What If….

One beautiful byproduct of this horrible pandemic is that the way we meet and gather is changing.

Yes, we all long for the time when the “6 feet apart” rule is ancient history and we once again can sit shoulder to shoulder at concerts, games, church services, etc. But have you noticed that when we’re shoulder to shoulder – we’re not face to face?

We’re doing a different type of gathering right now – and maybe that’s not all bad.

So… the other night I inadvertently conducted an experiment with 5 of us from my church’s small group as we gathered at my apartment community’s clubhouse for a little get-together. The room is so awesome and spacious that it is a “safe place” to gather during this strange COVID-19 pandemic season because there’s plenty of room for social distancing.

Anyway… before the group arrived – I didn’t set the room up in any particular way. I just told my friends, “Make yourselves at home.” One thing I noticed is that the furniture was neatly arranged in square formation sitting areas (barstools lines up at the bar, chairs around cute little square tables, and couches and comfy chairs in seating arrangements at about 90 degrees from each other).

I found it passingly interesting that we did not keep any of the furniture in tidy squares while actually using it. As we moved around the room chatting and enjoying food and drink throughout the evening, we always seemed to end up in loosely formed circles facing each other. It was just natural to do that. It was much easier to connect with each other that way than in the tidy and eye catching square formations throughout the room.

I didn’t think much about until the next morning when I picked up a book (moving it out of the way in my almost daily frantic search for the keys before work ritual). The book is called The Church Comes Home by Robert and Julia Banks. Because books are more interesting to me than searches for keys or commutes to work – I mindlessly flipped through the pages.

Well…. I “happened” to land on pages 36-37 and my eyes were drawn to these diagrams there:

A little backstory on why these pictures and thoughts of my small group gathering from the prior evening became significant to me…. You see, I think my life and the pages of days within it – good, bad, and ugly – has essentially been a quest for authentic community, a Ragamuffin Oasis. (Now you see where my blog’s title comes from).

Perhaps you are not unfamiliar with this longing for authentic community: a community that perhaps seeks not as much to form you as to hold you – as you are.

And…. having spent the largest part of my formative years at some church function or another – I think I automatically assumed that truest form of community and connection could be found at church. However, in my five decades I have not always found that to be the case.

In fact, though I’ve been a part of some incredible churches through the years of all different shapes, sizes, and denominations- I found, at times, that true connection with others was much easier to find in completely non-“churchy” environments.

I’ve been starting to wonder, though, if perhaps church itself isn’t the obstacle to authentic and relevant connection so very necessary for us to thrive. Perhaps our westernized institutionalized version of it is the problem.

When I saw those pictures – the first one

looking like most of the churches in the United States: pews or chairs in tidy front-facing rows with a stage or pulpit up front – I found it interesting that the home church/”early church” pattern of gathering was in natural relational circles.

And, in our informal gathering the other evening and many prior to that outside at a local park (we really have been trying to be good little social distances while trying to create community at the same time), we just naturally formed a circle where we could easily connect with each other. It would have seemed counterintuitive to for one of us to stand in front of the others and everyone else line their chairs up it a neat row facing away from each other and toward the “leader”.

So, why then has our “normal” as churches and other organizations that supposedly have the purpose of creating community been to set up meeting places that automatically take our gazes of each other and toward some stage?

Perhaps this is just one insight and example of why church has become so irrelevant to so many.

Because our current social-distancing circumstances have prevented us from gathering in our normally abnormal traditions, perhaps we are uncovering our true “normal” – our true North of connecting naturally and authentically embedded deeply in our souls by our Maker.

Also, I know a lot of us complain about Zoom meetings and such. But perhaps the reason why all those faces in those “Brady Bunch squares” make us weary and “creep us out” a bit – is that, with the exception of a select few in our inner circles, we haven’t spent a lot of time actually taking in the faces of those around us.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” –Hebrews‬ ‭10:24-25‬ ‭

Perhaps we (church-goer types) have been “assembling” for generations – yet not really together…. All in one auditorium but never really connecting.

Maybe one blessing birthed from this pandemic season will be that we get our “together” back.

Our Real Journey

One of my current reads is Small Victories by Anne Lamott.

In her opening chapter, she quotes this poem…

And it had captured me.

Perhaps true beginnings can only happen when we are at the end of ourselves.

Our Real Work

-by Wendell Berry

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

A Simple Reminder

Remember…. you simply can’t be strong enough to handle everything you’re going through… everything your community and world is going through.

There is only One who can redeem even the darkest places in us. And, we don’t have to grapple, fight, and wrestle to reach Him. He is constantly and compassionately reaching out for us….

Just be held.

PS: I’m redesigning my blog a bit to hopefully help it be a birthplace for my future book: Ragamuffin Oasis: Finding our places you Just Be.

You can help me fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a writer by clicking that little subscribe button in the corner of your screen so future posts can drop in your email inbox. I have a much better chance of being taken seriously by agents/publishers if my “subscribership” proves that what I write is already being read.

Plus, you can use the comment space on the blog posts to add your thoughts and feedback and join in this ragamuffin journey. We’re all a little raggedy – but have amazing stories to tell.

Hopefully, together we can leave all of our vain striving for perfection in the past and create a safe space for each other to just be.

Thank you so much, Friends!

What I mean when I say “Black Lives Matter”

Just to clarify….

When I say “Black Lives Matter”, I am not referring to any particular organization.

For me, a white woman who was taught a very inaccurate version of history and life while being raised in communities rather lacking the beautiful diversity intended by our Maker, Black Lives Matter is a much needed movement.

It is a movement away from a white-washed version of history, society, and law and a movement TOWARD truly becoming

Just to clarify….

When I say #BlackLivesMatter, I am not referring to any particular organization.

For me, a white woman who was taught a very inaccurate version of history and life while being raised in communities rather lacking the beautiful diversity intended by our Maker, #BLM is a much needed #movement.

It is a movement AWAY from a #whitewashed version of history, toward truly becoming “One nation under God”.

Maker God, help us become true allies by revealing even a trace of the disease of racism infecting our hearts so we can be healed of it.

In Jesus Name,

Amen

Blog Overhaul Announcement!

TracyMauro.com is now RagamuffinOasis.com!

(No worries… Both URLs will still work!)

What the heck is a “Ragamuffin Oasis?”

What is the reason for my blog name change from TracyMauro.com to RagamuffinOasis.com?

In my people-pleasing days, being (or at least appearing) perfect was absolutely everything. But as I have had to face my own past traumas and oh-so-many imperfections in order to survive, I have realized that thriving in life is not about reaching some up achievable state of perfection.

However, I’ve learned the hard way that it’s not about pretending to never be “raggedy” or hiding when you are. It’s about finding a place – a community – where you can truly be loved, grow, and thrive… imperfections and all! That place, my friends, is a Ragamuffin Oasis!

And, on our journeys to find that Ragamuffin Oasis, there’s a real good chance we’ll help create one for other ragamuffins (a.k.a. all of us) along life’s road.

Please remember to click the “follow” button and submit your email address so we can continue sharing our Ragamuffin stories together. Who knows… some of those stories you share in the blog comments may even be included (with your permission, of course) in my future book by the same title!

I’m honored that you’re on this journey with me.

Tracy

Refuse to be an “Edith” to someone else’s “Archie”.

All in The Family may have been a humorous show. But, in real life, Archie and Edith dynamics – whether in relationships or in culture – are anything but funny.

When I do or say something that causes hurt or harm – I will be quick to apologize. But I will NOT apologize for your words, actions, or choices.

I will be kind and compassionate but not in such a way that it enables you to be thoughtless, cruel – verbally abusive even – with no consequences.

Though I long for peace – I won’t fake peace or ignore or, worse yet, smooth over and soften cruel bigotry of others.

My codependent and enabling days are done. I refuse to be an “Edith” to someone else’s “Archie”.

Lesson from the Sunsphere

Knoxville has this Sunsphere from the World’s Fair one year. There’s another city or two that has a shiny sphere included in the skyline. This one is different though. It sparkles and glows in the sunlight and moonlight without the need for the electricity that flashes across the other cities’ spheres.

You see, each panel that forms the sphere is filled with 24 karat gold dust. It’s because the gold has been crushed that it reflects the light so beautifully.

So, if you’re feeling crushed by what’s going on in your world or the world at large, please hold on to the hope that the very thing that’s crushing you now will one day give you the ability to better reflect all that is beautiful and good.

What crushed you is the very thing that will help you brighten the dark places in this world.

Shine on…..

I wonder what would happen if those who looked like me would pray this with me….

Photo Credit: OneRaceMovement.com

Maker God, we repent of our apathy and pray that You would give us a spirit of empathy that drives us to action. Because of our privilege, we can never truly understand. But we must stop ignoring, or – worse yet – downplaying the atrocities against, disregard for, and destruction of Your precious human masterpieces. We must own, repent of, and work to eradicate the evil of racism that our ancestors caused and allowed. Only then will we ever have a chance of the words “One nation under God” being more than a sad façade. God, break our hearts with what breaks Yours. Jesus, in Your Great Name we cry out…. Amen.

Acknowledge it. 

Own it.

Stand together.

Pray together.

End racism.

The Meaning of the Ring I Wear

Since there isn’t much left of May, I thought I’d post the picture of the ring I wear for Mental Health Awareness month. Mental illness is not only survivable, it can also form a strength, resilience, and empathy like little else can. However – if unspoken, unadressed, and untreated it can kill – or cause life to feel like a walking death.

After coming through a long dark season in my life that would have killed me had I not reached out for help – I had this ring designed. I borrowed the semicolon from a movement that started some years back using the punctuation mark as as a symbol for mental health awareness and suicide prevention. Just as a semicolon indicates there is more of the sentence to come, it became a declarations that “My story isn’t over!”

And – as for the Greek symbols, my Maker has many Names, but one of my favorites is “The Alpha and Omega” which describes Him as the Beginning and the End – the Eternal One.

I decided to combine the symbols into one I wear all the time to remind me of this: My story’s not over because it’s all wrapped up in His Eternal Story.

So… if you’re feeling listless and lifeless inside because of this strange season our world is in or for any other reason – please reach out and tell someone. You are not alone… but continued hiding will make you feel like you are.

Please keep the pages of your story turning because you are a very important chapter in the story of our world and the story of our God.

Reflections on Reflections

The Tennessee River at Dawn; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA

When the water is still, it better reflects all that surrounds it: the good, the bad, the ugly.

Maker God, as we continue to move through a season where circumstances have forced a surreal stillness of our whole world, may we not look away from what the reflections reveal.

Rather, may we gaze, learn, and change… for Your glory and for the good of each other.