Free to be me

I could choose what felt right for me without needing to be like everyone, or needing everyone to be like me.

Austin Channing Brown, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whitness

I’m not coming from the same place as Austin Channing Brown, but I still feel the weight of these words. It is a freedom we all hope to discover. To know, even if I’m not like you, I’m alright. In fact I am more than alright. I am incredible.

I think we all start with a desire to belong. We want to fit in. I’ve never really felt like I fit in. Looking back, it is probably because I tried to fit in everywhere. The best I could do was skim the surface as a Christian, as a nerd, as a musician, as a jock… as whatever mask I wore at the moment. Some of it was authentic. There were lines I would not cross. But outside of those, I did my best to be who I thought they wanted me to be. Trust me, it’s no way to live.

I am reminded that often directly pursuing happiness and satisfaction, in this case belonging, prevents us from attaining them. I tried to be everyone but the person I was made to be – me. I won’t lie and say it’s not still a struggle. I’m not done yet. But I’m amazed by the friends I have found since beginning to walk in my own identity. We’re each unique, and it’s made for a diverse mess of a community. One I’m proud to be a part of.

I don’t know who or what opened or will open the door for you, but as I write these words I both pray and hope that each of you will be able to find a place where you choose what feels right without needing to be like everyone, or needing everyone to be like you. And I pray and hope that in doing so, you come a little closer to the unique gift to the world you were created to be.

 

Seeing Through the Veil of Expectation

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But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, ‘Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.‘”

2 Kings 5:11, English Standard Version

It’s been many years since I encountered the story of Naaman. As a celebrated commander of the Syrian army, he enjoyed riches, fame and the favor of his king. However these things could not protect him from leprosy. A diagnosis that would be akin to being told you have a terminal disease.

I don’t know how many options he had, or how many he’d exhausted before an Israelite servant girl offered a ray of hope. There is a prophet in Samaria. “He would cure him of  his leprosy.” So Naaman approached his king, and with the king’s blessing made his way to Israel. To shorten the story a bit, he ended up standing outside the prophet Elisha’s home where he received a message telling him to dip himself seven times in the River Jordan.

It’s here that we pick up. Until yesterday, I’ve always noted Naaman’s pride in this passage. He is a man offended by the blatant disregard for his greatness. The prophet sends a messenger to him instead of meeting him directly. He then directs him to wash in a dirty river. All things Naaman thinks himself too good for. However, I now see something more.

Elisha had violated Naaman’s expectations.

Expectations can be dangerous. Unmet expectations are downright destructive. We fail to live up to our expectations, and it wounds our soul. We fail to meet other’s expectations, and we hurt relationships. We sit under the weight of expectation and anxiety threatens to overwhelm us. And when reality doesn’t match our expectations we get angry and walk away, just as Naaman did.

Naaman walked away from healing because it did not match his expectations.

Let that sink in.

Has it hit you in the gut yet? Does this ring with familiarity? I know it does for me. I wonder how many times I’ve missed out because I could not let go of my expectations to embrace good counsel, training or what might seem a little crazy in the moment. Sadly, even knowing this truth, I am often blinded. Knowing doesn’t make me immune.

It takes humility. We have to accept our limitations. It takes courage. We have to dive into new waters, and they might be different than the ones we’re used to. It takes a community of care. We need people with us who will, like Naaman’s servants, challenge us and help us take the blinders off.

And when humility, courage and community uncover our eyes, I wonder what healing awaits us beyond the veil of our expectations.

Under pressure

There is a longstanding conspiracy of silence in the medical profession – doctors are not allowed to admit their mistakes or speak about their personal struggles in public.

@nightdawnday

I read these words yesterday and encourage anyone joining me here to take a few minutes to read the post of origin. Night*Dawn*Day tailored the article to the medical community, but I believe it speaks to us all.

That in mind, reread the quote above. Now remove “medical profession” and “doctors” and fit it to your life. Where do you feel bound? Where is your “conspiracy of silence“? Where are you not safe to admit your mistakes and speak about your personal struggles? I see an environment of silence, where it is unsafe to be anything less than perfect, as a pressure cooker without a release valve. It will inevitably explode. We need a release. When we are given permission to share our mistakes, we can learn from them as we grow together. Vulnerability also fosters healthy expectations toward ourselves, toward our colleagues, and from those we serve.

I suppose it begins and ends with a simple fact.

We’re all human.

When we remain in touch with our humanity and make room for other’s humanity, I believe we’ll find ourselves in a much healthier place. And that healthy place will ultimately make for a better world.

Writing in dark places

Today my mind took me on a road trip to some dark places. A daydream took an unexpected turn and set my wheels to turning. That in itself didn’t bother me. The idea fascinated me. It stroked my speculative “what if?”. And the storyteller in me lifted up that idea and examined it, played with it, and expanded it.

Who would do this? Why? How?

And suddenly I had the makings of a serial killer. I began to see the shadow of the person behind the art that set my mind in motion, and I began to understand what might make them tick.

And that, though I chose not to take it too deep, didn’t bother me.

A nagging doubt only set in as I considered writing the story. God forbid someone take those ideas and act on them. And as I wondered if anyone else had conjured up this particular horror I’d just engineered in my head, I questioned myself. Why didn’t it bother me more?

Of all the words to come to mind, I remembered Seinfeld talking about comedy. In particular, how to a comedian what mattered most is that it’s funny. Doesn’t matter if it’s true. Is it funny? It’s a particular view of the world.

I suppose storytellers are the same way. I look at things and wonder if their interesting. I want to tell a great story, and a great story is both dark and light. My mind needs to be able to make it’s way around in the shadows as readily as the light. Darkness is a truth of our present existence. That is honest. And I believe the best stories are honest ones.

That said, I think I plan to keep this monster to myself. At least right now, I don’t tell the kind of stories they’d be most comfortable in.

 

Nostalgia

Yesterday nostalgia led me to lament a haven long gone. For a moment I could feel the place – its warmth, its colour, its calm. Clad in varied hues, in stained wood and shadows. Bookshelves littered with paperbacks, knick knacks and bric-a-brac. I suppose to me it seemed more a personal study than store. Any evening I could escape for a beer and pulling up a stool at the bar, sit and sip in quiet repose.

The bookstore no longer exists as it once did. Closed and reopened, it has become more modern. The personal warmth is gone, giving way to the cool, disinterest of plain shelves and stark white walls, one of which lights up with an alternating projection of up and coming events. The restaurant too has changed. To my mind, it has an aire of self importance. A pretentious posturing that rejects those like me. Those who would sit for a gourmet burger (and I do mean gourmet) and a beer. Not only have I lost my one and only place to enjoy a Honker’s Ale, but they will not stoop so low as to carry beer at all. It saddens me. I mourn the loss of a home away from home.

And time marches ever onward.

I cannot return to the past, but I hope that one day in the future I might find something akin to it once again. I know it will not be the same. It cannot be. This place is forever lost to me. I only hope to find a place that evokes the same feelings. A place of safety, of comfort, of peace, and of home.

Just show up

I’m tired. It’s been a long, taxing week and I’ve been wracking my brain all day for words to share. The well is empty.

But I’m here.

Why?

Because sometimes you just have to show up. You don’t feel like it. You don’t know what you’ll be able to do. You know it’s not going to be your best. But you do it anyway.

I’m here as much for me as I am for those who join me here, and I’ve learned that the discipline of showing up preserves and protects me. It keeps me on the right road. It maintains my flow. And sometimes it surprises me. Even when it doesn’t, I still feel better. I feel accomplished. I feel like I’m still on the path, and that feels good.

So I’m here.

And as I close this post, I know there is more waiting out there for next time. So I’ll rest. I’ll rejuvenate. I’ll let the well fill again so that when the next time comes I’m ready. And even if I’m not.

I’ll show up.

Dissonant

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Today is my day off. I wanted to go Downtown, but discomfort lingered in the background – a someone looking over my shoulder with disapproval kind of discomfort. So I made excuses. I gathered my defense. I prepared my escape. I threw my distractions and despite the flimsy justifications I had cobbled together, the other me went for it. I slipped out the door and was in my car before he doubled back waving his arms and demanding to be heard. I was caught.

But to my surprise, he wasn’t against me going Downtown. He just wanted me to be honest about why I wanted to go Downtown. No excuses. No justifications. No lies. So I faced up to it and felt not shame or guilt, but relief and freedom.

This time my battle was an internal one. I felt tension between recent changes in who I am and what I wanted. I assumed first that my desire must be the guilty party, but I wanted it anyway. I tried the artful dodge and failed. I’m glad it failed. As a result, I had to sit with the other me and talk it out. In doing so, I realized that while a little messy, this perceived tension came from a lack of awareness and understanding. My identity and my desire were not mutually exclusive. At least not this time.

So I sit here staring out the coffee shop window on Downtown Memphis. Had I won my little gambit I would probably still be here, but I’d be trading my present sense of peace for that nagging discomfort. This way, I get to enjoy it.