About blakeblackman3

I like to say Jesus and I started hanging out about 7 years ago. Somewhere along the line I fell in love and since He had been loving me all along, I guess we will be hanging out forever! I have the joy and honor of being married to my best friend, Jason. My son, Noah has become one of the most extraordinary young men I've ever known and I couldn't like him more. Earlier this year, I left vocational ministry- I hope only temporarily. The 4 years I was on staff with Renovatus Church were the most beautiful, life changing years of my life. I can't wait to see what God has in store for the next leg of this journey. He is nothing if not surprising and unexpected. But He is always, always good.

I Believe…

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I am afraid.

I’m afraid I’m not enough. Enough of what? Of anything.

I’m afraid of all the ways I have failed or will fail as a mother. I’m afraid that I don’t really know what it means to love someone deep and well.

I’m afraid of getting sick, real sickness like cancer. I’m afraid of the people I love (imperfectly as I do) getting sick and having to walk with them through that illness. Maybe even more twisted, I’m afraid the people I love won’t get sick and die and I’ll have to spend the rest of my life trying to figure out how to love them deep and well. And then coming up short.

I’m afraid of the other shoe dropping because so many shoes in my life have already dropped.

I’m afraid of roller coasters and noises that go bump in the night. And sometimes cars, well anything with an engine really. I know that’s odd.

I’m afraid of reaching the end of my life and never having actually done anything worthwhile with it, of not leaving it all on the field. I’m afraid of living with complete abandon and equally scared of not living that way at all.

I’m afraid of being misunderstood, uneducated, incapable. Conversely, I’m afraid of getting an education, putting myself out there, and working hard so as to be totally capable. I’m afraid to fail or try in case I do. I’m afraid to look stupid.

I’m afraid of my once black heart turning that way again.

I’m afraid of poverty and famine and abuse in all its sinister forms. I’m afraid of the world my son is forced to participate in and that his heart or spirit will be broken. I’m afraid of crushed dreams for all humankind.

I’m afraid I’ll stop knowing how to pray or forgive or connect to God or forget that I really believe all the things I really believe. I am afraid that I’ll stop seeing beauty and good in myself, others, and the world. But most of all, I’m afraid I’ll stop seeing all that is lovely in the face of my precious Jesus.

I’m afraid of my life now that I’ve left my beloved church, Renovatus. In the words of Baby in Dirty Dancing, “I’m afraid of leaving here and never feeling the way I feel when I’m with you.” What if there is no life of faith waiting for me on the other side of the wondrous 8 years I spent there?

I spent most of 2014 pretty decimated. Losing my job at the church and then leaving the church altogether left me more of a shell of myself that I ever would have anticipated. What if I believed in the church more than I believed in God? What if the air that filled my lungs was the community and work there instead of the very breath of the Lord? What if I only believed what I believed because I was a part of a people who believed the same things and I really liked feeling like I belonged? 2014 left me questioning my very identity and that’s so much harder than trying to take off the extra 15lbs that year of personal crisis gave me. I also don’t think I was quite so afraid before 2014. But when the bedrock of your very existence begins to quake and tremble, it doesn’t take much for all the tiny pernicious thoughts lying just beneath the surface to turn into a full on haunting.

I don’t think very much of resolutions, New Years or otherwise. But I do believe in new beginnings and fresh starts and surprisingly, I find more and more that I sure do put a lot of weight down on hope. For months I have been afraid to hope. What if the Lord won’t resurrect anything from these ashes? I know he can, but what if he won’t? What if I’m stuck like this? So I didn’t dare to hope. But in the spirit of it being a new year and all, and given that I can’t live the next half of my life afraid that everything that will ever be good has already been, I’m choosing hope.

Today I will practice saying the things I truly believe because there is power in the proclamation and I BELIEVE that HOPE is what keeps up alive. I believe hope is what gives us the strength to move forward when all signs point to despair.

I also whole-heartedly believe in BLESSING and the pronouncement of them. I listened to a sermon today on the Beatitudes and was shocked at how backwards I have always interpreted The Sermon on the Mount. I’ve always obsessed over the latter half of Jesus’ statements. I always wondered how will they inherit the earth? How will they be comforted? How tangible is this mercy they will be shown? Are only the peacemakers called children of God? And ultimately, of course, how do I fit in? Which one am I? Isn’t that just like human nature to always fixate on what we get out of the deal?

But today, as Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber described her idea of some Beatitudes for the modern-day, I realized the second half of the sentence was never the point. Jesus, the very Lord of all himself, stood on that hill that day in order to confer a blessing, His blessing, on ALL people. Jesus blesses those who doubt like me. He blesses those who’ve lost their way, who feel less than, unheard, unseen, not worthy. He blesses the abused and the abuser alike. He blesses the uneducated, incapable, unsuccessful. He blesses those who have lost much and feel the mourning will never cease. And he blesses those who are so very afraid, just like me.

As I start of 2015 just as afraid and unsure as I was on December 31, 2014 I will receive the blessing my Lord spoke over me before I was even born and has every day since. I will still doubt and stumble through my prayers and wonder how close to the brink of black this ole heart may turn again. But I will also be full of undying hope because I’m at least beginning this year knowing that I really do believe some of the things I believe. I believe in the blessing God has lovingly spoken over all people everywhere simply because we are His and He adores us so, even little ole me. And I think that’s a pretty un-scary place to start a new year.

I’m Sorry

Dear Body,

Last week Sarah Bessey wrote a gorgeous and moving letter to her body. I read it, just like I read every post that shows up in my news feed with a similar theme. I love reading about women becoming comfortable, delighted even, with their post baby bodies; with all their curves and ripples, lumps and marks. I am always so proud of and thankful for their courage to speak against the photo shopped, air brush standards the media tries to hold women to. But my experience has been much different than theirs and I always find myself reading those posts and letters with a small knot of envy deep inside.

When I read Sarah’s beautiful post I wanted so badly to write one of my own. I started to think of what kind words I have for you and I understood, perhaps for the first time, that there simply are none.

The truth is you have let me down. You aren’t the body I wanted. Sure, you started out pretty great at 5’6″ and 118lbs back when I was 20. I loved eating any and everything I wanted and still wearing my little size 4 pants. I took for granted not being judged by my weight and dieting never being a part of my norm. Having people mistake me for a dude from time to time because my name is Blake and I had the tiniest boobs in the world wasn’t exactly fun, but it could’ve been worse.

After you gave me Noah 16 years ago, you also left me with 30 extra pounds and stretch marks for days. I even have stretch marks on those little itty bitty boobies. Now that just isn’t fair! I have a c-section scar running horizontal across my mid-section because of the awful Medicaid doctor we had. Back then we were so poor and young and scared. I didn’t know I should have gotten educated about how to help you get Noah out into the world without the assistance of surgery. It wasn’t that I was too lazy to learn, I was just the first amongst my friends to have a baby and I didn’t know what I was doing. I couldn’t afford the good birthing classes because I had to get a car seat and a crib for Noah, you know, things that are kinda non-negotiables when you have a baby.

My mom wasn’t much help, God love her. She was of the generation of “doctor knows best and just do as you’re told.” Sure, I read What To Expect When You’re Expecting, but I don’t remember it being all that helpful. It certainly didn’t speak of birthing plans and patient rights, all of which I was clueless about. I had rights?? Who knew? So when I went for my 9 month check up and Dr. Horrible proceeded to stick her whole hand somewhere I’m fairly certain it really didn’t belong and tell me that she felt the baby’s feet instead of head, meaning I would need a c-section, I didn’t realize this would be a fantastic time to invoke those patient rights of mine. I didn’t realize she should have done an ultrasound to detect that little breach tidbit or that when choosing an OBGYN you should always check their c-section rates. Turns out Dr. Horrible’s was over 90%. Whoa!!

We never got to experience a single contraction together, you and I. We never felt the pride of seeing exactly what you are capable of or how strong you are. We never had the joy of knowing through and through that one thing that separates women from men; childbirth. After Noah’s birth, I quickly realized that breastfeeding was going to be a challenge. I don’t know if it was because of the size of my breasts or a general lack of understanding on my part. This was before the days of the internet and I admit I was just clueless. When my baby would cry and cry because he was hungry and you didn’t seem to be able to satisfy him, Mom suggested I give him formula. So I did, because I was 21 and worried. Breastfeeding my sweet baby lasted less than three weeks.

Even through all these struggles I believe you and I remained on pretty good terms. I realized the part I played in your experience. I didn’t think it was all your fault we ended up with a surgical experience that was really quite terrifying. I had a lot to do with that and for that I owe you an apology. I set you up to fail and I’m so so sorry.

It wasn’t until 2 years later when my then husband and I decided to have a second baby that I began to slowly hate you. This time I had insurance and an amazing doctor and we weren’t nearly so poor. I went to the Bradley childbirth classes, I got permission for a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) provided that my pregnancy was healthy, and I read more books. I was ready. Except it seems this time, you were not. I don’t know why my placenta and uterus grew irreparably together. I don’t know why I had to be on bed rest for 7 weeks of that pregnancy and then little Zyler had to be born 5 weeks premature. I don’t know why I began to hemorrhage on the operating table during my second c-section and almost lost my life. I don’t know why Zyler’s lungs were under developed or why he was born with two holes in his heart. It took over a year, but in the end those two heart holes cost sweet Zyler his life.

And I really don’t know why the only thing that ultimately saved my life was having a hysterectomy the moment after Zyler was pulled from my body. If I didn’t feel like a woman before, I certainly didn’t feel like one now.

So after I read Sarah’s letter, I understood that I’ve spent the last 14 years punishing you, attempting to make you pay for all the ways you haven’t been enough. I’ve filled you with cigarettes and far too many glasses of wine. I’ve eaten all the fried things and only exercised in fits and starts, ultimately believing you were beyond salvage. You didn’t give me the experiences and memories I so desperately wanted therefore I would give you nothing more than chastisement. And when I haven’t been punishing you, I’ve been afraid of you. You almost killed me before. How long before you will do it again? I believe we may have a slight trust issue between us.

I don’t how you turned out the way you did, little Body of mine. Did I make you this way or did God? Were you just born broken?

Then I thought of my love for Christ and His teachings. I thought of the way He loves all His children but especially the broken ones, the orphaned ones, the widowed ones, and the outcasts. I guess as far as bodies go, you’re sort of an outcast, you exist in the margins. You really are like a little engine that could though and although you couldn’t put Zyler together in a way that was whole and safe, you did give me Noah and I couldn’t be more grateful for him.

I also have an amazing new husband that I adore, a mother I cherish, and fantastic friends. None of them want you to give out, Body. They are pretty hellbent on me and you sticking around and loving on them for a good long while. I guess it’s about time I recognize that my spirit which loves them so intensely needs you, Body, to keep me here with them for as long as we are able.

So here is my commitment to you- While it is a daily struggle for me to be grateful for and kind to this very real flesh and bone body I am forced to walk around in, I have decided, in light of all my sisters hard work to be thankful for their bodies, I am ready to join in their cause. I will include you and all your capabilities in my list of daily gratitudes. I will use you more in physical ways and I will be more deliberate about what I put into you. I will speak gently and kindly when talking about you. And I will pray often and faithfully to let go of the bitterness and resentment I have felt for you until now. And above all, I will stop trying to punish you for all you didn’t provide me with and be thankful for the fruit of all that you did.

We have a lot of life left to live together, sweet girl. I’m so sorry for all the ways I’ve hurt you. I’m sorry for not advocating for you. I’m sorry for holding you accountable for things that probably weren’t your fault at all. I’m sorry I haven’t worked to help you overcome your shortcomings and make you strong(er). You are a gift from God and I should have told you that sooner.

Here’s to our next 50 years together! May they be blessed, healthy, full of love and fun!

 

Sweet 16

My Dearest Noah,

You slept in my bed last night. I woke up before you this morning and lay there staring at you, wondering if this would be the last time I got to do this. You slept with me all the time when you were little and I have always been thankful you still do it when Jason is out of town. I know the older you have gotten you do it just because it makes me happy and feel like I’m still your Mama, and I appreciate that.

You’re 16 today and when I think about that it makes me cry. I cry because you’re my only baby and I feel like it all went too fast. I feel like I didn’t pay enough attention, or write down enough of the funny things you said, or take enough pictures. Some days I want a do over because I want to go back and capture every last moment and to make sure that none of the moments were wasted.

But that’s never been the type of person I am. I haven’t documented my life well, so of course I didn’t yours. Jason and I didn’t even hire a photographer for our wedding. I’ve always been a more fly by the seat of your pants, experience the moment and let it pass kind of gal. I don’t know that I necessarily regret that, but in moments of panic such as your only child turning 16, you may begin to question your methods!

The other reason I cry is because you are so wonderful and lovely and more than I ever dreamed of. I was a kid when you were born. I didn’t even know what to hope, wish, or pray for you. My biggest goal was to keep you alive and healthy. I didn’t know to pray for you to become compassionate and yet you are the most compassionate person I have ever met. I didn’t know to hope for you to be kind, but you are so very kind and sweet to other people. You have a tender heart and a sixth sense for when people are hurting. You may not be able to do a lot to alleviate their pain, but you are a damn good friend and you sit with people while they hurt. You don’t run away and you’re not afraid of hard things. How did you turn out like this? I didn’t know to hope for all that so I don’t know that I parented in that direction. But you became that person anyway somehow and I am so proud that you did.

You said this morning at breakfast that you thought people shouldn’t have children until they have some wisdom to impart on their child. Well, good luck! None of us would ever have kids if we waited until we thought we were smart or wise enough to have something to offer. When you’re ready to make a baby with the love of your life you’ll be scared shitless because you’ll be certain you’re going to ruin that kid. But you’ll do it anyway because your love for your wife and the baby you haven’t met yet will outweigh your fears of failing. And when you love like that nothing will ever be a complete failure anyways.

I didn’t have any wisdom for you at 21 when you were born, but you and I have been through it together these 16 years, haven’t we? We have both grown in wisdom and maturity; thankfully we will continue to just grown and grow. But I do have some wisdom for you now, my sweet son. First of all, I want you to always remember to grant yourself the same grace you give to everyone else. You deserve love and kindness and friendship and empathy and compassion just as much as you give it. Every person is valuable, Noah, every last one. But that doesn’t mean you have to give your heart away or go the extra hundred miles for every one of them. The world is big enough that we can all find what’s called a “home team.” Those are the people you would give a kidney to no questions asked. Everybody can’t be on that team, sweetie. Try to not give too much of you away to the people that wouldn’t give you their kidney.

That last paragraph doesn’t refer to acts of service or generosity. You are such a generous person and you are constantly serving those who need and ask for help. I’m never going to suggest you become a callous person. I’m just saying guard your heart, baby. Not everyone is put on this earth to share the depths of you. When you find who is, you’ll know.

Work hard. Don’t give up on your dreams for what seems like a quick fix right now. You have amazing potential inside you, Noah. You are so smart and driven and motivated. Please don’t lose that or let it drift away. I did and I have spent my entire life regretting it. I always chose what was right in front of my face (or easy) and now I still have so many questions about what might have been. Don’t do that! Go out there and find out what you’re capable of and chase your dreams down. You will fail here and there and you will disappoint yourself at times, but it will all be so worth it and you will glad you didn’t give up. Work hard!

There is plenty more I want to tell you, but we have Senior year and college and a lifetime after that. I don’t want to put it all here and overwhelm your 16-year-old brain. Mostly I want to tell you how special you are to me. I’ve never missed opportunities to tell you I love you and I have tried so hard to make sure you know I think the world of you, but in case any of that wasn’t clear before I wanted to say it all today. Because you know, turning 16 seems like a big deal to me!

Noah, I didn’t plan to get pregnant with you and so I was pretty scared. And some days I thought I had really screwed up my life by having a baby. But I can honestly tell you that you are the best thing that ever, ever happened to me. You are the gift I never knew to ask for or plan. You made my life make sense and you made me into the person I am today. I wanted to be better because I wanted to be good enough for you. Yeah, I know I’m still a mess in some ways. None of us will ever fully get there. But I’m better at being a human being because you came along.

I’m over the moon that God saw fit to let me be your mom. It is the best and most important thing I will ever do in this lifetime. Thank you for being who you are. I couldn’t be more proud. I couldn’t like you more. And I sure as hell couldn’t love you any more than I do. With my whole heart. I’m really excited to see where your life takes you and all the adventures you and I have left together. When I worry that I missed too much of your growing up I just remember all the life and laughter and memories you and I have yet to make.

I carry you in my heart, my little Noah. Always.

Love, Mama

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Too Big For A Small Town

Aside

My aunt, Sally, is probably going to die today just a little less than a month shy of her 59th birthday. This month marks her two year battle with stage 4 breast cancer. I am no stranger to grief and loss, but for some reason this is hitting me especially hard. I like to think it’s because I’m much more skilled at feeling my feelings now instead of just drinking about them. So today I’m sad and today I want to take a moment to celebrate all that she means to me.

Sally never thought of herself as smart. I think she has always been plenty smart, but she was definitely wise. She could cut through bullshit in a hot minute. Sally was bossy and opinionated, but she loved fiercely and was never once afraid to go to bat for who and what she believed in. I’m not as bossy as she was, but I am a lot like her in those other areas. I already wrote earlier this year about my mother, her sister. The two of them were similar in these things and I like to think they passed those beautiful characteristics on to me. This year at Renovatus, the staff took personality tests and one of the things mine said about me was that I have the “need to be against.” I won’t argue with that. Sometimes that has gotten me into real trouble when I fight just for the sake of fighting. But as I have witnessed through the lives of two of the most influential women in my life, there will be times when you need to speak up for those who can’t speak up for themselves. There are times when the injustice is too great and the hard thing needs to be said. The older I get and the more I learn about the heart of Jesus for his kids, the less afaid I am of being the one who speaks. Sally and my mom gave me that gift.

I grew up in the small town of Wingate, NC. It’s everything the stereotypes in your head think it is. It’s conservative, Bible belt-ish, and in some ways still struggling to catch up to the cultural changes of our time. But it is, of course, also beautiful and loving and safe. Community is paramount there and the people live it out in so many ways that Jesus would smile about. Sally never moved away from Wingate but there are many ways that she was always too big for that town. Sally was always interested in this big, wide world we live in. She loved art, food, film, theater, dance, clothes, books. She directed community plays and made interesting, diverse friends. She introduced me to gay people and provolone cheese. I’m not kidding about the cheese.

Sally took me to see RENT for the first time in 2000 and I thought I would split open with emotion. I remember she and I sitting in the theater weeping for 30 minutes at the beautiful humanity of it all. When I was little my favorite part of Christmas was the Christmas Eve get together she would host at her house. She would decorate and serve hor d’oeuvres on actual serving platters. There was wine with actual wine glasses, music, and everything smelled like Christmas. The conversation was probably something smart and cultural like politics and poverty, an aspiring liberal little girl’s dream. I am fully aware that as I have gotten older I’ve romanticized these Xmas Eves in a way that clearly doesn’t reflect reality, but we barely decorated for the holidays at my house and traditions were scarce. So I soaked up every moment of these little parties at Sally’s with her “cool” friends.

Also when I was little Sally loved to watch Baryshnikov dance. I can remember walking into her small apartment and seeing his tightly clothed body jumping and twirling across the screen. Those moments are where I learned that boys can dance too and there is a country called Russia where they talk with fun accents. Later, she and I would watch as Carrie would fall in love with “the Russian” (Baryshnikov) on Sex and the City and we would share in our very own love of that show.

Sally Williams was a lot of things to a lot of people. She loved children even though she never had her own. She worked in the child care industry most of her adult life and was their advocate as often as she was able. She made a huge impact on her community at Wingate Baptist Church and loved those people as well as she knew how. But for me, the impact she had on my life was to show me that there is a whole world outside of the small town I grew up in.

I live in Charlotte now which is only 40 minutes from the sleepy town of Wingate, but I left home for college, lived for a short moment in California, and have traveled all through this giant country of ours. I’ve even been to see the bright lights of NYC a few times which is something Sally always wanted to do, but never did. If I could give her any gift it would have been to see just one show on Broadway. I think it was Sally that exposed me to all the life at my fingertips. My husband and I are “foodies” now and love to try any and all of the culinary delights available to us. I appreciate art and film in a way I wouldn’t have without her influence. I’ve been to actual fancy parties and I adore them (even though I have no desire to be the one throwing them) because they remind me of Christmas at Sally’s. But most of all, I absolutely LOVE being surrounded by good friends of all walks of life, eating, drinking, loving, and laughing loud and deep.

Thank you for giving me ALL of the gifts, Sally Annie. You helped make me me.

But For Today

Sometimes I get so tired of trying to look on the bright side. I get sick of looking for the silver lining. There I said it!

When I was in my early 20’s I lost my 13 month old son and a little while later my husband left. Sometimes I feel like a broken record saying that- “Hi, my name is Blake and my son died. Oh, and then my husband left.” But it just so happens that that is the lens through which I view most of my world. I wouldn’t say that those two things dictate the whole of my life, but it is difficult for me to process any given situation without those events in the back of my head.

One way that plays out in my life, I think, is I am relatively comfortable with the fact that people are going to come and go in my life, until I’m not. It’s just a fact. Loved ones die, friendships fizzle, lovers leave. I think I have spent the better part of the last decade attempting to perfect the hard shell around my heart which allows those events not to (seem) to hurt.

There was a time I did this in a cynical, dark, somewhat arrogant kind of way. To put it in simple terms, I was a brat. When I look back on that time, I feel like I’m watching a home movie of a toddler throwing a tatrum, digging my heels in saying “I’m a big girl now. You can”t make me feel bad!” Obviously, that’s ridiculous. But since I’ve come to know Jesus those feelings have taken on a different tone. Not necessarily better or healthier, just different. Now I just accept that all people are on a different path and have their own lives to live, except when I don’t.

I expect the people I love to come and go. Really I do. I have a 15 year old son that will leave for college and his own beautiful destiny soon enough. I have a mother I adore who is 69 years old and will inevitable die. I have friends that I pray will be scattered across this big, wide world to become who the Lord has called them to be. But for today, today I am worn out from loving them all. I’m tired of being grateful for the individual roads the Lord has put them on. I’m tired of looking on with excitement and expectation of where their journey will take them. I’m over saying goodbye to the relationship we currently enjoy and that I have come to depend deeply on in honor of the greater story that will be told in their lives. Today I feel selfish.

I’ve spent too much of my life saying goodbye. My best friend in this world since we were 5 years old lives in NYC and has for most of our adulthood. My roommate and close friend has found what I hope is the love of her life and moved out. My dad died in 2004. When I’m being honest I have to admit that these things have left giant holes in my heart. I work in ministry, which is uniquely lovely and fulfilling, and also a constant exercise in letting go. The bonds that are forged on a church staff (mine at least) are strong and tender and life giving, but we are also a people who are earnestly listening to that still, quiet voice telling us where to go. Sometimes the journey that voice will call us to is simply somewhere else.

There are times when it is all I can do not to just throw in the towel. Those times are rare, but they exist. Some days all I want is to stay home, turn on the West Wing, cuddle with my husband (I got remarried), and turn off the phones. I will not make any new relationships today. I will not love someone else, fiercely and with abandon today, just to watch them disappear from my life tomorrow. Because I love you and you make my life a better, more enjoyable place to live. And for today I am feeling selfish.

Through the years I have spent fighting this same demon again and again, there is something I have learned. Hope is a choice. Living is a choice. Loving is a choice. And above all, faith is a choice. NONE of these are easy choices to make. But like it or lump it, it is true- I want more than anything for you to have the life you were meant to have! Sometimes that will mean with me and sometimes without. Sometimes I will get to go with you where you go and sometimes I won’t. Thankfully, on most days I CHOOSE to hope and believe beyond all hope and belief that where you are going is grand and that when you leave it won’t hurt all that bad. Most days I will CHOOSE to love you and live life alongside you and pray that your leaving won’t hurt all that bad.

But for today, saying goodbye sucks.

A Vegan and a Smoker and the Sacraments

My whole life I have had an iron stomach. I could eat anything, any combination of things and feel like a million bucks! In my 20’s I had friends the same age who experienced terrible heartburn or other fun side effects from their meals and I would always pick on them a little. I mean, we were in our 20’s for goodness sake. Stop acting like you’re 60. It was only a cheeseburger.

Then around the age of 32 or 33, it hit me too. Most meals would send me into excruciating pain and misery. I tried all sorts of different meds and elimination diets and medical procedures, all to no avail. No matter what I did, the misery ensued. One thing I never tried was giving up my cigarettes. Yes, I am completely aware of all the horrible, disgusting, gross aspects of smoking. I know every fact you could think to tell me and believe me when I say that no one has ever given me a harder time about smoking than me. I live with shame and guilt daily but we will come back to that in a minute.

In January I had had enough with the stomach issues. On the 29th of that month I was experiencing a particularly painful attack at work. I gathered a couple of friends, had them lay hands on me, and together we prayed and prayed that the Lord would heal my sad little stomach. He didn’t. Well, at least not in the way we read about in the Bible. I still hurt and still struggled to get through the rest of my workday. But what did happen was within 24 hours I had lots of ideas and clues as to what could causing these problems and where to go from there. Long story short- I became a vegan. Also, I have been well ever since.

Veganism is somewhat radical. Believe me, everyone I know has taken the opportunity to tell me so. I can’t count the number of times I have been made fun of or had someone try to talk me out of it. But I’m hanging in there and thanking the Lord for leading me to a path that has fixed me. And guess what? I’m still smoking. Kind of an oxymoron isn’t it? I’m able to give up most of my food comforts, addictions, crutches (thank Jesus for tortilla chips. I get to keep those!) but it seems I will be damned before I give up those precious cigarettes.

Over the last 5 months of this “new lifestyle” it has gotten me thinking. I have all the grace in the world for those around me. Almost 100% of the time I am able to understand why someone behaves the way they do. I get why they make the choices they make, especially the poor ones. I have empathy and compassion almost to a fault. I do challenge folks to grow and change but when they fall short I can always understand the role their brokenness plays in their decisions. I believe God will heal them and I know, know, know in my heart that their life will not always look like it does right now. But as long as I live I will never understand why I am absolutely incapable of extending those same graces to myself.

I don’t struggle with my identity. I know with every fiber of my being that I am a beloved daughter of God. I am so wrapped up in Jesus that there is never any way someone or something could seperate us from one another, but for some odd reason I also can’t ever let myself just BE. Somehow I am never enough, never good enough. I stuggle with poor body image, feelings of inadequacy as a woman, wife, mother, feelings of being under-eduacated and therefore not very smart. And of course, I spend everyday of my life beating myself up for the cigarettes!! How ridiculous is all of that?!

So now is the part where I lead you to Scriptures about grace and God’s love and talk about our identity and the lies of the enemy, not to mention the lies of our culture. But that isn’t what is most pressing on my heart. Today we had a guest speaker at our church, Dr. Chris Green. He spoke about the Sacraments and the role they play in the church and the role they play in our very own lives. It was life changing for me. And life giving for that matter!

In John 6, Jesus tells people that to have eternal life in you, you must eat his flesh and drink his blood. How scandalous! And confusing! And bizarre! And even offensive. But the end of that chapter and the account of the Last Supper is what gave the church today our practice of Communion. We as a people were also given baptism and foot washing and the practice of annointing with oil. All of it is strange and other-worldly and not one bit of it makes sense. Clearly, we can’t dissect all of these things in a blog post and if we could I certainly wouldn’t be the right person to do it.

But I know this, we do these things because we believe and call on the name of Jesus and he said that if claim Him, and the Father, and the Spirit as our own, then these are the practices we are to partake of. We do them out of obedience and we do them because we trust that God knows best about what is best for us. We do them because we trust that by participating in the practices God himself set for us, that somewhere deep down over time we change.

Jesus and I have been together for 7 years now. I attend a Pentecostal church, but it is one that strongly believes in the importance and beauty of the Sacrements and liturgy and honoring the traditions of those who came before us. And it has been totally surprising to me that over these 7 years just about my favorite part of our worship services has always been the scaremental, liturgical parts. I feel Jesus in them, I am fully able to meet him there. I don’t know what is happening to me during those moments, but I love them none the less.

Today as Dr. Green spoke it was as if it all finally clicked. I love those practices and those moments because God himself ordained them and said they are good for us. It is in those moments I am doing the things Jesus himself did while here in human form. And after 7 years of joining in the practices of Jesus and my forefathers after, I can honestly say I have changed and that I am continuing to change. He is resetting my insides to look more like His own.

Yes, I have the discipline to be a vegan. Yes, I am still a smoker. No, I am not proud of that part of me. But in all the ways that really, really count I am being daily conformed into the image of Christ. And so often it is through His Sacraments. I don’t think I really realized that until today. So for now, I am going to attempt to extend a little grace in my direction because I am not the woman I was when I met Jesus so many years ago.

For Tootie

Aside

In  honor of Mother’s Day. ( Yes, I know it’s a little early!)

I became a Christian, really became one anyway, about 7 years ago. And since then every real prayer I have had has been met and answered by the Lord. Not silly prayers for more money or better cars, but the prayers I prayed where my heart met God’s for reconcilliation, restoration, or healing from past wounds.

 My love language is touch. Ask my husband or my co-workers and they will tell you the best way to let me know you love me is to hug me, put your arm around me, or pat/rub my back. I believe there is truly nothing more intimate or a greater display of care for me than to wipe a tear off my cheek if I’m crying. Unfortunately for me, my mother is not a toucher and never has been, not even when I was a small child or teenager. Thankfully, this is something she has greatly changed for her grandchilden. Sadly, this led to many a weepy night thinking that my mom didn’t love me as much as I deeply wanted her to.

My mom and I spent most of my childhood and through my young adulthood at odds with each other. Life had been pretty heavy handed with my mom and that caused her to become a bit hard and rough around the edges. She was married with two children at a terribly young age, then divorced and learning to be a single mom still at an age much younger than anyone should have to know how to navigate such things. She spent most of her life surrounded by people who didn’t support her well and without the community, mentors, and financial resources to be a success. I don’t mean a financial success. I mean a whole, healthy woman who knows she is beloved by God and her family. Later she met my father, and I can assure you that was the best and one of the hardest things she ever did. My father was a wonderful, wonderful man (I will write about him closer to Father’s Day), but life with him was challenging to say the least.

I don’t think Mom knows this, but something that has brought me enormous joy throughout my life is that she wanted me and planned for me. Out of her 4 children I was the only one that was “on purpose”. The rest were surprises. But that’s the rub. She wanted me and planned for me- not Dad. And then throughout my life I was his favorite and he was mine. Being a mother now, I can only imagine the hurt that must have caused. He and I were close and she felt like she couldn’t break in. So needless to say, my relationship with her was tenuous at best and down right ugly at worst (my mom is a very passionate woman and I’m just like her!).

It can be remarkable the things you learn once you become a parent yourself. My life, too, has been marked by immense tragedy and hardships. I also had my son too young. As I have raised Noah I have seen my shortcomings and failures. I have understood how much junk I was dealing with in my own heart and life. I have truly done the best I could by him, knowing there were plenty of times my best wasn’t good enough and just hoping that he wouldn’t remember all the bad stuff. Once, in my early 20’s I had a therapist who asked me if I could name my bad qualities as a human being. I said, “Sure!” and began to list them off. Then he asked me if I thought my mom had bad qualities as a human being, things that had absolutley nothing to do with me. I can honestly say I had never ever considered my mother as a regular woman before that moment- until then I had only been able to see her through the lens of the little girl that wasn’t shown enough physical affection.

Even though it would be a few more years before total restoration came, everything started to change that day. I realized my mother was a woman who had been tossed around by the life she was given and the truth was she had done a damn remarkable job at being a mom, a wife, a woman, a support, and a caregiver. My mother is one tough broad and I think she passed a little of that on to me. My mother may not be touchy, but she is generous and fair. My favorite parts of my mom are that she has such a fantastic sense of humor and will FIGHT for the marginalized and oppressed. She has always been on the side of those who couldn’t speak for themselves. At work we have recently taken personality tests and part of my results show that I have “the need to be against”. Which means I can be contrary just to be contrary, but it can also mean that I will fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. I’m pretty sure my mother taught me that!

As I continued in relationship with Jesus, I prayed that he would bring full healing to my mom and me. We have worked hard- me, her, and Jesus to make this thing right. We have talked about all of the hurt, even the details. We have apologized, we have cried, and reminisced, and a couple of times we have even hugged tightly and fiercely. He brought redemption and healing to that dark and broken place. I can honestly say she is my best friend and truest confidant. Now I’m able see how she has always done the very best she could being as broken as she was. And mercifully, she believes I have done the best I could do being as broken as I was.

None of this came quickly. This restoration has been years in the making and in this particular case, my mom and I have truly been long suffering. But the Lord hears each prayer I utter and it is His desire to touch and to heal even the oldest and deepest of my wounds.  Even the ones I didn’t dare to hope He would.