I can’t remember exactly when my deep fear of being “Too Much” started, but I remember it was young. I started counting the number of times I answered a question in elementary school. I wanted to make sure that I answered just enough questions that my teacher knew I understood and that I was bright, but not enough to seem like I was “too much”. I would limit my number of answers per day and make sure that I didn’t raise my hand even when I knew the answer. I didn’t want my class mates to think I was a know it all. I was smart… but not too smart.
From a very early age I learned the game of being female and avoiding being “too much.” I learned quickly that being too smart, or too athletic, too funny, too emotional, or too opinionated would leave you on the outside, and as a social butterfly I never wanted to be an outsider. If I was going to be popular I would have too learn how to be just enough- I always wanted to avoid that horrible word “bossy” given to girls who are too much. I had to be assertive… but not too much.
I wish I could say my counting ended at elementary school. I continued to learn the lesson of being enough.. but not too much. When I got to the age of crushes I learned that if I wanted a boy to pay me attention I had to be enough… but not too much. I no longer was worried about the word “bossy” now I was worried about the word “intimidating.” On dates I would count the number of times I brought up some interesting fact, I didn’t want to seem like I knew too much. I counted the number of times I asked for help versus offered it. I noticed every time I mentioned sports and all the sports I played. I wanted to be athletic… but not too much. I counted the number of times I disagreed. I wanted to have my own opinion… but not too much. It all seems controlled and calculated but I was so accustom to it I wasn’t even doing it on purpose. I had to be accomplished… but not too much .
I learned as an adult that the way you look can also be too much. I think the first time someone told me that the way I look could be a stumbling block I learned that even my body could be too much. So I learned to pretend I didn’t hear the compliments, because they brought me joy that quickly turned to shame. This was only compounded when a superior told me I was very beautiful, but that I shouldn’t dress so stylishly because it was too much. I have heard of co-workers who were called in because they appeared too frumpish, and didn’t take good enough care of themselves. You need to be beautiful as a woman…. But not too much.
I know what too much feels like so when I read the news following our presidential debates and I heard that Hilary was being accused of being too much I wasn’t surprised. She needed to be friendly and approachable.. but not too much. Don’t smile so big. She needed to be poised and put together.. but not too much. She was over prepared. She needed to be tough but not too much. She shouldn’t have brought up the past mistakes of her opponent.
I’m sad to say that this is what we have been doing to women – and what women have been doing to each other – for generations. We have (all of us) created a culture and society where women are juggling and balancing so many expectations that it seems like we’ll never be enough – simply because we are too much.
When is this impossible tug-of-war going to stop?
I recently got to be part of a podcast that was simply women talking about being women, and it made me realize that it is vitally important for us to name all the times we have been perceived as too much and how damaging that can be. I’ve been surprised by all the e-mails, messages and tweets of people saying thank you for being you…
Wow. I guess there are places and people who needed me to be ‘too much’ so they could be just enough.
I have the most beautiful niece in the world, Anna. I hope she is never going to feel she’s too much – because from where I stand, it would be impossible. She is funny, smart, beautiful and compassionate. She has a little artist’s soul and laughs with so much abandon; I never want her to feel the pain of being ‘too much.’ I want her to live out loud and realize that who she is exactly who God made her too be; her abundance is her gift, to herself and the world. I want to protect her from all the places and people who will tell her that she can’t be or do something just because she is a girl. I want her to know that the day we found out she was a girl we rejoiced because we knew what the world needed was another tough little Heath girl.
Will you join me in protecting these girls? Will you come alongside me in championing the talented, powerful women in your life? Straight single guys, will you consider taking a chance and dating that amazing girl whom you feel a little edgy around because she’s so darn impressive? Will you join me in talking about our female leaders in ways that are supportive and productive? Will you speak up when you hear someone discussing a female leader’s gender instead of the issues at hand? Will you help me give birth to a world where little girls never worry that their presence is too much?
I hope so. With the challenges our planet is facing, we need all hands on deck. It’s no time to be playing small – our future depends on it.
How do you like your eggs?
“How do you like your eggs?”
Richard Gere’s character in Runaway Bride asks Julia Roberts’ character this simple question. The funny part is she doesn’t have a clear answer. Roberts’ character has been in many serious relationships that haven’t made it to “I do.” The town has given her the nickname “Runaway Bride.” Gere is a reporter who has heard the story of this runaway bride, and with curiosity comes to meet this girl incapable of taking the plunge. He interviews her, and those in the small town she lives in. She is once again engaged and the whole town wonders if she will run again. Of course the inevitable love story is that Gere falls in love with this impossible woman and wants to help her move beyond her commitment fears. He begins to notice that in every relationship she’s in, she orders her eggs based on what her partner orders. The eggs become a metaphor for her trying to fit into the other person’s life, whether hard-boiled or over-easy. She’s never taken the time to figure out how she actually likes her eggs – or her life.
I’m in just such a season of discerning menu choices, and it isn’t as easy as I thought it would be.
How do I like my eggs at church?
I’m excited to be launching a new faith community, and I’m finding the question of what her shape is going to look like a lot harder than I expected. As I’m getting to know the existing community and all of our new folks, I keep asking what they would want worship to look like. I’ve come to realize in these conversations is that, when it comes to style of church, I haven’t figured out exactly what I myself like. I know what feels wrong and doesn’t work, but creating something that actually inspires me – and folks like me – is hard.
To push the metaphor further than anyone should – how am I an egg chef for others when I don’t even know how I like my eggs???
In churches past, I’ve always appreciated the tradition and history of the congregation I’ve served in; I seek to honor the shape of worship they’ve been engaged in. I might make adjustments to fit a musical or liturgical shape better, but it isn’t towards how I would want a gathering to look, necessarily.
I love liturgy when it’s done well, but doing it to just do it doesn’t create space for people who are new to church and church gatherings.
Having the blank canvas of a restart is one of the greatest challenges I’ve ever had. The existing community has been worshiping with hymns and liturgy, but not in a very formal way. They’ve been singing hymns together led by an accompanist; they have had a bell choir and a choir made up of folks from different churches. All of these have their benefits and gifts. I am just not sure how to make an omelet with all these offerings. I am not even sure if we have the right ingredients.
So – once again – how do I figure out what church should look like, in my place and context?
I think I’m going to do what Julia Roberts would do (WWJRD); I’m going to try different eggs and be honest with others that that is what we’re doing.
We’re going to have to crack a lot of eggs to get to the bottom of it but I hope people will be patient as we figure out what this could look like.
Who knows: maybe we’ll discover that – in everything from French toast to egg rolls – our favorite recipe is the one we least expected!
I haven’t been able to write. With a book deadline, a new job, and trying to process all I experienced at the Wild Goose festival, I haven’t known how to express all that I have been feeling or thinking. During overwhelming times like these, my dad says, “life can feel like trying to drink out of fire hose. It all just comes at once and you feel like you may drown.” I have been drowning these last two weeks.
But there’s this thing about drowning: it only takes one hand to reach for you and pull you to safety. This week, that life-giving hand came in the applause of a three year old named “Willow.” Before I share her story, let me first share how I got to this moment of drowning. It all started with a sign.
“Make what you wish existed.”
That sign hangs in the co-working space that I currently share in Costa Mesa. I am working in the co-working space for several reasons.
Lets start with the positive:
– Getting to know the community around my New Church Start in Costa Mesa is top priority for me.
– I get to work alongside some really talented creatives and entrepreneurs.
Now for the not so positive:
– My new church appointment does not have office space for me, or my books. Instead, my normal office is sitting in Rubbermaid bins on the side of the sanctuary – a constant reminder that this place has not yet become home.
– For the first month, my new church didn’t have power because someone kept stealing our cooper wire. I tried to think of it as we were doing organic church…camp style.
So in the meantime, I have been working in this artistic and innovative co-working space called the Wayfare. Lots of other start-up pastors also work there. Sometimes I overhear planning sessions of really creative worship services. As I hear the ideas pour forth, I get overwhelmed with trying to envision what my new church will look like. This feeling gets worse each time I pass the sign “Make what you wish existed”. I find myself doubting my ability to create anything anyone wishes existed. I have always dreamed of creating the church and worship services I wish for, but the excitement of that idea sure seems to fade in the face of daily community, building, financial and other resource issues.
These challenges show up in many ways. Our building is 100 years old and has no room for classrooms or fellowship other than worship itself, the existing congregation is in varying stages of being on board with anything new, and the surrounding community has great need but is hard serve. When you add these obstacles on top of trying to work out a stream of income to keep the doors open, it gets difficult to imagine being creative enough to make anything, let alone something you wish existed.
Last week was a particularly hard week. On Monday I discovered that some contracts created before my appointment to the church were not working out as hoped – which is making the church’s financial situation, among many other things, much more…challenging. Then on the same day, someone tried to break into the building…and a June bug flew in my car window. I am afraid of all bugs, but let’s just say I am never emotionally prepared for the ones that are the size of hummingbirds and fly.
Sitting in my car about to cry, I began to pray. Then I remembered a tiny incident – a moment of proof that something that I do wish existed is being created… already.
Worship as it is right now is awkward, especially in the music department because, among other things, we have no worship leader. Instead, our accompanist plays the hymns while all of us try to sing along. Our accompanist is very talented, but without a worship leader we often feel like we are just stumbling through the music. Sometimes, in the middle of a service, I just want to stand up and declare: “Just wait! I know this is awkward, but hold tight – something new and great is coming!”
The other awkward part of this whole “new church in an old church” setting is that is that although the church has a few rooms other than the sanctuary, they are currently full of pipe organ parts, one tiny office or too small to house a class.. So…when new families show up, we have no classroom space for their children – so they sit and worship with their parents.
These two awkward components crashed into each other this last week in a life-giving moment that saved me from drowning in my own doubt. This last week was Willow’s first week at our church. This little darling showed up excited for church in a beautiful dress and shiny shoes. Her parents seemed worried about her chattering mid-worship, but I loved it. During the time of the offering the accompanist played a beautiful piece. When she was done instead of the usual silence that fills that huge sanctuary, Willow was overcome and clapped exclaiming “Good job!” Overwhelmed by her enthusiasm and the beauty of the song, everyone else joined in the applause.
I sat in my car staring at my beautiful hot mess of a church, Willow’s joyous applause came flashing back to me. In that moment, I could see the beauty and joy of who we were becoming. We are an absolute mess, but we are also beautiful and joyful.
And with that tiny clap, Willow saved me from drowning. So I am pressing on with God, Willow and the rest of my congregation to “make something both Willow and I wish existed.”
A Methodist pastor, a scientist, a Christian Shaman, a t-shirt company entrepreneur, a LGBT activist, a blogger, a transgender former mega church pastor, a hula hopping teen, a skeptical former rock star all walk into a conference. No that isn’t the beginning of a joke those were the people I met just on the first day of this years Wild Goose festival, and most of these humans were even in my cabin. For years I had heard whisperings of this festival and many times someone has suggested that I should speak at it, but I will be honest I had no idea what it really was. Nor did I have any idea how it would transform me.
This year when Wild Goose was brought up separately by two of my favorite humans I decided to finally turn in a speaker application. It was only after they accepted my application that I decided to go on the website and see the video describing the Wild Goose festival. Lets just say I immediately worried that I would not fit in. It looked like a Christian version of Coachella or Burning Man. I myself am an avid outdoors enthusiast, hiker and enjoyer of all things sustainable, but I doubt anyone would call me a hippie or “crunchy granola.” I like to camp but the idea of camping with thousands of others seems like either the beginning of a horrible horror film, or some sort of commune. Neither of which have I ever wanted to be a part of.
I even called one of my good friends to see if it would be possible to get out of the experience, and if he really thought I would be the kind of speaker these folks would want to hear from. He first assured me that we would be in a cabin with a crew of folks (he failed to mention that it would be secluded and if there was a category for this award it would hands down win “most likely to be the scene of a crime” but I digress) and that I was just the kind of voice folks would want to hear from. Fine. I would go but it didn’t mean I would have to like it. Turns out I didn’t like it… I loved it and I learned so much that I am thinking about turning all of my life decisions over to this friend and I have already began to plan for my next years “goose” as the regulars call it.
So why? What happened? Weren’t the main speakers all people you have heard from before, weren’t you tired, isn’t this the worst time for you to travel with a new church position? The answer is yes, and yet God had something really big for me to learn and it would take me traveling to the middle of North Carolina in the woods surrounded by 3000 outsiders for me to learn. There is something sacred in conversation, being uncomfortable, and out of control.
I discovered after the first day that I did indeed fit in. The very fact that I didn’t look like many of the participants of the conference made me a perfect addition to this collection of humans. I may have brought the urban chic vibe, and no one was judging. Instead of saying “who does she think she is?” as I walked around in my fashionable blue felt hat and somewhat trendy clothes people complimented me for my fashion and it started many conversations. Where was I from? What brought me here? And very quickly the conversation would turn toward the divine and why being here mattered. I was surrounded by people who understand why justice and compassion aren’t separate from my faith, but because of my faith.
As the four days progressed I learned that I didn’t have to worry about being outside of the norm because here, like the kingdom of God, there was no norm. I learned the value of being the outsider and being ok with not agreeing. I had sacred conversations where I think the Holy Spirit was speaking through others. I had conversations where I knew that the words I was using weren’t my words. I experienced four days where I was open to the idea that maybe the Holy Spirit was going to meet me in ways I wasn’t ready for. All of this happened while this So Cal girl was surrounded by gypsies, nomads, preachers, pacifist and atheists. I was tempted to be a skeptic observer of all the weirdness, but instead I let myself experience and prayed my way through it and I was given a huge gift a gift of letting go of control and allowing God to do what God was going to do. I was humbled and overwhelmed by the fact that my talk was beyond capacity attended on the first morning at 9am in one of the smaller venues. I was even more overwhelmed when people would stop and share what it meant to them all weekend long. These four days will take me a long time to get over but I have not laughed harder, cried harder, or hugged harder. I have been blessed, and it has got me wondering when have a missed the spirit because I was thinking it should look a certain way?
On Father’s day weekend I thought I would share some thoughts on why we avoid referring to God with paternal language and how we may be missing out on helping people experience the reconciling love of God.
As I sat across from one of my favorite parishioners he looked over his notes. For the last five years I have met with him every couple of months and he always brings a list of thoughts and questions. I love these meetings. They usually take place at a coffee shop. He brings the thoughts he has been having over the last month or so written on a scrap piece of paper. The paper is usually folded up in his pocket. He carries the piece of paper around with him at his work and adds to it when something strikes him. By the time we meet the piece of paper is usually well worn and folded and refolded many times. I love his well thought out questions and reflections. This was going to be our last time meeting before I transition to my new church. I had a sense of sadness. I could tell there was one notation he wasn’t sure he should share.
The thoughts are usually about sermons I have recently given. As a preacher there is nothing better than discovering that someone is listening to your sermons, and actually taking time to ponder and reflect on the words. This afternoon he was hesitant, but finally took a sip of his Ice tea and said, “I really like when you call God Father.” He said it almost apologetically. At first I will admit I was really hoping he wasn’t going to share how he could only see God as a man and the times I refer to God as a woman are distracting. He continued “I know you don’t always do it, but it has brought me closer to God. God has always felt distant, but to think of God as a loving father has helped me. My own dad is an incredible man and I have always looked up to him and his faith.” This caused me to pause and think. I even wrote a quick note on my phone that simply read “God the father?”
Why did his words strike me as odd? So many of us grew up only hearing images of God as the father. So let me give you a little piece of my history. When I was in seminary I handed in one of my first papers and received some jarring criticism. My undergrad was in Biology and Psychology so theological/academic writing was definitely a new way of writing. It took sometime to be able to write papers that weren’t too short. I would get right to the point like a scientific report. Finally one of my friends who helped me edit gave me some advice, “Sarah in order to write theologically you have to conclude and then conclude your conclusion.” I thought I was getting the hang of it when I received a paper back from one of my TA’s and it looked like he had bled all over the paper in red ink. My eyes grew wide and fear turned to confusion when I read the main note he had “don’t use gender specific language when referring to God. You appear sexist.”
Sexist? Me? I am after all the girl whose own father gave her the coffee mug that simply declared “The right man for the job is usually a woman.” I am also from a very politically correct country (Canada for goodness sake) and grew up pretty PC. How could I be sexist? But it was true I had used mostly male language to refer to God. I know how damaging only seeing the male attributes of God can be. I also know that using dad language can remind people of the less than ideal way that their humanly father parented or didn’t parent. I thought about my own dad. He is an amazing dad. Do I think my dad is perfect? No. My Dad is amazing and supportive, but he was also busy growing up and he was a high achiever so I spent many years just trying to impress him. I wanted to be good enough to make him proud. I felt unseen unless making a scene for achieving something or creating something. When I look back on my faith I think I have had the same relationship with God. I wanted God the Father to think I was good enough and I saw God as busy and hard to impress. Is this my dad’s fault? Nope it was an unintended consequence.
As I look through scripture I see that one of the new ideas and notions that Christ’s incarnation brought was the idea that God was indeed our Abba that through Christ we are adopted into this family. Perhaps into the only family where we will experience paternal love done right. But it doesn’t just transfer we have to be more clear about why we use the language and names we use. Reconciliation with our faulty images of fathers can only come through recognition. Perhaps a middle ground of noticing all the names and descriptions of God that scripture gives us will help people find a way to connect to God- What do you think? Are there names for God that are helpful for you?
You and I both know that the house is haunted.
You and I both know that the Ghost is me- Shakey Graves
A couple of years ago I overheard a girl describing the end of her latest relationship with these words- “I don’t know he just Ghosted.” Since then I have heard it again and again as a description of what happens when someone doesn’t actually confront the fact that they no longer want to be in the relationship, or the pursuit of a relationship, and so begin to simply slip away. A couple of unanswered text message, daily calls turn into weekly calls, they slowly disappear until there is nothing left. The actions are so gradual that you almost don’t notice the person is doing it until it is done and they are gone.
I have Ghosted, and I have been Ghosted (not sure that is the proper use of the term.) I have been a coward and my people pleasing heart hasn’t wanted to tell people, whether friend or someone I am dating, that it isn’t working anymore. Often when we do it with friends it isn’t even intentional. Our lives may be in such different stages that we no longer have so much in common and so our weekly visits or calls turn into monthly or bimonthly check ins. That’s not the kind of Ghosting I am talking about. I am talking about something I call a “full Casper” where someone disappears never to be seen or heard from again. The ghost means to be friendly, like Casper, but you end up haunted by memories and “what ifs.” It can seem like the kind thing to do, but what I am realizing is that sometimes goodbye can be a gift.
As I look back on my own life I realize that incredible pain has been caused when people haven’t said a good goodbye. I think about the end of two of my most meaningful relationships, and neither one had a “proper” goodbye. There was no “this is over conversation” except for the ones that I had to force after realizing they weren’t invested anymore. One of my favorite songs is by a band the Shakey Graves the song brings to life the experience of being ghosted as Shakey says, “you and I both know that the house is haunted, you and I both know that the ghost is me.” It is incredibly painful to have to essentially break up with yourself. You are left with a Ghost and no reason why the haunting started. When someone just disappears you wonder why you didn’t matter enough, you wonder what you missed out on being or doing. We all know that there are many reasons why someone doesn’t stay in a relationship, friendship or otherwise, sometimes it truly is a its “me not you” situation, but when you just walk away the other person is left filling in the blanks.
With the dawn of technology as our main means of communication Ghosting has become easy to do. Especially if you are using apps or online dating and have tons of connections happening at once you can just disappear on the ones you eventually don’t want to work out. With friendships we can just occasionally write a happy birthday message when Facebook reminds us and feel like we are still in people’s lives. Before the dawn of this kind of technology it would have been noticeable or even odd if we only ever heard from a friend once a year on our birthday now for many friendships even ones you care about it has become the norm.
So why am I thinking about good goodbyes? Because this week I am having to do a lot of them. This is my final week as a Pastor at my current setting, and I am having to say a lot of goodbyes and see you laters. Even though I am only going down the road a couple of cities I think there is so much value in not just disappearing, but honoring the story we have been creating together for the last five years. I am overwhelmed with how important some of the goodbyes I have received have been. I have been given the gift of good goodbyes.
My formal goodbyes will take all week because we have two ministry sites and I want to honor my time with both sites. Yesterday I preached my final messages at our one site, and attended an amazing goodbye “hootenanny.” It was a special evening filled with a lot of my favorite things, from my favorite ice tea (they went to sonic!!!) to my favorite side dish grilled brussel sprouts, to the whole community singing to me, the night was touching and kind and honored what we have been as a community. It was a great goodbye. What was also meaningful was that individuals came up and shared with me what I have meant to them. It was incredible. We don’t do that enough when people are still amongst us.
This week will be my last of a lot of things. My last time preaching at my site, my last preschool chapel, my last staff meeting, and all of them will have tough but important goodbyes. These goodbyes are a gift. I will treasure for a long time being able to say goodbye. Even though many of the relationships will continue, they will be different and honoring that prevents Ghosts. How we say goodbye matters almost as much as how we say hello. There are far too many Ghosts walking around amongst us.
28 ‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’
Can NEVER be forgiven!!! I may be a little bit of a commitment phobic but any time you use words like ALWAYS and NEVER I get overwhelmed and some deep fear that I probably should spend more time investigating comes up. I especially don’t like the idea of never being forgiven. That doesn’t sound like Jesus at all. I mean, I believe in a Grace so big that even I get forgiven and I am pretty good at sinning. Maybe not in big enough ways to get arrested or banned, but I for sure make mistakes daily that has Jesus shaking his head. So is it possible to sin in such a way that God will not forgive you???
When I was in grade school my brother and I were friends with a family up the street. They were a pretty religious family and had lots of kids, which meant there was a girl for me to play with, and a boy for my older brother to pal around with. Because we knew they were religious my mom had given me a stern talking to about the words I was allowed to use around them. Now, our family was not pirate mouthed, but we definitely said some words that came more from our British heritage and could make some outside of our family blush. I was always really careful at this family’s house as I didn’t want to offend. One day I was playing with my skippit, that’s how old school I am! If you don’t know what they are they were kind of like the original fitbit, they counted each of your jumps and there was an awesome tally on the bottom and there were so much fun to jump over! So I was jumping and fell, and as I fell I decided to use what I thought was a safe phrase (I mean I had heard it on re-runs of the original Batman) so I yelled “holy moly” and the next thing I know I was sitting on a coach being told by my friends mom that I had just used a bad word! I couldn’t figure out what she was referring to until she said “we don’t use the word “holy” in vane, because it is using the Holy Spirits name in vane, and when you curse the Holy Spirit you are sinning.” I went home embarrassed and confused. I mean Batman said it… how could it be that bad.
Once I got to college and spent some more time reading scripture for myself I came across this verse and realized this is what she was refereeing to but what she hadn’t mentioned was that I would NEVER be forgiven! What? Did this mean I should start sinning big time since it apparently didn’t matter since I was already condemned. That didn’t seem right and it didn’t seem to fit with who I knew God to be. But there it was in bold words. It wasn’t until I did a little investigation as to where this came from and worked further on understanding it that I came to see that cursing the Holy Spirit is an eternal sin not because God will never forgive us but because blasphamey against the Holy spirit is really denying where we see the Holy Spirit at work in the world.
As I looked at the Greek (by reading really great scholars I myself am not a linguist) the sentence doesn’t really say “never” but instead says it is an eternal matter. Jesus is responding to the accusation that he heals in the name of Satan and therefore is guilty of blasphemy. Jesus does one of Jesus’ greatest ninja moves and says that there is no way he could work for Satan since he is doing actions of health, healing and wholeness. Those things are for the Kingdom and therefore it makes no sense to do them for a force opposed to the kingdom. In fact, Jesus says a true sin is to miss where the Holy Spirit is working. Missing out on the fact that Jesus is an agent of the Holy Spirit is truly a sin that has eternal consequences because you miss out on what is already happening around you. The kingdom is springing up and the Spirit doesn’t want you to spend eternity missing those moments!
So will young Sarah be forgiven? I think so…but my challenge now is to live a life that is looking for the Spirit in all things and trying to find it even in the most unexpected places. Places where I don’t agree with the people or things being said. Not recognizing the true origin of something is blasphemy, and I think that is a sin that is worth looking out for.
I watched a video this week by Prince Ea (he is a great spoken word artist – check him out here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ja-n5qUNRi8). He said something that I can’t shake; in fact, I have been thinking about it all weekend. I live far away from my amazing family, and I don’t have any family of my own, so family-centric holidays like Mother’s Day leave me feeling a little sad and a great deal introspective. So I may have been a little more sensitive than usual when I saw the video. Prince Ea said many of us are living ‘kinda’ lives. We ‘kinda’ commit to this thing and we ‘kinda’ pursue our dreams. His words have been going around and around in my head… ‘kinda’… how many times have I chosen a ‘kinda’ life? I am the queen of ‘kinda.’ And when I am honest, living a ‘kinda’ life has left me heart broken and a jack-of-all-trades, being master of none.
Many people have commented on all the things I have tried, and it is true – I have lived a lot of life for someone my age, trying lots of different things. I don’t think that is necessarily bad. In fact, I think trying new things is really important to developing who we are. So from scuba diving to ballet dancing, I have ‘kinda’ done a lot. I think God made me that way, and I will always be a little bit of an ‘up for anything’ wild spirit. I am a curious human who loves to live for the experience. But sometimes I think my ‘kinda’ lifestyle has left me feeling ungrounded and unconnected. I don’t regret living a life of trying things, but I think I have settled for ‘kinda’ too much and in places where life was never meant to be lived in a ‘kinda’ type of way. I have ‘kinda’ been committed to a lot of things, and I wonder where I would be had I dove head first into any one of them. They say it takes 10,000 hours to master anything, so my ‘kinda’ lifestyle doesn’t always cut it!
I think the ‘kinda’ lifestyle has applied to my friendships, and I know for sure it has been part of my intimate relationships. I have had many friendships that ‘kinda’ had vulnerability and depth to them, but there was always something I held back. I didn’t want to be too open or too known. I ‘kinda’ wanted to be in control. When you are open in relationships, you lose the ability to control how people will view you and what they will accept or reject in you. That has left me with lots of friends but feeling unknown in many ways.
When I look at my dating life, it has been a lot of ‘kinda’. As a pastor, dating is beyond complicated. I didn’t realize that consequence going into ministry. As far as I knew, I was still ‘just Sarah,’ and Sarah dated like anyone else. It took my friend having a bit too much whiskey and telling me, “I would have pursued you, but dating you is like being a step-father. At some point you have to meet all the kids (the congregation), and it just seems too complicated.” I had never thought of myself as complicated. But I got it. From that point on I had lots of ‘kinda’ relationships. Not many went public; but when they did and then didn’t work out, it more than ‘kinda’ hurt – it was a public failure. ‘Kinda’ dating became easier but left me feeling un-pursued and unknown. Worse still, those times when I risked being more than ‘kinda’ and the other person just wanted ‘kinda,’ I felt embarrassed and unsure of myself. I don’t think that is what relationships are supposed to look like. I think good relationships make us more, not less, and definitely not ‘kinda’ people.
In my career, ‘kinda’ hasn’t been helpful either. I have ‘kinda’ pursued my dreams, and sometimes I have embarrassingly shared my career goals, expressing them in language that makes them seem more like dreams and less like goals. I believed that if I ‘kinda’ shared what I hoped for, failure would seem less traumatizing, since I only ‘kind of’ wanted it. So this weekend I am aware that I am tired of ‘kinda.’ I think God made me a wholehearted human, who as much as it scares her, wants to be wholeheartedly pursued and wholehearted in the way she pursues life. I don’t know what that means yet, or what it looks like lived out, but I hope you will join me!
I began this weekend by attending a large music festival. I brought one of my most extroverted friends with me – Heather. All day long, we never met a stranger. Everyone we encountered became our new best friend. From the guy who watched our backpacks whilst we went and got food, to the girls who saved our spots right by the front fence, everyone we met became a friend and an accomplice. As much as I seem like an extrovert, there is a deep part of me that is an introvert. I like having an icebreaker with me, and my friend Heather is an icebreaker expert. She is bolder than me and not afraid to ask people for random favors or if we can participate in things. I have several friends like that. I may not be an icebreaker, but once I have an introduction, I love connecting with people. It is part of what makes me tick; connecting with people is one of my favorite parts of life.
When meeting people, there is one question that they always seem to ask. It is an easy question for most people, some would even call it a ‘no-brainer,’ but I will admit it often stumps me and causes me to pause before I answer. The question is simple enough: “Where are you from?” That question, for me, has many answers and even more implications. I have lived in Orange County, California for almost 11 years. Before that I lived in North Carolina for 3 years; before that I lived in Mississippi for 8 years; before that I lived in Northern Ontario for 11 years; and my first two years of life were spent in Newfoundland. I find myself answering in different ways depending on who is asking the question. This weekend at the country music festival, explaining that I was an Orange County Canadian Southerner got a lot of strange looks. One girl asked me, “So which one do you call home?” That caused me to pause and think and have a bit of an existential crises. Where is my home?
When I reflect on my life, I really feel like I have no centering home in a physical place. I usually feel like a bit of a stranger or an outsider no matter where I am. I have always envied people who feel rooted to a place. As someone who has felt like a nomad, it seems a romantic notion to have all your family in one place and to watch an area change over the years. This has probably been exacerbated and encouraged by reading Wendell Berry. Berry is a wonderful theologian and writer who often writes about community rootedness, and I have fallen in love with the notion. Yet I can’t seem to find the place where I am meant to be rooted. I almost feel homesick for a place I have never been.
I remember sharing this thought with my best girl friend Carla. She is a wise one (and also my editor) and shared a wonderful insight. Carla looked at me, and in her usual understated way said, “It makes sense you don’t feel at home anywhere. Neither did Jesus. And maybe we are supposed to feel a little uneasy.” She and I talked about the idea of the Kingdom of God and how Jesus shared that there was nowhere for him to lay his head (Matthew 8:20). Jesus felt and lived like a nomad. There are many places that I love and that I would say are part of me. Perhaps it is a gift to have not just one home, but many.
I think more than a place, what makes me feel at home are people. Whenever I am going through something difficult or new, I find myself needing to connect with certain people. It is as if I don’t feel like myself unless I have touched base with these people. Recently, I had one of those days where everything in my life seemed to be in transition and I didn’t feel like myself; everything felt foreign and unfamiliar. I called a friend and asked him to come over and just sit with me and watch a tv show. That was it. I just wanted him to be around, because for some reason he feels like home and reminds me of who I am. In the same way, sometimes I just need to hear my parents’ voices; they are my home. I think that is the answer I will give from now on. Instead of listing a place, I will list the people that make up my home. What about you – where is home? Or maybe a better question is: who is your home?
If you have spent any time in film or theater, you know one of the big milestones in a production is the day that everyone goes ‘off script.’ It means you know your lines and the other actors’ lines well enough that you begin to ‘act and react’ to the words instead of trying to memorize the dialogue. It is in this stage of a production that you are able to create nuance and character. People often begin to do improv during this step; they know their character so well that they begin to respond as their character would. Often the biggest moments of movie or theater ‘magic’ occur when actors are off script. I think the same is true in real life, and as a recovering control-freak, sometimes I miss the days of memorization.
I remember being in a play in high school and being petrified that when the ‘off script’ day came I wouldn’t be ready. I was afraid that I would never get the lines down, or worse yet, I would have a complete blank moment and forget the whole thing. I had nightmares leading up to the rehearsal that my lips would move as the other characters gave their lines, but no matter what I did, I could only puppet their lines. I should probably mention that I am afraid of puppets, so the idea that I could become one was frightening. The rehearsal came and I was able to remember my lines, but I didn’t eat lunch and I don’t think I learned anything in any of my classes that day. All it took was one successful rehearsal and I had the confidence to forget that there was ever a time I didn’t know my lines. I had to be prepared so that I could go ‘off script’ with confidence.
Recently, I had another one of these off script days. I was blessed to be nominated for and receive a role on a web-series called “The Committee.” It had been several years since I acted in any capacity, other than the occasional summer camp drama, and I was nervous. I wasn’t nervous to be on camera – I am comfortable in front of a camera and had been in some short films several years before. The thing that made me nervous was getting my lines right, especially since I would be working with real actors and not my fellow camp staffers. So I did what anyone who lives in my part of the country would do and called my friend, who is a bonafide former member of the SAG, and asked him to ‘run my lines with me.’ It was intimidating to do even that, but as we read together, I watched him come alive. There is something magical and awe-inspiring when you see someone engaged in what they were created to do. They take on what I see as a God-given identity. He is an actor whether he is currently playing a role or not. He kept asking me, “What do you think your character is thinking?” Since the character was based on me and had the same name as me, I thought I had that one nailed. He read with enthusiasm and taught me his tricks of memorization. By the end of the night, I knew my lines, but I still had to memorize everyone else’s so that I could properly react and not just repeat the lines.
The big day came and I met for rehearsal with the other actors. It was nerve-racking, but by the end of it, the amazing director encouraged me enough that I was able to say my lines with confidence. Why do I tell this story? Since I have recently been appointed to a new church, I find myself living almost inside the very script that I filmed for “The Committee.” I am realizing I will have to go off script. But unlike the TV show, there is no way for me to read ahead to make sure it all turns out alright. Each turn will require me to react and engage, with no guarantee that my motive or intent will be understood. I am going to have to trust that I know enough about the church development and creation movement, that even if things don’t go as planned, I will have the ability to improv with the help of God. In real life, people can tell whether you believe what you are saying or are just delivering a line. This is an important lesson for someone who is a pastor AND plays one on TV. If I am going to have any chance of revitalizing my real life “Park Grove,” (that was the name of the church on the show) I am going to have to learn to trust that God is writing this script!
If you want to check out “The Committee” go to www.chuckknowschurch.com the episode is called “Resurrection”