Broken and Brave
It was my first women's event at our new church. It had been hyped for months and I had put out a call on Facebook to see if any of my old friends would be interested in attending with me, since it was open to all. No takers. "Oh well," I thought, "It will be fine. I'll still go and have fun." After all, it was still a few months away and I would surely know some women at the church by then. So I purchased my ticket, shoved it in a drawer and hoped for the best.
The day of the event came and I knew with a dreadful certainty that I did not want to attend. But I'd already purchased my ticket to this sold-out event; it wouldn't be fair or practical to just not show up. I tried to put a positive spin on it. Maybe God would direct me to some other woman who was there alone. I determined that I wasn't going to make this just about me, I was going to CONNECT!
Here's the thing you need to know about me. I am 100% introvert, with a hefty dose of anxiety and social awkwardness heaped on top of that. My intentions may be great, but when faced with a sea of unknown faces, I freeze. So despite my resolve, by the time I reached the church I was in full-blown panic mode.
Everything was perfect. The men taking tickets and making sure everything ran smoothly were dressed to the nines. The snack tables and gift bags were lovely. Everywhere there were women chatting with friends, sitting with friends, or waiting for friends. No one looked out of place or alone. Except for me. And so I tucked myself into the very corner seat, right by the door, and tried to look as inconspicuous as I could while panic-breathing and trying not to cry. It was a hell of a night, and when I was finally able to make my escape (because OF COURSE there was no easy exit without calling attention to myself) I slipped out, drove home, curled up in a ball on our bed and sobbed.
This is my life, that wanting to make connection, yet feeling completely inadequate to the task. "Just say hello," my husband advises. He means well, but his career is also centered on talking to people so I don't think he understands what it is like to freeze in the moment, unable to even brave a simple greeting. He doesn't get what it means to grow up literally holding your breath every time you meet someone coming the opposite direction on the sidewalk. (It was a small town. Fortunately I could walk a mile and only pass about two people.)
I don't know why I am this way. Somehow in my childhood I learned that speaking up, voicing my opinion, would get me squashed quickly. I became a people-pleaser, moving through the world afraid of being seen, trying to make myself smaller, trying to blend in with the crowd. I've written about my timid little voice and how I longed to sing. My voice wasn't just timid when I sang, though. It was quiet all the time, too afraid to push itself boldly out of my mouth. I remember being called upon in class and the teacher mock-whispering "Speak up! We cannot hear your tiny little voice."
I carried many names with me for years. 'Too quiet' was the nicest one. Names like 'weirdo', 'not good enough', 'ugly', 'loser' dogged me for years. So I kept on swallowing my words, kept on not making waves, because what does someone with names like that have to offer the world?
Names carried a lot of weight in the Bible. Sometimes people changed their own name (Naomi's request to call her Mara, no longer 'pleasant', but 'bitterness'), sometimes their name was changed by God (Sarah, Abraham, Jacob), and numerous times they were directed to name a child something that conveyed a message or a quality that God wanted conveyed. Names gave a person, a nation, an identity. It was a declarative "This is who you are." The God-impact shines through in every aspect of our lives. We used to sing about this in church, about God changing our names, calling us Confidence, Joyfulness, Friend of God. Part of our life in Christ is a constant revealing of more of our names; I think the One who formed the very essence of who we are has an endless list, just waiting to be revealed.
Over the past few years a new name has slowly been taking root within me. In spite of everything I've been through, everything that I am, the name 'brave' is becoming part of who I am. Brave in the midst of the broken. Outspoken in my own quiet way. At times it has seemed like some sort of cosmic joke that this quiet, introverted person would end up caring passionately about justice, social equity, and other things that require speaking up, getting to know people, and being willing to take criticism. Why couldn't I have a passion like saving the oceans, preventing forest fires, or monitoring some vanishing endangered species in the middle of the rain forest?
I struggle with reconciling my passions with my personality. I hear about people doing big things for peacemaking, but I'm not sure how to make that practical in my life. How do I save the world when I'm shaking in the corner of the sanctuary? What does God's vision of justice look like when I'm hauling kids to school and cooking dinner?
For several years I followed Osheta Moore's blog, Shalom in the City. It spoke to me of ways that I just might be able to practice peacemaking as an ordinary woman in an ordinary life. Every word resonated with me, even though our lives look very different. (It might have been her sense of humor; I am here for anyone with a sharp wit, a little snark, and a love of dragons and glitter.) When she announced that she was writing a book, I was thrilled. When I got the opportunity to be on her launch team I felt as if I'd won the lottery, or as if a large, glittery dragon had suddenly hatched in my back yard.
Still, I could not anticipate how much Shalom Sistas: LivingWholeheartedly in a Brokenhearted World would mean to me. Every now and then a book comes along that takes root in the very depths of my soul. Shalom Sistas is one of those books. In the month since I've finished it I have found myself visiting its words over and over. Osheta takes the idea of peacemaking and expands it into the full definition of Shalom as it is expressed in the Bible. The manifesto points that she frames it around are less a list of 'to do's,' and more a list of 'to be's.' They are shaping how I speak up, how I care for the world, how I move through life. They remind me that I don't have to get it right all the time, and that my broken, quiet voice is worth something because as Osheta says, we are all a sisterhood of imperfect peacemakers.
God changes us. The One who knows us changes our destiny, changes our outlook, changes our purpose, changes our name. Even when we fail, fall flat on our faces, or cry in the corner, we are called a Shalom Sista. That's God. That's the Kingdom. That's Shalom.