I Am In Love.

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You will never know the purest love you can give a person, until the day you hurt because they hurt. You genuinely want them to succeed in life and be free from all the chains that keep them from being happy, whether you are in their life or not.

-Shannon L. Alder

This week’s horribly timed “Nashville Statement” came on the heels of devastating flooding in Texas, just behind the gut wrenching events in Charlottesville. I, a straight, Christian woman who is planting an inclusive and affirming church, ache for my friends and family. As the transgender military ban also continues to scoot across my Twitter feed, as lines are drawn by government and church officials, I wonder why the moral imperative to be this decisive at this moment. Why the rush with so much else to crowd our minds? I wonder where love has gone, if it was ever there, or if love has been reduced to flippant statements with no teeth, no grit. When the stakes are high, will we stand with our marginalized friends? Do we have marginalized friends? Do we know what it means to honor and defend, not just because Jesus would, but because we want to?

I am in Love.

I am in Love with my gay friends – my gay men, my brother, my fellow pastor – Aaron Bailey, my kids’ friends. I am in Love with you. You brighten my day with your wondrous smiles, your generous spirits, your kindness towards me and mine. You are a shining beacon that enlivens me to my very core.

I am in Love.

I am in Love with my lesbian friends – all of you in my church of present, all of you in my church of future. I adore the way you care for me, the way you look me in the eye and probe to make sure I am telling you the whole truth. I love how you invite me to your homes and honor me with your presence, kindness, and hospitality. I love how you share your wisdom and shelter me from the majority of your pain. You are treasured and cherished by me.

I am in Love.

I am in Love with my transgender friends. Paula Williams – words cannot describe to you my gratitude for your presence in my life. You are a beacon, a guide, a hope for all who have the privilege to bump into you. Your spirit of generosity and mercy is palpable. Your journey is an open book, for all to learn. You have admitted your former male privilege and confessed your cluelessness and privilege.  It is my great joy and challenge to work alongside you, being mentored by you, supporting you.

I am in Love.

I am in Love with my bisexual friends. One may never know the difficulties you face because of the assumptions we make, because of our binaries.

As a Christian, the greatest work I have done is reconcile myself to the work of inclusion, the work of welcome, the work of mercy and justice and compassion. And my greatest work has been to question and challenge what it means to say “I love you.” Never should “I love  you” come with a “but”. If you are inclined to say “I love you, but…” please don’t speak. Hold your love for another time, when the “but” is gone, when the “but” is resolved and dissolved. There is no “but” in love. If there is a “but”, it’s not love.

As lines are drawn, I choose to err on the side of love. I choose to seek a person’s humanity, to seek to understand another’s experiences, another’s daily existence. I choose to listen and learn and challenge my assumptions and stereotypes. My life is rich because of my LGBTQ+ friends. I am honored by your inclusion of me, by your welcoming of me. Thank you for your remarkable love and generosity to my family.

Made in the image of God, each and every one of us is loved. Each and every one of us is deserving of love. We are escorted to the Table, invited to greedily consume the bread and wine, the body and blood of Jesus Christ. All of us together, in one community, as one body.

There is no room for anything that is not the generous offering of total inclusion. Brokenness is the story of humanity, not relegated to certain groups. And we are offered a life of wholeness, abundance, welcome and invitation.

I am called to pastor. I am called to love. I am called to declare boldly the beautiful work of grace in my life, the remarkable wonder of hope. Today I am here to tell you, there is good and restorative work happening in the Church. There is a movement – a breathtaking expression of unabashed love and respect.

I am thrilled to be a part of this work. Please know how very loved you are by the people who are seeking Jesus, by the people who love God with all of their hearts, souls, minds and strength. Please know you are welcome in my world, to my table, into my home.

I am in love with you.

*As a Christian,  if you support LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church, here is a statement from Christians United. I invite you to add your name to the growing list of supporters.

When It’s All About Me

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I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.

Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

I awoke Monday morning, after a fitful night of sleep with a strange sense. It was a release, a feeling akin to hope. Whatever unlocked and clicked into place occurred between the hours of 3:00 and 5:00 AM while I caught a few treasured moments of needed shut eye.

Forgiveness happened.

Somehow, in that brief period, I forgave our president. I’m not sure how and I must admit it was accompanied with a great deal of surprise. I keep peering around corners for my resentment, but it seems to have vanished.

Anne Lamott describes forgiveness this way:

Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.

You see, forgiving Trump, while it still remains a surprise, is not about him being let off the hook. Forgiveness lets me off the hook. Forgiveness provides the opportunity for me to set him aside, to carry on with my day, to discern my work. Forgiveness removes the distraction and frees me. I know the man has no clue of my process, but it isn’t about him. It’s all about me.

I’m not interested in a relationship with our president. It is a very good thing for us to keep our distance. I am not to be trusted. However, as I have released the control, I no longer have to harbor ill will. I can see him for who he is, but I do not need to believe it my job to exact justice or revenge. As an agent of my own choices and of my own life I can give that job to somebody else. It isn’t mine to carry.

There’s a lovely Polish saying I hold close: Not my circus, not my monkey. While I don’t own a monkey, nor do I operate a circus (in the literal sense), I understand and appreciate the gist of this proverb. Discernment and wisdom happen when I ask the most crucial of questions: What is my job here?

I will remain dutiful in my information gathering, in my conversations, and in my writing. I will continue resisting in the ways I believe to be most effective for me. I choose to listen when I can, to remain informed, to scroll Twitter and engage the conversation on social media but I am not required to wade into the waters of damaging and abusive rhetoric. I do not have to be gaslighted, nor must I relinquish my precious mental space. He doesn’t deserve, nor has he earned, my time, sanity, joy.

It’s funny how forgiveness creeps up on us. It is a breathtaking relief, a discovery of lightness and release, the knowledge that I no longer must bear this weighty burden. I no longer have to sacrifice my being and potential and hope to another’s control. I no longer have to hold a person’s feet to the fire or determine their personal fate. I am not the ultimate judge or jury. I am not God, thank God.

Where I need to be, where I want to be is loving and shining light through doing justice and loving kindness. While this may seem milquetoasty, it is not. To own our work, to go about our day with discernment of the tasks at hand, requires a strength and firmness that can feel singleminded. We will be drawn into another’s process or drama – asking us to respond with a resolute YES! or a firm No.

While I’m able to release the president, along with those upholding his agenda, I still remain committed to the resistance. I cannot absolve myself of responsibility. I get angry and I speak when I must, for this work is serious. People are suffering and dying as a result of the emanating hatred. You, my friends, may not see a massive shift on my outsides, but my insides are filled with joy and hope again, at least for today. My work is defined. My path is resolute. My call is clear.

Sometimes our jobs may seem small. We have communities that need churches, partners who needs equals, children who need parents, friends who need friends. Our resistance occurs through loving our people well, through being present, responding to the promptings of the Spirit. Discernment and intentionality are the keys to creating a sanctuary of hopeful wholeness – in our bodies, homes, and towns.

I choose to do my work – to remain informed, to exercise my right to speak, to respond in the ways I deem appropriate. I choose to scour Twitter and listen to NPR, seeking relevant information about what is happening in our nation and world. Eric and I will continue our head-shaking conversations and I will rant on my runs (thank you running partner, wink wink). I am not immune to the rumbling under my feet, yet I am released, released from the burden of exacting revenge. This is not my job, not my circus, not my monkey.

Forgiveness is often a surprise, divine act with no warning. A proper response after accepting the release is gratitude, eyes open, loving well, doing our most important of jobs.

Rumble on, friends.

Own it.

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What a lamentable thing it is that men should blame the gods and regard us as the source of their troubles, when it is their own wickedness that brings them sufferings worse than any which destiny allots them.
Homer, The Odyssey

I am sad.

You know how grief goes? You wake up one morning and the sun can’t shine bright enough, the coffee isn’t strong enough, breakfast doesn’t taste good nor does it fill.

You know how grief goes? The weeping unprovoked, driving in the car, eating a meal, shopping at the store – the most mundane of tasks, an event. Eyes puffy, children in the way, nothing satisfies. The relief is far, far, far. A bit of fear creeps in and is all: Hey, is this the way it’s gonna be from now on? And I’m all: No, leave me alone, it’s just a frickin’ day. Ease up.

This was my Friday. I thought we were on the potential brink of nuclear annihilation, so you know, maybe I was grieving the end of my life as I knew it, or maybe I was grieving the loss of the world I thought we were going to give our children, or maybe I was grieving the complacency of a church that seems to want to be quiet these days because a huge majority of their members voted for this.

My Friday, I ached. Eric and I went out for dinner. I cried over salmon and risotto, helped along by an IPA. I cried over my fear and my concern. I cried over being a woman and having a daughter. I cried over the silence and complacency of people who claim to love and follow Jesus. I cried over the fact that I have so much to be grateful for because of my opportunities. I cried because I need to get this church started. I need to be with my people doing the work that needs to be done.

I took to bed early, checking Twitter. The Tiki Torches of white nationalism and supremacy were marching on UVA while clergy gathered in a prayer meeting. I did not know. I was not aware of this activity. Could my grief have been my preparation? Could my grief have been what allowed me to see?

I rose on Saturday. I rose early and I rose resolute. I rose knowing my prayers were needed, my prayers of desperation for Charlottesville. Ten miles I hiked, sweat pouring, my feet tired, I prayed, I questioned, I pounded, I lamented. I posted.

This is not who we are! Pray friends, pray. Pray friends, pray. Wake up people. Wake up! This is not who we are.

But it is who we are. We’ve been this since the start. This is our heritage, our national calling card. We have never contended with our original sin of slavery, with our white supremacist systems, with our incredible white privilege. We have not offered confessions or reparations to our black and brown and indigenous. We were founded on slavery and the displacement and destruction of innocent lives. This is who we are. Until we take inventory, confess, lament, and do the crucial work we will continue to repeat the same, over and over and over again.

Today, I choose to lament. Today I choose to listen to the sermons from neighboring churches. Did they even reference Charlottesville from the pulpit? Or is this someone else’s issue? We have entered territory of the lowest common denominator of decency. Our churches should ALL be condemning this sordid, hateful, terrorist violence. Did yours? Thank God mine did.

Lament allows me to see the truth, to step away from the false comfort of denial, to take stock and measure the reality of the situation. Lament allows me to grieve, to do the work of self reflection and self incrimination. Lament allows me to grieve for the chosen ignorance of others, for the gaze averting we white people get to do. Lament allows me to stare down the churches that would choose comfort and status quo and building programs over this tantamount work of doing love in the form of justice and compassion and creating hope, holding our country accountable to its racist and despotic past, present, future.

I have no prescription today beyond hold your leaders accountable, hold your pastor accountable, hold your children and partners accountable, hold yourself accountable. There is no shame, no condemnation – the work of recognizing white supremacy within ourselves and our people leads to gut wrenching desperation. Do it anyway. Take stock, pick up the corner of the rug and retrieve the pile that denial swept underneath, find people to confess and process and begin the work of opening your eyes. No-one can do it but you. No-one can do it but me.

I know we are not citizens of a Christian nation. I don’t want to be a citizen of a Christian nation. I want a nation for all people and religions and genders and sexualities and abilities and colors. I want a nation that stands firm in the truth of love and kindness and decency, that denounces hate and horror and calls terrorism what it is. It begins with us. It begins with our leaders. It begins in our schools. Now is the time.

Lament and grieve and mourn. I am, for what I thought we were, we are not. What I thought the church was, it is not.

White people, we have serious work to do, now is the time.

A Calculated Lost

 

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Living by faith includes the call to something greater than cowardly self-preservation.
J.R.R. Tolkien

I am convinced there is but a slight, thin line distinguishing bravery from stupidity. I discovered this new-to-me reality while backpacking in the Aspen Snowmass Wilderness five years ago, and I was acutely reminded once again.

This past weekend marked our fifth Girls’ Backpacking Weekend. I approached the trip grateful for the distraction from social media discourse and news. I knew I needed to be unplugged and undistracted with little to do but stare at gorgeous vistas and cook processed food in a bag, sleep on the ground, and watch raindrops pool on the tent surface. I approached with a tired mind and body, but a grateful heart, knowing the time would be restorative.

Our first day’s plan involved an upward climb for around five miles, with a final 1.3 mile switchbacked push to a high mountain lake in the Never Summer Wilderness. Our complete route led us on a circuit along the Continental Divide for 19 miles over three days. A doable distance in our allotted timeframe.

The beginning of each trip is always the worst. As packs are at their heaviest point, bodies are awakened by the shocking forty pound surprise. Hips and knees ache, shoulders wear, spirits wane, but nothing a short break with laughter, food, and meandering conversation cannot cure. About four miles in, before the final set of switchbacks we were deposited onto a gravel road (a bit of a disconcerting sight when one feels they’ve worked hard to get to the middle of “nowhere”). After a nourishing snack and potty break, we consulted the maps and proceeded to the final finish. Encouraged and buoyed by a sense of accomplishment and impending relief, we commenced the slow, upward trudge.

The steep trail was evident at the beginning, but soon we discovered dead end upon dead end. We persisted, not knowing what we didn’t know, following closely the stream and the corresponding topographic lines on our maps. We soon wandered off the trail, without realizing there never was a trail in the first place.

Oftentimes we do not know what we do not know. Humility is an important companion whether we find ourselves backpacking the Colorado Wilderness or embarking on a new career, choosing to start a family or planting a church. So little is certain, risk and faith both stalwart hallmarks of difficult decision making. And we stumble upon a place, one where we did not imagine we would be and we wonder: Am I being brave or just stupid? Am I an idiot or a pioneer? We cannot know until hindsight emerges.

We maintained our bushwhacking theme for a couple hours, climbing up and over downed logs, scaling rocks, believing the next rise, the next crop of trees, the next meadow was our lake. This was not to be the case. But what we did encounter, where the lake should have been was a breathtaking glacial meadow, dripping with wildflowers, and bubbling streams, underneath the majestic North American Continental Divide.

With worn bodies and addled minds, we chose to set up camp. After consulting our maps, seeing where we went wrong, we realized we perfectly navigated ourselves to the wrong spot. The beauty bid us to remain, to rest, to replenish. So we did. In paradise.

Whether we find ourselves skirting that line between bravery or stupidity, we are never out from under the purveyance of God. We are held, seen, known despite our frail and misguided attempts at navigation. Perfection is an inadequate expectation. We can experience the failure knowing our care is not in question.

I’d like to say I settled in, drank in the lusciousness of our camp, and I succeeded some, but the concern and what-ifs remained close at hand, tempting me to succumb. And I did.

We have not had a perfect backpacking trip yet. Nor do we want one. The obstacles create the memories. The setbacks give us fuel for our reminiscing. The uncomfortable lends us to our strength. Our resilience is born from the wrestle. Our pride and laughter emerge from the difficult. All of it commingles into a random stew which produces exhilaration, exhaustion, and exquisite gratitude.

We navigated the wrong path with stellar precision. We did not fail, we achieved a new knowledge and confidence, a new experience, a glorious memory – for us.

The next morning as the rain threatened my resolve, we climbed out. With the stream once again at arm’s length, we plowed down the mountainside with abandon, a sense of urgency and yearning for that gravel road. After hoisting ourselves over the thousandth downed tree, peeking through the foliage, a patch of gray. Our road! We whooped, hollered, and hugged – relieved beyond words. We were found.

This, my friends, is the way of bravery. We get lost, we screw up, we navigate an unexpected course, we alter, we question, we become discouraged. This is not wrong. This is human. Somehow, someway the miraculous happens and the product is a spectacular memory alongside a new dose of humility and wisdom, discernment and gratitude. We know how bad it could have gone, yet we remember – it didn’t.

So whether you find yourself on an unmarked trail or in the middle of one of life’s many detours. Please remember how beautiful you are, how held you are, how glorious – as you are.

Onward.

The Mouse is Dead

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I do not admire the excess of a virtue like courage unless I see at the same time an excess of the opposite virtue, as in Epaminondas, who possessed extreme courage and extreme kindness. We show greatness not by being at one extreme, but by touching both at once and occupying all the space in between.
― Blaise Pascal

I wasn’t going to write this week. But I cannot seem to stay away. I have hesitated to write because it just feels like more of the same. Another week, more stress, more fear, more sleeplessness. But I have to say. in all the difficulty and uncertainty, I cannot shake the holy – the beautiful and wonderful and unexpected. Those of us who see, who stay informed, who choose to remain in the fray (as long as their  mental and physical and relational healths remain intact) are taxed. It’s been rough. Days full of breaking stories and random tidbits regarding the character of the people who are supposed to be in charge. The whole business is bananas (that is my new favorite word on a double IPA and a delicious Wahoo’s burrito). Ba-na-nas!

And the Evangelicals keep at it – pandering, excusing, Hillary this, Obama that. It’s ridiculous and comedic if we weren’t in these dark times. I hesitate to enter into the dramatic, but I need to. I don’t understand this ability to be cavalier. I don’t understand the inclination to “let it go”. I cannot. I have children. I have parents. I have people to care for and these people are going to suffer as a result of the choices of our government.

This tension. It’s a pain in the ass. But, I firmly believe, the tension is where we as Christians, as followers of Christ, are to dwell. Consistently sticking our head in the sand. Numbing. This doesn’t help, except when it’s required to preserve sanity and marriages and keeping children alive in short bouts. But this tension, the push and pull, this amazing interplay between Divine and evil, between hope-filled and terrified, between giddy excitement and utter bafflement is where God dwells.

As I sit outside in the waning daylight, there’s a dead mouse nearby. The chickens are pecking through the grass, the evening is cooling, the goats chomping. It’s a holy time, there isn’t much better than Colorado summer evenings. I have my beer and laptop, alongside the menagerie of four-legged family, and an empty burrito wrapper.  It is good. It is a good life I have. But there’s still a dead mouse.

Tension.

It’s real.

Tomorrow I head out on my yearly backpacking trip with the girls. It might rain. It might hail. It might snow. But our memories are so sweet. And the hamburgers and beer afterwards – perfect. So, we suffer a little. Our packs, they weigh us down, we complain, we wonder, we celebrate. It’s all there. All of it. And it’s totally worth it.

I spend too much time on Twitter and I spend too much time being informed. I rarely feel satisfied at the end of a day with my screen usage, my information gathering.  But I also have had the most remarkable conversations this week – with people who are thrilled to join us in our work of planting this church. People I would have never dreamed are falling out of the sky to offer their expertise, their time, their hearts, their love. And I counter all of this with the news, the horrible processes in Washington, the potential suffering of people who cannot catch a break. I’m not sure how to do this. I’m not sure the right or best way. But I do know, we must live. We smile. We offer gift cards to struggling people with signs. We comment on social media to let friends know they are not alone. And we cry. We lament. We mourn. We engage in it all. And maybe we also eat too many M&Ms.

I am a Christian, through and through. I love Jesus. Let me repeat. I love Jesus. And my love for my Lord means I get to be uncomfortable on behalf of another. I am required to be uncomfortable on behalf of another, of people less fortunate than I, of people more fortunate than I, of people who do not share my same level of privilege. We are in this together, regardless of who we voted for, regardless of who we pledge our allegiance to, we are in this together. And we need to start acting like it.

The mouse is dead, and it stinks. My beer is nearly gone. My blog is almost done. The sun is receding. The day will end. Today is what we have.

Dwell in tension. See the people. Offer relief when you can. Be uncomfortable, find the holy in the unlikely and pray like mad.

The Beautiful Ordinariness

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Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.
William Martin, The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents

Last night I had the opportunity to attend the memorial service for a good friend. Leslie was one of those people, the kind that leaves a desperate void in her wake, one that does not need notoriety, but longed for goodness and light in the world. And knew that within this longing resided her work, so she provided this goodness and light for countless people spanning the globe. She was one of the best ones, and our world will now function forever at a loss.

I glanced at her boy throughout the service, remembering my almost twelve-year-old self sitting in the same front, center spot during my own mom’s memorial service in 1984. He seemed so little, yet, back then, I felt so old. I felt the weight of responsibility, this void of my mother’s, now mine to fill in some strange way. The roles of nurturer and laundress and grilled-cheese maker and little-boy-hair-brusher now mine.

There was a disservice done to me when my mother died. My mother was canonized. She was frozen into perfection. While I’m not sure this was my doing or someone else’s, it happened. She was a remarkable mother, a pastor’s wife with four young children. We were loved well and endlessly. And  yes, I know she wasn’t perfect, but it took me awhile to remember or realize she wasn’t, because she was pretty darn close.

And so, when it came my turn to bear children, to stay home (my choice) and raise them, I assumed I was a constant failure. My canonized mother would never do the things I did. Or maybe she did and I couldn’t remember. I know she was tired. I know she gave beyond what she had to give. I know she was loved and honored and treasured by everyone who came to know her, and yet, I could not rise to that level, I could not step over that moving, high bar.

Observing this young man last night, I realized his parents did something really good. They were honest with him. Spoken from the stage was a true story of someone who loved in exquisite ways, but someone who was also exceptionally human and remarkable and beautifully familiar, grounded. And in her beautiful familiarity, she got stuck sometimes. She needed help. She blew it.

We all get stuck and we need a helping hand. We all fail and we all blow it beyond what we ever imagined. We all need boatloads of love and grace from our fellow human travelers. May we not try to uphold some impossible standard for a life and do a disservice to one another. May we seek to share and demonstrate a modicum of honesty and vulnerability, setting aside our need to win, to be better than.

As a Christian, I am bound by the rule of love. And the rule of love sometimes means I put others before myself and other times it means I put myself before others. Sometimes personal healing and health is the priority, seeking freedom from oppression, defending myself against unfair treatment and injustice. And whether I’m learning to love myself or others, I realize love is not a passive endeavor. I am convinced there is a reason loving God and loving others as we love ourselves is our greatest command. One can spend an entire lifetime deciphering what love truly is, as the most confusing, uncertain, non-binary task we undertake. Love is not bound by rules, but love does have ingredients: vulnerability, honesty, empathy, compassion.

When we place another into the elevated position of worthy – this is love. When we seek to understand, when we recognize the creation of God before us, when we respect another’s story, this. This is the work of the Divine. This is the work of honoring our people. Leslie reminded me that to love is to be humble, gentle, and remarkably exceptional in our ordinariness, in our familiarity. And in appreciating the ordinary, the simple, we discover the extraordinary in the minutest of moments. We discover the extraordinary in the most ordinary of people. And each person is transformed, transcendent, exquisite. Each person is the most important person on the planet, in that moment, elevated and holy.

I pray for my friend’s family. I pray for their process as they move through grief and loss and redefining a new path. I pray for myself, for my own work in upholding the rule of love. I pray for all of us as we seek to love those in our homes, our neighborhoods and communities, extending life, goodness, and light to all.

I pray we all seek to live the life of beautiful ordinariness, that seeks to see and know the people who believe and act different, who vote different, who parent different, who love different. May we heap oodles of kindness and compassion so our world may heal the rifts and we may see and know how to freely give so we may freely receive.

 

Building the Universe

 

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Song of the Builders

On a summer morning

I sat down

on a hillside

to think about God –

a worthy pastime.

Near me, I saw

a single cricket;

it was moving the grains of the hillside

this way and that way.

How great was its energy,

how humble its effort.

Let us hope

it will always be like this,

each of us going on

in our inexplicable ways

building the universe.

– Mary Oliver from Why I Wake Early (2004)

There are days where it all feels like too much. There are days where the relief is a long time in coming. There are days when the news is equal parts compelling and overwhelming. I suppose I am a glutton for punishment, one of those folks who doesn’t know when to stop. One of those folks who doesn’t understand when it is too much. I walk the fine line of being informed with being freaked out, unsure what the right answer is, unsure what the point is. I walk away from time to time, recognizing the remarkable privilege I own, that I can walk away, that I can rest.

And while these days feel big and I quake in my bed, the overwhelm tries to edge me toward despair. Yet, what always emerges in my contemplative practice of  prayer is a light, a stillness, a beauty. Gratitude flows and God’s mercy is displayed centered and true.

I’ve never been a glass half full kind of girl, I prefer to not assign an expectation but to be grateful that there is liquid in the glass at all. I have a sunny disposition and a warm smile, but the creases in the furrow of my brow are riveted, deep and permanent – a result of both age and concern. I welcome many into my fold with ease and without suspicion. And I do try to seek the best in all people and all situations.

But I get tired of all the feels. I’m tired of knowing this shit to my bones. I’m tired of seeing. And I’m tired of being tired and a freaking internal disaster.

A therapist friend called this morning in the midst of my staring-out-the-window grief and confusion. She asked how I was and I could not hold back. My tears, frustrations, and fright all tumbled out along with the apologies and backpedaling attempts to not also add to her burden. But in her gentle kindness she held my verbal and emotional dump with honor and care, echoing her own concerns and stories. We always have fellow travelers. We may have but a few, but they are a dedicated and diligent few, present at the right moments in the most important of times.

And in our conversation I recounted the incredible goodness of my week. The celebration of twenty-four years with my most wonderful partner. A late-into-the-night 50th birthday party for a dear friend who wasn’t supposed to see this side of 40. A precious soul who has gone through six years of hell, now living life to the fullest again – her beauty, peace, and kindness radiating like the sun. A girl with three years of grave health concerns, graduating from high school and preparing for college. A mama robin touring her babies through the yard, educating them on how the ground works and where the juiciest of worms reside. A delicious cup of coffee in a funky cafe in the mountains, while the youngest dirt bikes to his heart’s content. Soaking thunderstorms in the night. Three games of Yahtzee and a delightful movie to cap off a good day. A daughter with her own health concerns, carrying the stamina to work for the Forest Service through the summer. A human chain of 70 people saving a family from sure drowning at a Florida beach. The hope of a new church coming to my community and the people climbing out of the woodwork offering unconditional love and support.

And it hits me, I am one of the builders. Those of us who choose to see, who choose to know too much, who choose to own our responsibility and our discomfort. We are the workers, the builders, the strivers seeking to reconcile Creation to its Creator. We choose to dwell in the tension of no longer shirking in denial, no longer hiding in fear. We still quake in our beds and the ground is unsteady under our feet, but we choose to face. We choose to own. We choose to wrestle.

The degree to which we experience discomfort and suffering is the degree to which we can know joy. The degree to which we see the world and the people around us is the degree to which we can know truth and understand our privilege. The degree to which we know our privilege is the degree to which we can make peace.

My calling is to somehow be a part of the grand work of reconciling Creation to the Creator. The only way to counter hopelessness is to receive God’s love for me, and in turn, love others. The earth is groaning. Creation is crying out for relief. Science is our greatest indicator of the physical risks to our planet, and many are denying the evidence. We are called absolutely to the work of love in our world, to our world, bringing restoration and reconciliation through the making of peace. And until we open our eyes and SEE, until we look at what IS, and cease to dwell in denial and personal comfort, our efforts are nil.

May we be brave, may we know, may we see. May we risk comfort and eschew denial, bringing justice to Creation – each of us going on in our inexplicable ways building the universe.

The Wonder Women

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We still think of a powerful man as a born leader and a powerful woman as an anomaly.

Margaret Atwood

I have to admit July 4 has never been my favorite holiday. Maybe it’s the heat and bugs, or the crowds, I’m not sure. Growing up, my family celebrated the day with minor enthusiasm, often accepting an invitation for a barbecue and fireworks. I don’t know from where my lack of interest arises, but I find the day annoying.

Mind you, I must be clear, I have a lack of regard, shall we say, for all holidays that aren’t Christmas or Thanksgiving. The pomp and build-up, the overtaking of social media, the inevitable comparisons that reveal my lack of interest and/or creativity are overwhelming. I tend to wish these days away. Valentines’ Day? Yuck. St. Patricks? Forget it. Halloween? Never. I do love, however, when friends who adore celebrating invite me along.

But this 4th felt different. More than an annoying day on the calendar, or an obligatory social event, It felt oppressive and uncertain. I know how fortunate I am to live in this country. I know I have freedom to spout my frustration. I have privilege to say the things that I want to say. I can go to fireworks if I want, or stay home if I don’t. I have much to be grateful for. But this day, this year has been hard. Conversations are fraught with difficulty. Family gatherings are more silent than conversant. I wish it was different, but I’m not sure how to make it so. I try. I fail. I leave feeling bereft.

When you love something, you can also hold criticism for it. I love this country. I love the people in it. I love the vision we’ve been invited into. I love democracy and the idea that we all have equal participation.

But do we?

Do we really have equal participation?

As a woman I don’t believe I do. And I don’t believe black people do, or brown people, or indigenous. I don’t believe gay or transgender people do, nor do people from less than upper, middle class. Which leaves us to one specific demographic – white, wealthy, straight men.

I took my daughter and son to see Wonder Woman this week. As the credits rolled and the lights came on, my daughter took a deep breath, and stared at me with her eyes wide. Her affirmation of the movie was clear. She uttered an expletive and I shared her awe. We departed the theater with light in our eyes and hope in our step. My twelve year old son wasn’t quite as enthralled and a bit confused by our exclamation. He enjoyed the movie fine but couldn’t identify with our passion, delight, and enthusiasm.

Driving south toward our cabin, out of the little mountain town, I shared vehemently, but not unkindly, with him the reason for our exuberance. As I blew through the reduced speed limit signs onto the rural highway, I failed to notice the flashing lights in my rearview. Explaining the significance of a female lead in an action movie with actual fight scenes, the beauty of women, and the ferocity of a Mother God who desperately adores us, I had no idea of my speed.

The officer asked if I knew how fast I was driving, to which I replied, “No, I’m so sorry. I was too excited. We just saw Wonder Woman!” Amused but stern, he departed, license in hand, leaving myself and children to reflect on my mindless mishap. My son mentioned, to my deep joy, how proud he was of my lawbreaking abilities. The 68 MPH clip was significant in the 55 MPH zone, but the officer let me off with a warning and a reminder to slow down, also mentioning he did not want to ruin our perfect Wonder Woman evening.

“Thank you so much, sir.” I said, with undaunted enthusiasm and relief.

The hope for our communities, churches, nation, and world rests in the rise of women. As Wonder Woman claimed her power and understanding throughout the story, she experienced points of great pain and disillusionment. But this did not lead her to rest in defeat. After careful consideration, she owned what was, and determined it was her work to bring the relief and justice and mercy to the situation, to the people.

I believe I  was justified in my sadness yesterday. I believe I am justified in my resolve today. I know the work I am called to – whether it is scratching my child’s back, making a meal, planting a church, writing a blog, or hosting a dinner – is changing the world. And the grief, disappointment, and resolve are my super powers. Through the process I find the strength that has always been mine. I discover the desire, the gifts, the burn to put myself in the hands of my call. I marinate in the resolve, owning my agency in creating a more just and generous world.

Women will change the world. We already are. Not at the expense of white, wealthy men, but alongside, in equality. Let’s discover what truly makes us sing and what makes us want to spit nails. These are significant clues to what matters and what we are designed to offer our world. Do not believe for a second you are not worthy or qualified.  Each of us equipped to do the good work of reconciliation and restoration. The essential work of Love.

Join me.

Roundabouts are for the Birds

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O snail
Climb Mount Fuji
But slowly, slowly!
Kobayashi Issa

The nest in the rafters of the porch has a four-pack of baby robins. Their necks strain hard for mom as she gathers their next snack. Unfortunately, mom can’t seem to satisfy, their need so great and her efforts finite. But she tries, she darts and pulls from the yard and ditch, digesting and regurgitating for the greedy infants. We had concerns, for her nest building capacity seemed limited. Inefficient and messy, the nest now provides a sturdy home for her hungry youngsters.  Her instinct of dedication nothing short of miraculous.

It seems the most important work we do is never linear, a forward and back that borders on inefficient and uncoordinated. I have found this to be true of my most important undertakings: marriage, parenting/keeping kids alive, and now planting a church.  The kids are alright and I am grateful for the benefit of being taught by them. In my marriage, with missed opportunities and slung words, we are pushing twenty-four good years. And this church plant is happening. My word.

How is this? How is this economy of broken efforts and poor motivations still functional? How are the kids alive and decent? How do Eric and I find ourselves desiring and seeking the best for one another? How is it we make any progress with the backs and forths, concerns and doubts, the questions?

And when I’m still, silent, abiding, I sense deep in the recesses of my gut, in the undetected nether-world-space where the Spirit dwells, Trust Me.

And sure enough, there it is, it might be the next moment, next day, next year. It pops, like a Jack-in-the-box in the middle of the bramble-covered path. Hope is reborn, the path expands, and the work once again reveals itself as an apology, a course correction, a slow down, a forgiveness, a conversation, a project.

Trust Me.

This summer marks our fifth backpacking adventure. Myself and three friends, we take three to four days to hike in the Colorado Rockies. We have become more efficient with our packing, but the first couple days are always tricky with carrying the weight of gear and food, adjusting and readjusting. There is a cycle, each time, that seems to assert itself – with the weight and heat, the elevation and incline – the middle is so difficult. Bodies hurt, clouds threaten, feet blister, spirits wane. We choose challenging routes. Our treks are not easy and our mettle is tested. As we summit mountain passes, the trails steepen while our packs pull back, our bodies strain ahead, each step a test, each switchback a temptation toward futility. The path winds and criss-crosses. Slow but incremental progress is laid with each and every shuffled step.

But each step accomplishes great work, and with time the summit is attained. The sea of jagged knife-edged peaks on display as we celebrate the prize with a quick exit from our packs.  Snacks are dispensed, cameras snap with selfies, and fleeces are donned to combat the windy chill. We recognize the remarkable accomplishment because of the pain, because of the wait, because of the desperation. Beauty and awe persist regardless of the difficulty and faulty motivations. Beauty and awe await our effort, our seeing, our celebration.

The little birds are ugly and wrinkled, but growing by the minute, feathers now cover their wings, eyes slight with open slits. Their mother has given them life. She has sustained their existence. She is responsible for their thriving. Her instinct of dedication and tenacity a roundabout way to accomplishment. Her inefficient and poor nest building abilities pale in comparison to her persistence. As she hops across the yard, a plump worm hangs across her beak. She implores me with her beady eyes to relocate, to give her a bit of privacy. But I can’t stop watching, I can’t turn away, for the strain and swing of skinny necks yearning for fresh meat, responding to the provision of their mother is my hope.

Success is never linear nor is success certain. The next thing is all we have, the next uphill step, the next lean in, the next press. While we are not always guaranteed a view from the top, we do get to survey how far we’ve come, we get to feel our legs and lungs strengthen, our desire and resolve unfurl. And all the while, trusting in the perfection of the One who loves us despite our wandering motives and imperfect ways. We stop, take stock, breathe, nourish, and remember. Generosity and provision are ours for the taking…

..as we persist.

My Just Right Deconstruction

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I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”
Galileo Galilei

My deconstruction from the assumed, correct, never-to-be-questioned tenants of Christianity began with the coming out of my brother. I was raised by people who rendered it safe to ask questions. My parents, while accepting the church world they functioned within, also respected the institution enough to criticize it. I think this is the appropriate response when we love something or someone. We question, we debate, we criticize and seek compromise. This is not the sign of a hater, but the faithfulness of a lover.

Yes, we were required to do all the churchy things. We followed the “guidelines” of our denomination – as the pastor’s kids, we didn’t get much of a pass on the biggies: going to movies, dancing, drinking alcohol, smoking. None of this was of particular concern for me. I felt it my duty to be a good example, upholding the standards and I stood firm with a generous willingness. Many ask if I rebelled or despised this way of life. No, not really, not that I can recall. I gained a lot from being good. It served me. I had chips with God and believed in my sacrifices for righteousness.

Things really started careening in the 2008 Presidential election.  It struck me as odd that Obama seemed to me more amenable to the things Christ cared about, yet Christians were supposed to vote Republican. My narrow view, which assumed all Christians were evangelicals, was tested and I could not understand this particular arrangement, this notion that right wing politics was God’s dream for America. It didn’t make sense. But I blamed myself. I believed I was wrong, that something inside of me was broken, that my questions were the problem and my doubt was a sign of misunderstanding. And I wasn’t smart enough.

Unfortunately for this Enneagram 1 and INFJ, feelings matter. If my gut and beliefs do not align, my gut wins. I find the rationale later, and it always comes, but this meant I was uncomfortable for almost a decade. I railed and questioned and I assumed something was wrong with me.

Meanwhile, through all of this, I was still attending church, I was still raising my babies with the idea that Sunday School is paramount and church attendance is god. We went. We served. We got tired. We got disillusioned. We switched churches. We rested. We recovered. We asked more questions. We returned to the original church. We sat and sang and stuck our kids in youth group. We stood and listened. We yelled. We prayed. We cried. We left.

I say we but most of this is me. Eric had far less attachment than I to the Christian ideals, but respected my process and desires.

The deconstruction is a messy and bloody battle. Some days I sit and stare out the window, trying to remain and be still. Other days I run and cry, yell and curse, the only antidote – Mumford and Sons really loud. I eat, I shop, I Netflix, I angry hike. All the while, remembering I am loved. My spiritual life, my faith has taken hits, but nothing has done lasting damage. In fact, I’m reinforced and I’m more certain in the path I am walking. Always, I am given “the next right thing” to do.

And now, I believe my reconstruction is quite complete. I have found a new space, new purpose, a generous expression of God’s presence in the world. I am encouraged and filled with more work than I know what to do with. I am going to be a pastor, and believe it or not, it’s what I’ve always done. But I still feel pain and grief. What American Christianity has done is unconscionable. So many have been devastated by what is supposed to be good and right and loving. And I’m not sure how to fix this. I have to push into the future, into what is supposed to be and I know that I am where I need to be.

I may someday achieve full and complete arrival. But I doubt it. I don’t want it. I’ve become rather fond of this nebulous space that presses and sends me toward discomfort and tension. My road isn’t paved with ease, nor is it paved with clarity. This expectation is a useless dream that I will never realize. I like it this way, though, to be honest. I like writing to figure out what I think. I like long and roundabout conversations with trusted comrades. I like answering my kids with I don’t know, what do you think? The older I get, the less certainty I have. And it seems I am fine. It seems that this weird space is good. It seems, as long as I remember how loved I am, I don’t need to be afraid.

When I’m confused. When I can’t sleep. When it all hurts. I rest my head on the ample bosom of God and ask: What’s wrong with me?

She always responds in the best way:

Nothing baby. You do your work and I’ll do mine. I love you. I’m proud of you.