Mary Marantz is a born storyteller. One could sit and listen to (read) her words all day long. The pictures she paints are so vivid and real – they capture every one of your senses – you feel like you’re right there on that mountain with her. You’re nine years old with her, running through the briars, escaping your way out of the deep, dark woods. You’re eighteen and walking away from the only home you’ve ever known, striking out on your own to chase down achievement like it’s your oxygen. You’re a grown woman and finally finding your way back home to that mountain, to a place where you make peace with your past, with the story that built you. Her story is haunting and beautiful, captivating and raw, and through it all, dripping with grace. It’s a grace to welcome Mary to the farm’s front porch today…
My running is a girl in a red cape, barefoot and muddy, escaping her way out of the deep, dark woods.
Branches clawing at her skin, tearing at her clothes, leaving chunks and pieces of her behind like breadcrumbs. Something chasing, always chasing, close behind and closing in fast. The big bad wolf ripping at her heels.
She runs because if she stopped, she knows it just might kill her.
When I turn to look back over my shoulder, breathless and wild eyed, I see it.
I am the girl in the red cape.
But I am also the wolf.
And that voice in my head telling me to run and not stop running. That it will never be safe for me to stop.
That voice is my own.
“She’s the most put together person in the room.”
That’s the lie we tell ourselves about who we have to be, in order to earn a spot in any of the places we walk into. Whether it’s the clothes we wear, or the house we own, or the pieces of us we so freely give away by saying yes when we really want to say no, we are all about the appearance of polished. The luster of confident and capable. Shiny on the outside.
Here’s why. It is so much easier to be admired for the pretend version of us than it is to be truly loved up close for the hard, messy, broken person we might actually be.
Shiny is a stiff-arm. A Heisman. It’s a way to keep people at arm’s length. Far enough away where it doesn’t feel like all these scars are on full display, still burning from the memory of the wounds that cut so deep in the first place. So no one can see, up close and personal, the grit we still have under our fingernails from the last time we dug ourselves knee-deep out of the mud.
Shiny is safe. Shiny is certain.
Shiny is also a cop out.
We get really good at putting on all sorts of capes and masks to the world.
We layer on ‘more’ like a sweet buttercream frosting, don’t we? We take the parts of us that are soft and delicate. In danger of crumbling. And then we heap on more. We tell ourselves we have to do more and be more if we are ever going to be worthy. If the world is ever going to love us.
And… it’s exhausting.
And I just think that we should all agree to stop doing it. To ourselves and to each other.
Because what if I told you that all along, that soft, vulnerable, delicate, partially crumbling center that makes up the core of you, that’s what people are really trying to get to anyway.
That in this world where no one slows down long enough to really talk to each other anymore, more than anything we just want to see the real you. The one that’s hidden behind all those layers of what you think you should be. Because the buttercream just gets in the way of that.
And that’s why most of us can really only take it in very small doses anyway.
It’s just far too sweet to be real.
We go out in the world and we wear the armor of the well-adjusted, the sword and shield of the over-achieved. The cape that covers all manner of our most secret identities. Brick by brick we build this facade that we think is everything the world wants to see.
But then, when we step back to admire our work, we realize it is not a monument to how far we’ve come that we’ve built, but a wall that now stands between us and other people. These capes and masks we wear are not just a barrier that keep everyone else out. They are also a prison of perfection that keeps us walled in.
And we’re suffocating.
But here’s the thing. The true connection we crave most happens face to face. It happens when the mask comes off. When the walls come down.
When we finally take off the cape and say, “It turns out I can’t leap tall buildings after all, will you still love me anyway?”
Honestly, when I really try to imagine talking to God, that’s how I see Him. He sits cross-legged on the floor across from me, way too close for comfort at first. Close enough to play the hand slap game if He wanted to, our knees almost touching.
He stares into my face so long and so hard, that I know He could see every flaw if He chose to, every line before it is even formed. I refuse to make eye contact. Every hard, messy part of me is there on full display. And there’s no point in trying to hide it. He knows it all.
I hang my head low, the weight of the shame and the disappointment so heavy my heart can hardly bare it. But instead of slapping my hands away, He gently counts every hair on my head.
He lifts my face to the light of His own. I feel the warmth wash over me of at once being truly known and truly loved. He isn’t going anywhere. He isn’t walking out. He won’t leave because somehow I wasn’t enough of something to get Him to stay.
He holds my hands in His, and I cry hard, bitter tears for things I haven’t yet allowed myself to grieve in a lifetime. I fall to tiny broken pieces in front of the Creator of the Universe.
Every atom spinning in the orbit of His presence. And He just leans in closer. Quiet. Listening for the words I need to say.
When I’ve told Him everything, cried for every hurt and every fear and every other way I’ve tried and failed to find belonging, He just puts a cool, comforting hand on my forehead and at once the pain begins to subside.
“That’s ok,” He tells me, “You just forgot who you were there for a little while.”
And it’s safe now, for you to rest.
Mary Marantz is a Yale Law School graduate and the first in her immediate family to go to college. She is the author of the book Dirt: Growing Strong Roots in What Makes the Broken Beautiful about growing up in West Virginia, and the host of The Mary Marantz Show- which debuted in the iTunes top 200 podcast list. Her writing has been featured by Southern Living, Business Insider, Thrive Global, MSN, Bustle, and Brit+Co.
From growing up in a single-wide trailer in the mountains of rural West Virginia to the halls of Yale Law School, Mary Marantz’s story is one of remembering our roots while turning our faces to the sky. Dirt is a reconciliation with the roots that grew her, a melody born out of the muddiest parts of her life. Mixed with warmth, wit, and the bittersweet, sometimes achingly heartbreaking places we go when we dig in instead of give up,
Dirt is also a story of healing. With gut-wrenching honesty and hard-won wisdom, Mary shares her story for anyone who has ever walked into the world and felt like their scars were still on display, showing that you are braver, better, and more empathetic for what you have endured. Because God does His best work in the muddy, messy, and broken if we’ll only learn to dig in.
[ Our humble thanks to Baker for their partnership in today’s devotion ]