Glosson
The street where I live. Credit: Erin Glosson

I don’t want my friends to know how little I get paid, while I don’t want my neighbors to even know I have a job.  I don’t want my housemates to know how early I get up in the morning, and I don’t want to admit to myself how little of that time I actually spend writing (no, blogging does not count).  That 21-day course I mentioned in paragraph 2 is not a writing course.  It’s in miracles — the odd, uncomfortable detail effortlessly edited out.  I’m good at what I do.

The French Cardinal Suhard wrote, “To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery.  It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.”

In that sense, does making my life a glorified double-blind test mean I’m hiding this little light of mine under the proverbial bushel?  Me, a mess of worries and striving, a witness to the God who feeds the ravens and dresses the wildflowers?  Where is the sense in that?  If the child starving on the street nearby means nothing to my resume, my resume means even less to that child.

I wasn’t even planning to write about street children.  This began as a Facebook status . . . and here we are.  As much as we can separate the parts of our lives, we can’t separate out the parts of ourselves, or even keep them secret from each other.  As humans, even wounded and broken, we make up a whole.  The question is not, is the witness the whole picture, but is the whole picture a witness?

My life is a mystery I’m far from solving.  A picture of pride, of woundedness, of faith, and fear of failure.  But “to witness” means to see.  And I am seeing more and more that the senselessness of man is indeed the wisdom of God.

 

What are the dichotomies and tensions in your life right now?  What are the parts you’re trying to integrate or keep secret from each other?  (Come on, you can be honest.  How many people even use the internet?)

Unsteady and Too Full

“I could feel the tears brimming and sloshing in me like water in a glass that is unsteady and too full.”

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

This post was originally titled Why Guys are in the World and Why Every Girl Should Have One because I had one of those moments today. One of those awful ones where you think, “Oh, this is why it sucks to be single.”

I was walking back to work at nearly three in the afternoon Thursday and had the overwhelming desire to cry. Just. Ball. But the prospect of sitting alone in my office, sobbing, was almost more miserable than the prospect that made me want to cry in the first place. And I wondered, “What is it that normal girls do in a situation like this?” Generally, in the cases I’ve witnessed, they call their husband, or their boyfriend, or their pair swimming partner, or whomever functions as the significant other in their life (and therefore has the duty of dealing with tears). That is: a guy.

It was also a guy who’d made me want to cry. A large, amiable, accented one who drove the tow truck that had delivered my car (MY car!) to my parent’s house shortly before. I’d ridden up front with him and I tried to explain exactly what had happened (as best I could) using terms like “mumbo-jumbo,” and “clickety-clank.” Which he interpreted to mean something very dire and as we deposited the late great Plain Vanilla into the driveway, he said:

“That’s a real shame,” looking ever so much like he meant it. “That’s a pretty nice car.”

And THAT is what made me want to cry, because I could bear it if I could think, “Hey, it was a junker anyway.” But there it was, clear as the towman said: It was a pretty nice car.

Was. Now it’s a pretty nice large metal lawn ornament.

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