Friends, this is the first real Tenderfierce Portrait. Last week I shared a self portrait and that feels quite different than a portrait made alongside another person. At least to me it does.
Here’s a little reminder about what we’re doing: in a Tenderfierce Portrait, I aim to notice and uplift a tenderfierce moment or season in the life of an individual. I’ve welcomed a person to share a tenderfierce story. We met, made photos and shared words and I’ve written the piece that follows. As church family, I welcome you into listening and seeing. It’s a powerful thing to witness and be witnessed in a tenderfierce time. If you would like to join the conversation, please type in a comment or connect with the UCUCC office for contact information for Adrien or myself (firstname.lastname@example.org). Likewise, if you would like to share your tenderfierce moment/season/story, please reach out to me through the UCUCC office (email@example.com) or leave a comment below.
Today, I have the joy of introducing my friend Adrien. Adrien and I have been friends a good while, since her son and my oldest daughter were in kindergarten together. Perhaps because I do the work that I do, I share my faith but only very gently. I mean, I always speak using “I-statements” and I invite, but only in a quiet, respectful way, without expectation. It’s hard to explain but if you know me, you know. I began inviting Adrien to come to UCUCC some years ago. Adrien joined me at an 11pm Christmas Eve service several years ago. When we walked out of the sanctuary, it was into a world twinkling with freshly fallen snow. Though that experience was truly magical, I believe it was time, the “virtual church” of the pandemic, and our continued conversations about faith that have allowed for the slow build up of relationship that Adrien needed.
Adrien is married to Brandon and together they have a son, Isaac. Isaac is in the sixth grade and joined the UCUCC youth group this fall. Adrien and Isaac decorated their trunk for the Halloween event this year, they’ve served at Teen Feed, and participated in and led worship.
I’ve only been in Adrien’s backyard one or two other times. Her family has a little house in Northwest Seattle. Adrien cares a great deal about her garden and the animals and plants that make their home with her and her family. I dare say it’s one of her spiritual practices. Adrien shares that tending her garden has connected her to her mom and to her friends, especially during this time of disconnection brought on by the pandemic. Today, she shows me the basin where she and Brandon have been providing water for wildlife. It’s carefully sheltered by a little bush, still holding onto a few golden leaves. It looks more like a tiny pond, magically free from ice, than just a pot of water put out for the birds. There’s fresh seed and suet in the feeders too.
While we talk, a little teensy bird comes close to our feet. Later, squirrels enjoy their fill.
In the back yard there are a couple of mirrors around, Issac’s little playhouse, a slack line, many little trees in the shelter of a couple of big Douglas firs, and a beautifully weathered blue shed. We talk near the shed/garage (which I have decided is a tiny barn) and Adrien shares her tenderfierce season.
Because we know each other well, we can speak in the shorthand of friendship. I almost don’t have to ask what she wants to talk about. Adrien shares about the tenderfierceness that was born the moment she became a parent. She shares about the ways her protectiveness blossomed and grew alongside her son. Though she shared moments of exclusion and hurt, that wasn’t her main focus.
In fact, Adrien’s tears didn’t begin to fall until she talked about the welcoming she has experienced at UCUCC. “Here’s what it is”, she said. Adrien held her hands out, cupped with fingers gently touching, as if making space for something sacred to land. There was something of awe as she began to describe what it’s like to open to welcome. Adrien shared about the long years of waiting and wondering about finding, not a faith community per se, but a safe place to be her whole self. A place where her son and her husband could be their whole selves too. Adrien shared how her doubts were in conversation with her protectiveness; how the doubts had always been too big to soothe the protectiveness away.
We talked about the difference between being safe in a community and being in a community where nothing bad ever happens. We shared about repair and forgiveness and the increasing importance of having trustworthy adults around as our tweens take some first independent steps. We shared the knowledge that our children will get hurt and that the beloved community will be around to model various paths towards healing. The beloved community will be there to celebrate many diverse ways to be a grown up, and travel alongside our children as they get there. The beloved community will be there to challenge our young people towards greater compassion, the shifting of privilege and seeking of racial, environmental, disability and LGBTQ+ justice. The beloved community will be there to receive the anger and joy and creativity of its young people as they nudge us all towards justice. Tearfully we both held the hope that maybe we won’t be alone staring at the wonder of our children, but have a whole community to do that with us.
Later, we circled back to the gesture of her hands. I asked her to talk more about it. Adrien described her surprise to find something like a crystal there, something entirely made of light, that precious and rare. As she held this sacred thing close to her heart, I challenged her to make a position towards which she wanted to move. Adrien turned her face and her cupped hands towards the sky. Hands tentatively outstretched, she smiled with her eyes closed. I reflected back that she seemed happy. Adrien looked at me, proving that there is always mystery in the soul of another and said, “It’s so hard. It’s so hard to open up to it, even when I can see what might be right there.”