a time to speak

For months now, I have wanted to articulate my thoughts, feelings, opinions, and desires regarding racial injustice in our country, specifically the Black Lives Matter movement. There is so much I want to say. I want to list all of the views I have on each racially charged incident that has made the news in the last year. I want to make a Biblical argument for the importance of ethnicity. I want to show that an undeniable implication of the Gospel is racial reconciliation. I want to argue with every single ignorant and rude thing that I have seen posted on the internet recently, both by strangers and friends. There is so much I want to say. The problem is big: the oppression is deep, the injustices are real, the history is complicated, and the hope often seems lost. But what I have found is, although it may feel like a time to speak, it is actually a time to be silent — not a silence of cowardice and fear but a silence of listening, a silence that hears.

The people of color in my life, especially my black friends, are dying to be heard. Jesus has given me the great gift of two incredible women, Charlene and Adwoa, who have opened up to me about the joy and pain that it is to be a black woman, especially these last few months. They want to share about the fact that their lives have been different than those of white people in America. They want to talk about their experience of the world without someone arguing with them about its validity. They want space to be angry in the face of systemic injustice against them. They want to celebrate the beauty of their blackness. They want to process the very real fear they feel about being black in America. They want reconciliation, and freedom, and peace, and justice. What I can give them — what we can always give to the people in our lives — is to hear them. It is simple but it is not always easy.

Listening has changed everything for me. Listening has forced me to grieve. Listening has led me to lament and continue lamenting. Listening has brought me to repentance — not only for my own racism but for the racism of my ancestors. [See Nehemiah 1 for an example of repenting for the sin of your ancestors rather than just your own individual sin]. Listening has made me admit that there is far more systemic injustice and racism in this country than I cared to see before, even with a fairly diverse childhood. Listening has formed anger in me in the face of injustice. Listening has kept me silent when I want to justify myself. Listening has led me to not only hear, but see, a world that is different from how I once viewed it. And most importantly, listening has allowed me to dream, to hope, and to pray for true peace, reconciliation, and justice in the face of so much brokenness.

So to my white brothers and sisters: what if we stopped fighting about every situation that hits the news in attempt to prove that race was not involved? What if we stopped justifying ourselves to prove that we don’t have an ounce of racism in us? What if we stopped tokenizing the people of color around us in an attempt to feel like we understand a whole ethnicity’s experience? What if we were willing to ask the uncomfortable questions in order to hear things that we may not what to hear? What if we were willing to be wrong? What if we were willing to listen?

So often, the conversation around racial injustice ends with “but what can we do about it?” and though it sounds like a logical end, I think it is often a cop out. We can listen. We can grieve. We can lament. We can respond. We can be angry. We can pray. And we can hope. It may not fix everything but it would begin to change everything.

“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes.There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’  He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!'”

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February 10th, 2009

On this night six years ago, Jesus invited me — rather I accepted His invitation — to a journey of healing. For many years, I had bottled up my pain, relabeled it as “the past”, and wreaked havoc on my own soul while looking quite happy on the outside. But all along, Jesus was inviting me to heal. He was inviting me to be honest, to share openly, and to receive freedom from the wounds and lies that held me bondage. So why did I turn against His invitation to heal for so long? Healing meant honesty — but that meant not being able to protect myself. Healing meant sharing myself with others — but that meant not bring able to control what other people thought of me. Healing meant freedom — but that meant that I could no longer turn to the addict behaviors that I used to numb the pain.

His invitation was always there but it grew louder and louder six years ago as Jesus made it abundantly clear that it was time. It was time to face the past and let Him heal me. A phrase I used often in those days was that it was time to take the band-aid off the bullet wound in my soul. I knew it would be excruciating. But I also believed, deep inside, that it would be worth it. And it was. It has been.

Six years is a long time, and yet it feels like no time has passed. In some ways, I am still the same woman who sat on her bed crying tears of surrender. In other ways, that woman feels like worlds away from the woman I am now. I believe that is just how Jesus wants us to experience time — close enough to the past to remember what He has freed us from but far enough to be secure in how He has changed us.

There is so much to say and a thousand words would not explain all the amazing ways that Jesus has met me, loved me, spoken to me, restored me, healed me, and strengthened me. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you. My words of gratitude will never be enough to fully express how blessed I am to have been given this gift. This painful, hard, beautiful, and transforming gift of saying yes to healing.

“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

to write is to be vulnerable

C.S. Lewis says, “to love is to be vulnerable” and while I agree with him, I must exchange “love” for “writing” as I prepare myself to blog more. Articulating my thoughts and feeling for anyone to read seems to be one of the scarier journeys I have embarked on in life. Any act of sharing your soul with others, whether through writing, speaking, singing, dancing, creating, is a scary and brave act. If you have had more than one conversation with me, you may have noticed that vulnerability is not typically a struggle for me. Yes, I must confess: I am an over-sharer. So why does writing bring up so much fear for me?

Writing is a new brand of vulnerable for me. It is not the permanence or the publicity, rather it is the utter lack of expertise. My life is a recipe for good writing, but I am not sure that the results are what I would hope. I have always loved words. I love to talk, I read quite a lot, and I even studied English in college. I should be a good writer. And there it is, the culprit behind the fear — “should”. Should: a word packed with expectation and guilt and insecurity and lack of trust. A few months ago, a friend showed me how much this word infiltrates our daily lives, with subtle yet deep shame hiding behind the seemingly innocent word. Since then, I see it everywhere. I hear it every day. We say it without much thought but it indicates the places we sense pressure, whether internal or external, about the way our life is supposed to go and who we are supposed to be. And if we can be honest with ourselves, this kind of pressure almost never comes without a dose of guilt, shame, and even self-loathing. The parts of our life where we hear “should” the most are places to press in, not places to run away or to let shame rule.  In my own heart and mind, “should” rears its ugly head most when it comes to ministry and talents and skills — but specifically writing. But why? Why do believe I should be something more,  do something better, write something profound? Because the place where we have the deepest shame is often where our deepest desires are found, bringing with it our deepest fears as well.

For me, this intersection lies in my lifelong desire to write. But the desire is not just to write — it is to say something, to be heard. The very thing that draws me back to writing is the thing that brings fear right along with it — vulnerability. Vulnerability is my motive, my goal, my desire and yet the hardest part of this whole thing. Brene Brown, through her brilliant research, has taught me about the connections between vulnerability and shame — that as shame separates us from ourselves and from one another, vulnerability is the thing that will bring us back to each other. So this is my battle. In the war on shame, I choose writing — open, honest, vulnerable writing. And even when its not pretty, even when its not perfect, I will remember that it was never meant to be pretty and perfect — it was meant to be real.

Out of Tribulation

I wrote this for my friend’s blog [http://www.racheladawson.com/blog] last month.

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“Who has influenced you the most?”

Most of the time I am asked this, I lie. This go-to icebreaker question has one clear true answer for me — though I rarely say it. My father. It is too complicated. Too personal. Too painful. Too beautiful. My dad, and my relationship with him, has influenced me more than any other person I have ever met. The 28 years of my not very long life have been shaped by the influence of this man’s life and death.

Before I can tell some of the story of my relationship with my dad, I must say this: if he were alive today, he would be supportive of me telling this story — painful though it was for both of us. I know that he would agree because he told me so; in some of our last conversations together, my dad affirmed the idea of us sharing our story so that God might use it to bring hope for healing and redemption to others. But let me not get ahead of myself.

My early childhood was pretty wonderful, though quite different from many of my friends, as I grew up in the heart of Washington, DC. I spent my summer days at the National Zoo and at museums rather than at the pool or the park like most of my suburban friends. My dad taught me how to take public transportation by myself by the time I was 12 years old. My dad and I were quite close when I was a young girl — we both loved singing, traditions, theater, ballet, art galleries, dancing, and Christmas. His love and tenderness as a father of a little girl developed me into a sentimental and in-touch-with-my-emotions woman. His intense love of culture and learning was passed on to me and I am proud to be like him in that way.

The intimacy of our young daughter-father relationship gave way into some very messy years. In my early teenage years, our relationship was broken in seemingly irreparable ways — primarily due to his sin and issues, which he took out on me in ways that a father should never treat his daughter. After about a year of this offense, he stopped and our relationship turned from deeply painful to distantly tolerant. For ten years, we lived in this forced relationship. Polite greetings, continued shared common interests, frequent arguments, and the occasional moment that flashed back to the intimacy and love of my early life. My heart turned embittered towards him. I had no avenue to process what had been done or how I had been changed by it, so I began to live a self-protective and independent emotional life. My main goal was for people to not notice the depth of pain in my soul. For the most part, I succeeded. To be honest, I have no idea what happened in my dad’s heart and mind during the 10 or so years that we interacted this way.

When I was 21, Jesus began to show me some of the deep wounds that I was hiding. I had covered bullet wounds with a bandaid but after many years, the need for healing became apparent. Through a long process of community providing love, counselors providing answers, and Jesus providing healing — my heart and soul were changed to the core. My whole self, which had been so deeply wounded and betrayed, was able to love and trust again. I was able to turn to Jesus alone for my protection and security. To give this amazingly transformational time of my life just one paragraph feels trite. I could write for days about the deep and supernatural work Jesus did in redeeming and restoring my broken soul.

In the process of healing, I reached a God-given moment of forgiveness. I have heard it said that forgiving someone who has deeply wronged you is a daily decision to forgive, but I also believe that Jesus, in His providence, gives special grace in the form of instant freedom from hate and anger. On October 3rd, 2009, Jesus gave me new eyes towards my dad. In one life-changing night, He showed me the way that He views my dad and my perspective of him was forever altered. God put it on my heart to confront my dad — but not confront, rather to speak words of forgiveness to him and ask for a true and reconciled relationship. The day after Thanksgiving that same year, I sat on a park bench with my dad on a chilly DC day and shared everything. I told him the ways he had hurt me, the ways it had impacted my life, and the deep desires I had to have a right relationship with him. At the end of our conversation, I left things in his hands — if he wanted to move forward with a reconciled relationship, it was up to him to let me know. That day, I drove back to North Carolina, where I lived at the time, and I did not hear from him for over three weeks.

When my dad eventually called, I truly did not know what to expect but he told me he wanted to have lunch with me. So my first day back in DC for the Christmas holiday, he and I went to lunch near our house. I will spare you the details of the whole conversation — because honestly it is a blur. I have one of the most detailed memories of anyone I know, but yet this conversation remains elusive to me. All I know is that on that day, in that booth, I looked across at Joe Keegan — the real man, the man who he wanted to be, the man Jesus was making him into — as he apologized for everything, laid out his desire for us to have a right relationship again, and prayed for God’s hand in our relationship going forward.

Little did I know, on that most important of days, that I would only have a year and a half left with him. The man from that day forward influenced me more than the tender father or the abusive father or the distant father. For the short time we had, I saw my dad become a man of humility as he learned how to love his daughter rightly. I saw a man struggle to open his heart to me. I saw a man desperately wanting to right the wrongs of our past but continually remembering to trust that Jesus was the one changing both of us.

June 15th, 2011. The night of The Phone Call No One Wants To Get. Dad had a stroke, the worst the doctors had ever seen, and he was not going to make it through the night. On that day, the cloud of grief descended — a cloud, that though it wanes in moments of joy, laughter, and new life, is always there.

His influence was over. Joy, pain, distance, forgiveness, reconciliation, renewal, healing. It all ended and so abruptly. But I did not know what he had planned. A man intrigued by death and the afterlife, he had written his own funeral many years in advance. Every moment, every song, every verse was hand-selected to show us – to remind us – that my dad knew who he was in Jesus even when he struggled to live it and believe it.

My dad’s influence on me culminated in what was the most painful moment of my life to date. As the funeral service came to a close, we sang a hymn. An unusual and not-often-sung hymn about heaven. It is a song I knew well, as it was a favorite of his. My entire life had been spent with him singing this song at random and reminding me that we would sing this at his funeral one day. And indeed, we did. We sang of his new home, his new self, his new life of worship. This…this song, this moment, this pain — it changed me most of all.

“By the sea of crystal, saints in glory stand,
Myriads in number, drawn from every land,
Robed in white apparel, washed in Jesus’ blood,
They now reign in heaven with the Lamb of God.

Out of tribulation, death and Satan’s hand,
They have been translated at the Lord’s command.
In their hands they’re holding palms of victory;
Hark! the jubilant chorus shouts triumphantly:

“Unto God Almighty, sitting on the throne,
And the Lamb, victorious, be the praise alone,
God has wrought salvation, He did wondrous things,
Who shall not extol Thee, holy King of Kings?””

words

Words are powerful — and like all powerful things, words can be used for good or for evil.

We say things we do not really mean. We use words that do not capture our real thoughts in an attempt to articulate our feelings, thoughts, and ideas. We use harsh words to describe others. We use overly positive words to describe things which do not deserve our utmost praise. We misuse words.

Our lives are full of words that we do not mean or understand. The words we use for things illustrate our understand of the things themselves. Therefore, we talk about a lot of things that we do not fully understand. We must be good stewards of words. We cannot lazily throw them into the world hoping to that they make sense. Words are powerful and we must treat them as such.

It’s not just semantics.

the best policy

They say honesty is the best policy – tell people what you really think, speak up when you disagree, don’t hold back when you know that someone is in the wrong. Sometimes I feel like my life is an experiment in whether these words of advice actually ring true in relationships.

I can be brutally honest. I don’t know what it is about my brain but I always think the harsh truth first and then, I just say it. Am I missing some sort of filter that all of the kind, harmonious people have? I look at other people who are gracious and gentle with their words and wonder if I should keep my mouth shut more often.

But if I can be honest, I believe that it is one of the most important values in life. We need to be honest with ourselves, with God, and with our friends. Dishonesty will break down and destroy a relationship to the core. We have to decide that being honest is worth the risk of someone being temporarily anger or hurt, in order to speak truth.

Above all honesty, there must be love. The Bible tells us, in the book of Ephesians, to speak the truth in love. Each of us must analyze our own disposition, whether too honest or dishonest but nice, and be intentional about learning to speak with care and conviction to the people in our lives. It will be worth it in the end.

 

city girl

I am unapologetic about being a city girl. It is in my blood. The Keegans are city people.

There is something about the constant sound of buses and bikers, pedestrians and pets, sirens and school children that calms me. For people who were raised in the country, this seems backwards; but for me, this is home. Home is a place of strangers discussing politics at the bus stop, traffic that is slow but never stopped, tons of people doing important work, every race represented wherever you go, a plethora of languages to be overheard, busyness everywhere you turn except quiet moments in your little corner of the city.

But even as I sit in one of those quiet places in the most important city in the world, I can hear it all – the low hum of my city.

With each visit, the city is calling me back – and someday, somehow, I will come home for good.