something I found and it’s beautiful
The humiliation that you and I carry and that most people refuse to accept is that we humans are a mass of contradictions. We are first of all a blessing, but everyone knows we are also a mixed blessing. Some called this quality of human existence the state of “original sin,” a term and doctrine that many do not like. Maybe original “shame” would have described it better. All I know is that most humans have a sense of being inadequate or even broken. Yet shame is inferiority projected by others. It is never inherent.
For most humans, it often feels like there is a tragic flaw somewhere near our core… And who of us have not had days when we feel worthless and miserable? We do all we can to cover it up or overcome it.
where I see this in the bible: romans 7:15, 24
I don’t understand my own behavior—I don’t do what I want to do; instead I do the very thing I hate. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?
how it relates to the conversation
When she’s not working in ministry, Katelyn is working on her new project, an Instagram feed called @loveletterwithkate. People can DM her or email her a request for a love letter for themselves or a loved one. She writes it and sends it to them—for free, of course. She does it because she loves to write and wants to bring some light into the world. So, how did I make this sparkly human being who I think is part unicorn and sneezes stars, cry uncontrollably one day? Well, like Richard Rohr wrote, we’re all mixed blessings. We’re equal parts grace and shame. We’re gifted flaws. Like the Apostle Paul, I often don’t understand my own behavior and I do the very thing I hate. I wish I could say that I’m as poised and curated as my Instagram feed. But, unlike posts, I bleed blood. Some days I walk around battered and bruised. Some days I feel other and different. When I feel this way, it’s easy to make unicorns cry.
katelyn and me: the conversation
So, you are how old?
Twenty years old.
Twenty years old and that just makes me squeal with delight because first of all I feel incredibly cool to have a twenty year old who has come over to have a conversation and hangout with me. It makes me feel like I’m not so old and dusty yet.
So, Katelyn, one of the sweetest moments I had with you was when I was at work one day and you came out of nowhere and said, “Hey, I just wanted you to know, I wouldn’t mind getting to know Nadia better. I feel like I can relate to some of the things that she might be feeling right now.”
That made me want to cry and I think I probably did later cry. Because I don’t think you know this, but there’s this fear as an African American mom, when your kid is in an environment where no one looks like her. You feel one of two things is gonna happen: 1) People are only going to see her as the black girl and only invite her into things to play that role; 2) People are not going to see her at all. They’re just going to dismiss her. So, when you said that to me, I melted. It was for me, Oh my goodness, she saw my kid! She saw my beautiful daughter who is the most precious thing on this planet to me. It was such a gift.
So, that was so a tender sweet moment. But then, one of our worse moments—was probably one of the worst days that I’ve had in a long time.
We were in a staff meeting and our pastor asked for someone to read a passage of scripture out loud. You volunteered. As you were reading, you weren’t sure about some of the names because, let’s face it, they’re names from a different time and language. Someone suggested that you just skip over them or replace the names with more familiar ones for the sake of getting on with the meeting. And, I took great offense and had this soapbox moment—but, not in a good way. I was on the verge of tears, interrupted you and said, “Listen, we know how to say quinoa and acaia. We manage to learn how to pronounce the things that work for us in our circle. How come we can’t learn to pronounce these names?” I had a valid point. But, it was a rant—totally a rant. And my words really crushed you. And, I felt terrible the moment that I saw how my words affected you. The whole rest of the meeting was super awkward for the entire room. So much so, that during the rest of the meeting, I was planning how I was going to escape. I was planning to leave and go home without looking at anyone or talking to anyone. But I felt God saying in my heart, “You have to stay in it.”
So I stayed, and you and I got to talk later that day. Do you mind sharing that part of the story?
Yeah, so… I struggle in many ways with anxiety. It’s not something that I talk about because I’ve had a hard time finding a way to talk about it. But anxiety gets you in the weirdest ways and in ways that are not always obvious. One of those ways for me is reading out loud in front of a roomful of people. I get thoughts like “You’re stupid. People are gonna think you’re dumb if you mess up.” And, I also hate awkward silences too, so…
…when no one else volunteered to read….
I was like, “Okay. Whatever. I’ll do it.” But, when I got to the part of the passage with those names I was just like, “I can’t even say them!” I was just embarrassed. In my head, it was easier to move on rather than sit in that embarrassment and figure it out.
Of course, in retrospect—I can see all of that. I think most of us don’t sit and try to have a phonetics lesson right there while we’re reading the Bible in a roomful of people. But, let’s go on. The truth was that I was upset because of something that happened over the weekend. I was responding really to that. Over the weekend, Nadia shared with me some racist things and slurs that had been said to her by white, Christian classmates at her old school. I was feeling very vulnerable because my family and I were processing and struggling with those things all day Saturday. It hit me so hard that I took Sunday off from the world.
By the time Tuesday and our staff meeting rolled around, I thought I was okay—not great but okay. Then, the name thing happened and it triggered all those vulnerable feelings from the weekend. I was like, “Is this what happens when white people meet little kids who are named Laquanda or Lakeisha or whatever? Do they just whitewash their names?” So, there were a lot of feelings—my tenderness and your anxiety. And, this is how division happens. Each of us is carrying an experience that represents a small part of a whole picture. But, in the moment, we feel our experience is the whole picture.
Yeah. There’s an enemy that’s the opposite of light. It’s evil and creates division. It shows up in my anxiety. Then, it shows up in your wounds that were still fresh on your heart. It wants me to walk away embarrassed and you to go away hurt. There goes our relationship—and, probably unity within our staff.
Absolutely. It’s a tricky, sneaky thing.
I was sitting in that meeting, crying and frustrated with myself because I couldn’t. Stop. Crying. I was just a hot mess. It wasn’t that I was embarrassed—although sure that’s there too. But I was sad that I hurt you. I wasn’t thinking that skipping over those names could hurt anyone. And, that’s the hard part about being a human being. You’re gonna hurt people without meaning to.
Yeah. It was a day of hurting people because I didn’t know that for you to read out loud was a struggle. I was just so raw and upset in my emotions. I learned that day that I have to remember it’s not just my racial experience that’s forming a lot of what’s happening. Not to downplay my experience, but there are other things going on that I might not be aware of. For example, I’m super comfortable in a roomful of people or on a street corner reading the Bible. I didn’t volunteer because I’m always the one who reads or prays or comments. I’m super comfortable doing that. You are on the total opposite end of that spectrum due to the anxiety. Now, your experience doesn’t change the realness of my experience but it might help inform it. Would you share more about how your spiritual journey played into that day?
Well, going into college, I had a relationship with God but barely. It was hanging on by a thread. It wasn’t a foundational piece of my life by any means. So, going into college there was a complete absence of any kind of spiritual experience. I hit a rock bottom with some substance abuse and a really, unhealthy, toxic relationship. I burned bridges with my family. I told them that I didn’t want to be a part of whatever they had going on anymore. But, very quickly I realized that I couldn’t do it on my own. That’s when I had a real encounter with the Holy Spirit just kind of nudging me and saying, “You should go home now.”
I just felt this nudge. So, I texted my mom, “Hey, I know that you probably hate me. But, can you come pick me up?” And, she said, “Of course, where are you?” So, I came home. Because of her forgiveness and my family accepting me back, I really felt what it was to be fully loved and really seen.
Ever since then, I cannot get enough of the love. And, that’s what God is to me—love. So, ever since then it’s been a very messy, and by no means perfect journey of finding out what a relationship with Jesus looks like and how I can share that with other people and bring light into places where there is no light.
Was it years? Months? How long were you gone?
It was about 8 months total of being full-blown, living at the bottom, never going to class, just doing drugs constantly. Drinking constantly. Out constantly. With the new boy and in a bad, bad place—a really sad place. I was hurting. I’d say I was gone from my family and completely disconnected for probably about a month. So, not terribly long—but, when you’re a parent and it’s your child…
Yeah. I know. That would be an eternity for me. Looking back, do you think that your coming back was unconditional for them?
I think yes. But, without that encounter with God, I can’t imagine it. Because I was embarrassed and ashamed and there’s was so much in me that was like I can never go home. I’ve hurt them. I just felt so undeserving of love.
I think so often we feel like we can’t go back. We want to try to skip that step of going back and asking for forgiveness or going back and reconciling. But, there’s no way forward except to go through it. You can’t go around it.
I actually think it’s a beautiful picture of race in this country. Because, I do think there’s this fear of talking about whiteness, or what supremacy looks like, or what systems look like. But, I feel this is one of the reasons why it’s so hard to move forward. We haven’t taken the time to go back and admit Oh, we’ve been complicit in supremacy and oppression. It’s very hard to own that as a white person—especially in the church.
Why did you say yes to this invitation?
Well, I’ve told myself that I’m not going to avoid doing things because I’m scared of them—not to say that I didn’t want to do this. But, I did think, “Okay she’s going to be recording. It’s gonna be on the internet. What if I say something dumb? I don’t wanna hurt her again.” But that’s not a reason not to do something. I trust that this is gonna be good and beneficial. It’s about love and furthering our understanding so that we can love each other better.
The truth is that people will be divided over this conversation. Even though, I don’t ever aim to be purposely divisive in any way. My hope is that people will read it and say, “There’s someone who feels like I feel.” Or, in the case of your beautiful testimony, I’m gonna call my mom. It’s time to go home. I appreciate that you were willing to go there with me.
after thoughts and etc…
Dearest Katelyn, thank you for continuing the conversation. Thank you for not walking away when it got hard. (And, thanks for bringing cookies and cream cheesecake.) To read more about:
Katelyn’s Beautiful, Life-giving Instagram
You will want to run and hide. But do not run for cover. Stay in it. May you be courageous and empathetic.