bench cropped

I don’t know if you know that I read a Christian blogger and writer named Emily Freeman. I’ve read her for a long time, maybe years. She is a gorgeous, soul-feeding kind of writer. Her pictures are always pretty, and when I stop by her site I always leave a little more heart-full than when I came.

But you wouldn’t know that, would you? I have never once linked her work here. I have never mentioned her. I’ve never commented on her blog. I only just started following her on Twitter.

Y’all. I am learning something right this minute. Pay attention. It’s not one of those easy, check it off a box kind of lessons. It’s a deeper, more vulnerable thing, like Eustace when he gets his dragon skin peeled off by Aslan’s claws.

Emily spoke twice at the Faith and Culture Writer’s Conference. She spoke about providing a welcome with her writing, a place for conversation, where two people could meet. She spoke about making a bench. I sat in my ergonomic plastic chair and thought about the kind of welcome she has offered to me, as one of her readers. And about the way I have responded.

Here’s the thing about Emily. She’s pretty big. In her circles. Which are more in the center of the Christian road than mine. She’s got a little blue check mark on Twitter. I look at her — at her speaking circuit, her writing, her connections — and I see “insider.” I see “popular girl.” I see sweet and charming and inoffensive and successful.

I see the kind of person who doesn’t want to be friends with a girl like me.

I have never made an overture to connect with Emily Freeman, even in these two and a half years of being a blogger and reading her stuff. I have never bothered to show her my face, let alone gift her with my wisdom or my true things. I have already decided for her, that she wouldn’t like me. Before she ever had a chance to decide for herself.

When I stumbled into her in an empty cafeteria, I still probably wouldn’t have shown myself, except that she was deep in conversation with a mutual friend. I still probably wouldn’t have told her anything about my heart, or my writing, or my passion for this canyon ministry, except she asked.

I sat on a real life bench with Emily Freeman, in that empty cafeteria, and when she cheered for me, and befriended me, it filled my heart and broke it at the same time. Because I realized that I don’t give the popular girls much credit. Someone gets past a certain number of followers and I don’t trust them anymore.

I’m sorry. 

Some of you all who are wounded in different ways are not surprised that Emily Freeman actually saw me. Or that she was genuinely interested in what I do. Some of you who don’t have the “other yourself before somebody others you first” wound won’t be surprised that she totally got me, right away.

That’s just not the country I’m coming from.

But I am learning something right now. Right this minute. I am learning that shutting people out is a safety thing, that I do for selfish reasons, and that it isn’t actually part of my canyon ministry. I am learning that although I am called to be generous with the marginalized I am called to be generous with the center, too. Even attractive, suburban Christians. Even the ones whose families are all in ministry. Even the ones who live bucolic lives. And I’m getting my dragon skin ripped off because I have to admit how hard this is for me.

The next day I was processing with my friend Cara Strickland in a hotel room, when we stumbled head first into a thin place. I was telling the story of the movie Spirited Away, which is about this little girl who is moving, and she’s afraid that she won’t be able to make friends in her new school.

But then she falls into this terrifying world where she is the only human and everyone else is spirit, or monster, and every single encounter is a risk. Somehow she keeps showing up, with her whole heart, even in this fantastical, strange world. She keeps seeing the spirits as precious, and important, and she does small acts of kindness for them, because that’s what you do when you’re holding someone’s soul in your hand. And by the end of the adventure all those spirits show up for her in return. They help her, and even save her, because they have become her true, heart friends. After all that she isn’t so scared of going to a new school anymore.

When I finished telling the story, Cara and I were both crying.

The thing is, it really is kind of like that. It’s kind of like that for all of us, across our different wounds. For introverts just to be with people at all, or for extroverts to risk the deeper realms. It can feel like you’re the only human, and everybody else is spirit or monster…or just terrifyingly undefined.

So then we make up all these rules, and walls, and categories. I’ll hang out with the marginalized and the rabble-rousers because those are MY people. Emily Freeman can hang out with the bucolic, attractive, popular Christians because those are HER people. Even in the same breath that I talk about tearing down walls, I’m also making them.

I’m sorry.

I’m learning something, y’all. Right this minute. I’m coming around my circle again, but this is different. I’m going without a layer of my dragon skin. Which is painful, but also wildly, beautifully free.

If you want to sit on a bench with Emily Freeman, she’s right here.