Breathe On

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“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”

Rachel Carson

My daughter and I traveled to Chicago this past weekend for a quick visit to see my brother. We were greeted with a cold that sinks into the bones. A cold that delivers to the layers of down and wool a knowing wink as it passes straight to the marrow. Huddling and chattering around paper cups of hot cocoa, we shivered our way through the city, including the architectural boat tour. The stunning Chicago riverfront a respite from the freeze. Autumn was in full display – crunchy leaves and overcast skies lent our visit a warm hue to color our memories.

On the return flight, I learned my window seat companion was en route to Montana to meet up with buddies for a hunting trip. He, a resident of Pennsylvania, had never been west of Ohio. I tend to be one of those people on the airplane. I like to pass the flight, chatting about this and that, learning and listening to stories. Mike’s and my time together was entertaining as we perused the flight map and traced the arced line to determine our general location. I’m not much help in these situations. I guessed we were somewhere over Iowa, Kansas, or Nebraska.

Anticipating his first view of the Rockies, he inquired about each and every dirt hill across the patchwork of farmland. I answered with expertise that the mountains would be obvious.

Once the peaks came into view his excitement was uncontainable, for this was his first time in twenty-seven years to witness snow covered peaks. He asked why I didn’t tell him they were so amazing. I shrugged. Words can do no justice, I said

The wonder upon his discovery was infectious. For me, flying into Denver, the view is nice but the mountains are small and distant and everything is brown this time of year. It was nice to try on his lens for awhile, to view the landscape from his perspective.

I needed his wonder for I am finding myself desensitized. As a person who seeks information and understanding, striving to respond, I realize with our current news cycle that wonder, awe, expectation have become collateral damage. This is a tragedy.

Tuesday’s attack on Manhattan barely shocked me. I was sad and hurting for the community, but the news wasn’t surprising. Has this level of violence become commonplace? Are we supposed to now accept trucks running down pedestrians and high-powered rifles spraying crowds?

I asked my daughter for her thoughts. She shrugged and said: This is the world we live in. It’s been going on my whole life. True.This is her life. This is all of our lives.

But I’m not ready to accept this as reality. I’m not ready for this to be my normal. I’m not okay with ignorance.

Just as I want to be awed by season changes and beauty in nature and snowcapped peaks, I want to remain shocked by events such as this.

But it’s every day. And I’m tired. My body, mind, and heart are not designed to consume this much information. The news is unrelenting, but I will not claim ignorance. I cannot claim ignorance.

As a teenager and college student I participated in choir and band. One of the techniques we employed to collectively carry a long tone, longer than our lungs allowed, was staggered breathing. Through negotiation and planning, my neighboring musicians and I would consult one another to determine where we could each breathe without disrupting the larger sound. This accomplished two things. One, I didn’t faint in my attempt to support the greater good. And two, the tone remained strong and healthy, aware, uninterrupted.

We have to learn how to stagger our breath. We have to protect our souls, our minds, our relationships, our communities. We protect by working together, by employing our neighbors to be on when we need to be off. We have to protect our shock and outrage, reacting as needed to injustice, abuse, and lies. We have to protect our wonder, our hope, and our generosity toward our neighbors, supporting the larger community through our wholeness.

The fight against cynicism and nihilism and numbing is real. These days are overloaded – a new crisis, a new normal, a new baseline all clamoring for our apathy. I don’t want to settle for this. My faith and my conscience won’t let me. But the fatigue is ever-present and we are being asked as a decent and loving people to endure more than we are capable.

Who are our trusted friends? Who are our fellow travelers and breath staggerers in this resistance movement for decency and hope?

We cannot afford apathy.

We must persist for joy and goodness.

Mike, my airplane neighbor, upon witnessing the snow capped Rocky Mountain peaks for the first time was reverent and grateful. He could not contain his excitement as his infectious awe melted my accustomed heart. His wonder drew a tear to my eye, a reminder of my tremendous need to claim hope.

The goodness of the world demands our rest and our fight, our outrage and our peace. Through renewal, we can stand firm and refreshed in our convictions. Through sharing the load by staggering our breathing, we can protect wonder and awe and beauty.

Breathe on friends.

A Cacophony of Colors

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Photo credit: Claire Jepsen

 

“In every change, in every falling leaf there is some pain, some beauty. And that’s the way new leaves grow.”
Amit Ray

The trees out my window are all the acceptable autumn hues – crimson and golden and the unturned green. The sky is the bluest of Colorado blues. A bird with pink breast settles upon a branch on one of the two already naked trees, purveying the scene below. Squirrels scamper over and across, leaping through the crackling foliage, gathering and storing. Nature summons me outdoors before it’s too late.

Change in process – scenes of nature in dynamic flux. Always in flux. There is but a moment to take a breath before another change asserts itself.

I am departing a slow season. One where days stretched and answers were slow. Voices prattled about productivity and worth and earning one’s keep, tricking the mind. The slow seasons are important, crucial – a still space to learn the rhythms of grace, to hone imperfect patience, to shore up defenses in preparation for the call that will not relent. The slow seasons seem long, but when the go ahead is given, no amount of slow can prepare for the good and abundant and frenetic activity that befalls.

These years of staying home as mom offered me the luxury of focusing on the kids and myself. I had other things here and there that fulfilled me, while knowing I was doing the good work of raising the next generation and caring for our home. But now, here I sit, on the cusp of starting and pastoring a church. It’s a lot and it’s everything. It’s all the good things.

And so, all of a sudden, the season has shifted. A gust of wind and the leaves are gone, we now await the snow. Quiet days while the kids attend school have now morphed into meetings and deadlines and phone calls and emails in a few short days. The onramp feels like it never existed. The runway shortened. What happened?

We think we know what to expect when the shift happens. We think we’ve anticipated and planned and yearned enough that the discomfort of the adjustment is abated. But no. In all my years living this life I can’t think of one thing that went as I expected.

As a One on the Enneagram I carry a permanent expectation of perfection. I believe there is an ideal way to execute most things (well, really, all things). Parenting, marriage, relationships, life all bear a weight that I carry. I must do it perfectly. And when the myth is busted, I believe the lie. I assume it’s my fault. I’m deficient. I’m broken.

Growth isn’t pretty. Growth hurts. I go to the gym three times a week and I’m always dealing with an annoying twinge. I always have sore muscles and tired legs. I’m not injured, I’m just uncomfortable, yet I’m growing stronger. I feel it when I lift a bag of chicken feed or I hug my kid tight. I feel it when I run and I am held together. I feel it when I have a rest day and I return and everything is easier. Growth hurts, but is so rewarding.

I am gonna have to figure out how to be kinder to myself, how to roll and set aside the notion of any perfection. It’s such a myth. There is no best way to do anything. We do what we do how we do it, with our foibles and failures, our wins and successes. This is all we are guaranteed.

A church is getting planted. It is happening, sooner than we can be prepared for, I’m sure. But you know what? Isn’t this where we all want to be? In a place where we’re met, where God greets us in our odd and messy humanity, in our mixed motivations, and ideal expectations. Trust is hard. It’s easy to get antsy, to take matters into our own hands and finagle outcomes. But I’m not sure that’s the best way.

The season of wait is a great teacher. There isn’t much forcing you can do and there sure isn’t much you can control. Patience and courage and honesty are forged in the fires of wait. The exact ingredients one needs when life ramps up.

Just as the seasons shift, the beauty shifts, too. And each new season is met with anticipation – changing leaves, first snow, springtime flowers, late night barbecues. And each season has its hassles – brown stalks, frozen pipes, muddy dogs, hot nights. We can focus on the pain or we can focus on the gains.

Or we can focus, as we often do, on a little bit of both.

 

When We Were Girls

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The Church says: the body is a sin.

Science says: the body is a machine.

Advertising says: The body is a business.

The Body says: I am a fiesta.

Eduardo Galeano, Walking Words

Typing, I observe my hands, unadorned but for a gold band to mark the years of marriage and life together. I now must wear reading glasses, viewing anything closer than the length of my outstretched arm is tricky. My jeans are a size bigger than I’d prefer, they bag and sag at the right places, allowing freedom of movement. I began coloring my hair, the gray decided to make its entrance post-election, while in the throes of parenting at peak teenager-dom. My face is lined, normal for a Colorado-dwelling 45 year-old. I could do something to smooth over the hard-earned etches, but I hate making appointments.

I gaze at my face in the mirror, picking and pulling at this and that. The person staring back surprises me, for I half expect a young girl to be reflected. How is it that I’m the one to make important decisions and raise teenagers and be married for nearly a quarter of a century? Surely these benchmarks are for someone far more qualified than I. While in my heart and mind I feel young, all I have to do is look down at my legs or my hands to be reminded I am on the better side of middle age.

But as I look down at my legs and hands I am grateful for this body, this container I have. We’ve been through some tumultuous times and I am now able to appreciate her generosity, her adaptability. I was gifted a healthy, sturdy form. She carries me where I need to go, she’s a hard worker and creative, preparing me well for birthing and rearing babies. She is of good stock.  Health and old age abound within her lineage, although possibly shortened some by that pesky Diet Coke habit.

As my shape began to shift, around the age of ten or eleven, I took meticulous inventory before the wide bathroom mirror. I resisted and lamented as thighs rounded and breasts formed. I was never one of those girls that longed for womanhood. I was afraid. I wanted to remain young, carrying the shape of a child – undefined, vertical, edged. For in becoming round, I knew I was vulnerable, threatened. Body now rendered noticeable, open for criticism, available for critique, fair game for commentary.

This week, the news from Hollywood and the legislation from Washington has me reliving this vulnerability. As women emerge with firsthand testimony about abuse and assault, subjected by a man and his lackeys who carried power over dreams, careers, bodies, I am reminded once again our bodies are not revered. Our bodies are not to be managed by us.

These egregious actions and decisions remind us our bodies are threatened. For when one of us is violated, we are all violated, knowing we each are equally at risk. No industry is loyal to us. We know deep, down to the core of our marrow that we are the target, fair game for scrutiny at best and physical violation at worst.

And even at 45 my body is still fair game. I still feel vulnerable. I still feel the eyes. I’m still that young girl checking every new crease and bump for signs of failure or success. My body is my scoreboard, the points marked across each dimple and exposed rib, across the stretched lines from the babies to the wrinkles on my hands. We have been conditioned to believe our bodies are our currency, our bodies are our measure of success, our bodies are our ticket to approval.

And I wonder, with the amount of time trying to beat my body into submission through relentless exercise and poor nourishment and hate-filled thoughts, what toll has this taken?

Yet through it all as I learn my body and her generous offerings, my deep appreciation grows. She leads our reunification after the divorce which commenced upon the rounding. She teaches me about the gut rumble, the sixth sense, an alert to something amiss. She forgives for choosing carrots over hamburgers, for selecting a run over a rest day. I make efforts at peace, offering her kindness, consideration, listening, regard. I offer up reassurance of my mutual commitment to our reconciliation through pants that don’t pinch, through mammograms, and long showers. I wear makeup and walk, I smell flowers and hug my children, I lift weights and no longer push through pain. I am heeding her call toward anger and righteous causes. I know she means it when she prods me forward despite my insecurity and sweaty palms. She knows. My body knows my deepest desires.

And no relationship is perfect. The gold band on my fourth finger reminds me of this fact. Yet through forgiveness and reconciliation we – my body and I – continue to press forward.

To my fellow women – I must confess to you my comparisons and measurements. Forgive me. I admire you and I have been unfair. I tried to make deals. I wanted to swap my body for yours. I assumed you were faster, thinner, healthier, happier. But through respecting my own body, I respect yours, I honor yours. May we stand firm together, in appreciation and generosity to ourselves. May we protect one another from the powers that seek to divide. May we link arms, affirming our fearfully and wonderfully made forms, giving thanks for all we’ve been entrusted.

The Best Stories

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“The reason for evil in the world is that people are not able to tell their stories.”                               – C.G. Jung

“Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.”
– Madeleine L’Engle

Monday’s dreary chill was an appropriate backdrop to process the horrific events in Las Vegas. The clouds hung low, allowing for the pain and sadness, the questions and pressing hopelessness to run their course. I walked slow with the dog, taking moments to slump over for tears, stopping to look up at the changing foliage to witness the ebb and flow of seasons, the ebb and flow of grief. Such lessons in timelessness are helpful in these vast events of nonsensical human suffering.

Our park is busy, but not on days such as this. I took my chances, let Clem off-leash. She darted and bounded, an appropriate response after a long, slow weekend. After the park loop, I reattached her leash for a neighborhood loop. A familiar friend approached on the path, my neighbor Tony. He was alone, which is unusual, for he and his wife chat up the ‘hood pointing out where our cats were last seen while sharing collected tidbits from recent strolls. His glasses were fogged and his raincoat drippy, with a spring in his step accompanied by a thick and jovial, everlasting New York accent.

We stopped in the street, as neighbors do. He asked how I was after I inquired of his wife and her pained knee. His gentleness caused my face to fold in. After choking on my answer, his ready compassion encompassed me in a fierce embrace, partnered with a bonus kiss on the cheek and generous, kind words of hope. We walked the circuit and I hugged him again, so very grateful for a kind ear and a ready, welcome soul.

The divisions are running long and thick through our communities. But our stories bind us, our compassionate responses will heal these growing rifts.  Our stories send us into the tension, an uncomfortable tension that if we allow, will refine and renew. The tension will make us better as we dwell within the questions and seek the best answers. But we don’t like the unknown. We fear the uncertain. We eschew the uncomfortable. And so to deal with the frustration of not having ready answers we succumb to stereotype, bias. We choose issues over people. We choose progress over persons.

Later that evening, Eric and I attended a debate of our city’s mayoral candidates. My socks were not knocked off with excitement, but I know the importance of involvement in local politics. I know my sense of powerlessness comes from waiting on Washington, rather than participating in the soil of my own community, seeking change from the ground up. I listened, open-minded, seeking information about the concerns that press an expanding town. The issues were discussed, issues of homelessness and development, affordable housing and water. The nuts and bolts of a community hashed and rehashed with obvious care and concern.

But, when we paint with the broad brush and reduce our communities to a series of issues, rather than a collection of humans, we lose the color, the spark, the intricacies, the detail. We forget that the people are truly what make our towns and cities and neighborhoods great. When we align ourselves with issues, we lose the spectrum of humanity. We ascribe to binary thinking: good vs bad, right vs wrong, holy vs evil. Yet, when we learn the people, their stories, their situations, their strengths, and their shortcomings we no longer can paint with wide, sweeping motions. No, we have to fine tune, zero in, color in with specific detail.

And absolutely none of this is comfortable. None of this helps us lay our heads on our pillows with glee at the end of a long day. When we consider people over issues, we know the name of the guy on the street corner who doesn’t get a warm, cozy bed. We know the name of the family who just lost their healthcare. We know the name of the young man whose father is being deported next month. We know the name of the transgender teen. We know the name of the daughter gunned down in Las Vegas.

People are messy. But you cannot convince me that I should be anywhere else.

If Tony had written me off Monday, in my grief, as some white lady with too much time on her hands, I would’ve been dehumanized, made less than. I needed him. I needed him to see me, to hug me, to hear me. It didn’t require much, just a stroll around a block and a kind word. We must resist the temptation to categorize, to sort people into groups. I know it’s so easy, cleans things up, gives us space to be. I fight it and fail every single day, but I recognize my tendency and therefore hope for personal reform.

People are people to be seen, to be heard, to be honored in their unique, messy, remarkable stories, stories that involve mothers and fathers, children and siblings. Stories with sordid detail and odd facts. Each person has a story to be revered.

May we listen well, help where we can, and love through our attention to detail, filling in the beautiful, precious landscape of a life.

A Pair of Opportunists

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It’s not a competition, it’s a doorway.
Mary Oliver

My sister and I were opportunists. We knew what we wanted. We knew how to justify, to determine if our particular choices were going to get us into trouble. We were good girls with a penchant for seizing the perfect moment, that moment to make the ask, to take the risk. And with twenty-one months between us, we shared most things – clothes, rooms, friends. Sometimes it worked well, sometimes it didn’t. We knew about each other’s misdeeds and promptly tattled and told, a way to even the playing field and not let one get ahead of the other. Justice was our commodity. Equality our language. There was nothing unequal about our existence. All things meted out to the fraction.

Julie and Jenny were not troublemakers for the sake of being troublemakers, we were opportunists. At the grocery store, while our mom was preoccupied with the little brothers and checking out weekly foodstuffs for a large family on a budget, we would pilfer through the bags of peanuts piled underneath the bulk chocolate candies. Stuffing our mouths full of the renegade pieces offered our sweet toothed cravings a respite.

Another notable moment, while waiting outside for a parent who ran into Kmart “real quick”, Julie and Jenny waited for an unsuspecting mother to add her change to the carousel’s coin bank. As the most-fortunate-child-for-whom-carousel-rides-were-purchased  chose the best of three little ponies, Julie and I claimed the other two and rode on the shocked mother’s dime. We were not rebellious but we were opportunistic.  If our parent’s weren’t going to purchase chocolate candies in bulk or carousel rides at Kmart, we were going to figure it out for ourselves.

I often wonder if we were stealing. Were we wrong? No-one said anything, except our parents upon discovery, but that didn’t seem to stop us the next time when we exercised our opportunities with the other parent.

I’m not sure how I would feel if my children were pilfering loose candy or snagging free rides, but the other horses were not occupied, the candy was headed to the trashcan.  Why not?

We’ve been a supposed even-steven society, probably since our inception, a nation presumed best built upon each person pulling their weight and not sucking the system. The problem with this definition of collective equality is the fact that many do not start from the same starting line, and depending upon skin color, gender, sexuality, ability, the starting line looks very different.

The work of grace is nonsensical and unfair. Grace says it’s all good. The first is last and last is first. Grace is about boys who squander wealth and opportunity and in a last-ditch-effort, return home with tail tucked between legs to a father that runs to greet and a fattened calf to boot. Grace, the language of God, is nonsensical to our rational and opportunity-driven selves.

The disparities are legion in this nation – from healthcare to education, immigration to wealth.  We who are in the power position oftentimes believe people with less are lazy or selfish, opportunistic, when in fact, we are each a touch away from being accused of the same thing. My mental health is intact (for now) because of my physiology and financial resources. My physical health is intact (for now) because of insurance and access to nutritious foods and medication and a gym membership and genetics. My relational health is intact because of counseling and the opportunity to have time to work things out. I have so much privilege and so many resources, but this is not true for all.

The candy was gonna get thrown out. The horses were gonna go around with or without Julie and Jenny on them. We do not have to live in the notion of scarcity. If we all can give a little and hold a lot less tight to our stuff and our comfort I bet we would discover something to pass around.

I know it’s hard right now. We are nervous with a kid wanting to go to college, and then another, and another. A third set of braces, house payments, a small business to run and employees to cover. Health insurance payments are high and income doesn’t always cut it, but we are warm and well-fed. We are clothed and housed. We have cars and furniture, a full pantry and pets. There are many without the same amenities and many who need a just a boost.

With the recent spate of hurricanes, fires, floods, I wonder what small sacrifice I can make with my money, my time, or another untapped resource I might have. I wonder if there’s someone that comes to mind, someone in my immediate vicinity that needs me to take a risk – small or large, it doesn’t matter. If we give what is in our hearts to give, the amount that settles into our bones, the thought that presses late at night and early in the morning. Give that, give what the gut says, what the heart reveals. There’s no guilt here, just opportunity. We aren’t in the earning game, we’re in the giving game.

Grace and love and mercy are poured upon us freely – what can we freely give?

I’m Not so Sure

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My self-confidence can be measured out in teaspoons mixed into my poetry, and it still always tastes funny in my mouth.
Sarah Kay

In what feels like a lifetime ago I completed an Ironman. The accomplishment was great and I relished the day, supported by family and friends, surrounded by well wishers and fellow competitors. I did well by personal standards, ate, drank, managed heart rate, and expectations. All in all I was pleased and grateful.

Afterwards I had many conversations with fellow athletes also in the planning or training phases. It felt good to share my hard earned wisdom that traversed the expanse from parenting young children and staying married while exhausted from training, to nutrition, and equipment, and race day awareness. It felt good to be a bit of an expert on something.

The funny conversations, though, were the ones with men. I never minded them, in fact I found them to be rather enjoyable. One, in particular, stood out. He’s someone from my triathlon world. We would see each another on occasion, at the pool or a race. He was everything Ironman. And he talked everything Ironman. Our note-comparing chats were an affirming way to validate our mutual accomplishments. But I noticed something. He inflated his experience and I deflated mine. Hearing him wax on about his races, I thought for certain he was far speedier than I. Upon stalking checking results, I discovered I had an hour on the guy.

This is deeply concerning. I recognize this tendency to downplay my accomplishments, particularly as I step into the world of pastors, a world occupied in large majority by men. I assume my experiences or gifts or desires are less than, incomplete.

The Atlantic magazine, tackling this concern, ran an article in the May 2014 issue, entitled “The Confidence Gap”, co-authored by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. Women tend to underestimate our ability on a consistent basis, including, on average, requesting and receiving less pay than men. Women can tend to believe accomplishments, such as awards and promotions, are attributed to luck. I consider this with somber gravity, for imagine the wisdom and knowledge the world hasn’t received from women that it desperately needs to know.

I am saddened by this and I am saddened by my inability to accept and speak what I know due to a perceived lack of confidence. But there are a few things I believe to be absolutely true, that I can proclaim with sincere certainty.

As a Christian I am sure about few things beyond my job to love others as I love myself, and doing justice and loving kindness and walking in humility with God.

As a parent, I am sure about few things beyond my job to work myself out of a job. Providing the kids with opportunities while also encouraging their own choices to make things happen because it’s who they are, what they want, not what I want. It’s not all about me.

As a friend, I am sure about few things beyond my job to listen, to be present and decent  and mutual. I trust them and they me. I seek to learn and listen and regard our relationship and I believe they will do the same as they are able.

As a partner, committed to a life and marriage, I am sure about few things beyond my job to claim ownership of my issues and poor responses. We mutually consider the other with gratitude and strive to keep disagreements short and contained – sometimes succeeding, sometimes not. I am no expert. I know what I know from mistakes, failures, and wild successes.

As a local and national citizen I am sure about few things beyond respecting climate and human dignity through challenging unjust systems and hate. I do not consider it my responsibility to tell another who to worship, what to protest, or how to express oneself.

As a pastor, as a leader in the faith community, I am sure about few things beyond providing a place that offers respite and relief, demonstrating the love of Jesus to our greater community, and partnering with others in the good work of love, grace, mercy, compassion, justice. I long to work together to bring goodness and life and light into the darkness of injustice, fear, dehumanization, loneliness, and systemic violence.

And as a human, I am sure about few things beyond gratitude, U2, and IPA’s.

I suspect I will never have the unabashed confidence of my triathlon friend. It would be nice, but I don’t think it would work for me. There’s something to be said for humility, not a false humility, but one that recognizes I don’t have all the answers and I’m not willing to pretend. If I don’t know something with absolute and assured confidence, I will admit it.  If I do know something, I hope I trust my instincts, speak up, and offer my unapologetic knowledge. I think I will. I hope you do too.

For we need our voices to rise up, now more than ever.

The Second Time Around

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Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and, therefore, the foundation of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.
– J.K. Rowling

It wasn’t until I was eighteen that I was allowed to get my ears pierced. I was not a rebellious sort, eager to please and keep peace, so this was not something I challenged or fought against. An adult friend with a piercing gun came over one day after school and pierced my sister’s and my ears. Julie went first. She was the most devoted and probably still wears earrings to this day. I have found jewelry to be a nuisance, along with makeup, and wear little of both.

When our friend placed the gun to my first ear, I know I was scared. But the second ear was worse. I lurched. Upon close examination, one will recognize the unevenness of the holes in my empty, pierced earlobes.

I knew too much the second time around.

Childbirth was the same. Once I hit the hard stuff with my second, my daughter, I remembered. I remembered transition and pushing, recalling the desperate sensations from the first time around.

Same with all my marathons.

It’s funny how we forget pain, physical or emotional, it doesn’t matter. We forget the sharpness, the edge. Somehow it gets fuzzy and glossed over in the romantic remembrances, particularly when the pain results in a positive outcome like childbirth or upon completion of a long, trained-for endeavor.

But, I do believe this second-time-around pain is powerful, particularly when we are able to walk with another through their suffering.  Second-time-around pain is our chance to identify, to expand in kindness, to offer another a remarkable sense of presence and compassion, providing respite and relief.

Our ability to love through empathy is perhaps our greatest human calling. The products of connection, compassion, consolation through the work of our imaginative extrapolation is extraordinary. There is no need for us to recreate our own pain, our own exact experience to be able to empathize. We seek to understand, we wonder, we feel. We bear the weight through our proximity and our sought understanding.

Furthermore, I believe empathy is our greatest Christian calling.

I have wrestled to the ground the idea of Christianity. What does it mean to be a Christian beyond religion, beyond the system? What is collective Christianity when it isn’t tied to empire or Republican Party? What is Christianity beyond a practice that gathers people on Sunday mornings?

What is Christianity if we cannot translate our experience into truly loving everyone?

What is the point?

I’m not so sure how I feel about the idea of Jesus dying on the cross just for my sins. I think it’s a fine idea and I’m grateful, but I’m not so sure God needed this to love me. In fact, I hope God didn’t need this gruesome experience to love me, to love the world. I think God loves the world because God loves the world. I think God loves me because God loves me. This is God being God. It’s pretty fantastic in my book.

So, why did Jesus die? Why did Jesus resurrect? I think, it’s because Jesus had to experience that pain, so he could then return and identify with us in ours. Jesus is the ultimate vehicle for connection and compassion and consolation.

Whenever I feel the sting a second time around, it moves me. I cry. I want to make it better. I want to take away my friend’s suffering, too. I remember what my experience was and it hurts me to see them hurt.

This is empathy. This is understanding, a related feeling that I have in my viscera, a sting, a pressure, a pain.

Never can I relate in full, but I can try. Never can I immerse myself in another’s experience, but I can try. This again is our greatest human offering –  empathy through compassion, tenderness, love.

And imagine with me, this Jesus who proclaimed His love for us. God who proclaimed Her love for us. Imagine an identification, imagine not just an empathy, but a felt and whole sensation of our suffering and our unrelenting grief. Imagine this – that the God of the Universe knows all, feels all, holds all. This is made possible because the first time around was complete, terror-laden but complete.

She knows.

He knows.

Christianity, for me, needs to be simplified, bare-bones, relatable. We make it so hard to achieve, attaching rules and performance evaluations and expectations. It’s simple, friends. It’s about love – and it starts and ends with empathy, with compassion, with tenderness, with knowing.

I am a Christian, not because of how I voted, for that indicates nothing. I am a Christian because I am committed to bearing the wounds of another in my body. I am a Christian because I am committed to honoring another’s pain in my body. I am a Christian because I know how remarkably I am loved and I cannot help but love, in kind.

Second-time-around pain is our super power.

Onward.

On Desiring Nomads

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Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.

-Ann Landers

I am a nomad at heart. Growing up, I moved every one to five years. Our landscape swiveled from California, to the Midwest, back to California, to the Pacific Northwest, and again back to California. Even after moving to Colorado, Eric and I relocated houses and/or neighborhoods, moving with each pregnancy and beyond. While this need for change has surprised me, it is in me.

I, for some reason, am a bit of a glutton for punishment. Change is not easy. Change propels us into an uncertainty that requires we ask new questions, that demands we find an elasticity muscle that maybe hasn’t been stretched in awhile…or ever. Change requires nimbleness that oftentimes yields discomfort and maybe pain. Sometimes our changes are not by choice, as we are thrown into grief or joblessness or failed expectations. All of these things, whether welcome or not, demand our attention and a shift. We are set upon a path of wandering, not unlike the Israelites in the desert, wandering for 40 years. Egypt after awhile, despite the consistent abuse, starts to sound pretty good. We like predictable. We like to know what to expect. The Promised Land appears bleak, it’s probably a sham anyway.

Growing up in traditional church, we showed up every Sunday morning and every Sunday evening and every Wednesday night. I did all the things. I participated in Caravans (our denominational scouting program). I won the awards. I did the Bible Quizzing. I sang in the choir and played the piano. I led Bible Studies in high school, college and beyond. I was baptized. I went to camp every summer. I served on mission trips. I re-dedicated my life around a campfire and a strummed guitar about twelve times. I did it all. I earned it. God and I were good…

…until we weren’t.

With three active, young children at home, a host of healing I needed to accomplish, a husband who traveled, I was ushered to the end of myself. My martyr complex was off the charts, my perfect exterior was cracking, and my interior was in shambles. No longer could I appease this god I had crafted in my own image. My god wore me out, never letting me off the hook. My god was the god of the “shoulds”, never to be satisfied.

Stepping off the train of American Christianity was what saved me. It was either sacrificing myself to this unappeasable lord or reclaiming my soul. Leaving the megachurch, I found a small local congregation and I sat. I sat and said No!. I deconstructed and I trusted, one of the hardest things I have ever done. That was a long desert. The wind blew and the temperatures swung wide, rising and sinking with the sun. But the nomad in me was placated. I resisted her call for too long. She could finally rest.

As the shrieks of “should” diminished, as my soul reclaimed, there was a new sensation. A sensation somewhat akin to desire. I didn’t trust it at first. No Christian operates truly out of desire, for this is unbecoming. We suffer for Jesus. We sacrifice. What is this desire business? As an aside, I have to brag a bit. I was the best sufferer. I was a great martyr for Jesus. But it stopped being interesting to me. I wanted more. I craved more. As desire emerged, my spirit engaged, my body enlivened.

Sometimes, you have to leave. Being a nomad isn’t an easy choice, in fact, many don’t choose to go. Many stay put.

Our churches are supposed to bring relief to weary travelers, to challenge unjust systems. Our churches are supposed to bring healing and wholeness to us, where we, in turn, do God’s delightful work in the world.

When we reduce our church experiences to navel gazing alone, to personal salvation alone, to earning, we lose the richness and the hope of our purpose. We lose the richness and beauty of the world. We divorce ourselves from Creation.

I can no longer keep a faith that holds partisan views. My faith, my belief, my work in the church must go beyond my personal body and soul. My work in church has to be about relief for another. I can no longer worship a god that asks me to work myself to the bone, a perfect martyr, where it’s all about me.

Can my healing, my wholeness, equip me to do the work of compassion? Can my healing help feed the hungry? Can my healing help clothe the poor? Can my healing help to educate children and tackle injustice? Can my new wholeness work to eradicate white supremacy and honor the marginalized? Can my healing heal the wounded? Will all of this feed my deepest desires?

Through Jesus, absolutely YES!

When we change and grow and embark on the journey, not many travel with us. A life lived in desire – fueling mind, body, soul, and purpose – can be a threat to some. The path isn’t a vacation. It can be a slog through some of the harshest conditions. But I promise you, there is a Promised Land, and it won’t always be easy on this side of eternity, but you will discover the greatest joys of your life.

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.