Start Small

It has been a summer, and it is barely even summer.

I cannot talk about all that has happened here, but I have felt the wrongful use of power from within the ekklesia–the adopted family of faith, the light-holders, the called. This is a special grief.

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When I was young, my family experienced a profound betrayal. At the heart-wrenching news of a sibling’s diagnosis, the inherited virus that struck fear in the hearts of the most educated and powerful at the time, a church responded as though they were not heirs to a different Kingdom, as though their inheritance did not set them apart to love and courage.

New to the mission field and missionary kid identity, a hemisphere away from the congregation, my heart was still in those stateside walls. I had grown up there. I had stenciled its bathrooms. I had flipped those worship song overheads. And my faith and discipleship had flourished within that loving community. I didn’t have many friends in Kenya yet. We were sent but had not completely left perhaps. On the ground, but maybe a little in the air.

When as a family we were in the throws of the grief of the surprise diagnosis, I was incredibly unsuspecting that loved ones could respond in any way except empathy, sadness, and love. I didn’t know the word stigma yet, and I wasn’t versed in the rationale behind HIPAA. So when that home church board, which had shown Jesus to me in so many ways, rejected my sibling, and questioned our new livelihood and partnership, I grappled. The silence of others was an injurious as the words blasted out. (My parents tried to shield me from much of this, but they also taught me how to use e-mail and read, so…) Grief upon grief. One parent eventually flew back to the States in an effort to find reconciliation, with the help of a mediator. I remember the other parent crying in their bedroom, when the water tank decided to leak through the roof, alone in a foreign country with 5 kids, spotty electricity and that hovering sense of abandonment. Water pouring down the walls, and my own sense of belonging and home pouring out with it. It was disorienting, and though we did not speak of it much or share about it then, it was defining.

That experience forced my faith to differentiate from a place, or an outcome. And it showed me that the most mature, the most devoted, by word, may be the youngest in deed. Everyone has work to do. And fear is a convincing hurricane pulling up the tallest trees.

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A few months ago, I was working with some colleagues to address some sensitive and serious matters. I heard the words “stay small,” during one time of prayer. As an advocate, a first-born, a leader, and achiever, we can all be confident that these words did not come from my head. The words helped me with patience, and to work within the given system, to wait behind leaders, and watch. And the words help me today as I am forced to continue waiting and watching from this place of betrayal and grief, as I see false narratives and am left alone to check my own attitude and actions in this Church.

I find comfort in the smallness, the humility, of the passion of Christ. The disorder he endured and the abandonment central to our Good News disarms my expectations while hosting my pain. I compare alluring human success, the touting of statistics, name recognition and acquisition of comfort, with his rhythm of ministry, his walk of suffering, and I don’t see much connection. I know from his life that collecting successes and platforms was not the aim; the power and the transformation he preached was in the visit to the prisoner, quiet and inconvenient, the feeding of the individual, unknown and undocumented. His stories are small, like the vulnerability of confronting and empowering a woman, in the heat of the day, at a pivotal moment. His record was one of investment into real relationships. Proximity to the pain was central. His acquisition of status did not overlap a hair with this world’s. His smallness and humility was our very victory and salvation.

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I can no sooner slow the growth of my children as I can solve my current problem or convince people to do the right, small thing. So I am left to start small, to stay small, with my self. Am I one that employs language of reconciliation and love but do not meet at the table with the complicated friend? Do I outwardly suggest all means of generosity and inclusion, but side step relationships when they smack of sacrifice? Do I stay at his feet, do I quiet the demons, enough to be draw near to the God of the margins, the Lord of kings? Do I build equity and justice in the small ways, in the daily steps?

There is enough work to do in me to keep me thinking small and to extend far beyond the puffing chest or the raised fist. Giving helps the grief, and blessing out of brokenness is the only way to heal. So far Life keeps reminding me that it is in the pouring out and the breaking, the kneeling and washing that we meet, we share in, and enjoy, the holy. We echo him, and we find him, and that is all we ever could hope to do.

 

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Today as Though Yesterday // 1

I will continue attempting to write mid-way. I am in the thick of a sludgy walk with sorrow but still have the hope of reaching wide Joy waters too. I will be posting short reflections as I go, as though I have passed through this marsh. As though today was yesterday.

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I never worried about monsters as a kid. I was much too practical, much too invincible for that. Night was just night and shadows were just shadows; the sunrise, even the night light, was not my salvation—I wasn’t scared. It wasn’t until adulthood that my security, my fear of the unknown and the dark corners, grew to keep pace with a normal 4-year-old’s development. Though I did not encounter any as a child, I feel certain that monsters are a far worse experience as an adult, never knowing when they will jump out, or who they are hiding behind. Having no super-adult there to comfort you, to say they are not real, because, in fact, there are no super-adults and they can be real. Having no fancy adult-tricks to make the monsters go away, to prove them untrue, to disappear the bad. I found myself thinking completely impractical, juvenile thoughts, like, I wish I could trade in these scary monster hunt nights for the ones I neglected in my childhood. As if I were due. For monsters.

During this time I found my physical health insulting and insincere. I didn’t understand why I could walk down the street without my guts spilling out on the sidewalk and no thick blood trail. I wished to become very sick, to vomit and vomit and vomit until this time was emptied and gone, until the poison I had been fed was sewage, and all I had to do was drink Sprite for a few days and enjoy the way my jeans fit. It didn’t make sense that my chest was still wrapped in unscarred skin when it seemed a big, black cavern—a gaping hole of mystery and sorrow, the size of a warm baby who knew the beat of my heart. I did not appreciate that all the organs and bones were in the right place when there was a starving emptiness nagging in the center of my body. My weight was terribly stable. My hands kept their patterns of dishes, laundry, e-mails, and driving. My muscles kept form though at times I would wake in the middle of the night believing I had lost my body, feeling nothing but a great blob of grey, powerless matter. The grace of good health seemed ill-placed to my ill-state.

I was partly dismayed at my body because it never once let me off the hook of the fight for True or sent me into sweet hallucinations or blissful unconsciousness. But more than that, it added to the internal conflict that had taken up residence in my mind. Though all the parts of my body worked like normal, I had given a part of my hip to a child that no longer rested upon it and a swaying bounce of my legs to a child that I could no longer soothe. I had trained my ear to stirrings and groggy babble that never came. I had treated my nose to the smell of a little one who gave affection and effected us dearly, and there was no where to nestle it now. How would my systems restore, how would these processes recover, after 9 months of being programmed around a person that was now an absence. When would I stop thinking of taking her monitor to the backyard with us. When would I stop looking for her in public and seeing all our meetings in public places replay at every drive-by. At what point would the parts of my body I had willingly committed to her every moment give up their highly-functioning, suddenly-expired ways.

I didn’t know. I couldn’t find the light switch. I had no closet door to open. Just me, enduring the monster of Loss, who kept company with many others, waiting for the sunrise, praying for a night light.

 

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