Sunday, August 25, 2013

Just Call Me Sarah "All Heart" Wells

Oh no.

That's what I thought to myself as the clock ticked closer to the cut-off point of a clip from Jerry Maguire, this morning's edition of the At The Movies series at our church, seconds closer to when I had set the video up to automatically shut off, right before Cuba Gooding, Jr. announces, "I'm all heart..." and then drops a giant M-Fer.  Oh no, I thought to myself, what if the DVD doesn't stop at that 40-second mark?  What if, even though I tested this--twice--to make sure it would shut off at just the right moment, what if it keeps playing?!  Oh no.

There were five clips from Jerry Maguire this morning, and our pastor had jotted down, to the second, when the clips should stop and start.  We rehearsed together the importance of the DVD times for each clip before service started.  ProPresenter makes it easy to do this.  All you do is set the time it is supposed to begin, and set the time that it is supposed to end.  Done.  No problem.

But.  What if this time the DVD keeps playing? That would be horrible!  The college students were back for the first Sunday since May.  The audience below was filled with regulars and lots of new visitors, "It's so great to see so many new faces today!" said one of the associate pastors during announcements, "Welcome to 5 Stones!"  What if the DVD keeps playing, and the whole church watches the end of this scene?  

And so I positioned the mouse arrow over the play/pause button and prepared myself to stop the DVD just in case we hit the 40-second mark and it kept playing.  We hit the 40-second mark.  I panicked.  I clicked the play/pause button.  It kept playing.  "No heart?!" Cuba Gooding, Jr. said. OH NO.

"No heart?!" Cuba Gooding, Jr., said, "I'm ALL HEART m*f*!"

EEEEEEEEEEEKK!  I shrieked, frantically clicking the play/pause button, the stop button, any button to make it stop, make it stop, JUST MAKE IT STOP!  And then it was over, the church collectively gasping and laughing, the pastor laughing and apologizing and asking for forgiveness and the congregation granting it, like they do because we have a rockin' merciful grace-filled congregation. From the balcony behind my computer screen I yelled down, I am so sorry. 

There are only a couple of times I can recall being utterly and completely mortified.  There was the time in middle school when I tripped over my own feet going up the stairs with two cheerleader/uber-popular girls behind me and let out a GEEZ! as if they had caused me to stumble, and they laughed and said, "What?! We didn't do anything!"  And at a high school dance camp, after rehearsing all week our team's routine and lecturing, as an officer, the whole group about the timing of the last sequence, I was the only one who shot out with a toe touch while everyone else stayed crouched down, and then I swore on the way off the stage--possibly costing us our showmanship trophy, or team spirit trophy, or some other acknowledgement of positive behavior.  

This is particularly amusing to me now because I am bad at swearing.  Meaning, I don't do it naturally.  I am not a good swearer.  I am funny when I even try, too formal, too stilted, awkward.  They just don't roll off my tongue the way they do for other people.  

So.  You can imagine my horror as a church with pews filled with people listened to Cuba Gooding, Jr., deliver a pronounced and passionate F-bomb.  The mother of all F-bombs, even.

Humiliation burned on my cheeks.  I really, really hate screwing up, privately or publicly, consciously or unconsciously.  My entire body hates it, and as our pastor graciously proceeded through the rest of the sermon (a really great one, mind you), my hands shook, adrenaline pumping, head shaking, tear ducts leaking impulsively.  omg.  That just happened.  omg.  Somehow I managed to queue up the other movie clips and slides for the sermon and shake it off.  Somehow.  And after it was over, thank God, over, our laid back church embraced me with laughter and grace.

It was and continues to be hard for me to receive grace.  I want the A, I want more than good, more than good enough, more than great; I want perfect.  I expect perfect from myself.  Not from others, no, I totally get that we're not perfect and everyone messes up and blah blah blah, yes, other people, but not me.  And so in high school when confronted with the concept of grace and forgiveness through Christ for the murderer and minor-vice-committer both, I said, No. I spat, No way.  I wanted condemnation for the sinner and crowns for me.  I've earned it.

And then I started to pay attention to my daily behavior.  Every time I tried not to fall short, it happened.  Oh no.  I was not perfect.  And it happened every single day!  Oh NO.  I fell short all of the time.  This was really disturbing to me.  How could I be good enough for God?  I failed again and again, I would always fail, now that I've failed there's no HOPE of ever being perfect.  And then, in my freshman year of college, I thought I might be pregnant.  I might have been pregnant, for all I know, and maybe miscarried, given my record of miscarriages now.  I don't know.  

Laughter and grace.  Christ is all about grace, and I suspect he also laughs. The opposite of grace and laughter is condemnation.  Frowny face.  When I felt like I was surely condemned, life ruined, career trajectory altered forever because of what I had done as a freshman in college, what I received instead was love. Mercy. Grace.

But still.  "No heart?! I'm all heart!"  God, help me.  In some churches, you might expect lightning bolts.  In mine, laughter and grace.  I serve a great, big, amused Lord of the universe, and my church is his joyful, caring, graceful and sometimes embarrassing bride, but wow, she's just beautiful, isn't she?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Well, Hello There

Would ya look at that?  It's been a month.  The MFA summer residency was here and then gone, those two weeks that last two months and then feel like just days once it's over.  I think it might have been the smoothest residency we've run since 2007, which is saying something, since I was also in class this time.  It was an extremely productive and inspiring two weeks, to say the least.  And then, I hopped on a jet plane to North Carolina to meet my lovely family for a week of vacation.

Oh, sweet, sweet vacation.  How I miss you.

While I was on vacation, I devoured The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby and The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard... and also crab cake sandwiches. I've wanted to read Beard's collection of essays since I read "The Fourth State of Matter" in Tell It Slant last semester, and I was not disappointed. The trouble is that now I'm feeling that intimidation that comes from reading really, really good writing--will anything I write measure up? Ever? I'm tempted to write everything in present tense now, though, so watch out.

I also started to read Madeleine L'Engle's Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. I read a book of hers about her 40-year-long marriage over the summer, and I gathered that probably Madeleine and I would be BFF's. I was right. I struggle to write about faith, mostly out of fear that I will come across too sentimental, too didactic, or too cliche, and that fear is extremely stifling. I tend to stare at my screen and then sigh dramatically before typing "God." In L'Engle, I've found a kindred spirit, willing to speak honestly and frankly about faith and doubt, love and art. I'm really enjoying this book.

While I was on vacation last week, I had a lot more time to write and read than I usually do, and it was great to take a more focused look at the work. I finished a first draft of an essay about camping that I'm excited about, and I played around with some revisions to other essays.  But most of the time, I did this:

Which is exactly how I hope to spend heaven-- on a beach, looking for shark's teeth, chasing children through the incoming tide.