If the first day of the Ancient Christianity and African Americans conference was coming home, the second day was taking off my shoes(literally) and getting comfortable. Friday was an incredibly long day, with activities until 10:00 pm with no breaks. The organizers had Saturday similarly packed, but after Friday, they relaxed the schedule and allowed some down time to participants. God knows we all need down time.
It surprises me how deeply my Godmother, Mother Nicole and I love each other. Last year, we were not able to spend much time together at all. All my interactions with her were a bit shy and tentative. We shared many emails, and even a phone call, but I remained a little distant. It's my way, mostly. I love and I give a lot of myself, but face to face I often pull back. Sometimes I give so much writing that I feel a bit naked when I'm with people. It's then that I want to cover. I'm an extroverted introvert, if you can imagine that.
Saturday, the sessions were great. Fr. Perdomo, a Latino priest gave us wonderful revelations of the work of God in the Orthodox church in his growing cultural community. It's so encouraging, this old, ancient church, yawning, stretching, and waking to catch afire a new generation. There was so much good that weekend. Iconography workshops, revisiting the understanding that each human being is an icon, made in the image of God. We really are the most holy and sacred of icons, but we don't treat each other like that do we? Lord, have mercy.
I got to share a wonderful meal with my daughter Abbie, her new pal Veronica, Cecilia, Mother Nicole and my mother-in-law. Later, Mother Nicole and I walked and I realized like me she doesn't like shoes. I would find she and I are alike in many ways--a gift from God.
I told you that as the conference closed that Saturday I shared some very painful things about my life. Not only was that bothering me, but all that day I felt a pervasive sense that everyone there was better than I. More holy. More spiritual. Had fewer dead monkey babies to haul around. The woman especially. They were all so simple and modest. I felt, in my shape empasizing tunic and palazzo pants that I was dressed like the whore of Babylon by comparison. No one made me feel that way, but I couldn't seem to shake the feeling that I was "other" than them. I wanted to get pink and platinum blonde dreadlock extensions. I wore all seven of my earrings. I had my nose stud in.
Most of the time, I think it's best to be exactly who I am, but then I get around such good people, and feel like a red, blinking, screaming siren going off. I felt very conflicted, and as the vendors were breaking down, and the people were saying goodbye, I sat for a last, lingering talk with my beloved Godmother.
Oh, if I only had words to describe the love for me that shines in her sparkling green eyes. I sat, heavy and worn in my chair, and told her how I felt, and she told me of how when she became Orthodox she had orange hair chopped off on one side. She said she wore leather mini's and fishnets, while the women around here wore, and she cringed a bit, "these blue jumpers." I cringed, too. Honest to God I'd die a slow and painful death in a jean jumper dress. Not that they're not lovely on the women who love them. They'd simply kill me, and Mother Nicole apparently.
I started to cry, because I told her I didn't want to wear jumpers I want earrings and color and matching is optional. I want to live a big, juicy life, and I'd missed being beautiful when I was young, and dear God, I want to be beautiful now, because this may be as good as it gets. She cried too, and she spoke the words God had so tenderly been ministering to me: "The only thing required of you is to be yourself."
Isn't that liberating?
We ended the evening with laughter, and embraces, and blessings, and honest to God, I wish I didn't have to leave her. She understands me so well. She knows me so well. I marvel that me, the "black revolutionary", who went to the conference last year looking for a "black woman" Godmother, was given the short, white nun with that bit of wildness about her, who'd empathize with my journey because she shared it. I am not worthy of such a gift. God gave her to me anyway.
I'm learning each day to be this me that God created. And it's a challenge. There are many false Claudia's falling away as I grow into the new Claudia Mair. It is an adventure in God. I thought turning forty was the bomb! This is grace on a whole new level for me.
This week the prospect of going to the CBA IRCS convention has truly traumatized me. I kept thinking, Oh no, I'm going to land on planet Jesus people, only they won't be the hippie Jesus People I'd blend right in with. They are going to be the nice people who will read "wonderbra" on the first page of my novel and ban me from their stores forever. I could see the judgement and disdain before I even arrived. Wednesday night I yelled in agony, "I'm not going!"
But Jesus was so kind. He led me to the right stores, to the sales racks were I found clothing that was "me" that I'd feel good, and lovely in, and not some imitation of me I could scarcely recognize. Most of the items I found for 5 or 6 dollars. Jesus knew my money wasn't quite available. And he was good to me and adorned me well.
Tonight, I am dressed in my hot pink shell with black matching pants. I have a studded belt around what use to be my waist when I was a tinier lass. I have all seven earrings in, and a tiny, silver heart nose stud. I wear the rings of my earthly beloved on my left hand, and the ring of my Heavenly Beloved that says, "I am my beloved's, my beloved is mine," on my right. The first person I will embrace when I arrive in Denver is my agent, who teased, "Can we get any more earrings???" I will meet my sweet sissy, Paula, and we will spend the day giggling like girls and talking about Jesus like He's our sweet crush. I will meet and sit at the table at the Christy Awards with some of my favorite people in the whole world. People who love me for me. People who believed in my writing when I never thought I had a chance in CBA, and I will bask in their love and give them my own without reservation. And when Donna announces me as a new author, I will stand in my little black dress, with the pearls with the scull and crossbones at the bottom (Ha! I couldn't resist. I'm a mystery writer) and I'll just be Claudia Mair. Simply that. And Jesus loves Him some Claudia Mair. And Jesus loves you, too, just as you are. You don't have to clean up to come to Him.
I believe it was St. Francis De Sales who said, "Be who you are, and be that perfectly well." Now that I can do by His grace. Isn't that what Jesus wants for all of us? Imagine the gifts that would flood the world if we all chucked our masks, said the Jesus prayer,"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner," and lived for Him as best we could, fearlessly.
Say a prayer for me as I face the public for the first time. I'm taking Jesus with me. I'll be living in Him while I'm away.
Much love, and thanks for hanging in there for this long post.
P.S. Murder, Mayhem, and a Fine Man is shipping from Amazon! Yay!!!!!!! I'm an author! Thank you, Jesus!
Thanks, everybody for your support, and hey, if you're at CBA, stop and see me at the NavPress booth Monday, July 10 from 3:00-4:30 pm. And if you're in Ann Arbor August 12, I'll be signing at Barnes and Noble on Wasthenaw.
I can't believe it!
Okay, I can, and it's so awesome. I'm so grateful.
Okay, I gotta go catch my plane. I love ya! See y'all when I get back. Pray for me, okay?