The views expressed in this blog are, of course, my own and should be taken as such.
My grandmother is with me in my daily life. On the days when I do not want to do good–offer the ride, buy the meal, wave someone on at the four-way stop–I can hear her gentle voice, “Thereby some have entertained angels unaware.” If I decide to skip sunscreen or Neosporin or a blow-dry, she reminds me to.
Stephanie Saussy’s desire to celebrate everything is with me still–thirteen years after her death, I find myself thinking, “Time to get out the Valentine’s bowl fillers.” I remember the thoughtful absurdities: she would hoard the banana Laffy Taffy so we could eat it in her bed while watching Little House on the Prairie; make us all dress in luau garb just to sit beside the wading pool and sandbox while our toddlers played; leave no-reason presents on the front stoop.
In Seattle, we lost over twenty friends, people who did not see their children graduate, marry, launch small businesses, people who missed futures that I lived to see, who have left me a legacy of awareness: this is what I have; here is my treasure.
Twenty years of hearing them, of remembering, left me prepared to hear my father–to have my days interrupted by memories: the way he sang “I love a parade” while waiting to turn at the corner of Seminole and Central; the times he’d moan, “Spare me/Why me/Oh my god!” over idiocies both large and small; his spontaneous speeches about men that were his heroes.
I knew he would be with me.
What I didn’t expect was the haunting of suicide, the additional burden that survivors must bear (and one suicide affects up to 135 people), the weight of anger and sorrow and shame.
I didn’t expect to be cleaning a litter box and think, “Well, everyone [in this small town] thinks my dad is in hell.”
I know, I know, I am not supposed to type those words–or even admit to thinking them–even though you think them when you see me in the grocery store, whisper them to your children. Even though you perpetuate the stigma, I am not supposed to admit that I see it.
I am supposed to live in your denial.
I am supposed to go quietly away, to take my agony and drink in a corner.
Good Lord–why didn’t I learn to be feminine? Or at least subdued?
You want me to live in shame–to take my trauma-filled childhood and even more incomprehensibly traumatic adulthood and go away.
Because that is what shame demands–that people put their troubles in tightly-lidded boxes, that people like me, with troubles that are particularly unsightly, duct tape their boxes shut, then cover them in black tarps–that our pain remain, always, completely covered.
But there is a place where pain cannot be covered, where it must be unmasked because there is no mask large enough, no make-up thick enough, where it must be seen, even in the face of your judgment.
The thing I want to show you, the thing that I hope my blogs point out again and again and again is you can make people’s lives okay. You can make the unbearable bearable. You can come alongside. That is Christlike.
Why, then, do we choose shame???
Why does society–even Christian society–choose to heap on the pain???
Last Sunday was Sanctity of Life Sunday. People lined roadways bearing “Choose Life” signs–this always profoundly moving to me since my daughters and I–and even my granddaughter–could have all been aborted: hydrocephalus, suspected birth defects, unplanned pregnancy, anencephaly–all were crisis pregnancies carried to term.
We were loved–even en utero–as babies should be.
It’s really that simple: babies are worthy of celebration, fearfully and wonderfully made, known by God in their mothers’ wombs.
But any veteran high school teacher–or anyone who works with young women–can tell you that the cultural stigma against unwed motherhood is still strong, particularly within the church. The shame some of these young women feel is deep–and church-sanctioned.
I’ve witnessed it for three decades–the same church that says, “Don’t abort,” can refuse to open its arms.
The women apologize–to the church, their grandmothers, all of us–as they don their scarlet letters, shamed for the babies everyone demanded they save.
I began this blog because my own daughter was twenty-one, unmarried, and pregnant and all the Christian resources I could find said things like, “Gather the children to discuss their sister’s sin,” and I just could not do that.
I could not heap shame on my daughter, couldn’t slap my grandchild with an “unwanted” label.
I was broken, overwhelmed, and lost–and I failed,in some ways, utterly–but I could not choose shame, even if that’s what “powerful” Christians told me to do.
Putting people in boxes, policing their behavior, judging on outward appearance–it’s all so exhausting.
Shaming and mandating and chiding–telling others, always, how wrong they are–exiling and alienating and punishing–the words themselves are wearying.
I have heard decades of sermons about specks and motes and beams in eyes–and spent my lifetime either hiding beams or removing motes–and I am here, now, with ruins all around. I have nothing to show, nothing to hold–it truly stuns me, still.
But there is value and redemption in this: you and I can see my beams–somehow, raised as I was, in the Church, married as I was, in the Church, having seen all I have seen in the Church, I am still here, among these broken beams. You and I both see that my world is not beautiful: impacted by cancer, anencephaly, suicide, and divorce. There is nothing tidy here.
Here’s the thing: I don’t have a heaven or hell to put anyone in. I could spend days saying that. It is a life-changing revelation.
I don’t have to decide.
I don’t have to judge the sins, weigh the merits, see the dark black smudges and hunt for the bright white. I don’t have to wonder about anyone’s salvation or think too long about whether their long walk to the altar at age thirteen will still save them at forty-three.
It is their salvation. It is God’s heaven. I am totally out of the equation.
Once you realize that, once you see that it is you and God and them and God–that you are not the chairman of any heavenly committee and your mansion in Glory may be right next door to Ted Bundy’s–once your eyes are open to your complete lack of power, in that realization is your freedom–to rest and rejoice–in God’s grace.
(And all those babies.)