by Dina Sleiman
Most of you know that last week I got to be on “staff” at a writers conference for the first time at Blue Ridge as an acquisitions editor for WhiteFire Publishing. What you might not know is that this was sort of a dream come true for me. I love to teach writing, but I’ve been hesitant to jump back into an actual teaching job because I write sporadically in big chunks, and I wasn’t sure I wanted my time scheduled that strictly. But writing conferences…that seemed perfect. Big chunk of teaching (or in this year’s case mentoring and having appointments) and back to a big chunk of writing. And of all the conferences out there, Blue Ridge is my personal favorite.
I went intending to do the best job possible in hopes of getting invited back in the future, possibly even to teach a class. I planned and prayed to be a blessing and encouragement to everyone who came to me for an appointment. I wanted to present the perfect balance of professional, friendly, and spiritual. So there I was on my first day of appointments trying to be all spiritual and blessy and all. Then as one woman stood up from an appointment and another slid into the chair to take her place, this other lady waiting to see the teacher beside me reached over and grabbed my arm and said…
“I have to ask you about your nose piercing!”
Great! I thought, this was not the spiritual, professional impression I wanted to give today. Then she proceeded to point to a girl beside her and say…
“That’s my teenage daughter. She wants her nose pierced, and she said, ‘Look, look, Mom. That lady has her nose pierced!”
Wonderful!!! Just perfect. I was definitely not getting invited back next year. In fact, I pondered if I would be packing my bags and heading home to Virginia Beach that night. My panic must have shown on my face because the mom quickly added…
“No, no. I like it. It’s really pretty. I wanted to ask where you got it. It’s very small and subtle.”
Whew! No packing required. So I told her as much as I could in ten or twenty seconds and tried to bless her, I suppose, with my vast wisdom on nose piercings. (Huh???) Then I had to get back to my scheduled appointment, which, Praise be to Jesus, was with a cool, tattooed forty-year-old and not a scandalized seventy-year-old conservative evangelical.
But I had to find the mom later and share with her more about my nose piercing. Because, believe it or not, there actually is a very spiritual story behind it. You see, my whole life I’ve struggled with this angst between perfectionism and rebellion. My father was an assistant pastor for a while, and now my husband works in ministry. I never felt quite at home in my own skin if I tried to play the perfect conservative Christian, yet I loved God and didn’t want to be a rebel. Okay, sometimes I downright hated church, but I never gave up on God.
After many youthful years spent being religious and judgmental while secretly desiring to rebel, I did enter my rebel stage. I was going to be who God called me to be, and be in your face about it, and not care what anyone thought.
But that’s not right either. It’s selfish and offensive.
So I spent from my late twenties until my late thirties struggling through this state of angst. Trying not to be offensive, trying to be who God called me to be, still feeling a bit awkward in my own skin, but learning and growing and developing along the way.
Finally last year while working on my narrative nonfiction book, I found this scripture from Matthew 11 in the Message version.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Wow did that minister to me! I’ve spent the last year and a half trying to figure out how to do it.
Back to the nose piercing (which you can almost see in this picture. Click on it and zoom in for a better view). I had wanted one for about five years, but had been struggling with that angst. Finally, I really prayed about it. My biggest concern was how it would affect my writing career. I felt God showed me that he had called me to minister to young women. That they wouldn’t be offended by a nose piercing. That it would actually make me more approachable and likable to the audience he had given me.
And suddenly it made sense. All those years I didn’t fit, I felt awkward, he had been preparing me to minister to a generation that hadn’t even grown up yet. Once I got my nose pierced, I oddly felt more like myself than ever before. People seemed to “get me” for the first time in my life. The piercing gave a quick little signal that I was a free spirit, an artsy person, and that put even elderly people at ease. And if someone really wasn’t going to like me over a little sparkly stud on my nose, then you know what, it saved a lot of time.
My demure, crystal nose stud is not just a piece of jewelry to me. It is a monument to freedom. It is a symbol of putting behind both my perfectionism and my rebellion and simply being who God has called me to be.
During this past year I have thrown off much that is “heavy or ill-fitting” in my life. I am still learning “to live freely and lightly” in the Holy Spirit, but I’ve come a long way. And when everything was said and done at Blue Ridge, I think I managed to make a pretty decent impression just being myself.
What is heavy and ill-fitting in your life? What can you do to move towards living freely and lightly in the Holy Spirit? What monuments are important in your life? Who has God truly called you to be?
Dina Sleiman writes lyrical stories that dance with light. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children, preferably at the oceanfront. Since finishing her Professional Writing MA in 1994, she has enjoyed many opportunities to teach literature, writing, and the arts. She was the Overall Winner in the 2009 Touched by Love contest for unpublished authors. Her first novel, Dance of the Dandelion, will release with Whitefire Publishing in 2011. She has recently become an acquisitions editor for WhiteFire as well. Join her as she discovers the unforced rhythms of grace. For more info visit her at http://dinasleiman.com/