anniversaries and grace
I didn’t get to celebrate my 30th birthday party because the pandemic started and I’d just gotten the flu for the very first time in my life. Terrible timing to get the flu, by the way.
Either way, I cancelled my plane ticket to NYC as I looked at the 150 names on my guest list for what was going to be my birthday party. I think if I were to have a party today it would still total to about the same number of guests but it wouldn’t be the same people as the summer of 2020 was very revealing. If you know, you know.
That was almost two years ago, and another birthday is coming up. This year feels very significant to me. I don’t know all the reasons, but I know some of them.
I am someone who is very aware of anniversaries. The ones that get me the most are the first anniversary, the third anniversary and the fifth anniversary. I don’t have a lot of happy anniversaries, so I am mostly always gaging the healing of whatever event it is I am processing.
This year will be the 5th anniversary of me leaving the white evangelical church. I’ll never forget the day we had to make the announcement to my youth group. It was the day after my 27th birthday and I remember writing the words, “27 - day one and you’re already brutal.”
Brutal? One of the biggest understatements of my life.
Five years ago I didn’t have the language to communicate properly why I was leaving, today I do.
If you didn’t know this about me, I take pictures of everything. One time I read a quote that said something along the lines of pay attention to the things people take pictures of, it’s what they’re afraid of losing. I don’t know that I agree with the quote, but a part of me took it to heart. Not necessarily being afraid of losing it, but my brain translated it to, “it is what people love the most.” I quickly made the decision that it was people I loved the most, so I always take pictures of people and with people (and sunsets and coffee shops.)
Because I take so many pictures I can tell so many stories from so many different periods of my life.
If the last five years have taught me anything is to look at my own life with a soft gaze. I’ve never talked about the shame I experienced when I left the white evangelical church. Especially because I didn’t know how to talk about whiteness, racism, and white violence (I use the word violence instead of privilege and microaggressions because that is what it is). And I was ashamed because I believed the white evangelical church loved me and loved the people who looked like me. I was ashamed because I was wrong. I was ashamed because I didn’t speak up. I was ashamed because what if I wasted my life? I was ashamed because I knew that I would never be able to erase all the things I was so certain of and taught in life groups, small groups, and prayer nights, etc.
Yet as I’ve been looking through pictures from those first few days I am looking through the soft gaze and remembering all the places that held my tears. The local uptown coffee shop held my tears, my dear friend and co-worker who sat across from me held my tears, my sister held my tears, my composer best friend, the Adams Street Cafe, my twitter account, and all my books, they all held my tears.
My story with the white evangelical church actually started back in Peru. (Colonization through missions is real and it’s a whole other conversation). As I prepare to turn 32 I am looking back through those stories with a soft gaze, commonly known as grace. I judge myself pretty harshly, so I am softening my gaze towards my own story. This practice has become a deep spiritual practice for me.
The more I soften my gaze at all the things I was ashamed of the more the shame disappears. It doesn’t mean that I don’t hold myself accountable for my own mistakes or the words I have said or my actions/inactions. It simply means I have grace for myself. Having grace for myself has welcomed me to be the most me I could possibly be, and has led me to hold other people’s stories with the same soft gaze.
I call this newsletter Joyfully Liberated not because I am already there, but because I speak it over myself and my community every time I read it. Like Love, liberation is an active word. I want to believe that one day we will be joyfully liberated and this requires grace (and the whole entire Fruit of the Spirit, to be honest.)
As I remember all those things, I am thinking of this quote from Doctor Who.
The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant. - The Eleventh Doctor
I will be writing a little bit more about those days and all the ways I lost my faith just to be found in the most beautiful Infinite Love over and over.
In whatever part of your story you’re in right now, I hope you too are being found in Infinite Love, being held by the soft gaze, which is to say grace.