Broad Strokes Paint Poor Portraits

I know this has been happening since time immemorial, but in the past year, I have been increasingly disappointed by seemingly rational people casting wide, sweeping generalizations of all sorts over all types, classes, races, religions, and genders of people. The Left is ________. The Right is ________. Gay people are ________. Evangelicals are ________. Millenials are ________. Gen Xers are ________. Men are ________. Women are ________. Feminists are ________. White males are ________. Black Lives Matter are ________. Police are ________. Christians are ________. Muslims are ________.

Things, unfortunately, are not that simple. I think viewing the world through the filter of Facebook has made it feel like a growing epidemic because 95% (this is not a real statistic) of the people on the internet say things that they would never say if even one human being from whatever populace they are discussing were standing in front of them. And therein lies the problem.

Broad strokes paint poor portraits. Anytime you try to categorize people, shove them into a box, make them fit whatever stereotype helps you make sense of the world, you are distorting them as individuals.

Because each of these groups of people is made up of hundreds of thousands of individuals who have hopes and dreams and mostly want good things just like you do. Whether they agree with what good is or go about getting it the same way you do is not the question. Disagreement does not even come into play in this discussion. We’re not discussing ideologies, but humanity and the intrinsic worth and complicated emotions and desires that come with it.

Portraits are unique and distinct. They are nuanced and shadowed and, in good ones, there is something intangible that helps you almost feel like you know the person portrayed. If you could look at the details, the histories, the loves, and the fears of each individual within any person your world view has tried to turn into a cliche, you would find a soul just as worthy as your own.

Our broad strokes are embarrassing. It is like drawing a stick figure and saying it is the spitting image of everyone in whichever subset you are discussing. This is not only rude; it is illogical. It is the thing children do when they are afraid. We are scrawling children’s drawings on people’s faces and turning them into boogeymen instead of human souls.

I am completely aware that some people fit stereotypes. That’s why they exist. But only the ignorant actually judge people by them. Because there are many, many more who do NOT fit the blanket categorization applied to them. No person is just one thing. They are infinite worlds unto themselves that we will never be able to fully comprehend.

Portraits are not something you create overnight. You must be engaged with someone in order to see them fully – to see them around corners and in the dark, behind doors and when the curtain is pulled back. It’s not always pretty, but let’s refrain from painting over three-dimensional people with our flat preconceived notions.

Not Perfect

Are you perfect? I know I’m not. I don’t even want to pretend to figure a percentage. I fail – a LOT.

When I was younger, I had some notion that I could manage any situation – that even if someone thought I’d done something wrong, I could work hard enough, spend enough time, say enough words, to make someone know I intended no harm or did the best I could. As I have aged, I’ve learned this is not always the case, and this is a HARD lesson. I really believed that if I tried hard enough, didn’t give up, all situations could be resolved.

Boy, was I wrong. No matter where the blame lies, you will never be able to make everyone happy, and this is a lesson worth learning early:

You can’t fix everything.

There will be people you can’t please. There will be relationships you can’t mend.

Sometimes, the relationships are worth mourning. Sometimes, they are not. Sometimes, you are at fault. Sometimes, you are not.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

You will disappoint people despite trying your very hardest. As someone who placed an inordinate amount of importance on friendships, I will pass on what I have learned:

You will lose friends if you have kids; you’ll lose friends if you don’t. You’ll lose friends if you’re too ‘Jesus.’ You’ll lose friends if you’re too secular. You’ll lose friends if you’re fat. You’ll lose friends if you’re too thin. You’ll lose friends if you drink. You’ll lose friends if you don’t. You’ll lose friends if you’re tolerant. You’ll lose friends if you aren’t. You’ll lose friends if you are true to yourself. You’ll lose friends if you try to be a chameleon.

Point is, no matter what you do, you will lose friends over the years, and this is OK, despite how it makes you feel.

I know.

It makes you feel like a failure. You think that if you were perfect, all of your friendships would remain hunky-dory and no one would ever dislike you or think you should do anything differently in your life, but that is NOT true.

I *sort of* finally accepted this.

Did you know Jesus was perfect and that some people hated him?

WHAT???

And since I know I’m NOT perfect, if some people hate me, why should I be shocked?

So, my conclusion?

Live Biblically. Love Biblically. And if people hate you, well, “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” John 15:20

You will still have nothing to regret. EVEN IF YOU’RE NOT PERFECT. Live the best you can according to your conscience – according to the Holy Spirit – and if you fail, Jesus sacrifice has still covered you, and if your friends, or family, or whomever, cannot not accept you and your failures – your struggles –  along the way, it does not matter. Keep going. The Lord knows your heart, knows you are not perfect, and accepts you anyway.

YOU ARE LOVED.

 

Truth is Truer in Narnia or Finding Transcendence in Art

 

I love good art not because it reminds me of reality, but because it gives me hope that there is something beyond the reality I see.

I love Picasso’s Dora Maar au Chat because it reminds me that even what seems broken can be beautiful. I love Van Gogh’s Starry Night, because his stars are the essence of stars the way I imagined them to be almost alive when I was a child – something magical and unearthly. I love C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia because reading them is like lifting the murky gray of our world and shining a light on it. Truth seems truer in Narnia the way the Technicolor version of a movie is more vivid than the real thing. I love Patty Griffin’s song, Making Pies, because the ordinary is the beauty within it.

Stripping away the facade of reality allows me to see the truths beneath the surface – truths I have grown incapable of seeing in the familiar, often harsh, face of world around me. I am blinded by my hurts, my fears, my prejudices, and my cynicism.

I catch glimpses of this transcendence in life and in nature, but usually only if I am looking, and most often when something has become its least ordinary self – a part of itself I have not yet become inured to. The sun at high noon in a cloudless sky is so common that it will rarely evoke any comment or reaction, but an extravagant sunset with cloud strokes patching the sky in yellows and golds and purples and reds? When I see that, I believe that God took up a brush and palette and painted the sky Himself – just to ravage me with beauty – the way a lover hopes his gift will bring his beloved to tears.

A young man walking across a street will not impress, but seeing a young man take the arm of a blind stranger after exchanging a few words, and then watching them cross together? Suddenly, I have seen beyond the ordinary to something beautiful – something that I hoped existed all along, but in which I hardly dared believe.

Too many of us, myself included, usually experience this hope only when something is so startlingly breathtaking we cannot help but notice, and then, we are like children greedily snatching candy from a curmudgeonly schoolmarm, as if God only dispenses these moments in his most expansive moods.

Art and hope have this in common: they both help you to see and believe in the beauty that is too often hidden in the real world. Good art is an exercise in hope – it reminds you how to use it. I also believe that they both begin with imagination.

So what is this hope, and can I immerse myself in it instead of only stealing these flashes of ecstasy and existing in mediocrity the rest of the time?

And here is where the imagination comes in. If I am hopeless, it is because I have stopped imagining a world or a circumstance where things can be better. The hopeless lack imagination.

In the Bible, the word “hope” is often interchanged in various versions with the word “wait.” If I give up hope because I do not have or see something now, I very much misunderstand the idea of hope, because why would you need to hope for something you already have? Romans 8: 24 says, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

But there is one more component, and probably the most difficult one: belief aka faith. Waiting and imagining will eventually send you spiraling down in to despair if you do not also have belief, because the longer you have to wait, the less your imagination will be able to sustain you. Ask any adult. And let me be clear – what we are believing for as Christians is not in this world. If we are only living based on the circumstances of the moment and not as if there is something transcendent, then we are living as any secular person.

Have you ever read what is commonly known as The Faith Chapter in the Bible? Hebrews 11 begins: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” It goes on to commend those who have lived extraordinary lives of faith. Verse 10 says of Abraham: “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Verse 13 says: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” Verses 38-40 are so powerful: “…the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

I ask you not to skim these verses as we are so often tempted to do when we believe we know them already or we don’t think we care what they say. Go back now. Reread them. Note the phrases:

  1. “still living by faith when they died” – interpretation: they had not received their promise yet and they died. If you give up while you’re still breathing, you’re not gonna make the Faith Chapter.
  2. “world was not worthy of them” – interpretation: when you are tempted to think you must have done something to deserve your hard life or maybe that God is not doing his job, think of these people who wandered in deserts and lived in caves and in holes in the ground and remember that the world was not worthy of them. Don’t give up hope. The world won’t be worthy of you, either, whether it knows it or not.
  3. “since God had planned something better for us” – interpretation: something beyond this world: “…the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God…” because we are “…foreigners and strangers on earth.”

In Mere Christianity, Bk. III, Chapter 10 (unsurprisingly, the chapter titled “Hope”), C.S. Lewis says this: “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Thank God.

The recipe for Hope: Imagine, Believe, Wait

Or in longhand:

To live with a constant feeling of expectation for a certain thing (Isaiah 40:31), a thing which you have not yet seen or experienced (Hebrews 11:1), you must trust that God is faithful even when this world is full of suffering (Romans 8:18), and you must remain in a state of expectation that His promises are true (Psalm 27:14).

Hope: hōp/ – noun

  1. a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

Im·ag·i·na·tion: iˌmajəˈnāSH(ə)n/ – noun

  1. the ability to form a picture in your mind of something that you have not seen or experienced

Be·lief: bəˈlēf/ – noun

  1. trust, faith, or confidence in someone or something.

Wait: wāt/ – verb

  1. to remain in a state in which you expect or hope that something will happen soon

 

And a song for your parting thoughts:

Imagination

Music by Jimmy Van Heusen

Lyrics by Johnny Burke

Imagination is funny
It makes a cloudy day sunny
Makes a bee think of honey
Just as I think of you

Imagination is crazy
Your whole perspective gets hazy
Starts you asking a daisy
“What to do, what to do?”

Have you ever felt
A gentle touch and then a kiss
And then and then and then and then
Find it’s only your imagination again?
Oh, well

Imagination is silly
You go around willy-nilly
For example I go around wanting you
And yet I can’t imagine
That you want me, too

Newness

I was looking at my blog yesterday for the first time in years. I realized, in looking at my posts that it’s been seven years since I posted with any frequency. I can’t really say all of the reasons that’s been the case, but I know there are many, not the least of which was time. There was probably a little bit of floundering going on in there, too, and I’m still not much of one to share things until I have them all figured out. The problem with that mindset is that the older I get, the less I feel I have anything figured out. And that’s OK, but not if I let it keep me from sharing anything at all.

I decided to write a post today, because I’ve been working on my book. A book that I both started and stopped in 2008, which, incidentally, is also when I stopped writing (for all intents and purpose) this blog. I fell in love with writing that year, and then let life and myself get in the way. So, I’m trying to fix that. I wrote in one of my blogs from 2008 that I was working on a book, and that I was 37 typed pages in. I never got any further than that until I picked it back up in February of this year. I am now 86 typed pages (50,000 words) in.

I started thinking about the blog as I was working on the book, because I think of so many things as I write that, in the past, I would’ve blogged about instead of storifying. (I’m aware that’s not a word.)

This made me realize that since I’ve started writing on the book, I’ve been much more centered and at peace. I always knew that as I wrote things out, I came to have a clearer understanding of them, a clearer understanding even of my own mind and feelings. However, as I was working on the book, and connecting how much better my emotional state has been, I asked myself why I ever stopped writing the blog. These realizations have given me the want-to I need to get it going again. Hopefully. I’m not going to make any promises. After all, I am also trying to write a book now. All the same, my heart feels it’s important, and in many ways, a blog is easier than a book, so when my brain is overwhelmed with book-ness, maybe I can switch to blog.

I think I’ll have to start fresh, as there are so many facets of my journey that have been left out, what with the last 7 years of silence. So, this is me, starting fresh.

And new-ness is exciting. It gives hope for the future…proof of life. Here’s to newness breathing life into us all.

Hope for Abbey

I’ve been volunteering with the One-on-One Visitation program at the Tennessee Prison for Women here in Nashville, TN for just over a year, and my husband and I made a site for the young lady I’ve been visiting with.  I’m basically just posting here what is on the site, so if you would rather go to it there, or if after reading this, you feel led to donate, you can see the site at http://hopeforabbey.com. The woman I have been visiting with and getting to know is named Abbey Leavitt, and this is my plea for a little help and hope for her new start. She is up for parole in May of 2013. I’ll tell you a little bit about the program, so that you have a little background for Abbey’s situation.

One-on-One Visitation is a Faith-based group that provides a mentor to incarcerated women. It is significant that they only partner with women who receive no visitors, and have submitted an application to be in the program, so the women in this program are very alone, but they want to learn, want to be mentored, and want to change their lives. The expectations of the program are that you will visit them once a month and write letters, faithfully, in between. These women have no one who is able or willing to be there for them while they are serving their sentences. As you would imagine, it follows that many of them also have no one who can help them when they are released.

Though justice is served by their punishment, unfortunately, it doesn’t end for them when they have completed their sentences. They often have no legal identification, no money to start out, nowhere to go or no way to get there, and obligations, such as child support, that are almost immediately back in effect upon release.

This is Abbey’s situation. Abbey is a young mother with three young boys. Two of them live in Washington State with their father. She dreams of returning and making a life there, but will have to stay in Tennessee long enough to regain custody of her other son, who lives with her brother in Memphis. This puts a strain on an already difficult situation, as her brother struggles to get by financially and will not be able to offer her much. Jobs will be tough to get with her criminal record, and legal obligations are imminent. She is considering a halfway house to help her get back on her feet and employed, but even halfway houses usually require an up-front fee.

Abbey is a beautiful and funny young woman, and her honesty will sometimes take you by surprise! She isn’t afraid to speak her mind, and wants other people to do the same. She has a ready laugh, but you can see the concern for the future in her eyes. She loves the Lord and wants to live her life differently than she did before her imprisonment. She tears up when she talks about how much guilt she feels over not being there for her sons. Please read Abbey’s story and pray about whether giving her a helping hand is something you are able to do. Nothing is too small, and everything will be appreciated, and I know that God will put it to your account!

“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Matthew 6:20

“Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ Matthew 25:34-40

ABBEY’S STORY

My name is Abbey Leavitt, and I am 24 years old. I have 3 boys, and was born in Michigan. Although I might not look like it, I’ve lived a life way beyond my years. The elder people in my life call me an “old soul.”

I must let you know that I’m a far cry from an angel. I’ve done drugs, sold drugs, stolen, and lied to satisfy the hole that couldn’t be filled with earthly gifts. Let me tell you my story:
It started when I was about 2 years old. My little sister’s father would put me to bed and I would scream. Of course, everyone just thought I didn’t want to go to bed, but I was being fondled to pornography, and he would lay me on top of him and hump me until he was satisfied. That went on until age 6, when one night he decided to molest me in my anus. It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt. I remember like it was yesterday. He called me his favorite. (I wonder why!) I did tell one of my brother’s friends the next day.

To make a long story short, we moved to Colorado. That didn’t last long due to racist shootings, high prices and extremely cold weather. We stayed about six months. We brought a couple of people back, though. Momma always had a way of adding folks to the family.

Now, most of the molesting from not only my step-dad, but my girl and guy cousins occurred in Michigan. That started when they would make me play house or hide and seek, or simply give orders for sexual favors. As I look back, I’m not angry with them. They were only children, too, and were learning the behaviors somewhere!

At age 4, I witnessed my big sister get killed in front of me. She asked my mom if she could go to the store to get the movie E.T. My mom said, “No,” and my sister said, “I hate you.” Then she went and told my brothers that my mom said, “Yes.” Well, they jumped on their bikes and headed to the store with my oldest brother leading the way. My sister took her time while I cried out at the window, watching, wanting to go. As she was crossing, a man driving a truck with a boat attached sped up and hit her! Her bike went under the truck, crushing instantly as she tossed in the air like a beach ball, hitting the boat on the back of the truck and almost dismembering her entire leg. The driver kept going. My brothers screamed and pulled my sister out of the road as she took her last breath in his arms. I lost my mother that day. She was there physically, but mentally she wasn’t for years, and all the while I’m being sexually abused and it was becoming “my normal.” If my mother wasn’t getting beaten and chained in the basement or we weren’t in shelters getting molested by the “battered women,” it was by our closest family members.

I became pregnant at age 15, living in Washington State with my eldest brother and his family. Life was rough. I couldn’t find happiness or fill a huge void I felt in my heart. So, I would play men and women…lots of them…trying to use them like they used me. I became involved in drugs and hacking computers. You name it – I was involved in it. I became pregnant with my second son at age 18, and my mother passed when I was 9 weeks. Needless to say, I died with her.
I chose to stay in Washington and do the family thing. It worked for a while until my immaturity and bitter heart tore my family apart. I ended up on the streets with two kids and no hope. I sold drugs and got back into using them again. After being pistol-whipped in front of my children by a meth addict, I threw in the towel and called my other brother. I jumped on a bus with my two kids and as much as I could carry for a 3 day ride to Tennessee.

When I got settled in Tennessee, I became bored with the slow pace an began to commit small, petty crimes and do city crimes in a small town that eventually led me to state probation and three violations, and eventually prison. Here I have been for almost three years, and it is the best thing that could have ever happened to me. It is in here that I have found who I really am and what beliefs I want to instill in my children. I have taken parenting classes, anger management, and completed an intensive rehab program.

I’m starting over, but I need help. I have no clothes, no money, no identification – nothing but the willingness and determination it takes to achieve my goals. I want and will go to college, but I am at ground zero. I have a struggling family who cannot help me, but they do the best they can with my children.

I look to be making parole in May of 2013. I struggle every day, but I’m thankful. I’m thankful for my past, my trials and my pain. It has molded me to be the woman I am becoming every day. I am not looking for a handout, just a helping hand. I am willing and ready for a change – the kind of change that will pay it forward to youth in my situation. If my testimony has touched and moved your heart to help me, you will be greatly appreciated.

Thank you!
Abbey Leavitt
“Never ask for a lighter load, rather, a stronger back.”
You may contact me at:
Abbey Leavitt , #436394
3881 Stewart’s Lane
Nashville, TN 37218