Take It & Run: On Soul Trains & the One Necessary Thing

My husband and I moved from DC to Alabama over a year ago.

It’s been a year of renovation and renewal, and it has gone by so terrifyingly FAST. There have been some lonely times, when I wondered why we decided to pull up roots and say goodbye to beloved friends. There have been some frustrating times, when I wondered how I’d ever learn to drive a stick-shift pickup.

And there have been times – like this past weekend – when it all just came together and made sense.

My husband and I hosted two guests from DC, my lifelong friend and sister-in-spirit Sarah and her lovely singer-songwriter friend, Tiffany Thompson. We fit a lot of living into our 20 hours together.

On Friday night, Tiffany headlined a festival at my small church, and she rocked the house.

Living Spirit Festival 2013. Photo Credit: Sarah Bayot

I loved the music, but I loved just being there even more. There was such sweetness in seeing people I love meet one another for the first time, such happiness in hearing their laughter, such joy in listening with my husband as Tiffany played a song she dedicated to us. It was called “Home,” and that was exactly, exactly how I felt.

Photo Credit: Camille Bennett

And while Tiffany was sharing her gift for music, Sarah was sharing her gift for art, fashion and design. She’s created Kicheko, meaning “smile or laughter” in Swahili, a cause-based brand featuring distinctive hand-made earrings. Proceeds go towards orphan care and continuing education in eastern Congo. Essentially, every pair of earrings helps a child eat and go to school. Check out the collection and support a great cause too.

Photo Credits: Jonathan McGraw, Sarah Bayot

With all this goodness going on, it’s not too surprising that a spontaneous dance party took place after Tiffany finished her set. I wish I could show you a picture, because it was wild. It was like the last scene in a movie, the kind of thing you always wish would happen in real life and rarely ever does.

Ordinarily, of course, I am an introverted ballerina-type from New Jersey who was taught to stand still in church. I’m not exactly a prime candidate for a soul train. But that night, I was too happy to stay in my usual box, so I shed self-consciousness and jumped right into the fray.

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One more thing.

It can be scary to invite people to stay with you when your house isn’t ‘ready.’ For example, since our dining room floor isn’t finished, we couldn’t set up a table and chairs. I felt embarrassed about this … for about 5 seconds. But then we sat on the kitchen floor and drank wine and talked for hours.

Hospitality, as it turns out, isn’t about being able to set a table for your guests. Instead, it’s about being present and sharing what you have to give. Sure, stocking the fridge helps. But true friends don’t need things to be perfect. They don’t even need chairs. They just need you

To paraphrase Luke 10:41-42, you can be worried and upset about many things as a host. But really, only one thing is needed.

And all the time we were sitting on the kitchen floor, the lyrics to Tiffany’s song, “Take it and Run” kept playing in my mind: Take in this minute and all that you’ve been given and run.

These are wise words. How often have I caught myself thinking, If only I had a literary agent, a hugely popular blog, a finished house, some chairs …

But as I’m wishing for these things, can I say, honestly, that I’m taking all that I have already been given and running with it? As I’m planning for the future, can I say, with integrity, that I’m giving my best to today?

How many times have I held myself back from inviting people over or dancing at a party because I judged my home and my moves to be ‘not good enough’?

That’s why it was such a big deal for me to jump on the soul train and sit on the kitchen floor this weekend. That’s why it felt so good to put aside perfectionism and live into the words of W.H. Auden …

“I know nothing, except what everyone knows — if there when Grace dances, I should dance.”

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Completing the Party: Thoughts on Grace

This is the (edited) text of a talk I gave at Living Spirit Church on Sunday, April 28th. Enjoy! 

Once upon a time in 2008, I was on routine at L’Arche*, feeling downcast. Most of the assistants on our house team were leaving that summer. Yet even as I dreaded saying goodbye, I saw a silver lining: I’d build stronger relationships with those who remained.

You can’t always get what you want …

 

I wanted to mark this place and time when I decided against despair. So I asked Theresa** and Cassandra** if they’d like to do Sidewalk Chalk.

Neither was remotely interested. (It’s one of the beautiful things about L’Arche: if someone isn’t interested, they’ll likely tell you.) But they were happy to go outside.

So I brought out chalk and thought about what to draw. I am not a visual artist; I can barely draw a stick figure. But I love words, so I decided to write.

One of the assistants who was leaving had introduced me to the writings of Frederick Buechner, so I wrote these words of Buechner’s on the pavement:

The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.”

I added swirls and big letters. Strangers paused to read, smiling at me. When I was done, I stood, brushed my hands, and felt as though I’d crossed a threshold between my life as it was and my life as it would be.

I was going to have to say goodbye to people I thought I couldn’t live without, but I would carry on. I’d accepted my part in the great cosmic party.

***

But when I started writing this talk, I didn’t feel like celebrating. I’ve had some very exciting things happen with my writing and speaking in the last few months, but this past week I found out that I hadn’t been selected for a prestigious creative arts fellowship.

If I’d received the fellowship, I would have had a full year and $40,000 to devote to my next book. So I put a lot of love and effort into the application. But it wasn’t to be.

Even though I know that rejection is part of the writing game, it still hurt. I felt like more talented artists were on the dance floor, while I was a wallflower, unwelcome.

I’ve been there before, so I know how tempting it is to dive into more work and deny, deny, deny. It’s hard to have a hope, a dream, a sense that you have a shot, and then see it fade away.

***

… But if you try sometimes, you get what you need.
~The Rolling Stones

What I didn’t tell you before was that my best friend, a beautiful person and a talented writer, also applied for this fellowship. We cheered each other on, read each other’s drafts, offered suggestions, and promised that we’d both celebrate if one of us received the award.

As it turns out, she didn’t receive it either. We exchanged bummed-out texts, and she helped me by admitting that she, too, was sad. And she wrote, What nice wallow-y thing will you do for yourself?

It was the perfect message, because it put me on the spot. This is what real friends do:  teach us how to be kind to ourselves.

So I had some chocolate and watched the Gilmore Girls. I acknowledged the loss before pushing myself to achieve again. And I wrote this talk, as an act of affirmation.

I have a choice. I can beat myself up and engage in negative self-talk. Or I can choose to believe that I’m part of a party, an honored guest, just like you. I can choose to believe in a God of grace and second (and third and fourth) chances.

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And after the Boston Marathon bombings last month, people started posting the lines that follow the ones I wrote on the sidewalk:

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.

There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”

Today, I give thanks for people like you, those who help me to believe these words. Because I don’t think we can fully believe or understand them outside the context of relationship.

What’s going to help me get through the disappointment and rejections is the fact that I’m not alone in them. There’s a lot I don’t know, but I do know that real friendship is a gift.

Friends on the journey of LIFE.

***

Even if we lose, we don’t lose alone. And if we win, we win together. That’s the promise of true friendship, and it’s what God promises us from before we were born and long after we die.

To be with us always. To go as far as it takes, as long as it takes, to reach us.

To give us gifts beyond our wildest imaginings.

And to help our very hands open up to receive them at last.

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What’s your experience of true friendship? 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.

**Names have been changed.