Today I Saw God
Music has been hard for me for the past year or so. I know this seems strange coming from someone whose career is fully entrenched in worship, but at some point it simply stopped bringing me joy and singing started to feel like work. Music the medium from which my very soul and essence were molded no longer brought me alive. I drove to and from work in complete silence and rarely played songs simply for enjoyment while I cooked or cleaned.
This is the second time in my life when this has happened, and I know myself well enough to recognize that this is a cry for help from my soul. I should not be surprised, because last year was the year in which I faced something no one dreams of, yet many experience. My marriage came to an end.
Divorce is terrible. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis likens a divorce to the amputation of both of your legs. Like an amputation, you wake up feeling phantom pains of the parts of you that are now missing. However, rather than limbs, it feels more akin to the removal of part of your soul, your identity and your future. In a world that once felt secure, you suddenly feel completely off balance as your finances, living situation, friendships and identity all change in an instant. In marriage, you open yourself up to trust another human being with your most intimate and vulnerable pieces, so to realize that person is possibly someone else entirely creates a chasm that is incomparable to any other type of grief.
I've spent the last year alone as we worked through the separation. The year prior was spent in very serious spiritual discernment. This decision did not come lightly and followed years of counseling and professional guidance. I would not recommend or wish this outcome on anyone, yet I can say without hesitation that I have learned a tremendous amount about life, relationships, and myself through this journey.
I have learned that you should never judge another family's decisions, because it is very possible that you have no idea what is going on behind closed doors.
I have learned that some couples are able to work through hardship and breaches of trust, so long as both parties are committed to growth and true repentance.
I have learned that I do not have the power to change, fix or save anyone no matter how much I want to.
I've learned that no one knows how to act around grieving people, but really the best thing you can do is simply show up over and over again. Listen -love – repeat.
I am slowly learning the beauty of community and vulnerability. Unfortunately I walked a lonely path for a long time by isolating myself and carrying secrets that felt too shameful to share. However, once I opened myself up to sharing the darker parts of my life, I was able to find a community of women for whom this is also a reality. I found that I can in fact trust others with the darkest parts of myself and that this is what God wants for us. If you are currently harboring pain alone, I beg you to find someone you trust.
The past few years will not make it to my top ten list of favorite years, but I have hope for the next one. My goal for 2018 is to focus on rebuilding my life and becoming the person God intended for me to be. I hope to stop pleasing people and start pleasing God. I will strive to heal and recover from the brokenness I have experienced, and to use it to minister to others. As clich as this sounds, I truly need to spend some time getting to know who I am and learn to love myself.
Divorce feels like a death and I can't say that I feel fully alive yet. However, last week something beautiful happened. Alone in my new apartment, I turned on a gospel station on Spotify. Slowly, I found myself tapping my toes, then singing along, and eventually I was fully dancing to the music in my kitchen. I may not be there yet, but as the music, God, therapy and healthy relationships continue to heal me, I know that soon and very soon I will be alive again.
Mary and Joseph bring their baby boy to the temple in Jerusalem eight days after his birth- around New Years Day on our calendar. This is an expected rite required by the law of Moses. It is at this ceremony that the newborn is given his name. The gospel of Luke tells us,"On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived." (Luke 2:21 NIV).
Names are pretty important. They are usually selected with great care. Often there is an important reason they are chosen. It is very common to name a first born son after his father. In my family we have a Bailey Hendricks Gray IV meaning four generations have named their sons after their father. In my husband's family, his mother is named Angelina. She is named after her paternal grandmother. Each of Angelina's six children named a daughter Angelina. Clearly those children wanted to honor their mother!
So here they were, Mary and Joseph naming their first born son, Jesus. I wonder what that was like for Mary and Joseph. Both had been given clear instructions by the angel. They were told separately – Luke's gospel tells us about Mary's visit and Matthew's tells us about Joseph's visit- to name the child Jesus (Joshua in Hebrew) which means "He saves." When did they first discuss the naming instructions? Was Mary concerned that Joseph would be disappointed? Was Joseph worried what others would think of them breaking with tradition? Would they tell the crowd that angels gave them this name or keep it to themselves?
Surely Mary and Joseph must have wondered, "He saves what? How does he save? When will he save?" It seems none of that was laid out for them, however, it was clear was big things were in store for this little boy. Mary and Joseph being the faithful servants they were did exactly what the angel instructed. They had no idea what was ahead yet they took the next faithful step on this journey of theirs. They named him Jesus/Joshua/He saves.
As I consider another new year, I wonder what surprises might be ahead for me? Will I be as faithful as Mary and Joseph to follow where God leads? Will I take the next faithful step when I have so very little information about where it leads?
Today, I did things a little differently. There was no sudden urge to wake up and try to do ten thousand more things that I could not accomplish but would make me anxious anyway. There was no mad dash to put in my contact lenses that give the false perception of perfect sight. I was not rushing past the mirror after my shower; fearfully dreading the steam evaporating too quickly and forcing me to take in the visage of my less than perfect physicality. The frantic search for my body shaper and the rush to heat my flat irons to straighten my naturally curly hair was utterly absent.
Today, I paused to glimpse my full form; one that was shaped by the inconsistencies of self-doubt, overeating, extreme physicality, multiple pregnancies and childbirths, and the stillness of utter exhaustion. I stared at the scars from too tight shapewear that strained to give my bulges of womanhood – excess weight from having a child, losing a child, and having twins, weight fluctuations, and genetics – into a form that somewhat aligned with the requirements of American society. I flopped my "bat wings," as my nanna calls them, knowing they would never lead me into flight. I smirked at the faint remains of my "birth line;" a line that all the women in my family have that is our built-in pregnancy test which runs from the lower abdomen to the sternum and darkens once pregnant. I shake my head at the days when I didn't know what it was or why it existed. I regret many of the stretch marks that were not the result of my children but the result of seeking food as my solace because I didn't have friends who would understand what it was like to be in my skin, in my economy, or in this world as me. I marveled at the stories every inch told of a life imperfectly led and all the potential that lay before me in it.
Our bodies tell such grand stories. They hold so many memories and moments, yet we dismiss them as machines or a necessary evil to be accepted as an "intelligent" species. I have been guilty of being dismissive and cruel to my body, intentionally and unintentionally. I have even gone as far as starving it, poisoning it, cutting it and forcing it to be more like society says it should be. I remember hearing growing up that God made me in His image, that He has known me since before I was born, and that I am part of Him just as He is part of me. So, why do we – no, I – mistreat and dismiss something that is so precious?
While watching The Greatest Showman last week with my daughter for her birthday, these thoughts kept coming to me throughout the movie. It led to my momentary pause of all the things I do to restructure who I am to be what I believe others want me to be. But there is something unapologetically beautiful about all the characters in the movie that I found inspiring and wanted to embody. Yes, I realize it is a prettied up version of P.T. Barnum and his evolution of the circus, but the overriding themes of self-acceptance, contentment in what you have, and the love of diversity really convicted me.
These characters and their story initially rang so true because I too often feel an oddity and out of place, but willing to put it on display because it feels less lonely in the spotlight. I saw elements of myself in Lettie, the Bearded Lady, who has the beautiful voice but the world thinks is a horrific misstep of nature in her size and masculine face. I knew the frustration of Anne and Phillip's love that society disdained but felt so divine. I relate to the fat man who feels much larger than he is. And I humbly accept my similarity to P.T. Barnum who is always trying to prove himself to those who really matter the least, even though it feels like they matter the most.
The wonderful turn of events is, the gift of song, that has brought me to this stage has helped others share their oddity and malformations too. I have witnessed a huddled mass of outsiders that feel rejected, unworthy and unloved make a beautiful rag-tag crew of love, dare I say, a family, in the wreckages of our lives through church and the gift of community there. That is the beauty of God's love – when practiced not just preached – which shows in how we view our bodies and those of others. These shells that some covet and some cover are just temporary shells of the amazing gifts that God has put on this earth to share with one another. Energy is constant, not the human form. We are all connected by that energy to bring joy to each other. To revel in the odd and fantastic. To admire the extreme and bizarre. To embrace the strange and exotic. To love the misshapen and grotesque. We are all, at some point, one or more of these things to everyone else around us. I am so glad God gives us so many chances to see how amazing and beautiful we all are. It is amazing the fantastic and impossible things that can be possible when God brings together those whom the world would think make the unlikeliest team. I am thankful for the creative as well as the stoic, the cheerleaders and the naysayers, the loving and the bigoted, the intelligent and the ignorant, as well as the righteous and the broken. They are all beautiful souls and opportunities of love existing in beautiful bodies of varying mass and construct. How lucky we are to be apart of this circus. And how grateful I am to finally see I am blessed to be part of it all.
Yesterday, I did battle with our coat closet and I won!
Only two of us live in our home right now and yet, for some reason, our reasonably large coat closet was full to overflowing, junk strewn all over the floor. If a guest arrived at our home last week and handed me their coat to hang up, I would have strategically thrown it over the back of a sofa in our living room.
But not anymore! I have conquered the dragon! I am a Shield Maiden of Rohan, Ruler of the Iron Throne, Mother of Dragons! (Insert Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones theme music here.) You are welcome to come on over and hang up your coat!
Perhaps I am being a wee bit dramatic, but my tendency to make mundane tasks into epic battles of will is quite extraordinary.
Here's the thing: I am not without skills and the ability to follow through. I am capable of managing complex, multi-faceted projects, leading groups of people in major fundraising efforts, and starting a growing business. And oh yeah, I wrote a wholeBOOK, for goodness sake!
Yet, I can NOT seem to clean out my bedside table, organize the stacks in the study or mail the boxes I promised to mail to my daughter. Every room in my house has a corner or crevice that hisses at me when I walk by, mocking me and my big plans to finally, someday, conquer the clutter. When my youngest left for college, I made a list of cabinets, closets, shelves and drawers I was going to tackle. She graduates in May and I am STILL talking about it.
BUT yesterday, I emerged from the coat closet with two bags of giveaways, one bag of trash and a sense of equal parts accomplishment and amusement.
Here is what happened differently yesterday: I had two coaching clients cancel because of illness. Instead of filling that unexpected block of time puttering mindlessly on the computer or getting ticked off watching the news, I asked myself these questions- the kinds of questions I often ask my clients:
- How do I want to intentionally, purposefully use this gift of time?
- What would give me a sense of accomplishment right now?
- What do I say is important to me and how does that impact how I choose to spend my minutes and hours?
- Who does God say that I am and do I believe Him?
In light of those questions, I decided to tackle one of the many looming, leering, mocking projects right that minute, no delay, no excuses. I ended up dragging it out over the course of the day, getting distracted by sending photos of myself in reindeer antlers to my children (no, I have no idea why there were reindeer antlers in my coat closet amongst the FIVE HUNDRED pairs of gloves.) It wasn't pretty or terribly efficient, but I got it done.
One tiny little baby dragon vanquished!
Yes, I know I am making way too big of a deal about this. Cleaning out a coat closet isn't hard. Fighting cancer is hard. Grieving a loved one is hard. Losing thirty pounds is hard. Cleaning out a closet is a joke by comparison.
Yet I am finding many of us struggle more with the little things. We rise to the occasion when the crisis comes, but we feel shame over our inability to master the minutiae of daily living We become paralyzed by that habit, task or struggle that keeps us stuck feeling like a failure. The good news is that God is equally present right in the middle of the mundane, and wants to help us. Because I know God loves me, I am learning to have a sense of humor about these kinds of struggles. Shame keeps me stuck, so I must give myself some grace in the places where I am frankly a bit of a mess. Yet, God also wants me to move forward into becoming my best self, so sometimes I need a kick in the butt and the reminder that I am capable of learning and growing. Sometimes, I need to hear something like, "You got this! Get it done! No more excuses."
Which of those do you need today? A little extra dose of grace? Or a pep talk to get off your behind and get back in the game?
Go get that dragon, brave warrior!
"For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline." 2 Timothy 1:7
Originally published on www.kellyiveyjohnson.com
It is hard to believe that another year is just hours away from being done. I think for many, 2017 was far from a perfect year, with natural disasters, flawed human choices, and news outlets constantly imparting the state of "crisis" our world is in. Combining this with personal struggles, a lot of my friends are happy to say, "Good riddance," and "Get behind me, Satan." My year was less than stellar, but I know I will try to look ahead to 2018 with more joy and hope than fear.
This optimism seems a bit preemptive, I know, but as a Christ follower, my purpose is to find my fulfillment in helping to improve the lives of others. This upcoming year is one in which I hope to rewrite what those encounter me think of when they think of "Christians." It is the year that I practice what I preach when it comes to loving and guiding my children. It is the year that I will work to uplift those I meet with my actions, not just my words, and when my finances fail, I will offer my support with the gift God has called me to use over and over again–singing.
My prayers for 2018 are that more people act and worship through their year the same way. We are not defined by our skin tone, our political affiliation, religious affiliation, marital status, wealth or lack of any of the aforementioned items. We are defined by how we treat people, in the absence and presence of witnesses-human and divine alike. 2018 is the year I hope trolling dies and people learn to respond with educated and well-thought out responses. It is a year I hope open-mindedness reigns, when we appreciate our differences and acknowledge our similarities. It is a year I look forward to seeing teachers actually embrace an unabridged history-where we stop glossing over uncomfortable truths, accept our past, and use it to heal and prepare our future. It is a year that I will encourage those around me (and myself) to step out of our comfort zones, safe rooms, and personal bubbles to listen to differing perspectives, asking questions and sharing how the dialogue or ideology impacts them instead of hiding behind the most dreaded words, "I'm offended," (which often means shutting down and closing off).
These may be ambitious hopes and prayers, but I work through the One who taught us that we are to invite in the stranger, give drink to the thirsty, feed the hungry, visit the prisoner, care for the sick and clothe the naked (Matt. 25:34-40). In doing for others, we should rejoice in all that God has given us and Jesus taught us to use. We were blessed by Him in all our states to use what we had to make heaven possible on Earth (Matthew 5:1-11). I hope other Christians join me in reclaiming Christ as Christ would want us to; not through persecuting others because they are different, but opening our hearts and minds to all those around us. Let 2018 be the year we understand just because an oppression is not our oppression, it is still an oppression, that a sadness that is not our sadness is still sadness, and that an injustice though not our injustice is still injustice and as a community of Christ is it our duty and responsibility to stand for those are oppressed, weak, sad, alienated, sick and poor. That is what Christ asks of us every year. This is the year, I will continue to pursue being that Christian.