To See Beauty First: A Video

Hello and Happy Monday!

Since I’m traveling this week, I’d like to share a video with you in lieu of the usual post. It’s a 10 minute talk I gave as part of the Faith Inclusion Network’s March 2013 “That All May Worship” conference. (I thank Karen Jackson for her wonderful work in organizing the event, and for sending me the recording as well.)

A Wish Come Clear readers who receive posts via email may recall the story I sent out about my experience speaking at the conference two months ago; it’s reprinted below.

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Please pardon the at-times-loud background noise in the recording (but if you’ve read the story, you’ll have a good idea why that’s happening). Enjoy!

This past weekend, I traveled to Norfolk, Virginia for the Faith Inclusion Network’s biannual, “That All May Worship” conference. I was honored to be a guest speaker at the opening banquet, and to lead a breakout session on L’Arche* as well.

At the Thursday night banquet, I was the first speaker to take the stage. The usual shivers ran through my stomach; the usual adrenaline pumped through my veins. But once I started speaking, everything else fell away, and I was able to lose myself in the stories.

That is, until I heard a masculine voice coming from the foyer. It was loud, yelling something I couldn’t distinguish. I thought it sounded angry, but I couldn’t be sure.

I kept on speaking without pause, but inside, I wondered, Who could it be? Are they supposed to be here? What’s going on? I couldn’t see the person, but for a moment, I was afraid. Visions of violence moved through my mind; was it some kind of radical protester, intent on harm? I didn’t dare turn my head to look.

***

But then, as the man and his companions moved toward the center of the room, I realized: here was a man with special needs, coming in late, just making some noise. No big deal. I felt my shoulders relax, and a smile spread across my face. Thank God! It wasn’t any of the terrible things I’d feared. It was going to be all right.

In fact, I actually felt more comfortable giving my talk after that young man came in. Why? He reminded me of my friends at L’Arche (some of whom are wont to purr and shout phrases in Spanish during Catholic Mass). With his arrival, I felt as though I was among family.

Oftentimes I think we get so afraid of what might happen that we are blind to what is happening. We get all worked up about something we perceive as terrible, when in reality, we’re just frightened by our own thoughts, our own imaginings.

***

I wish I’d had the chance to meet that man after I spoke; if I had, I would have thanked him. I wish I could have told him how he helped me, how glad I was that he had come to the event.

As Amy Julia Becker wrote in her recent post, Missing Out on Beautiful, “I feel as though I have been let in on a cosmic secret because when I look at Penny, I see her beauty before I see anything else.” (Amy Julia’s daughter, Penny, has Down syndrome.)

When I read those lines today, I couldn’t help but think of the stranger, the man from the conference last weekend. It’s clear to me now: he was beautiful because he reminded me of those I love.

And love is what gives us the ability to see beauty first.

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How do you ‘see beauty first’? Join the conversation in the comments!

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*L’Arche (French for ‘The Ark’) is a faith-based non-profit that creates homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together.

School Lunches (and the Path of Liberation)

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott says that, if you’re not sure what to write, you can start with school lunches.

And so today I am remembering the sound of crinkling brown bags, and the insecurity of youth. Lunch was a litmus test. Would you fit in? Were you acceptable?

Lunch at College

Lunchtime at Vassar (much less stress)

I remember being harangued in elementary school having whole-grain bread on my sandwiches when white bread was all the rage.

One girl would say, “Ew, what are those weird things in your bread? Are they bugs?!” She was referring to sunflower seeds, but it was pointless to explain. She was going to make fun of me, and I was going to writhe in humiliation.

***

My school lunches — and my family — were ‘unusual’. When I started packing lunch, I brought what I ate at home: a salad, with an apple and whole-grain crackers and real cheese and turkey pepperoni. It was food that made me happy, and also self-conscious.

It wasn’t a safe bet like a sandwich, or the cafeteria’s hamburger and fries. It was different, and therefore suspect. (Nowadays, my lunches would seem even ‘weirder’ and healthier too. Viva the Whole30!)

So even though I ate with friends, I kept my food inside its brown bag. I would assemble bite-size mouthfuls ‘under cover’, then quickly pop them into my mouth, as though people couldn’t judge me if they didn’t see the food. (Yes, this was almost as neurotic as having an outfit calendar.)

It sounds silly now, but those of you who remember middle school and high school with any kind of honesty can understand. Socially speaking, it was all about judgment. Did you measure up, or were you too ‘weird’ to be accepted?

But I grew tired of being so timid, and one day, I took my lunch out of the brown bag for all to see.

***

After that, an interesting thing happened. Another girl who sat at our table started bringing … salad, whole grain crackers, cheese, and turkey pepperoni. I was all astonishment. The lunch I’d feared was ‘uncool’ was actually being copied. Not just accepted, but imitated.

The veil had lifted. In that moment, I realized how arbitrary and ridiculous it all was. We feared other people’s criticism and tried to be ‘normal’, but in reality, everyone was longing for acceptance. The people we were trying to impress were trying to impress us.

So what if we just gave ourselves permission to be who we were?

***

Laughing together

Sharing wild laughter, the best ‘currency’ there is

If you’re struggling with how others perceive your choices, remember school lunches and take heart. If you feel self-conscious about, say, admitting that you love hanging out with your friends with special needs, listening to Fleetwood Mac, and re-reading Jane Eyre for the thousandth time, know that you’re not alone.

Beautiful things happen when you stop trying to ‘get it right’ and start being yourself. A weight lifts as you release the burden of trying to please everyone. You’re liberated. You get to laugh, and take yourself less seriously. And you free up others to do the same.

As is said in Almost Famous, “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.” We can’t connect with one another while we’re trying to be what we’re not.

But when we meet each other as we are? Magic can happen.

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What was in your school lunches? Join the conversation in the comments!

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5% of proceeds from the first month’s sales of my new Kindle* Single, I Was a Stranger to Beauty (ThinkPiece Publishing), go to support the vital work of L’Arche DC. The month is almost up, so be sure to get your copy today!

*If you don’t have a Kindle, don’t worry! You can read Kindle books with Amazon’s (free) Kindle Cloud Reader.

AWCC Around the Web:

Upcoming speaking engagements – if you’re in the area(s), I’d love to see you there!

  • Florence Lauderdale Public Library, Sunday, February 24, 2013, 2-3pm
  • Living Spirit Church, Florence, AL, Sunday, March 3, 1:30pm
  • Redeemer Presbyterian, Florence, AL, Sunday, March 10, 10:30am
  • Faith Inclusion Network, That All May Worship Conference, Norfolk, VA, Friday-Saturday, March 14-15

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