I march for your daughter, and for mine.

In just two days, a global event will take place where more than one million people will march together for justice, peace, equality, and hopefully, ultimately, love.

The Women’s March on Washington attracted both men and women in all our diversity, and has now blossomed into 600+ sister marches across the U.S. and, beautifully, across the world. The mission and vision for this march can be found here, complete with a full PDF.

 

As the march approaches, my heart somehow feels both broken and incredibly strong, simultaneously. Truthfully, this march could have occurred during any year, any day, of our history here on earth. And in some ways, I’m sure it has. Individuals, tribes, communities, villages, organizations, groups, and even countries have encountered and protested injustices since the beginning of time. The battles have been fierce, hard fought, and never-ending. And yet, this march occurs the day after we feel reality set in as we reflect upon the actions of our new so-called leader here in the U.S. And, more importantly, as we gaze upon our own faces in the mirror and reflect on just who we are and what we will stand for.

It is a significant time.

And I choose to march. Not because it will miraculously save the world or protect all of those who are oppressed. Not because it is the ultimate action that is needed.

I march because they march, because many have marched. Countless have worked, and spoke up, and fought, and sacrificed.  I march because there is a ‘we.’  I march because I refuse to let the incredible work of so many less fortunate and less privileged than myself go in vain.

But, to give that more concrete and personal terms, to bring it home so to speak, here’s the real deal:

I march for your daughter. And I march for mine.

Now, when I say “daughter,” I encourage you to hear at least two things. First, make no mistake that I am marching and advocating for females across the world, including my own incredible daughter. This event is titled a women’s march for a reason, and that reason is because women have been, and still are, relentlessly viewed and treated as less than. I march as a woman, for women.

However, the importance of the second meaning of the term “daughter” (as I’d like to use it) is vital for all of us to understand and embrace. It requires you, us, to dig deep and identify the daughter within. A daughter, a baby girl, can evoke a beautiful hope, a tenderness and compassion, that few other experiences can. Her gaze dares us to be authentic and present, to be strong and protective…not because she needs it in the way the world has twisted and warped the word “need,” but because we need it. We need to have a reason to be courageous, a person to unearth our potential, to motivate us to fully embrace who we are with an openness that a daughter brings to us.  Think of an infant girl, that young toddler that you’ve seen or held, perhaps the one you’ve lost, or the one longed for, or who is on the way….look into her eyes. She reflects you, does she not? She offers a mirror and a magnifying glass. She is somehow looking at you in a way that allows you to really see yourself and what you are capable of, both good and bad. You see her and you see you, and that can be both mesmerizing and terrifying.

Our sons can evoke this same response, and I am certainly not suggesting a gender binary here that isn’t helpful or which further contributes to gender bias.  But I would argue that because of our sociocultural conditioning, or perhaps how we were created, or likely a combination of factors, a daughter can symbolically represent something unique and powerful. The ‘daughter’ can represent that part of us that holds the most important truths about who we are as human beings.

That part of us that is strong, and yet viewed or treated as weak.

The part that sometimes stays hidden or masked, because it’s afraid of rejection.

And, indeed, that part often does experience rejection.

That part of us that knows she desperately needs others. She was created to need and be needed by others.

It’s the part that sometimes sacrifices, perhaps even too much, for the sake of others.

The daughter isn’t selfish or narcissistic. She looks and sees the worth of the earth and all that resides in it.

It is the part that tragically gets neglected or abused most often.

It’s the part of us that we are ambivalent about. We question its worth, too.

The part that might have been silenced, or imprisoned, or even killed.

And yet, it is also the part that must live.

The world depends on her crucial, honest, and worthy voice.

We each have a daughter, perhaps only within, but no less real. Many of us have or are in contact with multiple daughters. Half of the world has experienced being a daughter, in a very literal sense, and all of us have encountered one.

And therefore, I, we, will march for them. For us.

I march for anyone and everyone that has ever been treated as less than.

I march for the times when I  have treated others as less than.

I march for those who are marginalized, outcast, and spat upon.

I march against greed, against hate, against the destructive forces aimed to injure or destroy our daughters.

I march for my dear friends who have been sexually assaulted or raped.

For the children who have cried with me, or who have been numbed by their experiences of neglect and abuse.

I march for the children, men, and women who are used as objects.

I march against the idea that one human life is more valuable than another.

I march for those that do not have the ability to speak or to make their voices heard.

I march against the ways in which, even as women, we degrade and judge one another.

I march for those who need our support as they explore their own gender and sexual identities.

I march for the minorities who experience daily threats.

I march for those who have been told that they somehow do not belong…to the human race.

I march because I am prone to these destructive forces.

 

I march because the God I believe in has been, and continues to be, used to justify violence, prejudice, oppression, and murder. And I protest that.

And yet, I march because I know He created male and female, every human being, in His image.

And this gives worth that cannot ultimately be taken, destroyed, or dismissed.

I march for my own daughter as she continues to receive false but powerful messages about what she must be to earn her worth.

I march for my son who is also objectified and told what he must be to earn his worth.

I march for those whose basic needs are not being met.

I march for the forgotten veterans and elders in our communities.

I march for me, for my mother, for my grandmothers.

I march because I have been used, discredited, ignored, objectified, neglected, and threatened because of my gender.

 

And yet, I march because I count. And so does she.

So do you.

 

I march for your daughters, for our daughters.

And I will march for and with my own.

 

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It’s not him, it’s us.

Breathe…take another breath.

There are no words to describe the amount of heartache, nausea, and shattering pain that I feel in my heart. My “allegiance” is to God, but it is identity-shattering to absorb the full impact as we recognize just what this country is…and what the Christian church in the U.S. has become. I have never felt so ashamed to be an American, though I have carried and wrestled with the realities of it for decades. To realize that the same hatred and greed that drove colonization and slavery is still alive and breathing in the hearts of both men and women in this country. How can it be?! I scream out in terror as it has become so explicit. This isn’t about Trump. This is about what he illuminated in a majority of people in this country. What he brought back up to the surface and then fueled. This is about you. And about me. About us.

This is certainly NOT just about politics. I am so tired of hearing that this is somehow about two parties, about different “opinions” of political issues. This is so beyond that; in fact, somewhere outside of it because it fully encompasses human existence. I can talk to you about our politics all day long. I can and have had rich conversations, fruitful ones, about important issues. Life is messy and I can go there. I can talk about the complexity of political topics. But this is about what has been festering in the hearts of both men and women. This is about the hunger for power, dominance, and wealth that drove colonization and slavery. About ignorance and divisiveness. And it is so dehumanizing when people will not acknowledge that these biases are a significant part of the truth. The destructive beliefs and feelings–they still exist at the same level for many people in this country that we claim is somehow free and just? You’re proud of that?? To be a country that was built on the backs and with the lives of the people we killed then and reject and kill now? The very people that are judged, ignored, oppressed, abused, and excluded…the people that are deemed less than, in your heart of hearts, and you’re going to sit here and tell me this is simply about politics? Lies!!! Do not lie to me, to yourself, and to others who are legitimately vulnerable. That devalues the worth of every single human being.

Now, you may claim that you are not those things. Racism, sexism, prejudices–those are not the reasons that you voted the way you did. Many who voted for Trump say they are sick of the status quo, that they feel vulnerable or threatened, that their values would have been threatened with Hillary Clinton. But, I tell you, that is not good enough to vote for him. Look, I earned a Ph.D in empathy. I can understand that you are against abortion and big government, for example. I know that you care deeply about your loved ones and that you feel fear, too. I know that you hold values and traditions of your own and that you felt pretty stuck in this election. I, too, do not want women to abort their babies. I want healthy, loving families. Ones who have options that do not leave them haunted and ashamed. But, that is a limited view if it ends there. Do you know how many minority women do not have the same privileges, education, access to birth control, free will in relationships, etc. that you have?? You must know that men still refuse to use condoms, right? That women may not have power in relationships…you at least recognize that, please tell me? That sex education is sparse and superficial and completely absent in nearly all Christian circles. And do you know how much drug use, rape, and poverty overwhelms the lives of so many people because of the greed of others? Because not everyone has their own boots, damn it. Not everyone was born white (thank God, truly), or into a two-parent home, or into this country, or free. Do you know the sex trafficking industry breeds on 10-15-year-old girls? Do you know who pays for the porn industry?? White men and Christian men, too. The sexual abuse and manipulation of women crosses all demographics. So many people talk about abortion being a convenient choice for women who have what they need. And yes, those are some of the cases. But, not all of them, not even a majority of them. C’mon. You have to be ready to admit the complex truth of these situations. This is just the beginning of the complexity of the abortion issue, but do not be ignorant about a topic that is going to determine who you vote for on election day.

Please also do not pretend or claim that you did not have options. If you really detested Hillary or felt so against who she might appoint, or had deep conflict with her political policies, you had others to vote for. And that should have sparked the realization that Trump does not hold your values, either. He is a liar. He would encourage women to get an abortion and is in fact, pro-choice. Thus, that particular reason to reject Hillary is garbage. And I could talk about so many others with that same important questions. But, this is not about him. You had a choice. There were third-party candidates. And there was time and good reason to ask yourself why you were truly rejecting her if it means selling your soul (aka, morality, integrity) over policies. What your vote condones or allows others to do is just as important as whether your chosen candidate “believes” the same way you do about business, immigration, and abortion. And this is what you need to admit and wrestle with openly, as you dismiss the heartbreak and fear of vulnerable groups: Any vote for self-protection is selfish if it results in the abuse and neglect of others. 

What about lives? What about human beings? I thought you said you were pro-life?!

And to my Christian brothers and sisters, we have a higher calling. Are we really being salt and light right now? You cannot read the Bible and tell me that Jesus cared more about rules than about people. That he is somehow going to excuse us because well, we “followed the commandments.” No, you read the book we hold sacred and you see a God who loves the oppressed, who dies for them. He threw politics out the window. You see Jesus walking with those that you won’t even have a conversation with. Human relationships always trumped (ironic) the letter of the law. You see a God who loves and asks us to be the body of Jesus. To give until it hurts, and that means sharing your wealth. To give up your coat. To sacrifice so that others might share in what you have. You see a God who is going to rightfully call out the truth in us, and for us.

And the truth of the matter is that, as proud as you want to be of this country, we should be so ashamed of a number of things. We HAVE TO OWN the whole story. This country is not a white, Christian nation. We used, abused, tortured, and killed so many people groups and need to take full responsibility for that. Do you know who built our railroads?  Have you really strived to understand the enslavement of people because of their skin color? And the ways that still exists?? Do you have any idea what that looked like for human beings that deserve the same rights and freedoms that you have the privilege to carry because you happened to be born with white skin? Do you have any idea how many Native Americans we killed??? YOU SHOULD. This was not our land, and this is still not our land. This is God’s great earth and we are to tend it. We are to use it as a place of generosity, hospitality, and unity. We are not to strive for dominance and wealth, which is everything Trump values. Now, there are values that I am proud of in this country. And I do hold a profound amount of gratitude for what so many of died for. Our freedom, right? But to be proud to be an American can only happen if that freedom is actively being advocated and offered and available to all. My citizen African American brothers and sisters should not have to die for our comfort. For our freedom. For our power.

This is so much bigger than this one election. This is a huge reality check and some of us are completely traumatized by it. And I ache for those with far less security than me. I cannot imagine their valid anger, fear, and outcry. You should respect and honor that. It is sad that I even need to say that. It should be so clear. The pain that fills my eyes and the anger that is driving me to scream out to the Lord has to be a small portion of what Jesus felt when he overturned tables. And I am so flawed. I am guilty as well. But, I think it matters whether we are trying to do something about it or not. And in His great mercy and unfathomable love, Jesus, bleeding for us, somehow looked down at the people and asked God for forgiveness for them, for us, because we do not know what we have done.

Now, the scenarios running through my head of what could happen in this country may be a bit dramatic, but not unreasonable. Yet, I pray they are indeed blown way out of proportion in my imagination. And yet, the greatest pain comes when I really let the reality and fear sink in and realize that, if divided as it seems we are, I’ll be fighting on the opposite side of so many I love. And I won’t really be fighting, but praying. Advocating. Hiding perhaps. But to know that my heart and yours are in such different places is devastating to me. And can I share with you, that as a woman, I am so deeply hurt. It isn’t just the election, but the reality of the results sure dug the knife in deeper and then, twisted it. Women, half of the world, are still seen as less than; how can you handle that? Is that God? Is that what Christians stand for? That somehow women are still devalued, to the point where you would rather vote for a filthy man than to vote for a woman who has worked her butt off. Explain that to me. Tell me that you don’t have sexism ingrained in you as well. Ladies, it flows through us. We have been oppressed and have largely bought into this. I am guilty, and I fight it. It is killing me to sit here now, thinking of my daughter, and knowing that women were saying they would give up their hard-earned right to vote, if that meant Trump could win. Nauseating. Heartbreaking. That people are going to play the bologna email card against Hillary when your supposedly only alternative is a man who will do whatever he wants to, because he is a white male with money. He represents everything that I’m trying not to be or to allow. He is the rapist. He is the abuser. He believes his power gives him the right to determine whose lives matter. And that’s who you voted for? That’s who you want making decisions for your family, your friends, your neighbors? Because you agree with his politics? (that do not exist by the way…he makes them up as he goes, to get your vote). You are willing to check the box by his name because you believe that, even though he is flawed, he might somehow save America? From what exactly will he save it from?

As a way to close, I’m going to talk about those I love. So many faces fill my mind. Stories, memories, human lives. The people and things I’d be willing to lay down my life for. I’m going to share some of my beliefs and my positions, because I believe that I matter as a human being, as a woman. For starters, I am honored by the diverse friends in my life and the way they embody the beauty of humanity. I love my African American, Korean, Chinese, Filipino, Mexican, Brazilian, Chilean, Taiwanese, Guatemalan, Ugandan, Ethiopian, and Cuban brothers and sisters, who have taught me so much about what it even means to love. To be human. I will fight with and for you. I care deeply for those who are rejected and ignored or ridiculed. Sexual minorities, those in poverty, with mental illness, those who are outcasted. Not heard and completely devalued so often by ignorant people. And that includes our rural farmers and those who have lost their jobs, their livelihood. That does matter. I’m sad if you somehow heard or perceived that it didn’t. That you didn’t. I also respect those with various religious beliefs, different from my own. I believe in a God of the universe who loves all people, Trump included. Even those we deem our enemies. Those who are destroying others. Somehow God, who when we were/are at our worst, in all of our sin, sent his only child to be brutally beaten and killed. I know that He died completely, and that His death was the victory. The moment you can love your enemy that way, you have already defeated hate, greed, and sin. And then, you have truly loved.

Thus, I have so much work to do over my lifetime. I will continue to strive to balance standing up for justice and loving graciously. Forgiveness–that is my goal. And because He loved me, I will strive to truly love others. To reach out to the sick, poor, needy, widowed, orphaned, oppressed. I will strive to be salt and light, even when that means confronting those I love with their choices as I expect them to do with mine. I will pray for those who have injured me and who have injured others. I will also, however, take a stand and advocate for those who have been put into a position where they do not have a voice that will be heard. I will fight for love and justice. I want to love our country, but I do not believe any country should be dominant. And with great power, comes enormous responsibility. So, if we are striving for true greatness, we will only achieve that by laying down what we think are our achievements. By giving up our power and comfort and our naiveté.

I love my children. My beautiful, strong daughter. I will tear apart any person that seeks to devalue her. I will continue to speak up about the longstanding and persistent gender issues that still embody our church. (So much more to say on that, but another time). I will teach her that she is not valuable because she is or is not beautiful, as subjectively defined by human standards. I will teach her, by example and word, that she is valuable because she is valuable. Because she is. She exists, she is human, and God gave her value. And the same for my young man. My son, who desperately needs role models, I will find those that can speak to him about humility, gentleness, and what true strength means. I will teach him that he does not need power, or wealth, or success, to be worthy of love and acceptance. That his greatest strength comes from his ability and choice to love others.  I’m not sure how I could kiss my children goodnight, quite honestly, if I had voted for someone who cares very little about human beings. That looks at my daughter and son and sees objects. I know many of you who voted for Trump do indeed love your children, and I am not trying to shame you. You made a choice and are probably uncomfortable with it. It’s just that I cannot reconcile the two right now.

I am so angry. But even more so, deeply crushed. Bleeding in pain. Writing has helped move some of the anger so that I can see even more clearly the person I want to be. But, I will not feel guilty for calling out the hatred that exists. I will not feel less Christian for feeling anger and for speaking up about it. Or for creating boundaries around just what I let you say to my children. You will have to answer to them when they ask the questions about who you voted for and why. My daughter woke up saying that she didn’t want to talk to anyone at school today. That she didn’t even want to converse. She, in her gentle and accepting spirit, has no words. I know she hurts so deeply and is trying to hold very complicated and heavy questions. My son stated that he was concerned about WWIII, and expressed that he feared he might die young. Can you hold that with me for a moment? And this is not because we go around bashing Trump or promoting apocalyptic thinking in our house. We have not talked about a war at all. This is because they truly get it. There is a lot at stake here. The country is fighting, divided, and many seem unwilling to offer empathy, to try to understand, and to grow in awareness. And I’m proud of my children for knowing that. For caring about it. For truly grieving and expressing themselves.

It is time for us to ask ourselves who we are. To search our hearts and minds and really be honest with ourselves and one another. I will pray for the church to mourn, to reflect, to come together somehow, and then to rise as the body of Christ, and to answer back with a love that will shake the ground we all walk on.

Good Fruit: Part 1

I became a Type I Diabetic at the age of 7. My mother was basically a single mom at that time, with a lineage of men who had chosen other priorities other than staying faithful to their families. As such, she worked full-time and was an excellent example of hard work, perseverance, and care and love for her children. We were never starving nor did we go without nurturance and what we needed, but medical expenses were difficult with my chronic illness and finances were never something that came easy. Child support was not paid by my father, so my mom was left to carry the full responsibility for me and my brother. She often kept the struggle to herself, but I had an idea and I know now just how much she was juggling stress and worry about my health, and about how she was going to pay for the care that I needed.

Working part-time was never an option. As a young mother, she didn’t have the privilege of going to college, so though she found good jobs, she was never paid what she truly should have been making. Through her employment, though, my mother always made sure we had health insurance. And as you well know, some insurance companies provide good coverage, yet some do not and many have high premiums, deductibles, and co-pays. The cost of a single bottle of insulin, usually lasting me about 4-5 weeks, was several hundred dollars without insurance. And then there was the cost of all of the other supplies, plus the medical visits to ensure I stayed healthy. We often drove 3.5 hours to see my endocrinologist, because my small town did not have the medical resources that a young diabetic needs.

My mom had worked for our local airport, and was laid off due to downsizing. Thus, we were without insurance for a time and it was tough to make ends meet. Paying for my diabetic supplies was difficult and my mom had my younger brother to care for as well. There were also some insurance companies who would not cover me as I had a “pre-existing condition.” Enter a huge gift from the government: CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program). I still remember the relief we felt as one of my doctors shared with my mom that there was a health insurance program for children that I would likely qualify for, and that it had very small co-pays, even for high-cost items like insulin and test strips. I did qualify, and this was a huge blessing to our family and gave me options I hadn’t had before.

Enter my teenage years. With puberty, changing hormones, and my divided attention and somewhat rebellious spirit, diabetes became more difficult to control. One of my dear friends (also a Type I Diabetic) and I decided that candy bars were a perfectly acceptable afternoon snack as we TA’d for our middle-school teacher. Don’t judge–we were sick of the carrot sticks and nasty sugar-free candy. Now, diabetes is a very difficult disease to endure and control for anyone. But, at this point, I was desperately trying to get my blood sugar levels to a desired range. The best way to do that is an insulin pump, yet those ran upwards of $3,000, with the needed supplies several hundred dollars more per month. The second best way was the method I was using, which involved taking one injection in the morning and then a shot every time I consumed any amount of carbohydrates. You can imagine how that goes when you are a teenager with five minutes between classes and a deep desire to socialize. Not only did I often run high blood sugar levels, which are responsible for devastating complications such as blindness and kidney failure, but I had severe low blood sugars as well, which are more serious in the acute sense. My mother was scared to death because these sometimes resulted in me passing out and falling.

Two low blood sugar reactions stand out the most. Primarily because my mother has recounted the stories multiple times, each time describing how terrifying they were for her.

The first was a scenario in which my mother walked into our kitchen in the early morning to find me standing at the counter eating brownies straight out of the pan. She recalls smiling and asking me “Brownies for breakfast?” At that point, I turned and looked at her with a slight smile, and then passed out and fell straight back on the kitchen floor. Thankfully, the brownies kicked in and raised my blood sugar enough that I came to before she needed to call for an ambulance. Yet, I was nauseated and had a headache for the entire day, as was always the case after a severe low reaction.

The second incident was more serious. My mother came downstairs to my bedroom to make sure I was up and getting ready for school. She walked into my room to see me sitting on the carpet, staring at the blood on my hands, with a large pool of blood on my head. I had fallen again, but this time hit the corner of my dresser. I woke up at the hospital with the doctor stitching up my gash. That day, the doctor had a long and detailed conversation with us about our options for trying to get my diabetes under better control. When he found out we had CHIP, his mood immediately improved. He gave us the wonderful news that this insurance would actually cover an insulin pump for me, and would also cover 90-100% of the supplies I needed to be able to use the pump.

A few weeks later, we drove that 3.5 hours again, but this time came home with a very expensive device that has likely saved my life. Not only did my diabetes get under better control during my teenage years, but I still wear the pump to this day and though control is still somewhat elusive at times, my long-term prognosis is significantly better with this medical technology.

And here’s what is important to recognize and acknowledge. The hard work, intelligence, understanding, and compassion of Hillary Clinton played an enormous role in my story. She and her husband were not the only ones involved in getting CHIP going, but she was a critical player and fought hard for it. And she worked with both Republicans and Democrats to ensure that the states were adopting the program, and that it was successful and effective at increasing health care for children.

Not only that, but many people claim that Democrats are too liberal in their promotion of welfare for U.S. citizens. You have undoubtedly heard of people who are receiving welfare (of any sort) mocked and judged for their laziness or desire to live off of the government. To not do their fair share. And to drain the pockets of the “real” hardworking Americans.

I am here to say that my mother is the exact opposite of those things, and so am I. She was doing all she could as a single mother and she represents the people and situations that many politicians are advocating for and trying to help. A country that takes care of its women and children is a loving and successful country indeed. May my story just be a reminder to all of us that there is huge variability in the stories of human beings, and that we are better people when we are supporting one another. Though there may be some who are inappropriately utilizing the welfare systems in our country, there are many who do not have a lot of options or who are relying on it for a time.

I am now 36 years old and have had two healthy children of my own. I’ve carried my own health insurance throughout my adult life and my husband and I pay a ridiculous amount of money for my diabetic supplies. However, I am happy to say that my diabetes is under relatively good control and I have no complications as of yet. I am so incredibly grateful to Hillary Clinton and to all of the others who were involved in the huge success of CHIP. Thank you, Hillary, for caring enough about families to make sure this didn’t slip through the cracks. For negotiating, brainstorming, and advocating for me. It was so needed by my family at a critical time in my life.

To the rest of us, please bite your tongue when you are tempted to make blanket generalizations about welfare and who is on it. You might say that my case is a rare exception, but that is simply not true. Single parents, those born into poverty, those who are injured or suffer a major medical illness, veterans, those with severe mental illness, etc., etc, do not have the same luxuries and privileges that you might. They cannot simply “pick themselves up by their bootstraps” because they don’t have boots. Nor do they have a way to get boots. They would have great difficulty even finding a pair. They need us. And what greater love can we show than to offer our boots to them? Some people need the help of others. They need the village. In fact, ALL people need help at different points in their life, financial or otherwise. My story is but one in a million and there are so many people that I have worked with who are rightfully dependent upon their community for a huge variety of reasons. Here is an encouragement to all of us, and to our politicians, to keep working for adequate, available, and affordable health insurance for everyone. And a call for all of us to enjoy the giving process, to reap the fruits of a generous spirit.

 

Clear the Fog, He’s still here.

I woke up to see thick fog.

It was smothering the trees and crowding the clearing just outside our backyard. It was gazing in at me, greeting me with a serious and poignant “hello.” It has been a while since I’ve seen it. Little glimpses here and there throughout this Autumn season, but it’s been noticeably absent this year, which is atypical for the Pacific Northwest.

It was one of those captivating fogs, arriving on a morning in which I woke to realize that I had nothing planned. Plenty on the to-do list, but nothing pressing, not urgent. Nothing that I cared enough about to peel myself out of bed for. Fog, chilly air from the open window, and my warm golden nestled next to me and into my pillow. I felt like I was being spoken to, as I gazed out of the window. There was a vitality to the fog and to the morning, something I haven’t felt in quite some time. I wasn’t energetic, though, just fully awake and alert. No desire to do anything, but just sit and think and listen.

Truth be told, it’s been a very difficult season for me. Depression has been with me in ways that I haven’t encountered before. That might be one way to describe it. Throughout my life, I can recall a pervasive sadness that I’ve carried. Psychologists often call this dysthymia, which can mean a consistent depressed mood, not always as severe as major depressive episodes. Periods of grief, irritability, often criticalness. Those are unfortunately my familiar companions. However, this is different. It’s a deep grief, one that seizes you at your very core. One that feels like thick mud. I’ve been more irritable, more angry, full of more despair, than ever before. My family has noticed it, but otherwise, I’ve largely kept this one to myself. Unwise I know, but it felt protective and necessary all the same.

In some ways, it makes sense or at least isn’t shocking. I recently finished a very long and arduous journey through graduate school. It was trying and I am likely still exhausted from that process. It can also be heartbreaking at times to reflect on things. Both the goods and the bads. To feel it all. Nostalgia, longing, gratitude, regret, wishes, hope, guilt. I might be trying to adjust to this new phase, to figure out who I am now that I’m not a student. Plus, I’m in a weird limbo state, where my future steps or career choices are unknown. Tomorrow is unknown. Things are still new and somewhat foreign here in Portland as well. Roots are fragile. I miss my friends. I miss the sun. It would make sense, then, that I might be feeling sadness, anxiety, grief.

But, the despair. That’s the thing. That is the formidable foe that, up until this point, I have easily kept at bay. And then, the realization. That perhaps I have been working so hard so that there is no time for feelings of hopelessness or despair. It feels deep, whatever it is. Everything on the outside is well enough. It’s a beautiful Autumn season. My children are healthy and doing well in school. Everyone is starting to make friends. There’s enough on the schedule, but not too much. I am able to clean my house and bake and exercise. Things I’ve missed doing over the past seven years. In some ways, I feel a happiness that I haven’t felt in a while. A breath of fresh air and a chance to exhale it. But then, there’s me.

Something’s shaken up inside. An identity crisis perhaps? Or maybe a real awareness of who I am and who I want to be, and the seemingly cemented gap between the two.

And the world, the country, the election. What a mess. Heartbreaking, disappointing, discouraging. It doesn’t seem coincidental that all of that is happening as I’m feeling the weight of what sometimes feels like human depravity. Yet, those are not the primary cause of despair for me. They illuminate a lot of what I question and feel, but the despair stems from the stuff that’s embedded internally. Or has been. It is the questions I have for God and for all of us. For my close friends and my husband. For my children. For myself. Who am I, and who are you?

Fog.

Maybe it is clearing, and what I gaze upon is hard to bear.

I prayed this morning for the first time in months. Sure, I’ve said the quick prayers here and there for family and friends. I’ve bowed my head at church and tried to offer words to God, I’ve prayed at the dinner table. But, this morning, I prayed. I’m not sure how to describe the difference, other than it was one of those times where I made myself present. It was the intention perhaps, or the willingness to really show up and then to communicate with God in a way that involved me in my vulnerability. Similar to when you have a conversation with your friend or therapist, and you aren’t fully there. You aren’t really sharing you and who you are in that moment. Do you know those times? When you are speaking and being as authentic as you can, but the real you is hidden or present somewhere else.  It was a quiet prayer, with few words. I sought to listen and found myself not really needing to speak. But just to sit with God, silently. To begin to show him my face and my heart in ways that I haven’t wanted to in a while.

I only closed my eyes for a minute, maybe two. And I opened them to see sun brilliantly shining on the tree tops. The fog was almost completely gone. Incredible. I have never seen fog clear so fast. I had to squint and move to different angles to try and see. There were only whispers of it in the distant trees. This morning, I had woken up after the sunrise, so it was as if the sun had been waiting being the curtain. She was the second act, just after the fog did its work.

It brings tears to my eyes as I write about it. And that gives me a healing sense of hope. Because something was exchanged there. It was real and a step in the right direction. There were no promises made, no apologies, no steps planned. Just a meeting. A meeting with the God of the universe, who I have struggled with over the past year. A God who I have distanced myself from, because I have big questions. Who are you and who am I? I have anger to express and a lot of guilt and shame to lay down. But, it must come in good time. A relationship, a reconciliation, that’s hard work. It’s just beginning, but I was so sweetly broken by just the slightest beginning this morning that I knew I wanted to share it.

Mismatch Day: It’s not about Portland.

The final requirement of my graduate program is a one-year, full-time internship. It’s a grueling application process, and one that you’ve spent the better part of your energies preparing for throughout your entire graduate training. And if you are a friend or even FB friend of mine, it’s been no secret that this was a tough process for me, as it is for most of the many, many graduate students competing for a limited number of sites. And the “match” was something that was deeply painful for me to experience. That moment when you check your email to find out how or if everything worked itself out and if your hard work and diligence (and let’s not forget hundreds to thousands of dollars) was all worth it.

For me, it was mismatch day. To be honest, it was shocking to wake up and realize that I was heading to Portland to a place in which I was really unsure about the fit. “Fit” is something that had been used over and over and over again throughout graduate school and by nearly every site taking applications. “It’s all about the fit.” “We are looking for fit.” By the end, it was one of those words that lost all meaning but somehow still made you nauseous. But if that was indeed the goal or aim, I felt something had gone wrong. My internal process and what I thought was at the heart of the conversation that I was having with God seemed to be way off the mark.

Still, this is not an uncommon experience. Many incredibly determined, brilliant, and high-achieving grad students in clinical psychology wake up surprised and end up at places that may or may be a good match for them personally. Many who are more qualified and experienced than me are also confused or even bewildered on match day. And certainly a number are disappointed, hurt, and distressed by the outcome.

So, what’s my deal? Why did this seemingly common experience feel so devastating and why does the sadness and mourning linger? These questions are the ones that I have been working through. And these are the real focus of this entry.

To be sure, there is much to be said about the totality of the outcome. There is not one single factor, but many that we all face with a move or a new place of employment. And the various factors all contribute to my experience. Yet, I knew there was one that stood out and I yearned to understand the nuance of what was happening cognitively and emotionally for me. There are multiple layers, but the pain created dense fog. Everything felt surreal and yet I was not able to truly understand why.

I have not walked through this fog alone. I am incredibly thankful to have experienced an outpouring of love and care in ways that hit hard, in a good way. Things made their way to the deep internal soil as seeds that will surely lead to growth. Yet, as I was treading through my own muck and trying to sort things out, I was surprised at times at my inability to express my deeper aches and to feel as if others really understood those. And I was humbled as I realized that I too often miss the experience of others who are desperately need me to empathize with them and with their experience. So many of my dear friends and family had nothing but good intentions to try and help ease the pain or just remind me to be grateful and look for the positives. But there was a gap, a misunderstanding maybe, between what I was going through and their responses to me.

So often others had wonderful things to say about the city I was moving to, the area that my family would get to explore. Donuts. Beer. Hiking. There were countless times that I heard just how beautiful Portland was, about how so and so lived up there and just loved the place, and about how they would love to live up there….

But here’s what I knew from the beginning: It’s not about Portland.

At first I was too depressed to know how to respond to comments about the Northwest, and then too numb for a time. Anger bubbled up and my dear friends were incredibly gracious with me. There were countless times, though, that I held my tongue. My unkind and immature response would have been “well, if you love Portland so much, why don’t you move/live there??”

Thankfully, I did not reply with that.

Because that snarky response actually misses what it is about. Just like some of the accolades about Portland, my anger and the associated thoughts would have robbed me of the chance to communicate what was truly real and meaningful.

The hokey pokey is not what it’s all about.

And so here’s my chance. Here’s what it is: that at the very core of my sadness, the deepest pain and wounds I think we all experience, are about the loss of others. The loss of relationships or the quantity and/or quality of them. We mourn losing others because that affects not only our well-being, but also our identity. And when we lose the other, we lose a part of ourselves as well. But the relationships, the unique experiences we have with those around us, those are irreplaceable.

Now, to be sure, living in a nice city or having a good home and resources makes a big difference. I have known those in severe oppression and poverty and I will be the first to admit that I come from a privileged position. There are a number of places that are WAY WORSE than Portland, Oregon. But Portland means nothing to me without the relationships. The blackberries and incredible hikes are rather meaningless without loved ones to share them with. Regardless of where I am, it is only a fleeting happiness if life there is experienced in isolation.

And certainly, there are more friends to be made and meaningful relationships to foster. But here’s the thing. Those do not and cannot replace the ones that I already have. It would be foolish to assume that there is not a unique bond and quality in each of the relationships we already have. And thus, internally my sadness is the aching to be with those I love. I am not grieving the fact that new relationships will grow; I am grieving the fact that my current relationships are real and alive and thus the loss is also just that: real and alive. I cannot replace those. And why would we want to? I will never be the same me with others either. I believe we create a unique bond and shared experience in each of our relationships, and that simply cannot be replicated. I miss those relationships and I miss that me.

It’s not about Portland. It never was and it never will be.

It is about….ending a huge chapter in my life and that of my family as well. And about shifting from deep face-to-face conversations with people who get me. And about physically wrapping my arms around dear friends. It is about knowing that life goes by quickly and that the children of our friends will continue to grow like weeds and I won’t be there to see them do it. That dinners out will not be with those that I long to sit across the table from. Sweet familiar faces I will only see from screens for the time being. It is about my daughter saying goodbye to her wonderful friends and having to give up her earned opportunity to mentor younger students at her school. It is about my son playing sports for the last time with friends he has grown up with. Saying goodbye to coaches who have supported and challenged him. My husband saying farewell to incredible colleagues that have helped him grow and thrive in his profession. It is about change and love and heartache and it all hinges on relationships.

This discovery is not anything necessarily profound and certainly not anything new for those who know me. If you ask me about the problems and cures of this world, we are soon going to be discussing relationships. However, there were several thick layers that seemed to stand as obstacles for me to get to this truth with this particular experience. I thought that perhaps the deepest wound came from not matching at what I thought was my dream internship site. I thought perhaps it was about how tough it was to swallow a big piece of humblepie and realize that I was overconfident in my qualifications and interview skills. All of that stung, but below that, at the deepest level, it was about not wanting to lose those I loved and feeling that perhaps this move and mismatch would result in that. And that somehow my outcome would affect what others thought of me. That moving would mean another loss in my life and that this one would be big. So many dear friendships have been centered around a common place and process; what would this do to all of that?

The greatest fear for me, and I think for all of us deep down, is that we do not or will not belong. That we cannot or will not be known, loved, and cherished. That we will not have the opportunity to do that for others. And when we do find those profound opportunities and experiences, we then fear losing them. We fear not being able to find it again.

It is not about Portland.

It was and is about my insecurities and fears. It is about real relationships that matter to me. It is about realizing that I often lost sight over the past six years of what really matters and I lament that. It is about being reshaped and reformed, which is incredibly painful. The pain will lead to growth, but it is a deep pain. It is about real losses, of time and energy, of not being able to hug best friends or sit across and eat the fruits of Portland with those I already know. It is about wanting to nurture my current relationships while also having open arms for new ones.

This pain is one that will not be healed by the beauty of any city, but instead by the resiliency of relationships. And it is precisely the relationships, their strength and perseverance, that help me to grieve but also to celebrate that which lies before me.

Oregon Sunset 2

The garden.

A garden.

That was the most (and perhaps only) exciting thing about our new house for me after we were told that we had two months to find a different place to live. Our previous house was a rental and owned by a company and it was a “business decision” to sell instead of lease the home after we had lived there for two years. We loved that home and the memories we made there with cherished friends and family.

However, as we finally got unpacked in the new place and I could exhale from school a bit, we became incredibly grateful for the huge backyard with fruit trees and plenty of room for the large garden I had dreamed of. The kids were thrilled too, as they loved to collect seeds and were fascinated by the ways in which things grow with a little water.

Or so we thought.

We dug the ground, pulled out the weeds, and fertilized the soil. After two books on gardening and composting along with the experience and knowledge my husband and I had gained in Uganda, we were confident in our creation and our abilities. With sweat and blisters, we made the rows, the raised beds, and followed the guidelines for each vegetable. It looked great in the beginning: fertile and ready to bloom into something that would show the beauty and mystery of life.

This search for a new beginning, for growth, to be alive, was also happening on a deeper level for me, though I’ve only recently gained this level of awareness. In psychology, this is similar to what we call a parallel process: the struggles we are having internally, in another area, or on the level of our psyche or subconscious, come out in a separate context or in a seemingly unrelated situation. Thus, the garden became a fully embodied parallel process for me and though the metaphorical language does not do justice for my emotional experience, it nevertheless seems congruent in meaningful and very real ways.

The thing is, I needed to plant seeds–to start fresh with something that would produce good fruit. The ground was dry and hard, with soil not suitable to drain well and nourish any roots. No signs of full life were visible. Something felt dead inside of me as well I guess. Maybe it still does. Perhaps there is always a part of us that is seeking to be brought to life for the first time, or resurrected, or awakened. The move was just a symbol of a greater shift within me, one that is still taking place.

The transformation from dry, untouched dust to moist, massaged, formed, and nourished soil was sure to bring life. I watered it daily, ever so careful as not to wash the seeds away. It was a delicate process the first several weeks, and one in which I found great joy through the expectation of new life. As the sun slowly crept up, so did I. The garden was peaceful, so calm and quiet with just the birds in the trees to keep me company. There is a stillness outside in the morning, a silence that somehow sings gently to me and calms fear.

And then…life sprouted!

Out of what? A tiny, hard, seemingly dead seed and the ground birthed baby green plants. From the death of the old plant, from a fruit that had nothing but a seed to pass on, new life arose.

Baby plant sprouting

Death was present in my garden as well, a consistent guest actually. Because as life grew within the garden and within me, plants were dying…hopes and expectations fading away. Fertilizer made from old, rotten produce was commonly worked into the soil. Death happened for the countless gnats and mosquitos that would attack as I watered in the evening. I’d smash them as they sought life from my blood or whatever else they needed to live. And ANTS. It wasn’t long before we saw hundreds of ants, all in rows, moving the seeds. Thieves!! They worked so hard to carry away the tomato and carrot seeds, scurrying into their holes only to leave me frustrated and speechless. Those were my seeds! That life was mine.

And so I became an exterminator. All organic of course! (so as not to negatively affect human life right?) Baking soda, coffee grounds, dish soap, mixes of spices, vinegar…many methods utilized to somehow end the lives of those pesky, tiny things that were ruining my pursuit of life. The ants were relentless, as was I. A daily battle ensued. And it felt hopeless at times. The more I fought, the more creative and persistent I became, the more they did as well.

What is it about this fight for life? Why, I thought, isn’t there enough to go around?

We have a dozen fruit trees and a compost pile. Plenty of rotten fruit on the ground to feed thousands of ants.

Plenty of ways to seek life in our world, how is it that I could still feel death in my own being?

Birds also attacked, taking not the seed, but the entire baby plant after it grew. And the sun….apparently the “when to plant” tips are very important. You plant things in July in southern California, the sun is sure to scorch the life right out of them. In a matter of hours, cornstalks went from green to brown. The carrots that were replanted refused to even sprout. Too dry, too hot. Lessons learned.

And I wish I had a happy ending to share. At the end of November, the weather had finally gotten cool enough to stop my efforts with the garden. And the result of my countless hours? The fruits of our labor? A few watermelons, corn that was almost got big enough to eat, and some pumpkins.

Much more death that life.

It was enough to make anyone go completely crazy. To see the green plants sprout, to see incredible vines grow, and then to watch them wither or produce very little fruit. At times I would find myself watering a dead plant, hoping to revitalize it.
As I gave up on the pumpkins turning orange in time for any holiday in which one might reasonably want orange pumpkins, I found myself reflecting on what I had done wrong. And I’m sure there are some very important ways in which I can improve as a gardener for next year.

Yet, at the end of that season and now as a new spring approaches, I cannot help but accept that death and life must exist together. There is simply no way to avoid it. Whether it is at the mercy of the sun or my hands picking the fruit, some life will cease. And some will begin or continue. This of course, is the great circle of life that we’ve learned about since grade school.

But here’s my confession: I’m not okay with it. I had always prided myself on the idea that I like change. That I do well with change and that I am okay with some endings and exciting new beginnings. That death is just a gateway, with no real power to cause a true ending.

But I hate death and I hate endings. Whether it’s the death of a loved one’s life, or a deeply meaningful relationship, or that damn plant that will not keep fighting: there are some things that I deeply want to be sustainable and permanent. I fight for that to be the truth. And many optimistic people would answer that there are indeed these things. Faith, love, and hope: these are eternal. And there’s a part of me that completely agrees. Life still wins. It still shines brighter and I know at my greatest depths that life will be all that remains in the end. Death will have its say, and then life will have the last word.

However, as I approach a very difficult decision and the realization that within the next year there will be great losses, I grieve deeply. Metaphorically speaking, there will be the death of something meaningful and incredible valuable to me. There will be change and there will be death. Yes, they will have a say.

But I suppose that we also have a say. For perhaps the greatest source of life that I have discovered is that I yearn. I ache. And I long to respond to death, which is a great sign of a living power that is sustainable. It is everlasting through the way we live and the relationships we build. In the earth we pass on and the stories we share.

I may not get a chance to plant that same garden at the same house, but I will plant a garden. I will sow seeds and they will bring life. They already have. And that power, that force and energy that gives us the chance to live and move and have a being, even if only for brief moments, will never fade.

homegrown watermelon

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Alright my fellow autumn-loving friends, here it is. I have been asked on countless occasions to provide this recipe. But I must say that I have also been asked numerous times, as people take a few bites, what these things really are.

“What are these…like a scone?”

“Is this a biscuit?”

“You said this is a cookie?”

I am not sure if the bewilderment is due to the shape or the texture of the dessert. Maybe both. But here’s the good news: These scrumptious things can be whatever you’d like to call them. They are not flat or even necessarily round like many cookies. Perhaps this contributes to the confusion. Nor are they hard in any way so if you do not like softness, these are not your match.

Maybe that’s why I like these so much. They are partially undefined. A little mystery or rebellion mixed in with the flour.

Or maybe it’s the pumpkin.

And the chocolate.

In any event, I hope you enjoy these as much as we do. They are hearty and they warm the house with the delicious smell of autumn.

Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS

1 cup of canned pumpkin

3/4 cup white sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 egg

1 tsp baking soda dissolved in 1 tsp of milk

2 cups flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup milk chocolate chips

1 tsp vanilla

Cookie dough

DIRECTIONS

In a large bowl, add the pumpkin, sugar, oil, and egg and stir. Dissolve the baking soda (not the powder!) in the milk in a small bowl and then stir that into the pumpkin mixture. In a separate bowl, stir the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt together. Combine the dry ingredients with the pumpkin mixture and stir well. Add the vanilla and stir and then fold in the chocolate chips.

Spoon onto a cookie sheet. And here’s the fun part. I make them big. A big glob. And I don’t worry about the shape though you can make them round by shaping the dough a bit. Just make sure each one is about the same size so they cook evenly. Bake at 375 for about 10-12 minutes. The time is variable depending on how big you make them. With the size I have shown, it’s usually 12-4 min. You’ll know they are done when you cannot see any wet spots and they feel firm to the touch. Let cool for a few minutes and then enjoy with milk! The recipe makes about 8-10 large cookies and the recipe can be doubled.

pumpkin cookies

 

 

Facing goodbye.

Hot Air Balloon

Weary eyes.
It’s the eyes that tell it all.
The gaze of a quiet yet powerful melancholy.
A longing unseen.

Numb ears.
Sounds dance slowly,
Float in a familiar but vague cadence.
A melody unheard.

Still lips.
Words fade before spoken.
The heart’s utterances paralyze the tongue.
A sonnet unspoken.

Worn cheeks.
Fatigued by the rise and fall of the mouth,
Privy to the sting of salty tears.
A touch unknown.

Limp brows.
Unsure of their place.
Confused by the ambiguity of many moments.
A sentiment unexpressed.

There is no other like the face of goodbye.

This post was incredibly difficult to complete, most likely for a variety of reasons. One primary challenge, however, was trying to determine how to verbally communicate something that is beyond verbal.  I lack words to adequately describe the intricacies of the emotions that seem to be ever present for me, and from what I hear, from a number of my dear friends as well.

Nevertheless, the intensity and urgency to give voice to this haze within has also been a constant companion over the past months.  So, in order to avoid the loss of leaving parts of me quieted, I write.

And I dedicate this attempt to those who have been my fellow sojourners over the past five years and for more to come. In this moment, this is to my cohort family, but will hopefully also resonate with anyone who has experienced the heavy fog when we are facing goodbye.

We began eagerly, with thoughts and expectations of an exciting path to a degree and a career.
Yet, we of course were in search for much more, at least I was.
I’m quite convinced that not one of us set foot on Fuller’s campus, into a clinical psychology program nonetheless, for simply a degree.
There was a deeper calling, a greater cause, a more complicated yearning.
However, I can honestly say I was not sure what that was or is.
Some part of the mystery of that search and longing is still alive in me today.

Nevertheless, we dedicated ourselves to an excruciatingly personal pursuit.
We’ll call it the pursuit of education, though that word does not do justice to the experience.
Countless hours of reading, writing, memorizing, and thinking.
Think, think, think. (It’s now become one of those weird-sounding words).
Process, brainstorm, come up with, reflect, analyze.
Yes, there is certainly a storm our brain has weathered for years.
Paper upon paper, book upon book, quarter upon quarter.
Our cognitive energy never at rest, not really, not fully.

Not to mention the ways in which every bit of ourselves was awakened and examined, even if only by our own inner judge.
From day one, we were asked to excavate anything and everything that existed within.
Our past failures, our future fears, our pains, joys, and anxieties,
It was time for examination.
Unbury it all and either put it on the table, or carry it in your arms.

And we soon also began holding the lives of others.
Looking into the face of pain, of rejection, fear, and regret.
We were asked to lean in….
Lean all the way in to the depths of humanity.
And we were evaluated on how well we could do that.
Our own criticism usually much greater than others.
But nevertheless confirmed at times.

I faced my own depths as well.
Times in which everything I rejected about myself took its place front and center.
Instances of utter disappointment, in myself and others.
Lonely seasons, weeks of withdrawal.
Days of frustration and irritability, moments of despair.
And times when it was challenging to take another step,
Impossible to see past the mountain that blocked my view from within the valley.

And yet, I also faced joy.
And silliness.
Eye rolls and complete disbelief at a number of situations.
Songs and jokes and hugs.

Tears and laughter, that is the way of it.

And relationships grew.
For me, the friends during this critical stage of my life became like family.
Brothers and sisters that shared life and could relate to me in ways that others sometimes cannot.
All with hearts after something transcendent, something sacred.
So, as we approach an end of something, I can hardly imagine where the time has gone.
And I can hardly imagine where it has not.
Life flies by when you do not have time to pause.
The cherished memories feel like a lifetime ago, yet also just yesterday.
Somehow both are true.

As I contemplate the transition that is surely coming, my heart grows heavy.
My natural instinct is to turn from it.
To leave first, to walk away.
It is difficult for me to face the goodbyes.

The emotions perplex my logic.
Not surprising as emotions and logic speak different languages when they need to.
And I know it is not truly a final goodbye.
Yet, there is an indescribable sadness, as my friend Sarah has expressed.

It was a meaningful chapter, and for me, a life-altering one. It was one of those that I need to read again and again, for there will always be something I can learn from it.
And yet I don’t want it to be just another chapter to leave behind.
I want the whole story, to keep it with me!
I don’t want to part with the characters.

So I mourn.
There is a grief that shadows the face….it creates a layer of distance.
Even as I’m surrounded by those I love, I’m not sure I can see myself in their eyes.
Nor are they likely reflected the same way in mine.
It is a grey loneliness. The colors have somehow faded in the haze.
Perhaps this is necessary.
A way to prepare one’s heart for the adjustment it will soon be required to make.

But the face.
The eyes can look down, the mouth deny the pain.
However, the face still reveals the reality.
I see it in the mirror and on the faces of my dear friends.
The truth that we are exhausted, depleted, fatigued, worn.
Excited for the future, mature in our ways, certainly.
But sadness stands next to that.
One cheek bright and happy, the other droopy and melancholic.

There is indeed a farewell approaching.
Maybe the end of a powerful volume.
The goodbye whispers for us to look at it.
To call it by name and give it credence.
‘Look up, turn around, glance over.’

And there are times when I find the courage to do so.
I begin to feel the touch of those next to me.
A unity is present and alive.
With worn and tired bodies, we join hands as we raise our heads.
For we are not alone,
As we stand together and face goodbye.

Hot Air Balloon

Hosting Pain.

There are some who, willing or not, have the task of hosting pain.
With or without permission, the cries of the world take root in our chests.
The tears wash through any deception in our blood that life is bliss.
We feel deeply. It is our calling perhaps.

Our own pain is significant, but we also taste the despair of others.
We possess the ability to see and to know the depth of human suffering….maybe because we have encountered it ourselves, even if only internally.
In the dark alleys of our hearts, are shadows of rejection, isolation, and death that are mysteriously our friends and enemies simultaneously.

Like the Thestrals in the Harry Potter story, in which only those who have seen death can see these beings that represent it, some of us can look into the eyes of another and know the deep anguish that resides beneath.
We can see it and breathe it.
We can recognize the devastation, the disappointment, because we are well-acquainted.
Because it dwells within us.

The biblical book of Job has always spoken to me on a level that feels just beyond my comprehension, just outside my grasp.
My eyes absorb the words and something within my heart is shaken.
“Wake up” the story whispers to me.
And my heart is taken captive by the narrative.
Not forcefully, but more akin to a surrender.

I have never experienced the tragic events held in the narrative of Job.
Not exactly. Not in “real life.”
I have not lost my closest family members to death or suffered so immensely from a physical ailment that marginalizes me from others.
Yet, I feel connected to Job, whether he is a literal or figurative character.
The truth of the narrative seeps through my pores and somehow finds itself already nested within my bones.
It is mysteriously a new story each time, yet one that feels as if we have known each other very well all along.

Job represents a tragedy, a truth, that is difficult for most to embrace.
Pain is naturally something we do not care to keep company.
We don’t understand it, can’t make sense of it.
And we want so desperately to get rid of it the moment it knocks on our door.
We peek to see what’s on the other side of that door.
We duck so it cannot see us through the windows.
We dive behind couches, close the blinds and curtains.
We plug our ears so we don’t feel as guilty or nervous about the seemingly relentless knocks and doorbells.
Suffering is an unwelcome visitor.

But I have realized that some of us have less of a choice.
Like others, we can certainly resist opening the door.
But pain keeps knocking; he is persistent.
And we recognize it through the peep hole.
It is real and it is part of life.
We know it must go somewhere.

Thus, we are left with a decision to make.
Hide, ignore, avoid eye contact?
We could surely resist and put up a fight, and we often do to some degree.

Or, we could open the door and allow the visitor to enter.
We might even greet her and offer a place to sit.
Be hospitable to pain.

What an odd concept.
Why would anyone want to welcome suffering in, let alone host it for any period of time?

This brings us back to the idea that some do not have as much choice as they would perhaps like to have.
We certainly all suffer and experience pain to some degree.
However, this is not exactly what I mean by being hospitable.

Hosting pain is instead an openness to the depths of humanity.
It is a willingness to allow fear, sadness, and anguish to enter and even set roots.
I’m convinced this is the burden that some have been asked to bear.
There are those in my life whom I have seen carry this task.
And I have felt and been told by those closest to me that I too carry this burden.
Yet…it is also a great gift.

For to be open to the depths also allows one to know the heights more fully.
To know in a way that is beyond words and that can transform our very being.
When the pain and suffering carve out paths in our heart and mind, there is more room for the truth of love, grace, and forgiveness to also wash through our bodies and our lives.

When we host pain, we also let his close cousin joy come through our door.
And we are able to cherish her because we know her kin.
For joy and suffering are closer cousins than one might think.
The light is incomprehensible unless we have truly seen darkness.
They are indistinguishable without one another.

Suffering, then, might be viewed as a great gift.
A costly one for sure, but a gift nevertheless.
And we can give of ourselves with this ability we have.
Our hospitality is also extended to those who have suffered.
We can hold them, embrace them, because we hold pain.

Their suffering certainly moves us, it can even overtake us…for a time.
But it does enslave us, not in the end.
It cannot.
For we are its host. We have opened the door and allowed it to sit with us.

I believe we each have opportunities in our lives to host this pain.
And it is never as simple as I may make it sound here…and certainly never easy.
As I reflect on my own life, I am also keenly aware of the cost and the ways in which even this “strength” or “ability” is not always used for good.

Very recently, grief and pain have been just below the surface for me.
They have arose from their dormant cavities.
The light has been harder to see at times and I have found myself reflecting on Job.
But recently thoughts of Christ have interrupted and filled my mind.
And not the light, glowing Christ that adorns children’s bibles.
Instead the human Christ, the one with the broken body.
The son of a father who sent him to take on all the depth and breadth of suffering.
Christ, though fully God, also stood as human and hosted the pain of the world.

As Christians, we often speak of ourselves as followers of Jesus.
We talk of Christ or the Spirit dwelling within us.
And in my darkest of hours, when I struggle to be hospitable to my (limited) suffering, I remember that I am not alone.

Because Christ also enters that door when we host pain.
In fact, we cannot behold Jesus without seeing the tragedy of the world.
We simply cannot gaze into his eyes without the pain of all humanity coming through to meet us.
We cannot be held by him, except by hands that still bear the wounds of suffering.
Or be kissed except with the lips that have also tasted the full bitterness of sin and death.

But even in the tragedy of that reality, I am encouraged and reminded that pain and suffering, even death, cannot reside in the house forever.
They will be driven out by something greater, to which they have no answer.
And I am reminded of Henri Nouwen’s poignant words:

“If the God who revealed life to us, and whose only desire is to bring us to life, loved us so much that he wanted to experience with us the total absurdity of death, then—yes, then there must be hope; then there must be something more than death; then there must be a promise that is not fulfilled in our short existence in this world; then leaving behind the ones you love, the flowers and the trees, the mountains and the oceans, the beauty of art and music, and all the exuberant gifts of life, cannot be just the destruction and cruel end of all things; then indeed we have to wait for the third day.”

And I smile through tears…and offer thanks for the third day when Christ will be the host and there will be no pain and suffering to attend to.

dark sunset

A 12-year anniversary and a dozen ways in which I have failed my husband.

Marriage is hard work.

Within it exists great power, great opportunity, to bring out the worst and also the best in us.

We are given the rare occasion to offer ourselves to another for a lifetime.

And by offer ourselves, I am talking about the gift we can give that is nothing short of everything we are.

Our past, present, and future.

Our hopes and our fears.

Our dreams, but also our nightmares.

We bring everything to the table and present it to the other.  Nothing stays hidden.

We become completely vulnerable.

Our weaknesses, our vices, our hidden secrets.  They have no hiding place in marriage.

 

Like a very clear mirror that is being held before us.

And we realize there is also a mirror we are holding up to the other.

These mirrors are powerful because they are held by the one to whom we have given our lives.

They reveal everything.

And we may not like what we see.

In our position of vulnerability, we may be terrified by the reflection.

At times, we may even try to distort the mirror we hold for the other because we feel weak.

 

But Truth reveals itself in these mirrors.

With time, we are faced with a complete reflection of everything we are.

This is where hope, Truth, and love can be strongest.

In our weakness and humility, love is that much more powerful.

When we have given our good and our bad, our beauty and our ugliness, we have then given our whole self fully to the other.

And when the other responds with love, our very beings are transformed.

This love is the catalyst for growth, transformation, and a deeper understanding of God.

This love is that which brings meaning to and victory over our strife and our battles.

 

But this love is not something we fall into haphazardly.

It is not simply a feeling we experience.

Love is a verb.

An active and persistent sacrifice.

And there is no such thing as ‘love at first sight.’

There can be attraction and connection at first site, but love, fortunately, is not reduced to this.

Love is much more.  It demands much more. It will not settle for anything less than giving your everything for the good of another….and ultimately, for the glory of God.

 

To love is a choice.  In fact, love is many choices.  It requires a decision to give and to let go.

It is by far the hardest choice to make…and you must make it daily.

But nothing can be so rewarding.

Nothing can compare to this sacrificial and demanding love.

 

12 years.

This year, Adam and I celebrate the fact that God has given us the strength and perseverance to make the choice to love one another for 12 years!

And we have failed one another on many occasions.

Some days, we have made the choice not to love with all that we have.

A dozen ways, each dozens of times, I have failed my husband:

1-I have chosen to not fight fair. When upset, I’ve used my words for low blows and unfair accusations.

2-I have forgotten to listen. I’ve let my anger or selfishness deafen my ears to his sincere words.

3-I have jumped to conclusions before hearing the whole story. Similarly, I have failed to give him the benefit of the doubt and thus questioned his integrity.

4-I have neglected to affirm him.

5-I’ve neglected to take care of myself, which leads to an irritable me.

6-I’ve taken out my pain from others on him, the nearest target.

7-I’ve made snide remarks instead of taking the time to come up with a thoughtful statement to express myself.

8-I’ve used sarcasm instead of gentle honesty.

9-I’ve been short with or yelled at my children when I really needed to converse with my husband.

10-I’ve let things build up and then acted resentful.

11-I’ve let my pain from other men in my past and present distort the mirror I show my husband.

12-I have forgotten to care for and nurture God’s creation, my husband, when I have instead prioritized me or the world above the gift that God has provided.

 

Indeed, I have failed.

Yet I, we, are more than our failures.

We are together and growing because our God is good.

Our God is love.

We have seen the best and the worst of each other, and have overcome many difficult challenges.

But this is only possible because of God’s grace and power in our marriage.

Our Lord has held us when we could not hold each other.

He has been our great marriage Counselor.

 

We continue to strive to be seen in all that we are and do.

There is no rock God leaves unturned and this, in the end, is and will be a blessing.

One thing we can say for certain is that our marriage is one of transparency and perseverance.

We do not hide our struggles and we do not ignore our weaknesses.

Our choice to love each other means loving the whole other.

And as we love, we are transformed more into that which God created us to be.

 

So, when asked how we’ve done it…in response to the comment ‘I don’t know how you guys have done it’, I answer,

We haven’t.

But God has.

With the same power that raised Jesus from the dead,

God is transforming us in our marriage.

And this is a great love that is worth the fight, worth the struggle, worth making the choice.

Sunrise