A Grace-full Course Correction

My family nickname is Grace…because I’m clumsy. While my mama placed me in tap, ballet and jazz because she wanted me to have a cultured childhood, I know it was also because I can’t stand squarely on two feet to save my life. She grew increasingly frustrated with all the bruises, accidents and mishaps. If you asked me, my equilibrium was off and I still had fluid in my ears from being thrown in a swimming pool as a child. My mother, a nurse, wasn’t buying it. If you’re around them long enough, I’m sure my family will tell you the story of how I recently broke the glass table my grandma had for over 30 years. I’m just clumsy and I’ve accepted it. Grace fits. And though my family calls me Grace because I lack it in its physical form, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much I lack it in its spiritual essence, as well. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in grace. I believe that we all are here simply because God keeps giving us more chances than we deserve. Yet, I haven’t felt like grace is the ethic that guides my life as much as it could and that troubles me.

Recently in therapy, conversations have turned towards my parents’ interactions with each other. Because they never married and my father was intentionally absent, I can literally count the number of exchanges I’d witnessed between them. What struck me as I was thinking about them was my mother’s engagement with my father. If you ever happened to encounter them, you would have never known that my dad left my mama to raise a child by herself. You wouldn’t have known he broke her heart and shattered dreams of what she thought her life would look like with him. Remembering this, I remarked to my therapist how angry I would get that my mother wasn’t mean to my father. Though it wasn’t in her nature, I still wanted her to snub him, cuss him out, something. I wanted her to make it clear to him that he’d messed up both of our lives and he didn’t deserve the dignity of our kindness. But she never did. When my therapist asked me how I’d characterize my mother’s actions toward my father, I paused and thought carefully about it.

“She was incredibly gracious. Every time I saw her talk to him, it was graceful. I want to be like that.”

There was something about acknowledging my mother’s response as what it was that made me admire her as a woman even more. In retrospect, I can see how much emotional work my mother had to do to get to a place where she didn’t allow bitterness to take root. And, be clear, she had every reason to be jaded and bitter. My dad was trifling and unrepentant. To this day, he still refuses to accept responsibility. He hurt her; he hurt me and it is the human response to protect ourselves for future pain. While my mother’s interactions with my father never signaled any possibility of reconciliation, she extended something far greater to him. She gave him the gift of never being encountered through the lens of his past or greatest mistakes. She always treated him as if he had the potential to be a better person, even if we never saw it. I thought about something my mama used to say when remarking on people’s capacity to change. “I know what God did for me. And if he can do it for me, he can do it for anybody.” Of course, I attributed it to her churchiness and didn’t think much of it. My mama didn’t have this testimony of God meeting her in the gutter and completely turning her life around. In fact, she’d often say that I made up for a lot of things she didn’t do because she didn’t want to do them or was just too scared. So, when my mama talked about God changing her, I really never paid it much attention. Until now. Maybe my mama was talking about God changing her heart regarding its past breaks. Maybe she was talking about things she hadn’t yet shared with me. Maybe she was referring to all of that and more- I don’t know. What I do know is my mother wanted to always give exactly what she’d received: grace. When I think about these past two years without her, I know that grace has carried me. It has been a grace that is understanding of just how difficult life has been and will be without her. It’s a grace that has been soft when the road has been incredibly hard. More importantly, it is a grace that has lovingly allowed me to journey to this new space of self-discovery and healing. I want to be a better person. I’ve got to be a better person. This world is so dark; I want to be as much light as I possibly can for those who encounter me. I have not always been. I can be mean. I can be petty. I can be hurtful. I’m not perfect. I get it. And often when we begin to list all our flaws or vices, we rush to make that declaration. Yet, while I am not perfect, I am also not put here to be anything less than a reflection of God in the earth.

As I’m working on myself, I realize I need to do some things differently. For this reason, I will be shutting down my personal Facebook page on January 1, 2018. Since my mother’s passing and in the wake of everything that happened this year, I’ve used Facebook much differently than I ever intended. It became the first place I ran to vent out frustrations. Whether the emotion was anger, confusion, happiness or sheer defeat, the first place I displayed it was Facebook. And the nature of social media tends to create communities of people who provide commentary on it all. My work is public AND I share enough about my life in it. Every aspect of who I am and what I’m going through doesn’t have to be accessible to the masses. I also acknowledge the ways my participation in Clapback and Callout Cultures intensified through my Facebook engagement. Some of it can be attributed to grief and depression. All of it was wrong. I don’t have to call you out or cut you down to prove how smart or woke I am. It’s counterproductive to any form of liberation and death-dealing to the soul. And, ultimately -for me- Facebook is just a graceless place. I watch regular folk, activists and academics go at each other all the time. I watch those of us committed to theological education and ministry gut each other with our words in a way that defies the very Christ supposedly at the center of our work. I watch folks justify cultures of violence and we exhaust ourselves trying to explain to them why their positions are harmful. I watch all of this and more play out on Facebook every day and I am tired. Over this past year, I’ve said to my closest friends more times than I can count, “there’s gotta be a better way to do this.” I realize that to be my best self and embody the level of graciousness I desire, I’ve got to step away from using this as a personal space. I will continue to use Instagram and Twitter and you can always follow my public page for updates and essays.

When it all boils down to it, I just want to live a grace filled life. I can’t close this painful chapter of my life and not recognize the ways I have to be different…healthier…better. I want to face this world with the same grace God gave me to survive it. That doesn’t mean that I will become passive but it does mean that I will hold space for all the ways people are reacting to life as it is happening to them. It also doesn’t mean that I won’t make mistakes and old habits won’t die hard but it does mean that I will have a greater intentionality with my words and actions. One of my friends recently told me that I’ve experienced more than many people will experience in a lifetime and, sadly, that’s true. What is also true is that Grace didn’t let me down. For that reason alone, I honor it and live into it. Standing squarely, in strength and power, maybe for the first time in my life.