Friday, July 24, 2015

Boone Week

My younger nephew Boone came to visit for a week. Boone Week requires some commitment and finagling because Boone lives about an eight-hour-drive from me; even if I can get someone to meet me halfway on both the front and back end, I'm going to spend about sixteen hours in the car.

It's totally worth it, of course, or I wouldn't do it, and praise be: the other drivers must think so, also, else they wouldn't do it, either.

It's worth it because, over the last few years, I've gone from loving Boone because he's my nephew to loving Boone because he's Boone. I don't know how it is for you, but my parents were born into big families, so I have a ton of aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. I love them all because they're related to me, but I wouldn't say I love most of them for them; I don't really know them well. I want to know my nieces and nephews. I want them to know me.

It takes time to know a person. I'm thankful for my time with Boone because he's a really good person to know. It's funny how little things, sometimes, steal your heart completely. One of my favorite things about Boone is that if I cry out or startle, he asks: "Are you okay?" with the kindest tone. Maybe that's standard practice in your family, but it's not in mine, where concern is generally expressed with annoyance. The way Boone responded when I gasped, last week, because a bat (I think it was a bat!) flew into the windshield--and when I cried out because I tripped in the darkness of my driveway--helped me realize how good it feels when concern is expressed with love.

The more time I spend with someone, the more apt I am to learn from and about him or her, and I'm sure that's true of everyone. I wonder what Boone has learned from and about me, these last few summers. A week in my house might always be long enough to realize how messy and impatient I am. But I hope Boone sees me, too, as a person who loves him in the way of putting her money where her mouth is. I hope he'll remember me as a person who wanted to know him.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My Thoughts on the Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

If facebook is any sort of fair indicator, most of the people in my life have strong feelings about Friday's same-sex marriage ruling. I do not. Just call me Switzerland; I am neutral. My hope is that you'll read my heart, here, which will require your reading straight through to the end. No, really. All the way to the end.

Let me start by saying: I'm glad that the spouses and children of veterans in same-sex marriages will receive survivor benefits and burial rights. I believe that--regardless of his or her sexual orientation--if someone dies in service to the United States of America, his or her family should be afforded protections.

I'm glad to know that, as a legal spouse, an LGBTQ partner will be recognized as next-of-kin for the purposes of visiting in the hospital; making emergency medical decisions; and making funeral arrangements. (Read more from Caleb Wilde, here.)

I could continue but won't; suffice it to say: I'm glad that same-sex couples will now have access to the same 1,138 benefits, rights, and protections as other married people.

I haven't started waving a rainbow-colored flag, though, because many (not all) of my brothers and sisters in Christ are hurting. They view the marriage of same-sex couples as legalized sin, and they're brokenhearted over the direction in which the United States is going. I care about their disappointment and angst. I really do.

If I'm being honest, I don't know how to get around certain scriptures, myself. I'm not particularly interested in trying because, in this country, people have freedom of (and from) religion. Married couples have access to benefits whether they're religious or not, and before Friday's ruling, a heterosexual couple who'd never once donned the door of a church were, upon marriage, granted (or given access to) benefits while other non-religious but committed couples were not. Marriage has long been more (or other) than a union before God; it's a richly beneficial institution. The government is all over it.

It gets trickier, of course, when we consider the intersection of the LGBTQ community and the church. (We mustn't forget that we have LGBTQ individuals within the church, already!) Some Christ followers are concerned about their freedom to denounce homosexual activity; others are concerned about their freedom to avoid contributing to or participating in marriage ceremonies between same-sex couples; still others are concerned about the extent to which LGBTQ individuals will want to participate in church or its leadership. I understand those concerns but hold none of them.

I think these are exciting times. I think the more opportunities the church has to interact with the LGBTQ community, the better. My prayer is that everyone will grow: that the church will evolve into a more empathetic, compassionate entity...not one without convictions, certainly, but one without the sort of animosity that becomes a stumbling block to anyone who would enter relationship with the One--the only One!--who convicts us of sin and changes us. My prayer is that LGBTQ individuals would know they are loved: that they were created out of love, that they are seen and understood by their Creator, and that they can trust Him to light their individual paths.

You know, in the wake of Friday's same-sex marriage ruling, I've already experienced a fair amount of coaching in terms of what I should (or should not) be thinking, saying/writing, and doing as a follower of Christ. I just want to say: no. I don't mean to discourage those who are called to coach; certainly, some people are desperately seeking guidance, right now. But I am not a person seeking guidance.

My thoughts and words are my own--no one else's--and I stand upon them. I'm in a great place. I took a fleeting moment of doubt to the Lord just yesterday, and He reminded me: He made me the way I am. I am Switzerland. I love all people, and I don't mean that in a vague sort of hands-off way. I mean that my spiritual gift is mercy. I mean that I'm called to enter pain: that the work God has given me to do is the work of healing wounds.

I interact with Christians, sometimes, who criticize me for a lack of boldness in matters like these, but I'm plenty bold. Hear me say, here and now: I'm confident that where I am is where I'm meant to be.

When I lived among the non-heterosexual in Dallas, there was a preacher who stood on the corner of Cedar Springs and Throckmorton and howled for LGBTQ souls. I'll admit to looking down on him; honestly, I thought his vehemence scary and off-putting, and I never saw a single person interact with him. But as I've continued to grow in Jesus, my heart has softened toward that stranger. His style wasn't mine, but that doesn't mean He wasn't called to that work. 

So I tell you one more time, in one more blog post: I'm not interested in advising you in terms of what to think, say, write, or do. I'm interested in encouraging you--whomever you are--to seek the face of Jesus. Ask Him to work in and through you: to reveal any and all sin in your life and to help you overcome it. Ask Him to reveal His will for your life. Ask Him to give you Kingdom work.

Know that if--at any point, whomever you are--you wish to have a conversation with a sinner (because I am chief among us) saved by lavish grace who will not judge you, I'm available. That's the work to which I, Brandee Shafer, have been called.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Racism, the Confederate Flag, and Facebook

Sometimes when I'm on facebook, it feels like a whole bunch of people are yelling at each other or me. I try to remind myself that no one else's facebook feed looks exactly like mine (because each of us has different facebook friends); that, in most cases, my facebook friends aren't friends with one another and, therefore, not really yelling at one another; that, in most cases, my facebook friends aren't yelling at me, personally; and that I'm blessed to have a diverse group of facebook friends.

I have facebook friends from the states in which I've lived: Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Indiana, Texas, and Virginia. That breaks down even more, of course. I have facebook friends from working as a server, bartender, educator, and registrar; from earning two degrees over the course of more than six years; from attending many different churches; from, for example, singing in a black gospel choir out of Tennessee and living among the non-heterosexual in Dallas. I have facebook friends from the blogosphere, and I mean no disrespect, but they can be a particularly mouthy bunch. 

So who am I? Well, here's the thing (And thank you, Therapy!): I'm none of my facebook friends. 

Furthermore, it isn't in my best interest to take personally anything my facebook friends say (or don't)...even on the off chance that they intend for me to take it personally.

Watch me breathe. I am Brandee Shafer and no one else. I don't have to take on the causes of others. Nor do I have to take on the thoughts or feelings of others...including about me. In fact, I'm choosing to end conversations with people who seem uninterested in calm and kind discussion...or motivated to label, pressure, or shame me. 

I find it easier to breathe when I remember that I'm free. Even...I'm an agent of Christ only insomuch as I choose to be. I experience a little thrill, writing that, especially when I consider: Christ Himself has given me both choice and will. 

So what do I think? So much, all the time. My heart hurts over the massacre in Charleston. I have personally been taken in by the black church over and over (and over!). God has used African Americans to help and heal me. I feel particularly sorrowful over the loss of reverends, but every victim of racism matters. I wish there were no racism in this country, but there is. I care about that. I'm earnestly thinking and praying about what I can and should do.

I don't have a particular attachment to the Confederate battle flag. It's never been displayed in or flown over my home. Having grown up watching The Dukes of Hazzard, though, I did cringe when I read about the removal of the Confederate flag from the roof of the General Lee. I wasn't hating on African Americans while watching the Duke boys. I wasn't thinking about African Americans at all, and therein lies my guilt and privilege, I'm sure.

I'm not attached to any other Confederate symbols, either, despite having lived in the South most all my life. I was reading today that, here in Richmond, Virginia, a local group wants Governor McAuliffe to remove Monument Avenue from the bike route for the UCI Road World Championships. That seems a bit over the top to me, but either way, no skin off my nose.

In all things--and you can choose to receive my words or not!--I encourage you to try to figure out what you think and feel, and why. This shouldn't be an easy process. Are your thoughts and feelings based upon facts? Ignorance isn't an attractive excuse for any of us. It's so important to learn, and learning requires more than willingness; it requires pursuit. It requires effort. I have so much to learn. I'm embarrassed to admit that my eyes very often glazed over in history class. I experienced my lack of knowledge at Appomattox less than two weeks ago. I experienced it in the kitchen with my husband, today. 

I encourage you to consider to what extent your thoughts and feelings have been influenced by others (and especially loved ones) over time, also to what extent your thoughts and feelings are being influenced by others right this minute. Empathy can be good. It can also be destructive. I'm learning to establish and maintain boundaries. That's challenging for me as a mercy-gifted person, but you are you; I am me; and we are not the same. We were not designed to be the same, and we are not expected to be the same.

We do need to work together. That's what I want. Is that what you want, too? Can we have calm and kind discussions on such important (critical!) topics as race and culture?

Hi, I'm Brandee. I'm a complex individual. I'm not able to tell you exactly who I am in the space of a blog post. But my heart is open, and it hurts. Is that a good place to start?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

On Drowning

Like Charlie Brown, I'm in love with a little redheaded girl. Her name is Charleigh (pronounced Charlie), and she's my third of four children, second daughter, presenting middle child.

She's been hauled in distress from the lake the past three summers in a row, and I told her daddy I couldn't enter another summer without Charleigh's knowing how to swim, float, something. We signed both girls up for swim lessons at Aqua-Tots: Level 3, Fast Track. Six-year-old Clementine loved every minute of it.

Charleigh, though, struggled. She's strong and solid in the way my people mean when they say built like a brick shithouse, so there was never a question of physical capability. Problem is that she's strong-willed in the way my people mean when they say raised in the canebrake by an ol' mama lion. And Charleigh wasn't happy over the swim-lesson situation; in fact, she was periodically awash in terror.

The first week, I bit my nails watching Charleigh through the glass. Instructor Alex pulled her into the water and made her complete the drills even when she roared with her head tipped back or pleaded with her pale hands clasped together. Sometimes he worked with Charleigh's classmates while she dangled off his back like a baby monkey. Once, Charleigh broke free and ran, and the master instructor on duty had to abandon his class in the pool to return Charleigh to hers.

She did her fair share of yelling at me before and after class; one afternoon, I pulled the minivan off the side of the road and refused to drive until she quieted. I assured her over and over that Alex was not going to let her drown for fear of losing his job. (Ha!) But on the fifth morning, Charleigh melted down completely. Complete and utter hysteria.

"If you're not a big enough girl for swim lessons," I suggested, "maybe you're not big enough for Vacation Bible School."

"Or King's Dominion. Or a week at Nana's," Jim said.

"Or your birthday at Jellystone," I added.

Charleigh, sobbing, said: "Maybe we can just celebrate my birthday, next year." My eyes met Jim's. (His were wet.) He shrugged. For a moment, we were completely at a loss. Then I thought: this child has almost drowned three summers in a row; of course she's afraid. Of course the fast track's hard on her. But we've already paid (an arm and a leg); I'm watching her through the glass; her instructor is so kind, so patient; and ultimately, I'm just trying to keep her alive. She's going to have to be pushed through her fear. She needs to know how to swim. She's going to do this. Period.

It was the right decision. Somewhere in the middle of her fifth class and just like that, Charleigh stopped being afraid.


And here comes the Lord. Later, when it's quiet. You see it now; don't you? He asks. I immediately go twitchy and try to chalk His voice up to magical thinking. A facet of mental illness, I think. That's all. But we've been in many of these uncomfortable places in my lifetime, and we both know what this is, so He laughs and cracks my world open just a little more.

I see Charleigh's hysteria and hear my assurances that Alex will not let her drown. Then I see myself in a state of emotional disregulation. I've just come to understand the term for this form of it: panic. Like Charleigh's fear, it has been hard-earned. Our counselor has explained it to Jim in terms of drowning. ("She's going to come up clawing and scratching," he said, "or whatever she thinks she needs to do to survive.") I realize with a start that Jim isn't going to let me drown any more than Alex was going to let Charleigh drown, also that Father God (on the other side of the glass through which I see Him darkly) isn't going to let Jim let me drown any more than I was going to let Alex let Charleigh drown.

I see that, like Charleigh, I have to push or be pushed through my fear. Life with fear in one's heart isn't kind. It isn't God's best for any of us.

Parenting. Jesus promised: whatever we do for others (especially the least of them), we do for Him. But in my lifetime I have found that, often, whatever I do for others and from a perfect place in my heart, I do for myself. The Lord in His great mercy works it out that way.

Monday, June 1, 2015

For Abi, Following Your Baptism

Dear Abi,

I guess there's nowhere on earth I would've rather been, yesterday, than at your church, watching your baptism. I love you. I love baptisms. I love that you were the one being baptized and that you're on this path with me.

We came to Christ early, you and I. I guess there are close to thirty years between us, but I haven't forgotten the girl I was and have spent a fair amount of time talking to her, lately, as a matter of fact.

Like you, I wasn't a brand-new follower of Jesus when, at twelve, I was baptized. It was a pivotal moment, nonetheless, and I've spent some time thinking of a few things I wish someone who loved me would've said to me upon my baptism. Those are the things I want to say to you, here.

Thought #1

There will always be three kinds of people in your life: the ones who just sort of happen to share space and time with you; the ones who show up for you; and the ones in the wings. Think about yesterday, and you'll see what I mean. 

Some of those folks just came to church and happened to be where you were. Those people, for the most part, are just going to watch and see what happens. If you crash and burn, they might be available to provide a little aid.

Then there were folks, yesterday, who knew what was getting ready to happen and showed up with hearts full of glad expectancy. Those are the people who want to see you fly and will help you if they can.

Finally, there were a handful of folks in the wings: your parents, Julie, Sydney. Noah (with his busted-up leg) counts, as do your godparents, and there may be others. It's not a perfect system. But I think it's important to recognize who you have in your wings. They're going to be with you--really with you!--no matter what. 

Who's who matters because pretty much everyone is going to talk to (or at) you. You'll be amazed at how many words people can have even when they're only in your space by accident...and even when they're far away (not really in your life at all) and just sort of talking in your general direction. Be cautious: it may not be in your best interest to receive what they have to say! Figure out who wants to show up for you and watch you succeed, and invite those people along on your journey. And take care, always, of the handful of folks in your wings. You need them more than you know.

Thought #2

Neither your salvation nor your baptism will turn you into a saint in an instant. You'll do well to spend the rest of your life trying to both figure things out and overcome sin, and even so, you won't experience complete triumph until your life here is over. Do your best, but give yourself grace. Don't hold unrealistic expectations for yourself. God loves you just as you are, right where you are. He has begun a good work in you, and He will complete it. Absolutely!

Thought #3

Your journey is your own. Value it as such, and don't underestimate the power you have and will have as an agent of Jesus Christ. Don't try to be who any other person has been, is, or will be. It is in being Abi for Jesus that you will make a difference in this place. He made you who and how you are for His pleasure! Experience the freedom you have, in Christ, to live as Abi and into your specific callings. 

Yesterday was an awesome day. Thanks for inviting me to be there with you.

I love you so much, Brandee

Sunday, May 31, 2015

What I'm Learning about Emotional Pain

So, my counselor assigned me some reading in the form of Chris Thurman's The Lies We Believe. Chapter after chapter, I found myself highly annoyed by it...not because I didn't agree with Thurman's points, but because I did; I agreed with everything he wrote and didn't find his words very insightful.

I thought: if this guy (my counselor) thinks I'm going to pay him a million dollars to have book club over this stupid book, he's got another thing coming. I kept reading, though, because I'm a rule follower from way back.

Also and just for the record, I would never actually say that to my counselor because 1) I have a really hard time saying mean things to anyone who doesn't live in my house and therefore must almost always write my mean words down, and 2) pretty much every time my counselor looks at me, I cry.

But anyway. It took about forever, but I ran up on a statement in Thurman's book with which I strongly disagreed. (Finally! And, in the end, how much can a person learn from someone who thinks just like him or her?)  The statement with which I disagreed is this: "Emotional pain is good."

Now, let me tell you something: I'm an expert on emotional pain. Honestly, I can't remember the last time I was devoid of it. And it hurts. I hurt. So I was very curious to know from where this doctor (with whom I'd agreed so completely up to this point) was coming.

This is the analogy he drew (only not in this format, which I love because hello! I used to teach English):

emotional pain : internal problem :: smoke alarm : fire

So according to Thurman, emotional pain (like anger, depression, or anxiety) is good because it alerts us to the presence of an internal problem in the same way a smoke alarm alerts us to fire.

I like this concept a lot, and it has me asking questions like: 1) If I believed (prior to reading The Lies We Believe) that emotional pain was bad, why was I holding onto it? 2) Have I been so fixated on my emotional pain that I haven't been putting in the hard work of identifying my internal problem(s)? 3) Is it really possible to live a life free of emotional pain?

What do you think?

Friday, May 29, 2015

My Profound Experience in Nebraska

I traveled to Nebraska, recently, to attend and photograph an event for writers, bloggers, artists, and entrepreneurs called Jumping Tandem: The Retreat. I'd never been to Nebraska. I'd never gathered with online friends in that way. Since my youngest child had been born, I'd never been away from my husband and all my children.

I'd known for a year--ever since Deidra Riggs had put out an open call for volunteers--that Jumping Tandem was for me. When I'd realized the cost of airfare, I'd almost backed out, but Deidra had agreed to take my photography in trade for the rest. The cheapest (but still expensive) ticket had me flying in a day early and out a day late. "Stay with us!" Deidra had said. "We'll pick you up!"

Who does that?!? Deidra and Harry Riggs, I guess. And the thing is: I needed that. I needed someone(s) to believe in me--to want me--that much. I held the promise of retreat close to my heart for an entire year: praying about it, blogging toward it on the retreat site.

I was scraping the bottom of the barrel, flying into Nebraska. My grandma was dying, but that was the least of it, really.

At the risk of oversharing, Jim and I are working with our third marriage counselor, and a couple weeks before the retreat, the three of us had decided to interrupt couple sessions so I could work with the counselor one-on-one. I'd been feeling as if I were at the edge of my seat all the time. Or at the edge of the world. I'd been sleeping plenty, but I hadn't been able to relax inwardly (constant fight-or-flight mode), and I'd been more emotionally disregulated than I'd ever been in my life. The counselor and I had been flirting with diagnoses. I'd been wrestling with big questions. The biggest may have been: who am I going to be on the other side of this? Am I even going to be able to recognize myself?

Poor Deidra and Harry.

No, but I never lost the sense that Jumping Tandem was for me. I felt a little overstimulated, meeting so many people face-to-face who were, in my mind, as good as (if not better than) famous. I felt a little strange, too, being seen without my babies and just as Brandee. But I realized a complete absence of both competition and pressure in terms of photography, and every interaction and word (spoken and sung) at the event seemed appointed. I cried (leaked tears) quite a bit. The retreat was amazing and ended with my feeling as loved and accepted as I'd ever felt in my life. Deidra sent me back to to Riggs home, still weepy, with Harry.

Harry Riggs is a pastor, and he was more than equipped to listen to and advise me in my fairly fragile state. I apologized at one point, and he said: "No, I'm good! If you're open and receiving this, I'm good!" And I was. Open, receiving.

Looking back, I know the Lord used Harry, in those moments, to confirm the words that other wise men had spoken into my life prior to my leaving Virginia. My mind swam as he referred to the same Bible verse (John 8:32) my counselor had spoken to me days before, also when Harry spoke the word "differentiate," which I'd chosen--following a meeting with another pastor-friend--as my word for the year. We ended the conversation with Harry's advising that I was going to have to enter a dark place to find healing. We both thought (in agreement with my counselor) we knew who was in that dark place. I just shook my head and cried. Harry said something like: "Don't barge in there until you're ready." We talked about how I might slip in more gently and through a back door. Then Harry left to do his pastor thing elsewhere.


Kim Hyland knocked on the door of the Riggs home. She'd led a session at the retreat, but I'd been elsewhere. We hadn't met, officially, and I didn't really know her from the blogosphere. She'd planned to stay with another family, but there had been an emergency, and Deidra, being Deidra, had said: "Stay with us!"

I opened the door for Kim. A storm was brewing behind her, and she has unruly (beautiful, but rowdy) hair...also, at once, the softest and most controlled voice and the kindest and boldest eyes. I couldn't determine if I were in the opening chapter of A Wrinkle in Time or Mary Poppins, but I knew something was about to happen. I did know. I felt it.

Kim settled in a living-room chair across from me and became, in an instant, the person for whom I'd been waiting. She was fearless and absolutely ready to go wherever I wanted to take her. I can't say how we got so quickly to where we went except for in the Lord, and it might have been unsettling if not for the aroma of the Holy Spirit.

Kim spoke three specific messages into my spirit, and one of them unlocked my breath. It wasn't until later that night that I realized I was breathing differently and with more depth, but I knew why; I knew absolutely which of Kim's words had brought healing. I wondered if the change would last through the night. It did, and I've been breathing fine ever since. When, at the airport, I told Deidra's sister Karen about my experience, she asked how long it had been since I'd breathed well. I hadn't considered until that moment, but I knew the answer immediately: almost 3.5 years.

I'd been panting for 3.5 years.

Karen got on her flight: the same one I'd been hoping to take, but there wasn't an empty seat for me. I was alone at the gate. I took out my phone, placed a call, and entered inadvertently (while still in Nebraska!) the dark place of Harry's and my conversation...except, the person in there wasn't the one I'd expected to find. Nor was the person my husband.

I'm just thankful I'd been prepared, that I could breathe through it. I just breathed. Right through it.

Kim Hyland, alone before the cross on the morning of the day I met her.

***You can view the rest of my photos from Jumping Tandem: The Retreat, here.