Death is Unforgivable.

She did the same things until the end. The daily things. The stuff we think we’d just skip if we knew we were dying. But she never abandoned the rhythms. Meetings. A walk to the store. Church on Sunday. Changing a tire on her bike. She lived a life in which the little things mattered. Even when she was dying. Maybe especially when she was dying.

I cannot even begin to explain to you how this way of moving through the world impacted me. I, who am so often scrambling and fumbling for meaning so desperately… well, of course meaning is found in the faithful doing of little things with great love. From beginning to end. There has maybe never been a more meaningful person to me than Wray. In her simple way.

When she prayed for me, she would put one gnarled and crooked hands over my hands, and turn the other one up on her knee. She would pour her heart out over the little things that troubled me. As if the little things mattered so much. When cancer was eating her, she would pray for my children, my marriage, my sadness, my joy.

She had eyes like a 4 year old girl at a tea party. They never stopped twinkling. She would clap her hands together under her chin. Always this precious meeting of hand and hand above heart. A gesture I’ve only ever seen small children do. Hope unwavering.

She was light in the world. And she was weighty. Something about her quiet. Something about her piercing gaze and the way she would cock her head, and nod, and press her lips together and shrug. Smile the smallest of smiles like a secret. Her hands were open. Her heart was steady. She had bones like a little bird and legs like a baby deer, long and lanky. She would walk through the park with a stride like dancing, arms tucked into jacket, slouchy sack on shoulder. Somehow she never conceded to the weights of the world. Not to loss, not to illness, not to loneliness, not to the big “why bother?” questions that want to eat out the substance of our lives. She was light. She was always bending those knobby knees to kneel. And rise. And kneel.

She would come by after church and grab my arm and say, “Still no lively worship service. What a drag. Well, we won’t stop praying.” Wray prayed for years that we could sing praises with abandon. “Now she can. Now she is,” a friend said. And I just wept and wanted to punch the music minister in the mouth. She could have had it here!

No one told me it would be this awful. Death. Letting people go. Especially people who have loved you back to life.

When I was in the depths of my first major depressive episode, Wray would call. She didn’t have to have anything to say, particularly. Just her little lilting voice across the line. Quiet and clear, so you leaned in to listen. “Well… I just wanted to check. We won’t stop praying.” She never did. That was enough. That little thing.

She leaves an absolutely unfillable hole.

How can we possibly hold the pieces of ourselves together when such a beautiful piece has been snipped out? I think we can’t. Death is unforgivable.

The last time I saw her was on Ash Wednesday. She held my hand in the back pew on the way out the door. Patted my arm. She’d always pat my arm and then look sheepish. My kids were scrambling. Disrupting the stillness of a solemn service. I hugged her neck. Her papery cheek on mine. We parted ways with ashen crosses thumbed across our heads.

“Remember that you are but dust, and to dust you shall return.” And I never saw her again.

I didn’t know she was dying. Not in that moment. She lived so fully, you often forgot. I only knew she was priceless. I only knew I wanted to keep her forever. I never got to say goodbye. So I might bleed a little bit forever.

A love you, Wray.

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The Imperfection Trap

Imperfection is the new polished. Praise be! We celebrate freckles, big hair, and body types. We try anyway. We’re so incredibly free compared to our mothers and grandmothers. We talk about our problems in public. We admit to taking medication for our moods. We share the gritty details of our labor and delivery: The first big push of baby into world, and then all the little daily pushes that come after for the rest of forever.

We are more open than we have ever been. Our grandmothers had rules like, “No white pants after labor day” and “Don’t air your dirty laundry in public.” We live in the age of messy buns, baggy jeans, ballyage, and honesty. Hallelujah! Because I am badly equipped for anything more glossy.

But we’re still InstaScam filtering the crap out of it, aren’t we?

We are so uptight about how our looseness is perceived, it is making me constipated.

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We carefully monitor the propaganda machine of our own experience.

If you’re going to be a mess, thou shalt be hilarious. Or at least vaguely likeable.

Depression is allowed, but preferably with a deep quote.

When all else fails, there are memes.

We have learned to squeeze even our deepest miseries and rawest openness through the fine sieve of performance. We have learned to clip the most chaotic, depressing moments of our lives into sculpted hedges. Crop out the oatmeal slime under the kitchen table and everyone looks like Martha Stewart! But include the oatmeal slime, and suddenly you’re that “funny easy going sort” that’s making space for others. Until you can’t. And then you have a choice…. brand or honesty?

Turns out we can hide behind the manicured shrubbery of our own imperfection. We have even learned to press the play-dough of our deepest despair into nice shapes that somehow reflect well on us. At least, I do.

I want to be a permission granter! Perfection is nothing compared with connection. Today I told I friend, “I think I have the spiritual gift of a muffin top, because no one looks at me on the outside and thinks I have all my business together.” But somehow even the desire to empower others toward wholeness and honesty can be contorted into something that’s lying. Something that hides behind what works, so that it doesn’t have to be what it is.

It’s not a matter of constantly pushing ourselves to be more and more raw. That’s silly. That’s some kind of strange emotional gluttony. Let’s leave the stirring up of more and more junk where calm waters will do to the middle school girls. This is about STAYING FREE. And staying free again. And continuing to stay free from the trap of hiding behind image.

“It is for freedom that Christ as set us free! So don’t conform any longer to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

How poignant and contemporary is this calling for our unique moment in history?

We live in a time more free than any other time. Yet we allow our freedom to become a kind of cage when we let people’s expectations of us shape us more than our authentic experience. More than the experience God has called us to inhabit fully for his purposes.

It’s a trap! Darling, you are no brand.

You are not a one-note, one-trick, one-hit-wonder. You were never meant to be. You are a soul on a journey, and the journey is complicated.

You are a whole, integrated, woven together, wonderful You.

You are made of brightness and darkness.

You are both hilarious and incredibly annoying.

You are victorious and one extremely hot mess.

You are all these things and more. Unfiltered. Uncropped. Unvarished. You are a story originating in the heart of God, unspooling into your own experience through his ancient hands of love.

Personal branding is a soul sucking sickness. It’s the cage where funny people shrivel up and suffer in silence because they are only permitted to be bright. It’s a prison where wise folks begin to betray the whimsical wandering of their own hearts and perform like trick ponies, because they always need to be sage. It’s where health bloggers lie about loving Moon Pies. Those jerks.

The point is…. being honest isn’t enough. We must be whole. We must be all the things we are. We must be those things together. It’s how we were meant to live. The minute you surrender your Self to your Image, you have lost the freedom for which you have been set free. You have lost the Light and the Salt that only you have.

Let’s set each other free. You are not a brand to me. You’re also not a mermaid, a unicorn, or a vampire. I’m sorry. You’re You. And it is enough, and it is everything.

The Spiritual Discipline of Coloring Books

The best news I have for you today is that there are oreos and open windows. That when things have gotten really sideways, there are crayons and usually something to scribble on. Jesus practically invented adult coloring books. He said, “Unless you come like a child, you can’t enter the kingdom of heaven.” So if things are looking truly bleak, I find my way toward heaven’s door with markers and the outlined picture of a cupcake. The narrow way.

I love how children come. If they aren’t running away and ignoring me completely, they’re barreling into me with every ounce of their despair on display. My lap is their last resort, so when they finally come it is not in their Sunday best. Little hot messes. Sticky fingers. Grabby hands. Strange obsessive plans percolating in their brains about how to control the world, and wailing in misery when they fail. The strange spawn of Violence and a Sweet Tooth. You know, pretty much exactly like me. When they’re finally at their wit’s end, they launch themselves onto me like a trust fall. Limp and sweaty. Streaked with muddy tears and smelling like a truck stop. This is how he invites us. This is where he invites us. He says, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden… I bought Crayola.” He knew that his lap would be my last resort too.

This is holy work on the worst days. Stopping. Throwing ourselves, un-showered and angsty, into something immoveable and good. Putting the Rubix Cube of the universe down and backing away slowly from the frantic fumbling for meaning, success, love, security, purpose. And the really hard stuff like good hair, nice housekeeping and smaller pants. Pulling the hungry suckers of our sticky octopus brains off whatever meaningless detail we’ve gotten wrapped around, and just doodling. Or better yet being silent in the quiet of our own hearts. But silence is hard, so doodling is a good step in the right direction.

Father Thomas Keating, the Trappist monk, says with a twinkle in his eye, “The first guideline for entering into Centering Prayer is just to sit down. Which isn’t too difficult for most people.” Clearly he hasn’t been hanging out with many moms. Sitting down is not our strong suit. Unless we want to stand up and find poop on the walls. But there it is… Stop. In the whirl and swirl of everything. When you’ve reached your wit’s end (or maybe even before, if you’re having a very wise day) come and throw yourself into something ancient and infinite and safe. Some big magic that’s barely beyond the surface. Something that grants permission in the deepest places. The eternal arms that hold. The eternal voice that murmurs, “You are enough because I love you. That was always the truest thing. Now, let’s color a unicorn!”

God raises beauty out of ashes. Always. It’s in his nature. On really bad days, sometimes resurrection can only be found in sitting down. Accepting his sufficiency. Delighting in the freedom to stop and be held. When hearts of truly broken and things are worse than ever, God created Oreos for such a time as this. Broken open for us and for many. One small black and white way out of death and into the loving heart of God.

When snot runneth over everyone’s bottom lip and they lick it off, which is utterly gross, there are yoga pants and a dash of online shopping. Hallelujah! When it’s been four days since you showered and the kids are rampaging, there is a swipe of mascara. With a wave of the wand, you can transform into Adele. Sometimes that’s all it takes to bring you back to life. Two layers of mascara. Grace upon grace.

We thought it was the big things, the deeper questions, the theological gymnastics of the professionals that would un-muddle our experience at it’s most tangly, but it was always the little ones. It was always the still small voice. The narrow way. The little lost lamb. The smallest lurch of faith in the right direction. It’s not rocket science, apparently.

Jesus said it again and again; that it was simple. That it was easy. That is was light. That it was startlingly obvious and utterly available. If we are feeling the opposite, I hazard a guess we have somehow strayed from grace. It’s a simple little thing to shift back into the green pasture when the wheels are flying off the crazy train. Just sit down. God’s presence is always nearer than we thought. He is a “very present help,” all evidence to the contrary. We need only learn how to lurch into his lap. His lap, where labor ceases and the work of healing our confused and fragmented hearts begins. Sit Down. Pick up a coloring book. He’ll meet you there. When the mind settles… when the crazy calms… This is the doorway to contemplative prayer. Sometimes it starts with Lisa Frank.