Becoming Bethany

Observations on becoming and being

Month: October, 2016

I Carry Memories in My Body

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I carry memories in my body.

The scar on my right shin is from my attempt to waterski at age 9 that ended in a trip to the emergency room and 17 stitches. I remember it as the day I learned boats have sharp motor blades and pain is not always felt immediately.

I have silver in my left middle finger leftover from a high school art class where I learned solder, melt and pour medal, and make jewelry. It’s also the class where I was first introduced to The Beatles and I will always associate them with young love.

My right thumb will never bend all the way since I broke two bones while snow skiing. I took two more runs before it swelled to the point that my glove would no longer fit and I figured I should probably go to the medical center to get it X-rayed. I was 18 by then but I guess I still hadn’t learned that shock can delay pain.

When I lived in seasonal climates, my hair had sections of blonde like rings in a tree that marked the summer months when the sun bleached it light. I now live with permanent tan lines and can remember exactly which blouse or swimsuit I was wearing on a particularly sunny day just from the lines on my skin.

I carry memories in my body. Some are lodged deep somewhere between my muscle and bone. The memories that my body remembers maybe better than my mind.

I have friends who as soon as I see them, my face beams and I feel laughter welling up in my belly. So many days and years of laughing together until we could not speak and tears streamed down our faces that now my body remembers how I feel when I am with them without even being prompted.

One day last week, my arms felt almost too heavy to lift and the weight on my shoulders made it difficult to stand straight. I had slept well. I wasn’t sick. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me until I looked at the calendar and realized it was a formerly special anniversary. My body carried my grief even though my mind had not remembered.

I carry memories in my body. Most of them I did not choose to store there.

I have been contemplating a tattoo for several years now. A small line of text on the inside of my left wrist. The word and the script have changed over time but the desire to have a permanent symbol intentionally marked on my body has not. At one point I wanted the word “beautiful” (jamila) in Arabic script. When I told the guy I was dating at the time, he smiled and asked me, “Why would you want that when it’s already written all over your body?”

It is one of the sweetest compliments I have ever received, but it also made me stop and wonder for a minute: what else does my body say? What can you read just by looking at me?

I carry memories in my body. We all do. What do yours tell you?

Bless

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“Find someone to bless today,” my mom would whisper in my ear each morning as she hugged and kissed me when she dropped me off at school.

“The Lord bless you, and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” I have heard this benediction most Sunday mornings of my life spoken from pulpits of a myriad of Christian denominations all over the world.

“Be a blessing!” My parents would cheerfully call out when we left the house the same way some parents call out, “Be safe!” or “Make wise choices!”

When I was 9 or 10 years old, I listened to a sermon preached on Genesis 12:2-3 nearly every week for several months and never ceased to get chills whenever I heard the promise to Abraham, “and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

I love blessing – both giving and receiving. I love seeing blessing in the world. Sometimes when I am having a bad day, I even look up #blessed on Twitter just to see what people are feeling blessed about. (Confession: I am alternately inspired and amused and both make me feel better.) Blessing is a word that has surrounded and sustained me.

So why did I cry in church this Sunday when the pastor challenged us to find three people to bless somehow this week?

A) I am feeling really drained right now and I don’t know what I have to give.
B) I am overwhelmed and grateful for the blessing I have received in my own life.
C) I am still recovering from having some of the most costly blessings I have ever given devalued and discarded.
D) I recognize how much need there is for blessing in the world and I don’t know what I can possibly do to even begin to address that need.
E) There are people I would rather curse than bless right now and I am feeling convicted to bless them anyway.
F) Blessing is sacred and beautiful and mysterious and I always get a little teary-eyed thinking about it.
G) I feel unworthy to bless others.
H) I have had blessings spoken over me by people who have since rejected me and that is confusing.
I) All of the above.

Answer: I) All of the above.

You may have noticed as I did, that many of my responses are related to fear. Fear of not having enough. Fear of not being enough. Fear of being rejected. Fear of not getting what I “deserve”. Fear of failure.

When I look at those fears, I realize they are all about me. But blessing is not about me. In fact, what makes it so mysterious and beautiful and life-changing is the fact that even when I find a way to bless others, it is still not about me at all. Barbara Brown Taylor puts it like this:

All I am saying is that anyone can do this. Anyone can ask and anyone can bless, whether anyone has authorized you to do it or not. All I am saying is that the world needs you to do this, because there is a real shortage of people willing to kneel wherever they are and recognize the holiness holding its sometimes bony, often tender, always life-giving hand above their heads. That we are able to bless one another at all is evidence that we have been blessed, whether we can remember when or not. That we are willing to bless one another is miracle enough to stagger the very stars.

All I have to be is willing. And I am. I do not have to be special or skilled or chosen or even ready. So I am setting aside my fears and looking for ways to bless. And just hoping that good comes from it. That in some small way I can participate in what God is doing in the world. Once again, I am asked to approach life with open hands instead of clenched fists. To show up and do what I can but not feel like I have to make it all better. To recognize the miracle that it is that “we are able bless one another at all”.