A Time to Keep Silence

I’m not sure if the news on racial divides these days is really worse than it was before, or if I’m just paying more attention because it’s happening in my hometown. It’s possible that I just can’t ignore it now because my newsfeed is full of it. I’m ashamed to admit having publicly ignored it before. Beginning with Ferguson, whenever #blacklivesmatter, #bluelivesmatter and #alllivesmatter came across my newsfeed during the last couple of years I just went on a facebook hiding spree of those I found particularly distasteful (sometimes outright racist), hit the “like” button on a few posts or articles I “supported” and moved on. I didn’t want to engage. The thought of posting something of my own and having to talk to someone I disagreed with was too overwhelming. If you are not already aware, this is a prime example of my own white privilege.

But this time… this time it was too close to home. I returned to Baton Rouge after 10 months out of the country on the day Alton Sterling was executed. I sat in front of the television most of the day, tears streaming down my face during every news break. I wept, and I watched as my Facebook newsfeed filled with passion and compassion from friends and writers all over the country… I decided to “like” and “share” without thought to who may disagree. The time for me to keep silent has come to an end. Meanwhile, I couldn’t help noticing that many of my Baton Rouge friends, both black and white, remained silent on the front of racial reconciliation. I engaged with more friends out of state than I did here. And I was so encouraged to see others, like myself, who’d previously been quiet come out in public support of Black Lives. I started a screenshot collection of their posts. I desperately wanted to see a silver lining.

But yesterday morning, something changed. At first, all I saw were postings of news reports on more violence and the deaths of Baton Rouge Police Officers. If I’m being honest, I fought numbness and forced myself to face the sadness of continued loss of life. I’ve grown weary of tragedy. But as the day progressed and I refreshed my newsfeed, I didn’t just feel sad. I started to get angry. People who have been largely silent in the face of tragedies the past few weeks suddenly found their voice, railing against “these people” in all caps. I saw profile pictures light up with blue flames and blue lines, one after another. I was reminded I had facebook connections I’d honestly forgotten were there, it’d been so long since they posted anything. I was annoyed at the convenience of their grief. How is it that they have only just had their hearts broken enough to publicly lament? How have they escaped this tearing, this wound, inflicted by injustice upon injustice, the kind that feels like torture, intended to make you scream?

Rumi-On-Silence

In my disillusionment I briefly entertained the notion of deleting the facebook app from my phone and disengaging, just to curb my growing annoyance at people I otherwise know to be kind and reasonable. But then, among the local support from the silent ones I began to see support and prayers for Baton Rouge from my friends around the country, the same ones who’ve been defending black lives with vigor. I was reminded by them that standing for justice and fighting for love is not something we do only when it is convenient to our pet causes. Lament is worthy of being heard no matter where it’s coming from.

I have to confess that the most telling silence the last few weeks has been that of my black friends here in Baton Rouge. And I know because I’ve checked their pages just to be sure I haven’t missed something. Some of them are people I have had painful, halting conversations with about exactly how it’s different to grow up as a black American – particularly in the South. They are the ones who made my blind eyes see colors as they truly are, not how I wish them to be. And while the rest of the country seems in an uproar over the things taking place in our hometown, they grieve quietly. I know, because I’ve reached out to a few of them. While I want to wail, rend my garments and scream, I watch their eyes fill but refuse to spill, demonstrating a strength that comes from years of practice I have no concept of. I echo their fears. I want to say, “This isn’t my Baton Rouge. This isn’t my city.” But when I listen to them I know that isn’t true. This has been my city for years. I just didn’t want to see it.

I was talking to a black friend last week who said she wants to do something to bring change. Talking doesn’t seem to make enough of a difference. I told her that her story can make a difference. That people like me desperately need to hear voices like hers. I told her about my screenshot collection. I told her that her voice matters. She looked back at my tear filled eyes and said, “Bekah, how are you going to tell me my voice matters when my life doesn’t even matter?”

I felt my heart crack and later, it shattered. What could I say? I could tell her that her life matters, to me. I could start there. I could use my voice of privilege to try to make others see how much her life matters. But it doesn’t seem like enough. I alone cannot make her believe a truth she has seen disputed in the blood of her brothers all her life. That night, I sobbed in the arms of my father over the injustice. Coming to believe I have a voice worth hearing has been one of the most affirming experiences of my life. Knowing that she is unable to believe the same simply because her skin is a different color, broke me. It isn’t fair. It shouldn’t be that way. I want it to be different.

For my black friends I understand if now is a time to keep silence. I understand if the weight is too much. This is a grief you cannot count on all of humanity to share. I wish you could. Like Job, perhaps you must sit in silence. I want to sit with you. But, I want to learn better from the friends of Job. If you will permit me, I will lament for you… And when your time of silence is past, I will do whatever I can to be sure your voice is heard. Because your life matters.

But so does your voice.

 

Advertisements

Finding my Hinds Feet – a Place Prepared

Before I could blink I’d reached my last week at work. It was a bittersweet time: packing to move and training my replacement. Only then did this start to feel real. My lease was over on the 31st of the month so weeks in advance I made arrangements for a place to stay between September 1st and September 13th, the date of my departure. But, only 5 days before I had to be out of my apartment, those plans fell through and I was looking for a place to lay my head.

This came as an unexpected hitch in my plans, but there is nothing that surprised Him about it. He was preparing a place for me.

I reached out to a couple of friends who have large networks in the area to see if they knew anyone who may let me sleep on their couch for a few days. I planned to reach out to the friends I have in town and sleep on as many couches as possible so as not to be an imposition. But, before I could even do that, my friend Maggie connected me with a family she knows that live only a few miles away who had an open guest room. I’d never met them before, they didn’t know me at all, but they were receptive and invited me to their home to meet them.

I stopped by the Cooks’ house after my last day at work. Immediately I felt the warm familiarity that is present with other believers–the witness of the Spirit. Within an hour, this mother of 4 handed me a key to their home and told me I was welcome to stay in their guest room for the full 2 weeks before I leave. I held back tears, in awe of how He was taking care of me.  I was a stranger without a home, and they have welcomed me.

This, this is what Jesus looks like. This is what it is to be a part of the body of Christ. This is amazing grace. Unmerited favor. It was as though He had this arranged all along.

BabyCuddle

Cuddling little ones

…and this is where words begin to fail me. I wish that I could communicate with glistening eyes and a lump in my throat everything that I want to say. But this part is still unfolding. My heart is being healed by holding babies, and watching parents shepherd the hearts of their little ones, and laughter between family members and words of encouragement that never cease. My room even has it’s own little writing nook! It couldn’t be more perfect. I didn’t know I needed this. But He did.

I know that my home is ultimately not on the earth. But I am beginning to find glimpses of it in His people. Someone recently reminded me of Jesus words in John 14:1-3,

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

He has a place prepared for me. My home is where He is.

Read part 1, part 2 and part 3, testimonies of His goodness…

Reflections of a Strong-Willed Child

A writer friend of mine shared an article about strong-willed children last night. I was scrolling my newsfeed during an intense episode of Scandal, using my “viewers discretion” as I’d been advised. I’m not even a mama, but the headline and the image of a cross-armed little girl made me pause. Before I even clicked the link, I stopped the show and reached for my journal because the Holy Spirit is no respecter of Netflix binges. And He had something to say.

The words “strong-willed child” might as well have been profane slurs to me as a little girl. It was a self-deprecating family joke that I never found very funny. People would compliment my Momma on her daughters, and she would laugh then tell them about her “strong-willed child” that mirrored all of her worst traits. Other parents would smile knowingly, and they’d talk Dobson-sanctioned parenting strategies, while I prayed the floor, or at least my mothers skirt, would open up and swallow me.

miss stubborn

The words stung because I couldn’t deny they were true. It wasn’t that I refused to obey, it was just that I always had a question or an opinion about everything. The word “no” left my mouth before I could bring my hand up to stop it. In the role of “big sister” I owned those 18 months of seniority like they’d given me a throne to dictate from. I recognized these things in myself but no matter how hard I tried to stop, I kept getting into trouble. Everything pointed to one character flaw: my strong will.

I hated my strong will. Despised it. I wanted to kill it more than anything in the world. My will became the enemy of God’s will, and I didn’t understand why it just.wouldn’t.die. The “old man” was supposed to pass away, all things were supposed to be new, weren’t they? Where was my “new man”? “Strong-willed” morphed into “rebellious” as a teenager no matter how desperately I prayed to be rid of the thorn in my flesh. This “quirk” of my personality became my besetting sin and the source of unending shame.

Until last night. Before I could even get pen to paper Jesus was reframing “the strong-willed child” in me. The same stubborn streak that did battle with my Momma for all those years has sustained me through some dark days. It supplied me the fortitude I needed to survive family dysfunction, sexual abuse, 10 years in a cult, and seasons of severe depression. But more than any of that, my strong will has been the greatest evidence of grace by driving me to cling to Jesus. What I saw as a fatal flaw He has used to keep my heart tethered to Himself, even when the circumstances dictated that I walk away. I didn’t break.

By the grace of God and with His help, I’ve drawn on that strength to fight the lie that I would always disappoint through undisciplined actions. I grew up. And I’m using the stubbornness I despised for 25 years to my advantage as I continue to seek healing. I can re-write my story and choose to leave a different legacy.

I used to think that being strong-willed doomed me to grow up a mean, bossy, control freak. I have my moments, just like any of us. But they no longer define me. I was a strong-willed child. Now I’m just strong.

Melting Steel Magnolias

There’s a magnolia tree I pass on my evening walks that you can smell from half a block away. The other night I tip-toed up to the low hanging branches to savor the fragrance. The leaves were heavy from afternoon thunderstorms. I pulled my phone out to take a picture of a saturated bloom, hunting for a postcard worthy image–the mascot of southern charm, a large blossom with curled ivory petals dusted by rain drops. But the only thing I could find were completely unfurled blooms, sagging and bruised under the weight of the rain.

Magnolia from my neighbors tree

Magnolia from my neighbor’s tree

I thought about those flowers for the rest of my walk. Magnolia trees are common here and several on my route are blooming now. None of the others smell as heavenly as that first tree, even with the humid summer air. The open blossoms set it apart, filling the air with its fragrance. By fully opening its petals the tree gained in attraction what it lost in beauty. Rather than just observe it from a distance I was drawn in by the intoxicating fragrance to bury my nose in the blooms and drink deeply.

If I were that tree, I would want steel magnolias, the picture of perpetual perfection. I could see myself telling the buds to stay closed, straining to keep my petals from unfurling too far. As a woman, the threat of fading beauty scares me. In the timeless words of Ms. Truvy, “Time marches on and eventually you realize it is marchin’ across your face.”  But that tree taught me something about surrender. It’s not afraid to trade one kind of beauty for another. It’s blooms fall open without fear that they will be the last. They offer their beauty and then their fragrance, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world, because it is.

The word “open” has been a theme for me this week. In poetry, long phone calls, on my evening walks and in emails. I think it’s called “synchronicity” but I call it love notes from the Lover of my Soul. One of them came in an email from a friend with a Brene’ Brown quote.

“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection… true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

A magnolia tree convicted me to be open, vulnerable, seen and known. I hide the imperfect parts far too often from those who would most benefit from knowing I am human. Some might smile or click the “like” button from a distance when I share the lovely parts of my life, but the magnolia challenged me to melt the steel, and dare to let my imperfections be seen. It dared me to draw people in, to connect, to drink deeply together of the incense of openness.

Anxiety crept up on me

Anxiety crept up on me.

When I experienced the first symptoms I was in a season where everything was unsteady. My job was in transition, and I was considering some major life and career changes that would take me far away from my family and everything familiar. My church was a constant source of unpredictable drama. But despite all of this, I didn’t “feel” upset. I wasn’t worried. I had “peace.” I made myself peaceful. I made myself completely numb, without realizing what I was doing.

So, when I started having episodes of my heart racing out of control, and the breath being sucked from my lungs… I concluded it was purely physiological…
I am grateful to my Story Sister, Kate Herrell for the opportunity to write for The Honest Brain about my experience with anxiety. She’s holding an honest conversation about living with anxiety, and it’s been so good to know I am not alone.