Taking Off the Mask

I’m a big fan of Halloween. That’s putting it lightly, and any of my friends and family reading this will know the truth. From my childhood trick-or-treating years to current days of binge-watching Hocus Pocus, I absolutely adore this holiday – the costumes, the candy, the pumpkins—all of it. In preschool, I was able to pick out my costume for the very first time. Being the indecisive Disney-loving girl that I am, I choose a unique combo of Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Princess Jasmine from Aladdin. Even after I passed age 3, I obsessed over potential outfit ideas when October 31st rolled around. A 50’s girl costume, a Karate Kid, and a homemade Glinda the Good Witch costume courtesy of my Grandma Jo (my all-time favorite, by the way) – so many options! Would the kids in my class like it? Should I have a backup plan in case things didn’t turn out right? What if someone else had the same idea?

Of course, with the passing of Halloween, another large event in the United States loomed on the dim, autumn horizon. This year brought around an election year, and a big one. Mere days after a joyful celebration and countless smiling children, Americans made the very serious decisions on the future leaders of this country. And as I watched countless debates leading up to November 8th, I couldn’t help but notice the scary similarities between Halloween and Election Day. No, I’m not talking about a pants-suit costume or frightening foreign policy. I’m talking about masks. They were everywhere this year. And I find this more haunting than any horror movie, zombie costume, or terrifying corn maze. I know I’m not alone in this observation. This year, the country lacked authentic, genuine candidates to stand behind on the national level. With the attack ads playing over the television on an hourly basis, values and character were brought into question constantly. Malicious words were exchanged. Vicious rumors were spread from all angles. In an election when we should have been celebrating two huge milestones on both sides—the first female presidential candidate and the first presidential candidate without a career in politics – the entire country was tearing each other apart. It was in the media and it was at your dinner table. People were obsessed with the identity of the two party nominees. And here’s the core of it all – did we truly even know who they were? With the chaos surrounding the election, did we learn anything truly real about their characters? All I saw were masks, left and right, hiding the truth from a country that deserves better. My heart hurts just thinking about the mess.

I promise this post will not get political. You don’t need to know who I voted for or what I thought about the results. What you do need to know, and what I think you already know, is that this country is in desperate need of authentic leaders. People who are willing to show up and be seen for who they truly are. People who are trustworthy, kind, and generous souls. People who are willing to admit when they have made a mistake, instead of pointing fingers. People who are willing to be vulnerable and authentic. People who are ready to get rid of the mask. I know they exist because I see them every day. They are my friends and my neighbors. They are my family members and my co-workers.  They are the men and women next to me in church. They are the people I saw walking out of the polls, smiling because they made an impact in the democratic process and they had hope. I see you. I know you are there. Thank you. My prayer is that you will continue these good deeds whole-heartedly in the future.

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Last year, I had a close friend recommend a book to me about taking off the masks. Scary Close by Donald Miller is a book that touched me deep down in my core. By reading this book, I learned to show up and be seen for who I truly am. I learned to drop my mask to the floor and let the curtain close on my act that I’ve been holding tight, using as a defense mechanism for nearly my entire life. I’ve passed this book onto others numerous times because it needs to be shared. It’s one of those change your life books. And I couldn’t think of a better time to encourage people to live authentically than the day after such a disturbing election. Miller opens his book with an Author’s Note and words that resonate and haunt me today. “Somebody once told me we will never feel loved until we drop the act, until we’re willing to show our true selves to the people around us” (xv).

While his writing unfolded, I discovered that although Donald Miller’s memoir is focused on his life-long struggle with empathy and fear, he has a message that truly resonates with every reader.

Your story is worth telling.

It may be easier to hide who you are, cloak yourself in a costume, or put on a mask every day. But I believe that each of us, by the grace of God, is loved and can be loved authentically. The very idea that Christ could redeem us speaks to the fact that you have a right to show up and be truly known. Of course, like two hands locked in prayer, that vulnerability brings shame and fear. Shame is probably one of the scariest words in the English language. It’s the reason I wear a mask or put on an act. In Chapter 3 of his story, Miller opens up about his own shame and the true root of where it began. Reading his words titled, “Everybody’s Got a Story and It’s Not the One They’re Telling”, I felt emotions begin to pour out of me when I remembered instances of shame and fear from my own childhood. It’s despairing to think about, that at a pivotal point in our lives, we were conditioned to believe that something about us was so inherently wrong that we needed to over-compensate.

Miller pushes this idea even further in the very next chapter, “Why Some Animals Make Themselves Look Bigger Than They Are”, by recognizing that when each of us put on a mask, we are believing in shame. Deep down, something whispers, you are not good enough. As human beings, we have a reflex to distract others from who we are at our core. It’s like seeing a bear while you’re out hiking on a trail in the mountains. (Thankfully, I’ve never actually experienced this. However, one can imagine the scenario and bone-chilling fear.) The silence in is deafening. Even though you are thinking, oh my god I’m going to die today, you are supposed to puff out your chest like a big rooster. Double your size. Make that gigantic bear, or any antagonist for that matter, forget who you really are. We put on a mask because we think that is what makes us worth loving. Maybe then people won’t see that we aren’t good enough. Maybe then people won’t know who we are at the core. If someone hears about our job, our big move, our new car, our upcoming vacation, they won’t be able to find this inherently wrong thing that we carry. We use this theory like a social crutch and I often hear myself making the same mistakes. Validation is intoxicating, and it will always be easier to talk about success than failure, fear, or shame.

Hope still sustains me, though. As I think more about the chapters in Scary Close, the more they truly highlight be pain all around our world today. Just look at the two chapter titles I referenced above. They immediately bring to mind the national election that was so publicly broadcasted and paraded before us the entire year of 2016. But I’ve seen the work this book has done for others. I know I’ve witnesses the change this book has brought out in me. By taking a chance and recognizing the shame that I carry in my life, I’ve opened myself to a beautiful idea. If Christ could love me enough as I truly am, for my authentic and genuine and shameful self, the world might be able to do that, too. For revolutionary change, we need others to recognize this idea. In the future, I know that I am looking for leaders who will take off the masks, and I am praying that this day comes soon.

“I began to wonder what life would be like if I dropped the act and began to trust that being myself would be enough to get the love I needed” (35).

Cheers,

Taylor

Cultivate

With a sudden push of bright blue skies and the pungent scent of pear tree blossoms in the air, spring has officially arrived. I love watching seasons transition. There is something, maybe slightly cliché, about the promise of a new day, hope literally springing forth from the ground in the form of a tiny little resilient bloom that takes my breath away. In all this beauty and glory, there are moments to be constantly celebrating. An official first day of spring brings the taste of strawberries in season, being able to play outside in fresh grass, the knowledge that Easter is coming again, and sight of beautiful flowers decorating the earth.

But, if I’m honest, there are moments during this season that I pity the flowers. All they want to do is bloom, and yet sometimes a sudden rush of cold refuses to allow it. March can be a strange month, allowing for all this eternal promise of new things, and then deciding to surprise us with a little snow storm. Gray light transforms the sky and all we can focus on is the darkness that seems to envelop everything, returning us to winter once again. Yesterday, I watched flakes slowly drift past and exhaust visibly pouring into the air from cars. Children pulled up bright hoods over their ears in an attempt to stay warm, all while I watched from my indoor shelter, bringing hot coffee to my lips. Where are spring and hope and fresh blooms in these moments? I craved the sunshine, and I couldn’t help but shiver as my eyes met the sight of cold everywhere.

I mentioned in my most recent blog post that I am quickly approaching a personal season of transition and change. While it would be the easiest thing to tell you that I view this as a personal “spring” for myself, that would be a lie. Friends, I have moments where I feel like a flower in the middle of a sudden snow storm in March, choking and trying to seek out warmth in every possible way. There are moments when I focus on my limitations and inadequacies and anxiety about the future. It freezes my judgement and haunts me most when I am at my weakest point. At times, it’s as though I am just a passenger in a car I can’t control, with no destination in mind—trapped and filled with fear when all I want to do is be outside, on my own two feet, and know exactly which road to take.

Change is hard. Transition is difficult. My life has been crying out for a roadmap, some sort of GPS system to just show me the way. And I’ll admit, sometimes I pray to God to just give me a sign. If he could only tell me where I should go, what to do with my life, maybe that would make driving this car easier. My words usually formulate in the request of visible choices, some sort of flashing road sign, complete with bright orange cones, that says “YES, OVER HERE” and “THIS WAY, TAYLOR”. Instead of praying for peace and patience during this time, I have prayed that the answer will fall directly in front of my eyes. At the very heart of who I am, I feel ashamed of these thoughts. Mostly, because at the heart of who I am, I understand that God does not always work in obvious ways. And this limited, inadequate, anxious control freak that I try to keep hidden from the world has a very hard time understanding that notion.

Lately, I have been fixated on the word “cultivate”. I see it everywhere. Maybe it is the season of spring in my own life that has the notion catching my eye. The very definition from Merriam-Webster is the ability “to grow or raise under conditions you can control”. When I first was thinking about this post, I really loved the last part of that definition, the idea of control. But when I think of the greatest gardeners or farmers that I know and love, they have a deep, almost spiritual connection to God and the earth. They understand that things aren’t always in our control. There are years of bountiful production, when we all smile up to the sky and thank God for the rain. And then there are years of drought, when ponds dry up and dust flies up into the air for weeks. Sometimes, you just have to know with faith in your heart that things are going to happen and that there is a plan, a roadmap, that we may never have access to. It may take going through years of good rains or years of drought. But God is always there, and I’m ready to understand that notion and just let go.

Only by darkness can we see the light. Only by Christ’s death on the cross are we saved. Only by a moment of suffering are we promised a life of eternity. Only by surviving a winter can we witness the most beautiful blooms. After all, my favorite flowers are those that come from being resilient over time, ones that can still bloom despite a sudden, unexpected moment of snow.

This is my story. This is my song.

I will allow God to cultivate in me a spirit that is peaceful and patient. This is where I am in life. And I vow to use every precious moment, every second, and not waste it. How blessed am I to have a good and loving God with great plans for my body, heart, and soul! And I know He’s there. And I know He’s listening, and even though I don’t see his roadmap for me, I am deeply excited to let it unfold in due time.

While I know that my times recently have been filled with a few snow storms here and there, I have realized that nearly everyone struggles through these as well. If your heart is anxious, if you worry for your future, or if you face moments of doubt, my hope is that you can find a sense of calm. Recently, I have discovered the author Shauna Niequist. Never have I connected to an author on such a deeply spiritual level. Her words from her books Bittersweet and Cold Tangerines have truly inspired me to question myself and understand that my fears of change are completely normal. I highly recommend that you consider picking up one of her books which are filled with short essays and snapshots of everyday life, celebrating God in the sun and snowstorms. Her quote below is a loving reminder to focus on the time, be willing to let go, and seek out resilient blooms within our own selves.

“I believe that if we cultivate a true attention, a deep ability to see what has been there all along, we will find worlds within us and between us, dreams and stories and memories spilling over. The nuances and shades and secrets and intimations of love and friendship and marriage and parenting are action-packed and multicolored, if you know where to look.” – Shauna Niequist (Cold Tangerines, 17)

So, I am focusing on these moments. I am letting go. This is my story. This is my song. I will find blooms in the snow storms, and I hope you will, too.

Bloom

Cheers,

Taylor