Here are two things about the writer Sarah Bessey. One, her writing is so beautiful that reading it (in a blog or in a book) can give you this kind of ice-cream running down your throat feeling. The other is that her writing also changes you.
I think most everybody knows that I’m on Sarah’s launch team, for her second book Out of Sorts: Making Peace With an Evolving Faith. I read the book several weeks ago, but I’m a slow processor. I’m just now ready to talk about it. And, actually, even now, I’m coming at it slowly. I’m going to start by talking about a blog post.
This is just my opinion, but I think blogging remains Sarah’s best medium. She’s had ups and downs in her relationship with it, but she’s just so good at creating a short piece that wrecks you and heals you at the same time. She’s just so good at offering up her own life story/gospel story in ways that welcome and challenge simultaneously. You’d think you were eating spiritual ice cream, except you also can’t explain exactly why you’re sobbing.
She did this piece a week or so ago called The Sanitized Stories We Tell. It didn’t so much wreck the Internet as it wrecked a bunch of human beings who happen to use the Internet. What she had offered was this fiercely courageous rewriting of a story most of her fans have already heard — some of us several times — in which she gave birth to her second child unattended in a parking garage. And she had to be taken by paramedics to the hospital, leaving her husband in shock in the ambulance tail lights.
When this happened, her life was already somewhat public. And it certainly has been since. So much more public. How to deal with — or tell, or even admit — that this wasn’t just a funny story, and it wasn’t some way of proving her strength as a woman? It was trauma.
I think I’m not the only one who had my breath catch while I was reading her witness in that post. We all have our sanitized trauma. For me, it wasn’t an unattended birth. (Although I’ve had an experience with that, it was, I think, quite different from Sarah’s.) For me it was a bear.
The truth is I still can’t share with you, I’m sorry, what all actual feelings of fear and trauma I sustained, from a bear that never actually touched my children, and even more so from the pressure to use a gun I didn’t at that time even own.
This part is all my story, not Sarah’s. And this is a blog post about Sarah. But I want to be brave, like she is, and tell you that something like this could be true for me, too. The very same story that people always use to publicize interviews with me, and which became (not by my choice) the centerpiece of the Seeker Network mini-doc that a few hundred thousand people have watched (or stared at) is also a story that has wounded me. It is a story that kept me up nights, drove my decision to spend the following summer in a sort of miserable reactive space (in town), was related at a deep level to my decision to scrape off all my hair and stop playing the role of “attractive woman in the woods,” and probably kept me a year longer from obtaining the hunting license that I’m getting now.
It was miserable enough, to have to decide what to do about that darn bear, and how best to keep myself and my children safe. But it was all the more miserable to have to do that in a public sphere, where everybody had an opinion, and all those opinions were loaded by extremely passionate and opposing feelings, about guns, and off grid living, and wilderness, and also the confusing layers of envy, and admiration.
Plus the whole thing sets off all my triggers, born as I was to a mother in the public eye for some of these same reasons.
The funny thing (and kind of sad thing, really) is that right at that moment I was in the process of becoming comfortable with the idea of a firearm as a tool, in company with and integrated with my tremendous concern regarding firearms as weapons of murder, destruction and terror.
That’s such a sensitive place to be…that place of change. Especially, in a real world, where things are not all good or all bad, and the truth of pain and fear is more pervasive than anyone of us can hold.
I’m still changing. And I’m not sorry for the change. I’m not sorry that I took the risk, to learn. I’m not sorry that I entered the tender place of challenge. Even if that challenge was embodied in a toothed animal with claws. I am wounded, and I am changed. AND I am not sorry.
Which brings me to this book I came to tell you about, Out of Sorts.
If you’re wondering what this book is really about, please remember about the birth story, and the bear. Don’t think this is just a story about how a person changes in their faith, from more charismatic to less, or the other way around. Even if you’re reading it, don’t think it’s just about directional shift in your Christian faith life, or where you go to church. It’s about the PROCESS of shifting. It’s about that fragile place you walk, where you risk your faith in its entire, by moving the pillars that it stands on.
Change is messy, messy business. The moment when you say, I’m not sure. Or, this isn’t happening the way I thought it would. Or, I had a plan, but it turns that plan isn’t working. The fact is, this is very, very hard work. And everybody thinks somebody else should be doing that work. But when it lands on us, we buckle under the weight.
My testimony is that this ability to change, to shift, to gain new perspective and embrace new information, is gospel work. It makes room for other human beings. It makes room for Jesus. It makes our hearts and hands open to one another, in courage instead of fear. It builds the kingdom.
And I want to live in a world where there is room. Room even for taking your own skeleton apart and putting it back together. Or surviving while someone you love is doing this, because there’s something broken inside from old trauma and there’s no healing in the hiding. I want to live in the kind of world Sarah can imagine.
I may tell more about Out of Sorts after this. Since I got all squishy. didn’t get very much into details. But that’s plenty for today. Go see Sarah, if you don’t know her already. Or even if you do.
Signing off, with love, your friendly local bear-visit survivor.
P.S. Icymi, I’ve written about Sarah Bessey on this blog several times before. When I was just a newbie to blogging, I wrote a tribute to her (except whatever you would call a tribute to someone who isn’t dead): In Which I Tell You How Much I Love Sarah Bessey
When Jesus Feminist was just about to release, I wrote about jealousy and Jesus feminism. (Which, to the credit of the human race, has been a more popular post than ANY of my bear posts.) Some Words on Jealousy and Jesus Feminism
And as part of the Whole Mama thing, Sarah did a video interview with me! About prayer and sacred in the everyday. Whole Mama With Sarah Bessey