Comfortable in our own skin

together via kimberlyanncoyle.com

I ate pancakes before I left the house for my first mammogram. I thought it seemed fitting as, not thirty minutes later, a machine squashed my unmentionables into this exact shape. When I told my mom about it, she welcomed me to the land of maturity, then she suggested I schedule a colonoscopy. Yeah, I’ll get right on that one.

Two of my friends beat breast cancer over the last few years, and while I felt a sudden surprise at reaching the age where my peers receive this diagnosis, it still felt distant to me. Until the bi-lateral pancakes.

Something about the word maturity stuck with me after the conversation with my mother. I turned it over and over in my hands, and I still can’t come to grips with it. Maturity is a slippery concept. I recognize that I’ve reached an age in which mature could be used to describe what I see in the mirror every day–sun spots, crows feet, and a few soon-to-be-plucked grays. But, the mirror doesn’t reflect the unseen, the maturing of the soul and the spirit.

I hoped the good gifts of aging would show up alongside the less desirable ones too. I hoped wisdom would arrive and make its home here, settling deep into the laugh lines of my soul. I wanted knowledge and understanding to find their place, sprouting from my very roots, the ones planted by the rivers of living water. I longed for a better vision, the kind that makes up for the reading glasses and the fading eyesight, the kind that dreams dreams and sees how I fit into the future of God’s Kingdom come.

I look in the mirror, and I don’t always see these good gifts. If the last few weeks of internal wrestling and outward despair at the state of the world have taught me anything, it is that I don’t know how much I don’t know. Wisdom? I look for her and she is conspicuously absent. Visions? They fade as the current state of this broken world assaults me daily, leaving me no room to dream. Knowledge? Understanding? I don’t know how much I don’t know until I hop on the internet and someone is quite happy to tell me–I know nothing.

It leaves me wondering how I cultivate these good gifts, the ones I thought we inherited with age, when it turns out we earn them. Just like I earned my laugh lines and the saggy skin around my mama belly. Life stretches and pulls us until we settle into our old skin. I’m wrestling here, with what I am and what I hope to become, with the years I spent stretching, and the stretching I have yet to do.

People say we grow more comfortable in our skin as we age. The skin of my soul doesn’t feel so comfortable right now, but I see this as a good thing. It means there is more stretching ahead, more life to birth in the years ahead.

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How are you stretching right now? What are the good gifts you want to come with age and experience?

 

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Interrupted: The book

interrupted via kimberlyanncoyle.com

“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”~C.S. Lewis

I prefer to live like this isn’t true. Because if I live as if this is true, then it means that I actually have to take the commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself” seriously. It means I have to get down and dirty in my community, a community of mostly non-believing, affluent, intelligent professionals with hidden addictions to money and status and their kids’ success. I live in a community that thinks what I believe is irrelevant, and even more likely, a little stupid. They don’t wear their need on their sleeve, they wear Tory Burch.  They don’t sink under the weight of oppression or prejudice, they sink under the weight of privilege.

I attend church thirty minutes away in another world altogether. We’re a diverse church, filled with people of every shade of skin from vastly different backgrounds. Some of us have plenty of money, some of us scrape by every month. We’re young, we’re old, we’re weird, or we’re super straight-laced. We’re educated and we’re not. We’re addicts and teetotalers, professionals and students. Some of us are happy clappy christians, some of us are the recovering over-churched, and others are still exploring this thing called faith. It’s like a breath of fresh air every time I walk in there and see people who may not look like me, but who still kinda sorta live on the same Jesus-y page.

This is my Sunday community, and every weekend after the morning service, I return home to the community I live in. The community where children get high on heroin, and roll joints in the parking lot of the local deli, and shoplift for the fun of it. My church community feels safe by comparison. And so I straddle two worlds, and while my feet stand in both, I wonder if I’m doing much good in either. I show up, I do my church or mom or school thing, and I go home to my quiet cul de sac and I hunker down. Increasingly, I feel something is inherently wrong with this. I don’t know if I have any impact for Christ in either location, and if I’m not changing my own community for Jesus then I can’t even begin to think of the world at large.

Enter, Jen Hatmaker’s Interrupted.

I didn’t want to read this book. I didn’t read it the first time it came out, and when I heard of it’s re-release this summer, I planned on not reading it again. It made me feel uncomfortable, as if the book itself might serve as the finger of the Holy Spirit, digging itself into all of my insecure and bruised places. I saw references to it again and again, until I finally realized that these nudges might become more of a shove if I didn’t at least entertain the possibility of reading it. So, I signed up for a copy of the new revised edition, and it showed up at my house and sat on my coffee table mocking me for a week or two. I started carrying it from room to room, just in case I decided to crack the spine. I wasn’t exactly rushing to read a book called Interrupted: When Jesus wrecks your comfortable christianity. I quite like my life un-wrecked, thank you very much.

It followed me around for so long, I finally decided to open it. In the book, Jen prays a prayer I have avoided for roughly 30 years “Raise up in me a holy passion.” A holy passion to follow the heart of Christ, which leads to “a life of service to the last, the least, the forgotten and the forsaken”. She tells us how God wrecked her life for anything else but wild obedience to Him as she and her family learned to reach out to their community in new ways. It challenged me to rethink my approach to community, which is basically to avoid anything that requires me to get involved beyond a surface level. I like to keep God in one box and my community in another. In her book, Jen shows us what happens when we let God run loose.

I want to reach a place where I can pray the same prayer, just as I learn how to pray this one too. As I read this book, God stepped in and, just as I suspected, He put His finger on all of my insecurities and all of my questions. How do I reach out to the poor? How do I minister to the poor in spirit? How do I step outside of my holy huddle and allow God to use me in whatever way He chooses? The questions are endless. I don’t know what this means for me and how I relate to my community and my church just yet, but I’m willing to ask the hard questions. If, like me, you’re struggling to reach beyond a comfortable, static faith, then I encourage you to read Jen’s book. She’s a gentle guide, an encourager, but a challenging one too. Maybe you’re not ready for God to wreck you just yet, but let me serve as the nudge of the Holy Spirit for a moment. If you’re reading here today, it might be time for your life to be interrupted.

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Prayer from and for the broken hearted

cracked via kimberlyanncoyle.com

“The breaking of so great a thing

should make

A greater crack: the round world

Should have shook lions into civil streets,

And citizens to their dens.”

~William Shakespeare

My husband stood at the front of the sanctuary, in no way prepared for the queue of people five and ten deep. Three services and many people later, he said it felt like facing a tsunami of need with nothing but an umbrella. He prayed for broken marriages, for addictions, for those caught in the vise of sin. He prayed for forgiveness, for night terrors, and for remnants of abuse that cling to the abused like trapped dirt under short fingernails.

All of this on a single Sunday, in a single congregation.  Need upon need upon need.

I hear him tell of this unending wave of brokenness, and I can hardly bear the weight of the stories. They stand on the shoulders of a world cracked with despair and grief. A world suffering losses so great and so heinous and so beyond comprehension, that reading the daily news shakes me down to the deepest places. Living in the ‘not yet’ of the Kingdom of God is enough to extinguish the pilot flame of hope flickering in a soul.

My husband reminds me prayer is where we begin when we want to enter into the ‘now’ of the Kingdom. I want to believe this, and most days I do. I want to believe that prayer changes lives, that it scrapes the dirt from beneath our nails, and moves the heart of God, and gives us power over the darkness of this world. I want to believe it is not simply a band-aid over the cracked surface, but that it fills the fissures with soil rich enough to make life grow new.

My prayers change as my hearing tunes in to the sound of the world cracking. Increasingly, I find myself moving away from the “Dear God please fix this” kind of prayer, to the kind of prayer that requires a bit of brokenness on my part too. I want to reach the point where I can pray, without fear and trembling, “God break my heart for what breaks yours.” I’m afraid to go there yet, afraid that living with a heart cracked as wide as the world’s will hurt too much.

When we pray this kind of prayer, it delivers the kind of cracking that shakes things free in us, that enables us to move out in faith where the lions prowl and the devil devours. I want this kind of freedom, rooted in my own broken heart, stirring me to deeper prayer, to selflessness, and to small acts of kindness and justice that just might change the world. Asking for a broken heart may be the most radical prayer I’ve prayed yet.

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What are you praying for today? How have your prayers changed over time?

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On finishing the race

running path via kimberlyanncoyle.com

I signed up for the race because I need the goal of a finish line for motivation to run. I need to pay some money, put my name on a list, and make a promise I plan to keep at 6:45 every weekday morning. It was my first relay race, the first race in which I promised someone other than myself that I would show up and do the hard work of running three legs in twenty-four sleepless hours.

Unlike most things in life, the beauty of finish lines is that they don’t sneak up on you…

To read the rest of the story, join me at Circles of Faith.

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Surrender

selfie via kimberlyanncoyle.com

We sat in the waiting room surrounded by other kids and their parents, all wearing the same look of apprehension.  We waited for someone, anyone, to step out from behind the sealed door, call our kid’s name, and usher us back into the inner sanctum of the surgeon’s offices. From the waiting area, I counted four doors, each leading to a doctor of a different specialty. Kids and weary parents streamed through them at regular intervals. My son needs a minor surgical procedure, and while slightly apprehensive, I wasn’t worried. Not really. Not when I heard them call a Code Blue over the intercom from the Outpatient Dialysis unit.

There is nothing like a visit to the Children’s Hospital to make you feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for your kid’s good health. It can be guilt-inducing too, if you let it. I felt guilty for having a healthy kid, and even more guilty for feeling a deep sense of relief because of it.

We saw the surgeon, who told us that my boy’s problem has an easy fix. It’s a common issue that is present but often undetected at birth, and eventually it begins to show itself over time with growth and increased activity. Are you yawning yet? I could go into boredom inducing details, but I’ll spare you. It involves boy parts. Enough said.

What struck me most was the surgeon’s explanation that the issue originated at birth, and how sometimes it’s evident right away and other times it takes years for the patient to notice something  is not as it should be. I thought about this all the way home, wondering what I carry over from birth and childhood. What inborn characteristics exert a silent presence on my life? What qualities make themselves known over time? What’s making an appearance in my life today?

I thought of my obvious disability when it comes to understanding directions, maps, or geographical conundrums of any sort. This is clearly in-born, although it conveniently waited to arrive once I got my driver’s license. My love for stories started from the get-go, but my ability to write them didn’t show up until much later. Introversion on an epic scale showed up early on too, although I always considered this a serious flaw until I realized it’s just another way of being human. A sinful nature, specific fears, physical characteristics–all present and accounted for, all knit into the fiber of my being from the secret places.

But what of today? What is unraveling in me right now? What’s unraveling in you? I tend to dwell on the negatives, but I want to see the good too. I’m thinking of the lovely things, the honest, the pure and true and holy desires, the qualities that have the appearance of a major flaw until we recognize them for what they are: diamonds in the rough. I’m thinking of my deep desire to be known, our need to belong, her longing for significance, or your unwavering ability to fight and fight and fight for what’s right. (And I don’t mean the right to party, although I think the Beastie Boys might be on to something.)

I want to understand more, to look down and say, “Hey, I don’t remember seeing you there before, but you’re a part of me. Should I learn how to live with you or do you need fixing?” So much of what I think needs fixing–the deepest longings and desires birthed in the very core of me– requires something more akin to acceptance. Something like surrender.

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What’s making its presence known in your life right now?

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