Sometimes We Can Walk Through the Mystery and Not Even Know It’s There: Thoughts on the Cluster That Is 2017

I have been moving at a frenetic pace, friends. Every minute of every day it seems, and I hardly have words to put to the whirlwind of desperate activity in my mind.

Two thousand seventeen has been a series of flash floods; powerful, destructive, and pulling everything off its foundation. I feel like I’ve spent December trying to distract myself from the devastation — QUICK, BETH! DO ALL THE THINGS! COOK! CLEAN! TRAVEL! MAKE CINNAMON BREAD, STAT! — and simultaneously picking through the rubble to see what’s left.

Refugee crisis = FLASH FLOOD.

Brexit = FLASH FLOOD. 

America elected the Lyingest President of All Time = FLASH FLOOD.

Trump, who brags about sexually assaulting women and bans immigrants during the largest displacement of vulnerable populations the world has ever known is mainly supported by Christian Evangelicals. FLASH FLOOD. 

Our umbrella group of churches has removed us from membership. FLASH FLOOD.

The camp our kids have always attended — the one at which Greg and I met and volunteered for 24 years — has notified those of our ilk (who are affirming and inclusive of our gender and sexual minority (GSM) neighbors) that we are no longer allowed to be in leadership roles. FLASH FLOOD.

And, of course, the knock-down, gut-punch, breathless realization that our GSM friends were systematically wounded by our churches and our camp all along, while we remained silent and were complicit in maintaining the power structure that caused such pain. FLASH FLOOD. And ugh. 

Flash floods, friends — calamity after calamity — are running down the hills of 2017 and crashing together at the bottom, the confluence too tumultuous to separate into streams that can can be crafted into concise explanations. Words become hard to shape from the madness, and my pace in trying to outrun the landslides keeps increasing. It’s like being manic, I suspect, this relentless frenzy I find so appealing lately. Like being on uppers, rushing from cooking to baking to cleaning to shopping to wrapping to cooking again. Running to events. Running up the stairs because I forgot my wallet. Running out the door to the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing, and the next. No time to rest or else 2017 will catch me, and I’ll be swept away. 

My right butt cheek hurts — it has for days, so if anyone can explain why and what to do about a butt injury other than, you know, rest, please do tell — and also my left bicep, the space between my shoulders, and the back of my skull. I should sit down. I should go to sleep at a reasonable time. I should stop watching zit popping videos until midnight. Instead, I pop ibuprofen like it’s candy and keep going as fast as my internal monologue which never stops. “THOSE 6 LOAVES OF CINNAMON BREAD ARE NOT GOING TO MAKE THEMSELVES, BETH. DO MORE.”

Do you get it, friends? Do you know what I’m saying? 

I mean, I realize I could blame “the Season.” There’s so much to do for Christmas, after all, but if I’m honest it’s not Christmas. Sadly, no. The pressure comes from me in my haste to busy myself out of feeling all that 2017 has had to offer. 

But I went to church this morning — our church that kept us when the other churches had no room for us in the inn — and I sat with the cool college humans, and I sang the Christmas songs, and I discovered I have something important to tell those of us who are the Frenzied Folks right now. I remembered something critical. 

We are in the middle of the mess. 
Yes. OBVIOUSLY.
Which also means we need to be on the lookout for the magic.

I FORGOT for a while. I forgot that there is ALWAYS magic in the mess. Even though we talk about it ALL THE TIME here, I forgot until Pastor Kim talked about the Mystery. 

Pastor Kim is our children’s pastor. She wore her grey dreads up in a yellow wrap this morning, and she was very beautiful and very brave as she taught her lesson to the kids on the big brown rug, with us, the host of larger humans, looking on. 

“Sometimes we can walk through a Mystery and not even know it’s there,” she said. “And this is a time of Mystery, because we are waiting for Jesus to be born, but Jesus is also already here.”

Now, remember, friends, that you can substitute “Love” for “Jesus” anytime we get too Jesusy up in here, and the point is the same. Love made flesh and dwelling among us. Love that challenges everything we thought we knew. Love that champions the lonely and distressed. Love that is fierce. Love that makes the weak strong. Love that never fails. 

Sometimes we can walk through a Mystery and not even know it’s there. And this is a time of Mystery, because we are waiting for Love to be born, but Love is also already here. 

THE WORLD IS SUCH A MESS RIGHT NOW. But there is magic in the mess, friends. There is magic here, too, for those of us on the lookout. There is magic, called Love, and even as we’re longing for it, not sure we can wait for it to be made REAL, to be BORN already and dwell among us, it’s also already here. And we get to make more.

The flash floods of 2017 took out some of our foundations, sure, but only the faulty ones. False worship of America. False adherence to Silence and Compliance. The false idol of Maintaining the Status Quo. But I’m digging through the rubble now, and I’m starting to hit bedrock; a firmer foundations than the former could ever be. Two thousand seventeen has given me the gift of sight. The cards are on the table. We know where folks stand. We know who’s in. We know who’s out. And we get to pick where and with whom we stand. We get to pick what we stand for. 

As for me and my people, we serve Love. That’s it. That’s the foundation. So we stand with the vulnerable. We make camp in the wreckage with the outcasts. We share whatever little we have as refugees of another life, even if all we have is our words. We are the Magic-Bringers, after all. The Agents of Love. The Justice Mongers. The Voice Amplifiers. We are the Hope-ers who sit in the darkness and believe the dawn is coming. We are the ones grasp the hands of our neighbors and whisper, “You don’t wait alone.”

This year has asked a lot of us. A LOT, a lot. And next year looks to bring its own share of the mess, so we must be very brave. But remember how the Christmas story started, with an angel saying, “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid. We have every reason to be, but we can defy fear anyway. We can embrace the promise of dawn after darkness. We can search for the magic in the mess. And we can stand together on Love…

…which I’m sending you now,

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
19 comments
  1. […] told him, “I Know What to Do Now.” And, “All Our Problems Are Solved!” And, “Even Though Our World Is Absurd and Sad Right Now, I HAVE A PLAN FOR UNLIMITED […]

  2. […] Murky. A maze of both Magic and Mess. And also, I don’t know what to make of Things Lately. Like 2017. I don’t know what to make of that. Cluster Fuck seems too mild, and Dumpster Fire is downright adorable now, from Good Old Days of […]

  3. Beth, it is odd that we do not know each other because I feel like I have been married to you for 42 years. The conversation you are having with your readers are exactly the ones my wife and I have been having since we have been together. Flash forward, it turns out ok, especially for people who have big hearts. Hearts that can handle the messes and notice the miracles because there will be plenty of both.

    Losing sleep to prepare for family events/holidays (3 kids either married or attached, grandchildren and big family that extends for miles) is standard. Doesn’t even raise an eyebrow and really, for you too that is really the least of it but there are tough days for sure.

    My elementary school counselor wife deals with life altering life messes daily. Kids coming to school unfed=flash flood, child physical or sexual abuse in the home=flash flood, alcoholic/drug addicted parents introducing children to their habits without thought=flash flood, kids without proper clothing to protect from cold=flash flood. Kids with a hundred different issues mainstreamed into classrooms that slow or block the learning of others=flash flood.

    You get the idea so I cut her a good deal of slack with the small stuff like the mini every day crises that come my way from her like water spots on the stainless dishwasher door=flash flood. A dish left in the sink over night=flash flood. Dust anywhere in the house=flash flood. A speck of ice or a snowflake on a walk or driveway=flash flood.

    But of the deluges she (and I) have faced over the years one of the most heart stopping and armor piercing was the struggle in our (Presbyterian) denomination to advance the standing of our LGBT children, family members and friends. It was at once a mess and a miracle and at once left us with scars and bigger hearts. It started for us 12 years ago and is a story to be told but not today.

    I love your voice and your language. Half assery is a favorite. Just wanted to say Hi and Happy New Year and let you know there are kindred spirits out here.

  4. Beautifully said. Thank you for saying this so eloquently.

    As a true believer in Magic, I believe that Magic is making change in the world through intention and action and love. I do believe this is exactly what we’re all doing, creating magic in this chaos which has to come first. Order didn’t come from nothing, it came from Chaos first, so that there can be nothing standing in the way of the new Creation. Blessed Be!

  5. Thanks for another elegant sharing, Beth. It wasn’t until not very long ago that I got a sense of what it felt like to live in America during World War II. Think of how it felt for the first years to watch a madman sweeping across Europe against precious little resistance, to suddenly transition from isolationism to full-on battle. Most people had a hard time feeling confident of ultimate victory; the unthinkable was looming in the near future for a very long time. And then came the Cold War and all the worrying that translated into construction of fallout shelters. And Vietnam…a growing hopelessness with a government bent on selling a false optimism while a generation of young men was decimated.

    Flash floods are not new, and they won’t stop happening. Fortunately, they don’t always hit as close to home as some have this year. The good news is that each one fades away at some point. Don’t give up hope. I know you won’t.

    About friends you disagree with: At some point, Grace and Love will restore relationships…maybe not all, and maybe not completely. I have devout friends with whom I strongly disagree on the topic of sexuality and gender, but remain friends. I hope some day I can have conversations with them that are as open and honest as some eye-opening cnversations I had with some gay acquaintances about 20 years ago. The issues I struggle with now are how to be accepting of folks who hold a different view and to be a true friend while being keenly aware of differences. It is a tough road, but a sane one.

    It will get better. Then you can prepare for the next flash flood.

  6. I guess I knew that this mess was always there. The mess in our nation, the mess in our church, the mess in our lives. My position as a cis-gender straight white male allowed me to only give it token acknowledgement. In this world, things–life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness–have always been a struggle for most people throughout most of history. And many of those people still believed, still fought, still hoped, still found joy.

    So, here’s a candle for hope. Not just a candle, but a resolve.

  7. Thank you for your beautiful piece of writing. I have had a rough few years and I often feel hopeless. You shone a little light of hope for me.

    As for the butt, the exercises given here are easier than changing the world:
    https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/sciatica/piriformis-muscle-stretch-and-physical-therapy
    Just the first exercise, the piriformis stretch, will probably help a lot. And you can do it while watching trashy DVDs – bonus!

  8. Yes, Beth. I, too, believe in the magic in the mess. You are part of that magic for our family. Sending lots of love back to you.

  9. When I was in seminary (late 1970’s, an exciting time to be a girl at theology school) one of the profs said this about angels. “Read the Bible; angles only show up where people need hope.”

    My sister-in-law, who was a therapist who worked with poor families until she died at 43 – Linda said, “When a family starts to tell their secrets, that’s when it gets unbelievably messy and hard. But the mess is the sign of secrets falling, which has to happen if there will be any healing at all.”

    You are a brave writer. Thank you for this, today.

    1. Argh. Angels – not angles. Though when I worked with people in the jail there was a guy with a neck tattoo in honor of someone he loved who had died. It said “Precious Angle”

    2. “When a family starts to tell their secrets, that’s when it gets unbelievably messy and hard. But the mess is the sign of secrets falling, which has to happen if there will be any healing at all.”

      Wow. Yes. Absolutely this. We have to tear down the old structures that no longer serve us, and it’s up to us to rebuild as something new and strong and beautiful, for everyone.

  10. I have never really understood the word ‘grace’, nor the expression ‘grace under pressure’. But I think 2017 is offering me the opportunity to finally get a grip on that word, that expression. I think maybe you exemplify it. I especially the lovely way you use Jesus and Magic in the same piece.

  11. Thank you. Timely and beautiful and much needed today.

  12. Beth this is probably very strange– to reply to your deep, thoughtful post by pulling out the one sentence about your “butt check” hurting– but I had that too! Found out the sciatic muscle was tensed/tight and needed stretching– a physical therapist showed me specific stretches to do and it really really helps 🙂 They’ve got some on youtube if you want to try it before calling a PT– but do try them– they help! And we all need that 🙂

  13. I’ve been feeling, and doing, much the same. But also feeling angry and stressed and like I want to go be alone for about two years. I’m hoping I start feeling the love soon.

  14. Can I just say, it’s a good thing I don’t live in your town because I’d be running right over to squeeze the stuffing out of you. Then you’d probably call the cops and tell them that a crazy lady read your blog and got all emotional and came to your house to kill you with gratitude hugs. Then I might have to explain how you sometimes scare me with how you seem to be able to pull a thread on the things in my heart and that it makes me feel a little bit less crazy to know there is someone who can feel those things and write about them. Then they might put me away and my poor children will miss their mother and my husband (maybe) will also miss me (but probably not as much)….. Or maybe that’s too strange…. No, I totally would not do that…

    I’ll just say… Thank you for this message. I too need to be reminded to look for the magic in this sometimes overwhelming mess. Have a very Merry Christmas!

  15. Thank you for this hopeful message Beth, thank you for sharing your gift of words with us and encouraging us to share THE Love and wait together. Waving in the dark, from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.

  16. Thank you for this. So much love.
    …and I think the pain in your butt could be your sciatic nerve.

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