I saw a picture of myself recently where bangs were sticking out the side of my head.
This infuriated me because I’ve been patiently and neurotically growing out these godforsaken bangs for almost a year. Half my scalp fell out 4 months post-partum (which no one warned me about, by the way), and my front hairs started growing back thin and whispy and buffant-like, 3 inches deep into my hairline. So, I was a total babe is what I’m saying.
In an attempt to exert control over these ridiculously uncontrollable circumstances, I asked the stylist to cut my bangs with an Audrey Hepburn pixie in mind, but I walked out of the salon with temple-to-temple micro-bangs like that goth-looking chick from NCIS. Now almost an entire year later, the bangs are crawling along at nose-length, but every so often I see these really short chunks of 2-inch new hair growth sticking out the side of my head laughing at me, and I’m like: WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, BANGS?
Just like my cracked iPhone in 2013, this whole situation is a great parallel for my life in 2017. These bangs growing out the side of my head despite every possible fix remind me that I am in control of almost nothing, and that I have been figuring out how to grow into new things mostly ungracefully.
Things I am not in control of: the fact that my baby has been hospitalized twice in one year despite my Grams thinking I could have prevented it by not sending her to daycare and/or not letting her lay on dirty floors. I can’t control that the living expenses in Chicago require me to work 3 days per week and that work requires childcare and that childcare exposes her to germs.
I couldn’t control the crack that appeared on my windshield last week from spreading across the entire windshield in, like, one hour on Christmas Day. I wasn’t in control of the driver that hit our parked car and left a big dent in the wheel well, and I can’t control that our apartment doesn’t come with parking and requires us to street park, leaving us vulnerable to windshield cracks and wheel-well dents. I’m not in charge of the aging process. I can’t control that the temp in my office is 85 degrees despite one-thousand calls to management and handymen-for-hire showing up in my office to ask me engineering questions about airflow because they’re not real sure how to fix it. And I can’t control the quarter-inch block of ice that covers our bathroom window or our closet door that falls off the track daily.
Another thing I can’t control? Other people.
2017 broke my heart, relationally.
It forced us into identity politics, and that’s so different from the ways in which I’ve moved throughout the world in the past. Parties or positions on the political spectrum have never been how I define myself or how I define others, because my passions and convictions have never been at odds with half the Church or half my family—and they’ve never pigeonholed me politically. But in 2016, we turned tribal, and in 2017 we installed it. And now, it all feels like a relational dumpster fire I can’t control.
Things I can control: I can look at the world—2017 America—the election—the church—and notice what’s happening. I can hold these happenings up to the light and compare them with characteristics I have learned about God, and with the New Testament, and with my silly passion for social and racial and global justice, and I can say with practical evaluation: Hey Church, something here is not right.
(I can say it irreverently sometimes, and with some humor, to make the whole mess more bearable, like with a reference to God rolling his eyes at humans, because honestly, humans are worthy of divine eye-rolls 9 out of 10 times as evidenced by the very first humans ever who ate the only thing on earth they weren’t allowed to eat because this creepy talking snake told them to, AMIRITE? Or with a reference to God drinking gin straight out of the cat dish when he’s stressed because C’MON THAT’S FUNNY, and because Anne Lamott said it first and she’s basically a saint for Jesus-loving people with crooked hearts. But it’s a joke, because obviously God doesn’t have a cat.)
In any case, what I can do is can say in my strongest, most sure voice: This is not the God I know. And I can walk away from the 2017 culturalificaton of Christianity if this is what it looks like. I can find a new word, and new language. I am in charge of how my faith is lived out on this earth and I’ll be held responsible for it one day. I can carry a huge tuning fork and ding it all over my heart (also, my brain) whenever I wonder about something. And I can continue to practice discernment.
But I’m not in charge of other people’s thoughts and feelings. I can’t control the fact that people I love might come to the conclusion that I’m self-righteous and speaking wrongly on behalf of God. I can’t control family members sending messages that J and I are not actually Christians, and that they’re praying for our lost souls. I can’t do anything about those people. These relational fractures are metaphorical 2-inch bangs sticking out the side of my head while I walk around in the world.
I can advocate day after day after day for the refugee population, and join a local task force, and share the documentaries I’ve seen and the stories of refugees I’ve worked with. Some people will call it rhetoric, and 50 people will unfriend and unfollow me. I’m not in control of any of that. That’s another chunk of 2-inch bangs sticking out the side of my head.
I can attend a march for a dozen personal and professional and moral reasons that have everything to do with protecting vulnerable populations including and beyond unborn babies—I can do this after lots of conversations with my faith community, and I can do it holding that big ole tuning fork dinging truth all up and down my Christian bones. And someone will say that I marched for the right to kill my baby. 200 more people will unfriend and unfollow. I can’t do anything about those people. That’s another section of 2-inch bangs going sideways.
I can use big words like “microaggression” to classify interchanges I observe after spending a ton of time over a span of years learning about these issues; I can recognize them as harmful, despite people who will, in their defense of status quo and white fragility, accuse me of going way overboard. I’m not in control of their responses to my personal conviction. More bangs popping out where hair used to be smooth.
I can stop using the same faith words the 2017 Evangelical church is using because they are disparaging my faith, and I can attend grassroots political action meetings with my husband and baby because we feel strongly about passing our values along to her even when they’re perceived as counter-cultural. Church people and old friends’ parents and members of my family will come to conclusions about my sanity. I can’t do anything about that. Another frantic 2-inch bang section sticking out the side.
I can write my sincerest truest truths right here on this page, and someone will say what I write is mean and ugly. I’m not in control of the ways in which people perceive me despite my best intentions. I have a whole section of rogue bangs called “mean and ugly” just hanging out up there.
On the whole, as I moved around the old world in new ways this past year, my convictions felt like relational liabilities, and all these patches of fallen-out-relationships in the shadows of personal and spiritual growth reflected poorly on my likeability—not unlike my guttural reaction to seeing those poked out bangs in every picture screaming: BE PRETTIER, SELF, my guttural reaction to these relational losses was: BE LIKEABLE, SELF.
My impulse is to shave my head and/or never go out in public. My impulse is to shut down the internet and/or never interact with anyone again.
But then I started thinking about where these bangs came from. My body produced a massive amount of hormones in order to grow a baby, and then the hormones allowed me to feed this baby for over a year with my own body. The bangs are not a liability. They are a reflection of my body’s strength and capability. A round of hormones pushed the old hair out, and a round of hormones ushered new growth in, and all these things morphed me from regular old me to a capable mother. My entire hair situation is evidence of an unbelievably cool biological phenomenon.
And so was my 2017: A bunch of old stuff had to fall out relationally to make way for this new spiritual and value-defining growth, and half of it is sticking out the side of my head right now, because that’s how new growth is—ungraceful, difficult to style, and a tiny bit awkward until you learn how to mold it. These strained and fractured relationships I’m not in control over are actually evidence of an unbelievably cool spiritual attunement.
My friend Kim told me a couple of months ago that I will not be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s okay. I wish this sentiment was printed on PAGE 1 of the instruction manual I never received on how to be a successful human on earth, because I felt so free when I heard it. Either that, or I wish I was the enneagram number that cared a little bit less about what other people thought of me.
In light of ALL THIS STUFF I just externally processed, I decided my word this year would be Bravery. Like, make sure my theological compass is pointing true north and double-down on the idea of bringing heaven to earth instead of scrapping this whole mess in favor of comfort and safety to one day to go to a heaven that’s somewhere else. (I don’t think that was ever the plan, by the way. On earth as it is in Heaven, right?) I would do this knowing that half my people would roll their eyes right off their heads and laugh at me and pray for my salvation and totally write me off.
But then I went to church yesterday morning, and the word for the year was Humility, which kind of seemed like it was in contrast to Bravery. Except that the speaker defined humility as doing the thing in question for the good of others instead of for your own personal gain. And I realized that bravery is doing the thing you know is right and true and faithful at the cost of your own personal gain, which in this case is perceived sanity and likeability ;) That makes bravery and humility complementary.
I have a mom-friend who begged her stylist to cut her bangs when they all first fell out and started growing back in, and he told her Absolutely not. He said that she would just have to wait it out, that it was part of the growing process.
2018: I have relational bald spots and tiny bangs sticking out of my head because my body and soul has outgrown something old and birthed something new, and I’m learning how to incorporate this new growth into the old world. I really feel like just shaving my head because of the awkward growth patterns. But bravery tells me to lean into it and trust the growing process while slowly learning to style it better.