“It is very important to go home if you want your work to be whole. You don’t have to move in with your parents again and collect a weekly allowance, but you must claim where you come from and look deep into it. Come to honor and embrace it, or at the least, accept it.” –Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones
I love to talk about tomatoes from the garden and Tarheel basketball and red clay. I secretly enjoy the smell of the tobacco plant down the road from my school. I can drawl with the best of them. North Carolina is my home, and I have mostly made peace with the fact that people from other places view us as backwater hicks. I am no longer embarrassed by my accent or the fact that we all buy eggs and milk and bread when there are flurries in the forecast. (What’s better than French toast on a cold morning, I ask you?) I grew up around good people, and from them I learned about Jesus and hard work and loving your neighbor.
There are other parts of my background that I am still processing. I have not found a way to accept or embrace certain parts of growing up evangelical: I wince at the familiar language of blessings and I have panic attacks when someone wants to anoint me with oil. Last week, our pastor mentioned the Toronto Blessing in a sermon as he talked about gifts both spiritual and otherwise. I passed Mike a note that said, “I DO NOT LIKE THIS.”
I get that way, capital letters feeling all the feelings, because I don’t have the words to talk about the elder who prayed for me to receive the Toronto Blessing and then tried to push me over so I could be “slain in the spirit.” Or the youth leader who compared me to a prostitute for helping at a car wash. I still flounder when I try to tell people about failing the spiritual gifts test (it feels like you failed when your highest score is celibacy) or about the period of time when I was the only girl in my youth group who attended public school. Mike and I walked away from that brand of Christianity, the prophecies and speaking in tongues and the proof texting. We have taken another path, one we didn’t know existed at the time, and we are happy with where we have ended up.
(A book I recently found at my favorite used book store.)
But the problem is that when I outright reject my past, I am rejecting part of myself. When I disdain those years of prayer vigils and the time I spent working in a Christian bookstore, I am not allowing for the fact that I lived in those places for many years, that charismatic evangelicalism was my home. I spoke the language and I knew the terrain. The t-shirts and the True Love Waits and the recommitting yourself to God, those are all part of who I am because they are part of who I was.
I recently read a book about a woman’s spiritual journey, and I got frustrated with it because the author was in a good place and then she wasn’t again. I wanted her to have arrived. I wanted things to be okay. I wanted her to tell me that I have arrived and that I am going to be okay, and I had to stop faulting her for telling the truth. We never really arrive when it comes to life or decorating or spirituality, and we will repeat these cycles—these middles—over and over. I imagine that one day I will look back at the relatively good place we are in and I will want to distance myself from parts of it.
I hope so, anyway. I would hate to think that my life stops evolving, that I will speak the same language of faith and have the same beliefs forever, as painful as it sounds to know that I will be forced to change. It is not uncommon for me to find bruises on my legs and have no idea where they came from. I guess I ran into something again. That’s the image that was in my mind on Christmas Eve, when I heard the phrase heart of flesh and realized that it was not going to let me go. Flesh can bruise, but it can also heal. It keeps going.
This is what I was pondering when I declared that this is my year to be soft-hearted. Last year I forced myself to say yes to new experiences, and it was amazing, but it also caused me to bump up against my own hard-heartedness. My unwillingness to forgive and be forgiven. The way I close myself off from painful memories. That desire to craft a simple narrative. But part of being at home in my own life is making peace with the places I used to live, however uneasily I resided there.
I am attempting to check in on my one word – soft-hearted – for 2013 at the end of each month. Here’s January’s offering. I’m not totally sure if I actually said anything, but I have at least been thinking disjointed thoughts about it.