Geography of Grace

Geography of Grace

Saturday, June 4, 2016

be brave.

{She who is brave is free}

"You know, I could never do what you do."

I looked up from my book and stared into my sister's freckled face sitting across from me in the living room. She had her legs pulled up underneath her in the lounge chair and an open magazine on her lap. She sat still, tapping her fingers on her glass of wine, not paying any attention to the page in front of her, but instead staring at the floor, lost in her own thoughts. 

"You know, moving to another country where you don't know anybody and stuff. I really admire that. But I couldn't do it. I'm not brave enough to do something like that."

She sipped her wine and took a deep breath, which seemed to snap her out of her fixed gaze. We locked eyes briefly, and then she just shrugged and returned her attention to the People on her lap.

Silence fell between us.

"Well, thanks." 

I didn't know what else to say. I was too blind to see it then. As Merideth's words settled in to my heart, ugly pride swelled up within me; it filled my chest and sent a surge of self-satisfaction through my veins, leaving a little smile on my lips as it whipered in my ear, you know, she's right, I am brave.

I didn't have a full picture of bravery at that point: I didn't know what it was or what it consisted of. I thought bravery only accompanied big plans and big action and big pride and big sacrifice. Bravery was for the heroes of the world who ran head-first into danger and self-sacrifice. To tell the truth, I probably still only hold a partial idea of what courage really is. But the picture is becoming a lot clearer now.

Merideth couldn't see her own bravery. She couldn't see the strength that she had, the strength that led her to wake up every day and battle her own demons; the strength it took to start her life over more times than anyone should have to; the strength that led her to love those around her so fiercely. She was brave. And I don't say that in order to paint Merideth as a hero, or even as someone of extraordinary courage. The truth is, she was flawed and broken just like the rest of us. She was scared. She made mistakes. But it was that brokeness, I think, that allowed her to be brave: the cracks and crevices of her fear and loneliness and insecurity allowed space for courage to grow and flourish in her everyday living. Like most of us, her bravery lay in the very ordinary, in the sacredness of the daily. Merideth's bravery wasn't built on big gestures or incredible acts; bravery for her was hitting rock bottom and standing up again. It was admitting her fears and issues and wanting desperately to be different. Bravery was in her battles and scars, in her strength to get out of bed in the morning when all she really wanted to do was pull the covers over her head and lie still in the darkness. Bravery was facing her own reality, day in and day out.

And isn't that where our bravery shows itself, too?

Courage is so much more than what we see in the movies; it's more than heroes and superpowers and leaders and soldiers. If we just look closely, we will see the it surrounds us.

I see bravery everywhere. I see it in the face of Karla, a Nicaraguan immigrant who left her kids with her parents in her home country so she could come to Costa Rica and work as a housekeeper. She sends money back to her family each week and saves just enough to visit her kids every six months; but she shows up at our house at exactly 7 am every Thursday and works hard for every cent she earns.

I see it, too, in the high school seniors, who are preparing to leave behind everything that's familiar in order to begin a new phase of life.

I see it in my friends, who struggle every day with a new, strange language that doesn't ever seem to make sense.

I see it in my brother, whose sense of humor breaks down peoples' walls and brings life to the dreary. 

I see it in my best friend, who is living in the ups and downs of her first pregnancy.

I see it in the single mom who takes a long bus ride every Friday to bring her kids to WyldLife club.

It's in my dear friend who chooses to be vulnerable and transparent in her heartbreak. It's in the mom who is learning to navigate life and love with her newly teenage daughter. It's in the boy who's not afraid to cry because he's homesick. It's in the couple that decides to go to counselling after 20 years of marriage. It's entering a new relationship, when you don't have a guarantee that it's going to turn out the way you want it to. It's trusting God when the future seems so uncertain. It's being free to be exactly who you are, knowing you are so incredibly loved right now, no matter what you've done. It's admitting that you don't have it all together. It's owning the hard feelings that you want to keep hidden. It's learning something new. It's befriending strangers. It's sharing painful memories. It's accepting grace. Fighting shame. Being vulnerable. Loving regardless of the response.

Bravery is not reserved for the extraordinary. Instead, bravery is found in the very ordinary, the mundane, the daily. It's little steps, small risks, daily sacrifice, never-ending battles. 

And every single day, we have the opportunity to take small steps toward bravery.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

the power of vulnerability


"Courage means telling the story of who you are with your whole heart." 

Vulnerability is incredibly powerful. As Brene Brown tells us, it is the source of real, deep, authentic human connection and relationship. Therefore, we can say that it is also the source of joy and belonging and love and growth. But vulnerability is also incredibly uncomfortable. Vulnerability means admitting we are not perfect; it means taking risks when there's no guarantee; it means owning up to failure; it means being gracious with ourselves; it means accepting that life is messy and hard, that sometimes we feel like we are drowning, that sometimes we simply can't do it all even though we desperately want to prove to the world that we can.

I went on a women's retreat not too long ago to a beautiful hotel about 45 minutes away from the city. There were about 30 of us staying together, enjoying the magnificent gardens, the pool, the quiet, the no-kids-allowed, the gym (HA yeah, right). I spent hours roaming through the gardens, running the trails, smelling the flowers, listening to the birds, reading in the sunshine. It was a weekend of much-needed rest, of much-needed outside-time, but, most importantly, of much-needed connection. I had only met a few of the women before the retreat, and, as an introvert, I was honestly anticipating a whole lot of exhausting "mingling." (We introverts really dread that mingling). But, as we all listened and learned together, as we talked about our stories, our heartache and our struggles, I began to feel a belonging that I didn't expect. The more that the other women were vulnerable with me, the more I was able to open up to them about my own struggles, and I even discovered aspects of myself that I hadn't realized before: deep, hidden shame and numbness that I've worked hard to strangle and suppress over the years. These women, by telling me their stories and sharing their burdens, helped me to realize the way that I've been handling my own pain. After Merideth passed, something hurt and angry within me, something deeper than my own consciousness, chose to numb the pain and the fear and the loss. And this numbing, this avoiding of all things painful, also made me numb to all things good; it numbed me to deep, beautiful joy, to love, to lightness and laughter and peace, as well as to human connection. It isolated me, and it emptied me. And it took other people to help me chisel away at it. It took vulnerability, both theirs and mine, to relieve and release me. It wasn't pretty. And it certainly wasn't comfortable. But, my goodness, it was good. It made me confront a lot of hurt, a lot of pain and fear that I've tried to avoid, but it also relieved me of carrying my burdens alone. 

When we let other people see us, and not just the version of us that we want them to see, but the real, authentic, messy, crazy us that we are, it draws people in. Why? Because they're messy and crazy and drowning, too! And by letting them see that we aren't perfect, it allows them to let down their guard and their walls and be real and authentic and messy with us. And that's connection; that's true, deep relationship, one in which we can share deep fears and deep loss and deep hurt, but also share profound joy and authentic love. When I look closely at my life, I see that the greatest relationships I have are the ones in which I don't have to pretend to have it all together. Is anyone ever drawn to "perfect" people? Seeing someone who "has everything together" (if there even is such a person?) sparks envy and unrelateability, not intimacy and confidence. To have the relationships that we so desire, that we were created for, we must be willing to let down our walls, to let others see into our real lives, to see us when we binge-watch Scandal and eat cookies for breakfast, to see us when we're going through a breakup, to see us when we get a bad haircut or can't pay our bills or can't make our hair into the perfect mesy bun or can't please everybody around us.

Isn't this what we all really long for? True connection with people who see us and love us fully, mess included? If it is, then we really must "let ourselves be seen. {We must} love with our whole hearts, even when there's no guarantee, to practice joy and gratitude, and to believe that we are enough," because (and I'm adding this), our Savior made us enough, and that's how He loves us. 

"To feel vulnerable is to be ALIVE."

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

2 years.

two years.

It doesn't sound like a very long time at all. Just 24 months. 730 days. 17, 520 hours. If you think about it, that's nothing in the grand scheme of things.

But I'm not sure that days or hours or minutes are really the best way portray or measure time; they just don't accurately convey how much things change, or how much we change, during a given period. Two years is easy to say, easy to think of. But what if we measured time in a different way? Maybe in tears shed? In life lived and lost? In people we love? If we measured time by how much we change, by how much we learn and grow and grieve, I think we would see that, for many of us, two years is a very, very long time.

Two years ago, a line was drawn, a big, thick, dividing line that has forever changed how I view life: everything since that day has been divided into the "before" and "after." I find myself looking at pictures and thinking, "Was this before it happened? Was it after?" It's become almost a point of reference, a concrete moment in time that changed everything. People say that time heals all wounds. Perhaps that's true. But, in my experience, no amount of time can ever get rid of the scars that those wounds create. And sometimes, watching the wound heal and slowly fade is just as painful as the wound itself. Maybe I don't want it to fade. Maybe I want to feel it the same way that I did when it was brand new. Because it proves that it was there, that she was there, and I don't want that connection to her to ever fade. 

When I woke up this morning, two years after Merideth's passing, I didn't want to get out of bed. I wanted to close the curtain and sleep the day away in total darkness. That's the thing about grief: it's exhausting, and sometimes, we need a day to just lean into it and let it consume us. So, I spent the day with Brandi Carlile, which seemed only fitting; her low, rich voice takes me back to Merideth like no other, and it brings with it both a joy and a sadness that don't really contradict, but rather heighten the strength and experience of the other. I heard the slow piano, and I remembered Merideth telling me about this particular song, jokingly proclaiming in her silly Southern accent that she was sure that Brandi wrote the song specifically for her,

“Tell me, did I go on a tangent? 
Did I lie through my teeth?
Did I cause you to stumble on your feet?
Did I bring shame on my family?
Did it show when I was weak?
Whatever you've seen, that wasn't me.
That wasn't me, oh that wasn't me.”
Bum bum bum bum.
Sometimes the world just feels so dark, so heavy. But, if there's anything I've learned in these past two years, it's that dawn comes at the end of the night. There's hope. All I can do is hold onto that promise through the darkness, and in the dawn, I'll hear Brandi's voice begin anew, 
“I wanna believe, do I make myself a blessing to everyone I meet?
When you fall I will get you on your feet.
Do I spend time with my family?
Did it show when I was weak?
When that's what you've seen, that will be me.
That will be me. Oh, that will be me. ”

You are a blessing, and I love you, sweet Merideth. I am so proud of who you are. Every ounce of love that I have in my poor heart goes out to you. I pray that it reaches you.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

La Vida Real Cubana

 The Real Life
  Real Cubans.

"All of us citizens have ration books. They take care of the basics, but it's rarely enough. But to buy things in actual stores is very expensive. Without ration books, most people would not be able to afford food. My family might scrape by, but the really poor? I'm not sure what they would do. So, I hope they don't take them away."

 "This car is very old, so it doesn't have a seat belt. Don't worry, I'll drive slow."

"Hey, take a picture of my taxi. Look, it's pink! So take a picture and post it on facebook. That way, all of the Americans will see it and want to come to Cuba and take a ride in my taxi." 

-Would it be alright if I took a picture of you?
-"Sure. But wait a second. The picture will be better if I hold up my fish. They're jumping around here somewhere."

"Old Havana, or Habana Vieja, is where our city started. They renovated a lot of the buildings, so now they are much nicer than before. Now they don't look like they are falling down. But look, you can still see the difference between the ones they've worked on and the ones that they haven't."

"You must walk along the Malecon. It means seawall, and it's very famous here in Cuba. But do not go swimming; it's full of oil from the bay".
-But there are a lot of kids jumping off the rocks into water.
"Yeah, because they are Cuban. We are crazy."

"Ambos Mundos was Ernest Hemingway's favorite hotel to stay in and to drink in. Go on upstairs; his room is still there. Then come back down and have a mojito."

"The National Hotel of Cuba is the most symbolic hotel in all of Cuba. Lots of famous people have stayed here: presidents, diplomats, Hollywood actors from the 1930s. Oh, and Beyonce." 

 "This is a very old cathedral. I come here sometimes to go to musical concerts. Last month, there was a guy who came to play some traditional Chinese music. It sounded like he was just screaming, and it was very funny because there was a mother right outside of the building screaming for her son. So, it sounded like they were having a screaming contest. "Agghhhh" then he would pause and she would scream "mi hijooooo." It was very awkward, but very very funny."

 "My girlfriend of 12 years is a doctor. She's very smart and works every day. She makes less than 50 dollars a month. We want to get married, but I don't know how we will ever afford to live together without our parents."

 "How much do you think your car is worth?"
"Hmm...I don't know. Ten thousand?"
 "All of the Americans are going to be coming to Cuba soon. It is going to be very, very good for us."

 "There's our capitol building. It is modeled after the White House. It is just a little bit smaller."

 "I have two PhDs. I've been to 17 countries, and I speak three languages. I teach, just to try to make ends meet. I make about 20 dollars a month. We Cubans can travel freely now, as of 2013. The trick is, you have to have enough money to go. Not many people have that."

 "You think I should tell U.S. customs that I'm bringing home 52 cigars? No, don't want to risk it."-the judge. 


Friday, May 1, 2015

grace like rain.

Rain changes things.

It changes the environment, how the world looks and feels. It changes the smell of the air, the color of our surroundings. It changes moods, emotions, plans.

Like I said, rain changes things. 

I was strolling down Avenida Central in downtown San Jose the other day, and I watched as a huge, ominous cloud moved over the mountains and drifted toward the city. The sun was blistering hot, clothes sticking to my skin; the smell of exhaust hung in the air, stagnant. That big, dark cloud looked like salvation at that moment, and the closer it moved toward the city, the darker it became. The air cooled, and the wind picked up, and it was then that I began to notice the small, subtle shifts in the world around me...Pace quickened. High heels clank clank clanked harder on the pavement. Crowds scattered to find shelter. Taxis were hailed. Buses were filled. Umbrellas were opened. The whole mood of the city shifted. It became hurried, but relaxed at the same time, a moment of both panic and relief from the sweltering heat.

Clearly, rain means different things to different people. To some, it means traffic jams, crowded buses, expensive taxi rides, slippery roads. To others it means ruined hairdos, wet shoes, canceled plans, muddy kids. Still others, it means warm fires, cute rain boots, good books.

As for me, I've never minded the rain.

In fact, warm summer rain storms are pretty high on my list of favorite things. I love the way that the cool drops sizzle on the hot pavement, creating an eery, almost romantic mist that hovers right above the ground. I love the way a storm brings a smell of freshness and renewal, and the way it seems to induce a mysterious, yet soothing, quietness to the world. And since it's pretty much always summer in Costa Rica, every rain storm is a summer shower. And I absolutely love it.

So, as I strolled to the bus stop in San Jose, dodging umbrellas and reckless taxi drivers, I relished in the sweet feeling of the cool raindrops on my skin. I let them wash over me, accepting all that they brought with them: the wet clothes, the soggy shoes, the dripping hair. And I realized that no matter what I or anyone else felt about the rain, whether it was an inconvenience, a nuisance, or a gift; it is a truth. We have to accept and embrace it.

And I  started to think that grace is a little bit like that. Lately, it has been difficult for me to fully accept God's grace. I feel too far gone; I've messed up one too many times. Grace just doesn't make sense to my human mind. Punishment makes sense. Justice makes sense. We learn at young age that punishment is a natural consequence to any disobedience or misbehaior: when we fight with our siblings, we get put in time-out; when we talk back to our parents, we get spanked or sent to our room or forced to sit on the bathroom sink with soap in our mouths (A Christmas Story style). It's a simple cause and effect, and I can understand it; it follows the natural human order of things.

But grace isn't like that. Grace doesn't make sense. We mess up, and instead of being punished, we're forgiven; we fall down, and we are helped up to our wobbly feet; we run away, spend all of our money, lie and cheat and steal, and we are welcomed home with a warm embrace.

I struggle to accept this grace gift simply because I am so very aware that I'm completely undeserving of it. Sometimes I am tempted to scream at God, "Stop forgiving me! I'm unworthy, and it's just a matter of time before I mess up again." But He keeps forgiving me anyway. He keeps showing mercy anyway. And I find myself both comforted and oddly troubled by that fact, almost frustrated that there's nothing I can do to earn my way back into God's good graces. It would almost be easier if I could "do a good deed" to make up for all of my shortcomings. Earning is something we are accustomed to, but free grace is disconcerting. After all, we are taught our whole lives that nothing is free, that nothing comes without hard work and dedication. But then Jesus comes along and tells us, "Hey, here's this free gift. Here's this grace that transforms and renews; you did nothing to earn it, but I freely give it to you out of love. Just accept it in faith." And that's all we can do: accept His gift of forgiveness. All we can do is sit still in His love. All we can do is let His mercy cleanse us from the inside out.

All we can do is let His grace wash over us like the rain.

We fall short, but His grace is more.

So we rejoice.