When Loving Everyone Isn’t Actually Loving

This isn’t a theological debate or an invitation to list all the ways I’m wrong or to remind me that loving everything about someone isn’t real love. I have listened to all the arguments over the years. This is simply me stating my opinion which is by no means shared unanimously by my church, family, or household for that matter. But I am not afraid of losing any of you, especially those of you who have been touched significantly by this hot topic and still disagree with what I’m about to say.

This is a coming out story twenty years in the making. Much isn’t expressed here, but the main points are.

We’ve been waving the “Love Everyone” banner for quite a while now as a church culture and I have a problem with it. I think it is cutting more harm than blanketing good.

If I tell my gay friends that I love them, but disagree with their lifestyle choices, am I still loving them unconditionally? Am I not implicitly telling them I think they are broken? Not just broken – we are all in need of God. But twisted. Sick. Dismissing God from touching their lives. That’s a different language altogether. That is language slicing deep into identity and certainly questions any young adult grappling between God and self-loathing has already screamed these to the heavens during the years of owning their sexual identity.

I think many of us are caught in the disconnect between the Church’s official line that homosexuality is wrong and our heart’s intuitive whisper that it isn’t.

I’m going to do something radical and say we get to trust this still small voice as the Holy Spirit offering us a new way. A freedom way. A love without conditions way.

I refuse to look my gay friends in the eye and tell them anything other than they are beautiful and whole and imagined in the star-twinkle of a Mother-Father God’s halo and their life is already beating to the rhythms of divine wonder.

We have been so wrong about things in the past and misinterpreted Bible to justify the cause. All I am saying is we are behooved to entertain the possibility that as a whole, we have gotten this wrong too.

I am less concerned about maintaining either the evangelical or liberal party lines as I am concerned about the mental health and spiritual liberation of my friends.

Not in an “I love everyone….but” way. In an I love you way. Period. End Dot. Final Story.

 

My On-Again-Off-Again Relationship

I’ve been in an on-again-off-again relationship with various denominations over the span of my adult life. They have all helped me. The have all let me down. I am relieved to learn faith is not a denomination.

*****

Our communion bread was baked by local Carmelites. It was dense but soft and tasted like a thousand prayers sung before dawn.

When the priest set it on our palm, a moment of honeyed-lightness cleared the air before we were again submerged into the heady-safety-scent of incense. Years later I found myself in a parish youth group. We sang Beatles and Rent and post Vatican 2 hymns from the Spirit and Songbook. We played a lot of gotcha rounds in the gym and dated and undated each other and collected socks and soap for the poor with the Harley riding, habit wearing nun in charge of us.

Afterward, we’d drive to Denny’s with the windows down no matter the weather. Most would smoke, all would order milkshakes and quote movies until midnight. We were vagabonds and sloppy and I had a special tenderness toward this crew because I felt like they weren’t pretending and that was a faith I could get on board with.

But I saw the way our parents prostrated through mass in a familiar pew but were unchanged through the week and didn’t want any part of it. I was suspicious of the paternal wall constructed by the church. As a teen, I stared at the dried glue strands pulled between torn seem and sole on the bottom of the priest’s shoe while I confessed the sins of my body and mind to this man. Leaving the confessional in a splotchy purple of shame, I decided these are not my people after all and I broke up with Catholicism and it’s mystical traditions without experiential encounters of mystery.

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In college while I was busy pulling all nighters talking and kissing with my one-day husband, then pulling all nighters writing passable papers for courses that I should have written better in the time I was using to talk and kiss, I also fell in love with new ways of understanding God.

A campus fellowship taught me how to analyze passages of scripture finding historical context, Greek meaning in words, repetitive urgency in syntax, and Old Testament allusions. Defining the Greek felt like a good and grown up way to quantify God. Nothing feels more official than the heft of a lexicon.

“Non-denominational service” felt a whole lot like Protestant to me where the room was dark and the band was loud and our very bones conducted additional reverb for the amp. It felt wild. It felt good.

For a few summers I worked as a camp counselor for a high profile Christian sports camp in the south. We looped chapstick on our shoelaces with hairties and spontaneously and collectively burst into chant at nearly every phrase possible. We did ridiculous stunts for each other and the kids and Jesus. Kids leading kids.

Faith came in containers of goofy skits, tactile object lessons, poignant heroes of faith stories, and prayer of salvation folding puzzle cubes. It was wonderful but also a cult unto itself and no matter how many cheers I did, I never quite grafted into this cool-kid club.

(Side story:this is also the time period when the audaciously full-frontal platonic bearhug from a guy friend in the parking lot of a Shakey’s on our night off tipped me into tears because I realized it was the first time I had been touched caringly by someone beyond the needy grabs of my cabin kids in weeks. Thanks purity culture for dehumanizing us by demonizing our need for physicality. Glad we’re starting to deconstruct that one.Un-side story.)

My concerns about cleaning the lake slide with unmeasured amounts of bleach were listened to but unchanged. My suggestion we begin recycling was met with a logistic defense of why we don’t, and when I wondered aloud if perhaps the generic chief headdress and warpaint worn by Christian white boys crossed into offensive cultural appropriation, I was labelled “that liberal girl”.

Again, I decided these were not my people and I broke up with Protestantism and the being pushed and pulled by emotions. I didn’t want to be around people smiling and focusing so intensely in worship with their hands up and eyes closed they were left little peripheral reach to see or care for the people and environment around them.

******

We walked down the diploma stage and directly to the marriage aisle before moving to another continent. My classroom was filled with collaborative projects, early literacy writings, big books, and equatorial heat. Our home was full of wall hangings and bugs and exhaustion and this felt right as I put on the title of missionary.

I followed the special rules given to us. On bad days, I became part of the problem of Western/African disconnect. On good days, even in the best of heart, it still felt that by simply being there we were perpetuating the harmful mentalities and practices of post-colonialism.

I slowly watched my husband of harmony harden and crumble while a power couple picked a fight with his character. Suddenly I understood the distrust others have for Christians based in the real pain of disappointing interactions with people in spiritual authority.

This didn’t feel like God, so I broke up with missionaries but kept the inspiration of faith from those I met from all over the globe during our time there as we came home to heal spiritual wounds and ideological rifts (and drink together while doing so).

*****

There is more to the story of returning to church, and working for church, then recovering from working for church and the need and motivation behind those seasons and what continues now. And there is so much more to each part of these spiritual timelines.

For now I want to apologize for being that girl during each of these spiritual seasons. I was learning. I was trying to be the best at each one. They gave me guidelines to understand myself and the world and what I could cling to of God. I know I was annoying sometimes.

And for now I want to honor myself for being that girl during each of these spiritual seasons. I was allowing Spirit to breathe through soul and teach me truths in spite of all the brokenness in these spiritual sectors.

The cost might be a spiritual homelessness and a continual longing for both the bread and the incense, the perky cheers and feeling the bass drum in our chest, but the gain is no longer needing defined outlines.

The gain is being assured that knowing less for sure about God at thirty than at twenty is growth in a humbly truthful direction.

The gain is recognizing that when my faith needs space, I create a wider boundary for spirituality to take root in all areas.

I don’t have to continue breaking up with denominations anymore. It turns out they never were the keepers of my faith anyway.

 

 


Since sending this post into the world many of you have messaged or texted your concerns and questions. So why stay? We stay at our church because of the people. Although they are imperfect, I’ve seen their hearts, particularly the hearts of those in leadership. They are for others. They are tiptoeing toward riskier conversations and allow difference of opinion, journey, and unanswered questions stand. 

 

 

 

 

 

Prettier With Age

My first date fell in winter when the plains states become little more than an icy wind tunnel connecting Canada to the Gulf. I wore thick white tube socks inside chunky-heeled brown on brown saddle shoes. And khakis. Lord help me, khakis. That’s an uncomfortable amount of severe tan tones off balance with the delicate rosettes outlining my collarbone in the cardigan on top.

There wasn’t a second date. It very well could have been the outfit since that sort of thing is hard to recover from as a teenager. Mostly, I think it was because we spent an excruciatingly boring evening together and a silent dinner where I realized I had just wasted a year’s worth of emotional energy pining for a guy I didn’t actually real-life want. On his end it might have been the tube socks or the speed at which I ran to my door from his mom’s borrowed minivan at the end of the night.

Now you know the alpha and omega of my high school dating career. There was also the time I went Christmas shopping with a friend who began holding my hand and I let him for a few days because I was curious if it is possible to turn the good feelings of being wanted into a reciprocated wanting. It wasn’t. Then there was the time I went to senior prom with my girlfriend under whispers of “lesbian” because I had rejected the boys who had asked that I didn’t want to spend that time with and the ones I had wanted to ask didn’t – aka the common plight of most non-Disney teenage girls.

While adjectives like “unique” or “interesting” or “nice” or (my personal searingly favorite) “the kinda girl who gets prettier with age” sound like insults at seventeen, they feel more like prophesy now in mid-thirties.

I had a birthday this week and I’m here to say beauty does get better with age because time is the great sieve of knowing ourself, knowing what matters, and knowing how to align ourself with what matters. I believe that it is in the knowing of ourself that we are able to see the watermark of the God who created us. In the intimate knowing of myself I am free to know others.

I think often we hold back in our interactions with others because we don’t want to be misinterpreted as meddling or perceived as needy. At least, that’s been me.

The older I get, the more confident  I am in the strengths I have been given, the more aware I am of God’s artistry in the every day of life, and the more desiring I am to see that energy and honesty and beauty of character be drawn forward in others.

Especially now when it feels the world’s gone dark. I think most people still want to be light and give light. I believe we need to say the things. Say all the things. Without hesitating because we’ve been labelled dominant or needy.

It’s scary to say the things. Say all the things of encouragement and kindness and affirmation to others without being weird.

Back in those highschool hallways teaming with Chuck Taylors and Rocket Dogs, I walked the linoleum tiles shyly in my vintage thrifted saddle shoes anticipating big things ahead. Big things indeed happened and, for the record, I wish I still had those shoes today.

That’s the other gift of your thirties. You get to own your style and it not only doesn’t matter it’s unlike everyone else’s, it’s awesome and it’s needed.

Could possibly the biggest thing that’s happened yet since high school be growing confidently into my own beauty so others like my children and friends and social media strangers are allowed to stand in theirs?

 

 

Realities and Loneliness in Marriage

Loneliness in the single life is often palpable, but is it somehow more palatable when social expectation allows space for the sadness in unmet longing during singlehood? But what happens when Loneliness picks out a placemat and sets a seat at the family table after  you’ve already said your I Do’s Forever?

Reality is, eleven years later, I am not who he married.

Reality is, he is not the one I married.

Reality is, we forget to just kiss.

Some anniversaries you celebrate the marriage. Some anniversaries you celebrate the boot dragged, mud-flung, belly under barbed wire, jaw set, hard earned finish line of having made it through another year of parenting young kids without divorce. This is one of those years.

Reality is, we have to decide if we can flirt again, fall in love again, this year, eleven more years, every more after that.

Reality is, remembering the goodness of a partner in marriage in the midst of having and raising small children, our careers, and our own interests takes determination and faith and time; a list of all things already squeezed to the point of dry.

Reality is, we’ve wasted time over the years playing the Who’s Day Was Harder game when  we both needed more affirmation and less competition.

Reality is, we are functioning business partners but have to work to make space for the play when we get to be friends and lovers again.

Reality is, we don’t make sense together until you’re sharing our campfire, our beer, so we have to confidently rely on our relaxed intimacy instead of nods of approval from others.

Reality is, we are a Dreamer and a Pragmatist learning how to make a life together.

Reality is, there are some problems that perpetuate and we keep having to bring them before the Highest Judge with a repentant heart before bringing them (again) to each other, and before bed after exhaustion is never the time to do this.

Reality is, when Loneliness comes we name it. We look it in the eye. We serve it a piece of cake. We ask why it has come and what need it is representing or longing to be filled. We pray it or think it or write it or take it on runs with us and when we are able to convey these needs out loud to one another without sting or blame or judgement we do so.

In the meantime we make the beds, the lunches, the life.

We remember to say thank you. We remember that we each are trying. We remember to laugh. We invite Loneliness to be listened to but don’t let it have the last say. This is the movement of marriage.

 

 

 

 

 

Losing Balance and Gaining Grace

Hey friend,

Surprise! You’re pregnant again!

I wish I could whisper the secret code from us mamas of three in your ear to make it easier for you. But there is no secret.

The truest truth I know is this: There is no balance. Don’t let the books or mommy groups tell you otherwise. The strive for balance is a cultural catch-phrase winding families into a panicked frenzy. Don’t believe it. Chasing balance only offers you a chalice of shame.

I know it feels beyond your human capacity right now to have another baby. Caring for another soul.

Especially while your oldest is still a pint-sized person with a full grown bucket of personality and emotions.

Especially while your toddler demands being held – always – in arms and eye contact. Dimpled baby fists occasionally thumping your chest for the breastmilk run dry.

Especially while you pursue a career that whispers yes into your bones.

Especially while you’re still fighting for space to eat, rest, solo potty, simply remember who you are and how you like your eggs. Not to mention that little thing called marriage.

I know you know it’s going to be okay. But I want to repeat. I have faith in you. You can do this.

I would tell you if I can do it, anyone can. But you were there. You saw the hard and maybe that’s what’s so scary about this after all.

You knew a few months into parenting my first I went to bed crying. Nightly.  Knowing I was outside of my mind tired but the hard part was just beginning as babes and I would be awake together up to ten more times before dawn.

When our second was several months old I picked up mono with a bonus coupling of hepatitis that wiped me out physically and emotionally. One illness stole the independence and non-neediness I had so adamantly co-joined to my adulthood. You sat next to me while I was a shell of tired, blank of personality and guessed at ways you could help because I was too deep in the sick and the sad to assess the need.

Then our third came and there was no time to cave up. No hibernation period. It was sprinting with vaginal stitches. You witnessed it all.

There is no secret. Life balance a farce we’ve spun too much energy into already. Alternatively, there is trusting the goodness of the Creator who has already given you an intuitive understanding of the rhythms of life.

Instead, there is embracing seasons.

Instead, there is determining what is important and hacking the rest with comically oversized scissors.

Instead, there is focusing on a goal with full-throttle, head down, shoulder thrust into the now. Breathing. Turning. Locking eyes on the next up and going again.

Instead, (and this may be the most important one) there is lowering self-expectation and raising chaos tolerance.

It is not easy but it is good. I can’t wait to watch you experience that self-offering of grace even as your third curls close, heartbeat to heartbeat, the main things become the main things, and everything else shakes away.

It will be an undoing of sorts, but it is not to be feared.

You’re going to be amazing!

XOXOXOXOX,

From this mama of three to you, new mama, of three!

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Necessities of Naked Vulnerability

Here I am, crinkling under the great equalizer of humility – the paper gyno blanky. Do rich people get weighted cotton ones at the rich people gyno that cover the crevices or are even the affluent afflicted with the accursed oversized paper party napkin that shifts and shows?  As if the process weren’t vulnerable enough…stirrups.

New day, new event, same week, same tightrope walk between humiliation and vulnerability.

Here I am, tucked under the stairwell in a space labelled “Strings Studio”. The violin under my chin for the first time in fifteen years, fingers two steps too slow, brain battling to overthink while the body is attempting to remember. Notes hit scratchy and flat. My face can’t help but flinch. I forget where C sharp is. I play B instead of G. I murder the next note and scream for its loss or for my frustration. The line blurs.

“Never apologize to me” he says, this twenty-three year old teaching me to remember to play. I mental math how he was eight the last time I laid this instrument down. I think about how adult I felt at twenty-three. Just a baby, really. I mental math how many people have seen me naked and affirm that, yes, standing here undone would feel less vulnerable than playing this first lesson.

While these two events may not seem related, they feel connected to me – someone who doesn’t like to feel foolish or be exposed, be wrong or bad at something. I’ll take the gyno table over being bad at something.

That’s the great news I’m finding about the thirties with young kids. There’s no space for pride or performance or perfection. There is only hospitality to kindness and grace for ourself. Or at least, there is conscientiously fighting for the generosity of kindness and grace for ourself.

It’s okay to feel foolish. It’s okay to be uncovered. It’s okay to be bad.

Necessary, even.

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The Body Never Lies

The body can’t lie. We can avoid, deny. Deal with, list out. Arrange, re-arrange, anticipate. Organize, re-organize. Adjust or face a stress-induced situation head on, but the body never lies.

The body cracks. Scales. Itches. Bleeds. Tangles. Constricts.

Metaphysical representations of the psychological within. Even when it feels dealt well, not just dealt with.

Plate tectonics of scalp shift and lift. Headaches squeeze eyeballs against brain. Shoulders touch earlobe.

Reminders that while I am Monica Gellering the hell out of whatever life obligations require me to manage, to check back in with myself.

Ask my husband. Slow down is not my auto-pilot. Obedience is not my strong suit.

I attribute this need to be a part of everything to my little-sister-syndrome. I peg this distrust of authority in part to the code of conduct characteristic of my no-man’s-land generation straddling the X/Y gap, in part to my family, but mostly to my general stubbornness.

Like, intense stubbornness.

It should not come as a surprise, then, that when I heard the bell-whistle of a voice in my gut called God-Wisdom to quit the job I love doing, it took a struggle to obey.

Excitement in change. Power in subduing chaos to order. I like these things.

Work. I actually like working, even though (or maybe because) I don’t know how to do it any other way than putting my very heart and soul into the work. Beating, bleeding out of my chest into the work.

The line between product and performance is easily blurred for those of us who enjoy working, especially in roles like church staff or teacher (examples of my actual adulting life) where the purpose of the work feels important. It requires a hyper vigilance and self-awareness to recognize when I am resting in my worthiness simply by existing as a child of God and when I’m tap dancing for that worthiness by presenting a product of my effort to others.

My body is telling me to rest. My soul is telling me to rest.

Do you know what mental work it is to rest?

The moment I slow down, the shame spiral, like vertigo sets in. Disorients and spins. The not-enoughs and would-coulda-shoulda lies abound and I’m doing the mental work required before true rest can ensue.

All to say, I am walking away from my part time gig in ministry. I am thrilled about the space this is creating for our family to reclaim a nothing-on-the-calendar day during the week, about the possibilities of more creative energy, of attending or not attending a church service again with my spouse, and the freedom to say yes to more fostering gigs. Ministry is the full-time gig of our lives anyway right, not a position on church staff.

It’s work to exit a job, work to claw out of a shame spiral, work to not allow the projected perceptions of others about why I’m leaving matter, work to not become scared about how the last time full time stay at home mommydom drove me a little bit batty, and work to not fill up my dance card of commitments before I’ve actually left this one.

I feel so good and true and confident in the decision that an obedience to not work right now is the actual heart and soul work I am required to pursue. I am grateful. I am joyful. Even so, my body is the truth-teller highlighting the inner tension. It struggles on the outside while I struggle with obedience on the inside. The body can do many things for us, but it can never lie.