Naked

I like to sleep naked. This might surprise some people, scandalize others, and allure still others. Maybe I inherited it from my mom, who would try to make breakfast, wearing just one of my dad’s white undershirts, before the rest of us got up. Maybe I learned it from my older sister, who takes nudity on as a personal challenge.  I think I’ve seen her breasts more times than I’ve seen my own.

I didn’t always sleep naked. In fact, I was the one in my family who insisted on changing where no one could see me, who never let anyone in the bathroom with me, who would wait to get out of bed in the morning until my sister had already gotten up, so she wouldn’t see me strip down to my underwear.

The first time I slept naked, I was in France. It was the first time in my life that I had my own room. I remember slipping into bed. The covers felt cool and comforting. From then on, I slept naked as often as I could. I struggled with my self image, though. Over the course of about five months, I gained about 20 lbs. I had never considered myself pretty, regardless of my weight. But I learned to enjoy the vulnerability of nakedness, of waking up in the morning and seeing myself in the mirror without any clothes on. No one knew, and I didn’t tell anyone, but I was slowly learning to accept that I am a body as well as a soul.

In January of last year, I moved into a new apartment after sleeping on a friend’s couch for four months (if at all possible, avoid being homeless, but if you must, be sure to find a couch that belongs to people who love you).  I didn’t have any private space for four months. The first night I slept at my new place, I made sure to take off all of my clothes before getting into bed. I had a couple of weeks before my roommate moved in so I spent even more time naked, naked dish-washing, naked laundry, naked writing, naked everything. I do draw the line at cooking naked, because you will always regret naked bacon.

Then, something terrible happened. I got dumped. I felt torn in two, heartbroken. I could feel a pressure on my chest as I went about my daily routine, and getting ready for bed started with morose sighs and ended with me crying in the fetal position, clutching my Bible to my chest. But I couldn’t take my clothes off. I didn’t want to be naked. I wanted to be swaddled, safe. I wanted to reject the freedom that comes with letting my body into open space without any edits (even if no one else sees it).

Because, you see, I had learned to be vulnerable, and vulnerability costs something. Sometimes, it costs friendship. Sometimes it costs a job. Sometimes it costs a lover. However, refusing to be vulnerable is more costly. I may be able to avoid all the drawbacks like shame, and heartbreak, and fleeting moments of feeling worthless. Conversely, though, I cannot partake in the joy, peace, wholeness, contentment, connectedness, and love that vulnerability leads me to.

We don’t get to have any of the good things that we risk losing in the first place if we refuse to be vulnerable. And vulnerability, a lot of the time, feels quite a bit like being totally naked.

This is why I have decided to be naked, even though it is hard. I want to be vulnerable, despite a completely turbulent year, especially because it feels scary. Where there is vulnerability, there is beauty. Where there is beauty, there is strength.

 

In case you are wondering, I did write all of this whilst in a state of total undress.

Improvisational Comedy: Say Yes

If you ever do any improv at all, you will learn the first rule: say yes. You can’t start a scene without saying yes. Well, you can try, but you won’t get very far. You won’t entertain the audience, and you won’t help your fellow performers look good. Improv fails when you don’t say yes.

I am not good at improv. I don’t have ideas about scenes until twenty minutes after they’re over. Taking the lead and introducing a new topic is not a natural thing for me when I’m on stage. I want to meticulously define all the parameters of my character, create a Pinterest account and spend three months only pinning what my character would pin. I want a deep and robust sense of who I have to be for every second I’m on stage. If I could, I would map out an entire ontology of the universe I’m acting in before I set foot on stage. I want to know exactly what I am meant to do at every moment.

This is not an option in improv. There’s no script. There’s just a short prompt: you’re on a sinking ship with only one life vest left.

Go.

And if you can’t think of anything else to do, you still have to start by saying yes. This, you will find, can bring about a wide range of hilarity, goofiness, laughter, and punchlines. But you have to keep saying yes. Otherwise, as I have seen too often, the whole thing falls apart.

There was a lot less at risk during the improv I performed as a part of my school’s Drama Club than in real life. Saying yes to college, yes to moving half way across the country (or to a different country all together), yes to dating that guy in my dorm freshman year, then that one senior year, then again just a few months ago, saying yes to moving in with your friends or practical strangers, saying yes to lunch with a friend who betrayed your trust, those have more risk.

The risk is vulnerability. It’s the possibility of depending on other people, of feeling lost, of not knowing what to say or how to say it. It’s sitting on the floor in your living room as your parents tell you that they can’t come to your graduation, desperately wishing you had decided to go to college closer to home. The risk is sitting alone in your room after you’ve said goodbye to another one you’ve loved, gasping for air between all the fluids that have seen fit to expel themselves from your face.

The risk is enough to tempt me to say no, to say I will not feel deeply, to keep myself from loving deeply, to keep myself from losing deeply. I will rest in the safety of anticipated movement, knowing the script, knowing how the story ends, knowing what tomorrow will bring. I will build my own little universe.

But soon I find that I can’t be in the performance at all, that small universes can be logically consistent, but oh so very limited. The thrill of being on stage is unlike any other, a combination of bravery and terror: life amplified.

I would like to submit for your consideration, that the risk is worthwhile, that you will always have your setbacks, your difficulties, your epic flops. But your shining moments are all the brighter for having said yes. Making yourself vulnerable to failure is one of the strongest things you can do.

Today, I am going to say yes.

The Girl Who Built Walls

In the last few months I’ve heard a lot of people talk about the damage evangelical Christianity is doing. I’ve even talked about it. For better or for worse, I don’t intend to add to any of attacks concerning recent issues. I can’t clear up any of the pain people are experiencing from the evangelical culture wars, interpretation of scripture, or purity culture. I can’t talk committed evangelicals out of their beliefs, or liberal Christians out of theirs. In fact, I don’t want to. While I no longer participate in evangelical culture, I deeply value the experiences I had because they inform who I am today.

Would it have been freeing to grow up without a constant and deep fear of the Other?

Would it have contributed better to church flourishing to view scripture in the context of Christian community and tradition?

Would it have been healthier to view sexuality as an integral and biological part of humanity, rather than a source of shame?

The answer to all these questions is yes. Of course, a thousand times, yes. But I didn’t, and maybe you didn’t either. In fact, evangelical or not, a lot of us can relate to the misguided, well-meant shortcomings of our childhoods.

But I can’t change what you think. I can’t fix any of these problems. I can’t make World Vision reverse its reversed decision.

I can tell a story, though. I can tell you about being broken, not by the crushing weight of evangelical normative pressures in my childhood, but by compassion and by stones.

I can tell you about a dark sanctuary where the only light shines on a band playing a song about God’s goodness, love, healing, or friendship. Whatever the lyrics are, no matter how redundant the chord progressions, the music invokes more emotion in you than you’ve experienced in the last three months combined. You feel empty and full all at once, and before you know it you are having an experience, even if you walked in with a complete reticence to God, the church, or Christians.

In high school, I was a star evangelical, the kind that carried my bright pink Bible to class and sat up front at all the youth group functions. I refused to date anyone until I had graduated. And I was so sincere.

There I was, at the front of a sanctuary, steeped in the synthesized emotion of the moment, kneeling, praying, contemplating. I didn’t respond to whatever version of an alter call that had been given that night (even at the time, I didn’t think it was a good idea to respond to every single alter call), but the girl on the floor just a few inches in front of me did.

I had just met her the day before. She was closed off, rebellious, and, to me, rather mysterious. I felt like I should pray for her, so I did. When one of the adults came over to pray for her and talk her through a commitment to Christ, she said she didn’t want any of it. What was she doing at the front of the church, then?

She said she didn’t want God’s love or anyone else’s. She talked about her mean step-dad and cruel people at school. She said she didn’t have any friends. She wasn’t the first person I had heard say things like this. A lot of teenagers feel that way. A lot of teenagers struggle with feeling accepted and loved, and they are, on average, a lot more volatile about it than adults who struggle with the same things.

She said she had built up walls around her heart, and it had turned to stone. That was exactly how she was going to keep it. She said that if she let God into her heart, if she let herself feel loved and connected, she’d have to take down the walls. If she did that, her mean step dad and the people at school could hurt her. She’d have to feel that too. All of the brokenness in life would get in if love got in too.

She wasn’t talking to me, but I heard everything she said. Then I began to weep. I was overwhelmed with compassion for her. I couldn’t imagine damage so permanent that God couldn’t heal it. I also knew that her heart walls would get in the way of loving others. Nothing gets in, but nothing gets out, either. Her pain was so evident, but her voice and face were so calm. As she recounted the frustrations of her home and school life, she was calm. Her walls were working well. They were not poetry.

The baffled adult left to get reinforcement. I continued to weep, to long for her to know love and let that be her strength in the face of her suffering. A second adult came and asked her how he could help. The girl said she didn’t need help. Then, pointing at me, she said, “Help her; she’s the one crying.”

Through my tears I said, “I’m crying because I love you.”

I think we were both genuinely surprised.

“You don’t want to love me,” she replied.

I grant that this was an exceptionally odd encounter to have with a near stranger. The adults didn’t get any further with her. She was present. She wanted someone to break down her walls, but she knew it wasn’t safe. I don’t know what happened to her after that weekend. I don’t even know her name.

However, this moment has stuck with me. I don’t know what song was playing or what the take away message of the evening was supposed to be. I remember this wounded girl who understood and expressed what I spend so much of my time struggling with. This stone-hearted girl understood vulnerability—well, half of it. She was right; letting herself feel loved in the safety of our weekend away from the world was easy. We had a band adept at evoking very positive emotion. We had adults around us whose mission was to love and cherish us, and we all had homes with plenty of dysfunction to go back to. So this girl knew that letting love in meant letting pain in. It’s what loving in an imperfect world is like. I think what shook me up, beyond her account of painful life experiences, was that while she had the premise right, she had drawn the wrong conclusion. She treated pain like a heavy weight when love is the proven champion. And that is what broke my heart.