“I don’t know what I’m like. I get glimpses of myself in other people’s eyes. I try to be careful whom I use as a mirror.” – Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet
Last month I flew out to Portland, Oregon to speak at the Faith and Culture Writers Conference. Many of you know this. What you don’t know is that I almost said no to that opportunity. Here’s why.
I didn’t think I was going to be the kind of person they would like.
I had never been to Portland before, never met many of the people I knew would be there. I thought maybe they would be young, cool, hipsters and I would be not those things. Maybe I’m the Kenneth Parcell to their Liz Lemon, the Jessica Day to their Nick’s-girlfriend-Julia, the Hallmark Channel to their HBO.
Maybe they write brilliantly about social justice and politics and living among the poor and other important issues. And I write from my home office in my quiet cul-de-sac about creating space for your soul to breathe.
On a good day I know what I write matters. But not all days are good days.
When I was invited to speak at the Faith and Culture Writers conference, I hesitated.
Is it possible for me – one person – to speak at both a conference hosted by the Proverbs 31 Ministries in the Bible Belt of Charlotte, North Carolina as well as the Faith and Culture Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon?
Where do I fit? What if I choose one group and they find out I’m not actually one of them?
What if I’m fooling everyone after all, including myself?
“Here we are, living in a world of ‘identity crises’ and most of us have no idea what an identity is. Half the problem is that an identity is something which must be understood intuitively, rather than in terms of provable fact.” – Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet
As often happens when I’m wrestling through these kinds of things, I asked Kendra all of these questions (and many more) as I struggled with this inner tension. She listened and became a mirror for me. And somewhere in that reflection, I saw Jesus.
She reminded me that my job is to listen to Jesus and then to act. She reminded me my job is to be myself no matter who else is there.
The words I share are not only for one particular group, but for anyone who wants to come to the table and sit on my bench. And their words are for me, too.
I’m gentle by nature, I like funny TV, I think deeply about Jesus, faith, culture, grace, and people. I write to know what I think about things, but I don’t write down everything I think about.
I share my life on the internet. I am deeply private.
I often wish I was more naturally lighthearted. Instead I have to work at it.
As it turns out, I don’t have to define myself. I simply have to be myself.
“An infinite question is often destroyed by finite answers. To define everything is to annihilate much that gives us laughter and joy.” – Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet
And so I said yes to speaking at this writers conference in Portland. I settled within myself that I belong even though I’m not a cool hipster or a rabble rouser or a policy maker but because I am in Christ. And the gracious people there, they proved those words were true.
We came together from different backgrounds and life experiences, but isn’t that always how a group of people come together, no matter how alike we may seem on the outside?
I confess my tendency to try to see myself through someone else’s eyes. I also confess how terrible I am at it.
But every now and then you have the opportunity to do this, to see yourself through someone else’s eyes because they use words to say what they think of you.
That happened last week, as Faith and Culture Writer’s Conference attendee Esther Emory wrote a post about me.
That’s not actually true at all. Her beautiful post was about her; about her perspectives and impressions and her own spiritual formation. But there was some of me in there, too, and within the post she offered her honest opinions and impressions of me, some I understood and others that surprised me.
When I saw my name in the post title, I braced myself. I’ve been written about on the internet before. It isn’t always kind.
“But we aren’t always careful of our mirrors. I’m not . . . I’ve looked for an image in someone else’s mirror, and so have avoided seeing myself.”
– Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet
I met Esther for the first time at the conference. When we spoke, I saw her as brave, grown up, confident, kind, and smart. (In her post she called me ‘bucolic’ and I had to look up the word — twice — because I didn’t know what it meant. Insert cry laugh face.)
When I met her, I immediately liked her. I walked away from our short conversation wishing we had more time to spend together but also questioning all the words I used. I’m an introvert. Why do I use so many words when I talk to people? Dear Emily. Say. Less. Words.
When I read her post, I saw her words as a vulnerable gift, as they reflect a soul that’s similar to my own even though our lives are different. I do what she does, too. I form other people’s opinions of me for them too.
I shut people out and lock myself in even though I know better.
This post is tough to write because it feels so painfully self-absorbed. It is that, I admit. But it’s also true I think many of you can relate. Don’t we all question where we fit and how we’re perceived? Don’t we all protect the lingering child, longing for security, acceptance, and love? Don’t we all hope for connection but often choose protection instead?
“The people I know who are the most concerned about their individuality, who probe constantly into motives, who are always turned inwards toward their own reactions, usually become less and less individual, less and less spontaneous, more and more afraid of the consequences of giving themselves away.”
– Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet
Here’s one thing I know: sometimes self-reflection gets in the way. Not the kind I do in the presence of Christ – no that’s the important kind. But the kind I practice while I looking the mirror or in your eyes or at your reactions? That kind gets in the way of the gospel in me. If I spend too much time trying to define myself, it’s easy to forget that I’m free.
We are free to holler with the world changers.
We are free to ponder with the contemplatives.
We are free to campaign with the activists and be still with the liturgists.
We are free to be quiet and free to be loud.
We are free to live in the center, on the side, or in the back.
We are free to go.
We are free to stay home.
We are free to linger and to leave early.
We are free to dream big and free to dream small.
We are free to draw boundaries and free to change our minds.
There’s room at the table for Liz Lemon and Kenneth Parcell.
We are free. We are free. We are free.