The Broken Scale

The mirror.

The scale.


The bathing suit.

The jeans.


Your mom.

The billboards.

Your partner. 

The dressing room mirrors.

Superbowl commercials. 

Most commercials.

That woman at the gym.

The size on your clothing tag. 




The button-up that won’t button up.


The looks on the street.

The way your bra fits, or doesn’t.

The bathroom mirror.

Your coach.


The dress.


That guy at the store.


The mirror again.

Why do we hate our bodies so much?

Why is the demand so high and the desire/standard so impossible to satiate?

Women, let me tell you something. We have drank the KoolAid. We have swallowed, ingested, internalized, believed, aligned and nearly become one with the preposterous idea, that how we look, how we appear, dictates how we should feel and how we should live. 

When do we feel good? When we look good. 

Some of my best days have been when my face, clothing, hair, and most importantly, physical physique, have looked the way I’ve been told (and I continue to tell myself) it should look. We have a goal in mind and when we get closer to looking like that goal, we walk differently. We have more confidence and we smile more. We flirt. We joke. Life feels better. We don’t put ourselves down as much, at least not for the moment. We feel good because we’ve met some mark or we are getting closer to it. And we tell ourselves that we will be better when we arrive at that mark.

I’ll look better when I lose 15 pounds. If I could just drop a size, I’d be happy. Don’t take a picture, I look awful. I’m not wearing that until I put some meat on these bones. I want curves before I start dating. I don’t want them to see me naked. Let me get rid of my overhang, my muffin top, my double chin, my arm fat. 

Then I can. Then I will. Then I’ll be….

I’m going to share a story that was just one transformative moment in my lifelong endeavor to truly love myself, which means to love my body. (Because guess what? We don’t just have bodies, we are bodies). 

Years ago, I was in Hawaii with some close family members. It was a time in my life when I was trying to exercise more regularly but feeling discouraged because I didn’t have a lot of extra time between raising children and being a full-time graduate student. Eating was all over the place, but otherwise, I was relatively healthy. But I desperately wanted that hot body. You know, that one we’ve been told is the superior goal of all human existence? 

It had been a rough day. I was pretty drained from an awesome but busy vacation and it was towards the end. I was missing my husband who couldn’t go on this trip due to work obligations and the fact that we had used up his PTO on other adventures. I was feeling crummy about the way my stomach “sat” on my bikini bottom. And the way my body was covered with freckles. And about a dozen other things. I had ran the morning before and felt great during it, but I had also compared myself to the hundreds of beautiful bodies that I saw on the island over that week. Will I ever get defined ab muscles, do they even exist? Why am I short and stalky? Why, cellulite, why? We went to a more secluded beach late in the afternoon. It was a little windy and we were on the fence as adults about whether we had the energy to go out at all. But, kids have mysterious ways… of knowing what they want at all times no matter how you feel as a parent. My two children were there and my niece. They were climbing along large boulders near the ocean’s edge. The scenery was beautiful, but I did not feel beautiful. I had eaten a fairly hefty lunch and felt remorse about it. Not because I was particularly uncomfortable physically, but because I was incredibly critical and neurotic mentally.  

I remember sitting on a beach towel at the top of the hill overlooking the beach, lying down so I could feel thinner and not see my saggy boobs…you know, soaking up a bit of sun but really having a pity party because my body didn’t look the way I wanted it to. I remember looking over at my mom who has also struggled with feeling down about her how her body looks most of her adult life. She was in a better mood than me that day, but I felt sorry for both of us. And I felt annoyed that my body wouldn’t cooperate and look the way I was constantly telling it to look. 

And then my daughter ran up, calling at me from the rocks and then all the way up the hill. “Mom, there’s a sea turtle!” 

Where, where?!?” 

I leapt from my towel and grabbed our disposable but waterproof camera that we had purchased. My bare feet running down the hill with my belly flab doing, well who cares what it was doing. I wasn’t thinking about that at all. I got to the water and she and my son pointed it out. It was gorgeous. (I am so in love with animals). And I also love to swim and happen to be decent at it. Even though I knew it was illegal and forbidden to touch the turtles, it was not forbidden to swim with them. I grabbed the goggles from my brother, told him to fetch his GoPro, and I dove into the blue-green water. Or at least I would have, but I couldn’t because I wasn’t sexy enough. I wasn’t thin and toned enough. My lips are a little too thin. You cannot swim with turtles if you don’t look good while doing it…

Oh, wait. That last part is all bullshit. 

The truth is, I did swim with that turtle. Right next to him (no idea if it was a him because that probably doesn’t matter either). I glided through the water, watching it move its limbs, looking at its awesome face and eyes. The water felt so great and I was so thankful I had snorkeling gear so I had the mask to see that creature so clearly. I loved him. I swam and swam. I would come up for air and talk to the kids and a few nearby adults with quick updates. The turtle liked the rocks and was eating something on them. (I doubt he was concerned about caloric intake or how he would look the next day). I remember a time when he ventured farther away from the rocky area and we swam side-by-side for a good minute or two straight out towards the ocean depths. He turned around, I came up for air again and turned with him. It was a beautiful experience for me. My children got to see me really living and loving every second of it. They got to see me free from shame and criticism. I felt alive and connected to our world and to these incredible animals we share the earth with. I felt happy. I felt humble and grateful. And I touched his shell (shhh, don’t tell). Just a gentle touch, just once. I didn’t realize how much of a ‘thank you’ it was from me to him at the time, but I definitely knew something as I walked up the hill, soaking wet at the end of a beautiful setting of the sun. 

The kids, and some other awesome women that were strangers but fellow sojourners.

It’s almost too magical to capture with words. The feeling I had. The difference between my internal state before swimming and after. And here’s what washed over me that day. I can swim. I can run (not well, not for long, but I made it down the hill and into the ocean). I can play like a child and be filled with awe. And let me tell you, friends, not one time, not even for one moment, did I think anything about the bikini I was swimming in. Not once did the fat on my body ruin the experience. The size of my butt or my thighs didn’t mean a thing. The turtle didn’t give one lick about what I was wearing and neither did I. I could have been naked and there would have been no time, no need, and no reason for shame. I was a body swimming with another body. The beauty was not held in what I looked like, or what he looked like. (how do we even judge turtle beauty?) The beauty was in the experience of being alive and doing something that brought joy and happiness. A sense of being free and also being connected to others. I walked up the hill not giving a shit what my wet body looked like in the bathing suit. I wasn’t even conscious of it because that was not and is not the point of living. I was doing something I wanted to do and could do and not allowing false beliefs about myself to hold me back. 

I’m going to propose a radical idea. Simplistic and not at all original but radical because it is so hard to do. And so hard to do because we have to continually do it and fight against what we’ve been taught. Not once, but a thousand times in a thousand ways. 

It begins and essentially revolves around a question: In what ways has the shape and size of your body kept you from living your life? 

And said a bit differently: what things do you want to do but you cannot do because of some aspect of how you look? 

The answer(s) to this question will likely lead us to think about different components of living. Well, I can’t wear my wedding dress anymore. I can’t fit into my jeans. I can’t shake my ass when I dance cause I don’t have one. I can’t walk into a class without feeling embarrassed. I can’t squat 200 pounds. I can’t run a 10k or half marathon. 

Maybe you haven’t been able to fit into different things, like seats at an event or on an airplane or that shirt your mom gave you. Or maybe, for health reasons based on weight, you’ve had to limit some activities. Maybe you can’t sleep well at night. Perhaps you cannot do the athletic or active things you once could or have always wanted to do. Maybe it is hard to make it up a flight of stairs or to hike in a national park.

Now, let’s ask it again. Be honest and accurate with yourself. Subtracting all of the things that you have told yourself you can’t do because of your weight/body fat/height/looks, etc, what things are you actually limited by because of your body shape and/or size? 

Can you begin to make two different lists? #1: Can you identify what things you truly want to do that you truly cannot do because of your body size, shape, composition? 

And on the other list, #2: What are all the things you’ve told yourself you cannot do because of your shape and size or how you look? 

Is there a difference? The first list is one that does indeed matter. It tells you that maybe there are ways in which you want to get stronger so you can do something. Or get more cardio endurance, again so you can do something. Perhaps health is a concern– and in no way am I downplaying that health matters. If your physician tells you that you need to lose body fat so that your heart can operate well and you can play with your dog and go on that hike you’ve always wanted, you damn well better put that on the first list. Your health matters because your life matters. If you need a tighter core because your back is killing you, yep, that goes on list #1. Also, if you want to bench 200 and you cannot yet because you need more muscle mass, okay. I hear you. I honor that. You have goals and you want things. GOOD. It’s important to find things that bring you joy and purpose and meaning, and sometimes we gotta change even our body composition or our endurance, etc., to meet those goals. 

But, here’s the thing. Those things on even that list should be solely that: your goals. 

Not your self-evaluation.

Not your sense of lovableness.

Not your scale for your self-esteem. 

Your goals, your aims, that’s it. You won’t be worthy when you arrive at the goals. You’ll arrive at your goals, in your own way and your own time and how you need or want to, because you are already worthy. And if you change your mind or adjust your goals, your value as a human being does not change.

Last but not least, I want you to make a third list. In fact, this one is probably the most important and yet the hardest to feel like what’s on it is “good enough” or makes the big difference. This one is gonna be long and I want you to keep adding to it. 

List #3: Write down everything you can do right now with your body. Assuming you stay JUST AS YOU ARE, what things can you do, do you do, that you enjoy and want to do? In other words, what are all the ways you are living your life and doing things with that body you have right now? 

Again, maybe you are injured or maybe you are ill. Maybe you cannot do all that you want. That’s okay. We’re not asking on this list all the things you cannot do. We made that one already, right? This list #3, is what you CAN do. 

Can you offer a cup of coffee to a friend?

Can you enjoy a hot shower?

Can you play the violin or guitar or my version of the drums which is really anything that sounds cool when I pat it with my hands?

Can you grocery shop?

Can you enjoy ice cream and name the flavor with your eyes closed?

Can you go snow tubing?

Can you throw snowballs at your neighbor? (but should you?)

Can you smell lemons? Cucumbers? Baked bread?

Can you pillow fight with your kids or your partner?

Can you offer an affirmation to someone who needs it?

Can you walk? Outside? Through the trees?

Can you feel sand between your toes?

Can you plant a flower for your neighbor because you nailed them with a snowball last winter?

Can you laugh?

But, can you snort? (will you allow yourself to?)

What about dancing? (I don’t wanna hear I’m not a good dancer. I’m asking–can you dance?)

Can you enjoy a massage?

Can you have sex?

Can you sing?

Can you hug someone or offer to hold the door open?

Can you wrestle or snuggle your pet?

Can you lift more weights that you could last week? Or do it with better form? Or more exertion?

Can you smile?

Can you sit at Thanksgiving with loved ones?

Can you listen to a baby coo?

Can you shake what your momma gave ya? 

Can you skip? Jump rope? Roller skate?

Could you swim with me, perhaps a life vest needed and that’s fine, if we happen to run into another sea turtle in this lifetime?

Can you feel the sunshine on your face? Or smell the rain? Feel the wind in your hair?

Your body matters. It has brought you to this day, to this place, and it is you. You have much to celebrate and appreciate about that incredible body that YOU ALREADY HAVE. The radical transformation we need? Is to earnestly focus on functionality and not on appearance. To practice feeling grateful instead of grossed out. To feel good regardless of the mirror. To get a new scale that has nothing to do with numbers. Or better yet, throw out any and all scales (literal, symbolic, abstract) that sap joy from your life. The goal isn’t to shift into criticizing ourselves for what our bodies can and cannot do. Our goal is to live freely within love and to experience true joy for being alive, being embodied, and being embedded within communities that lift us if we literally or metaphorically cannot walk. To truly love our bodies because they are. Love comes first, and not as a reward.

And listen, I have in no way arrived at some perfect internal place of loving myself or my body all the time. I just try to focus and work towards having more and more moments, for longer periods of time, where I choose to love my body as is, instead of waiting to love it when I get to some place. 

Cause here’s the thing. If I can’t love my body now, TODAY, in the way I look in my bathing suit right now before I shave these legs, then I won’t truly be loving myself either if I get to a place where I’m struttin my stuff in a bikini at a lower weight or with more muscles showin. That’s not self-love. That’s conditional approval.

And life’s too short and too important to chase conditions!

I’m rocking the bikini (or whatever else I feel like wearing) now and always, cause my body has a lot to do and feel and enjoy.  

My scale that day.

Hold your breath.

Take heart. 

Allow yourself to feel it. It will break you, but it will not destroy you. 

I broke at the bridge, as I was driving to a physical therapy appointment and saw the visual of the smoke over the river, the birds quiet, the ducks sitting on the same dock we had jumped from just a week before. 

Life is vulnerable and delicate. All of life. And the beauty remains through the darkness, but the truth blazes in a different way. How often our lenses are clouded by the clear skies and what can take place in comfort–which is a neglect of gratitude and tenderness and active, compassionate care of all that is precious. 

I just watched My Octopus Teacher, a documentary about a man who became more alive and more connected through the literal and symbolic dive into the depths of the ocean and his self–the earth, the world that is always there and here and yet is not often truly seen or experienced. If you haven’t watched it, go do that now. 

There was a photographer down below. I saw no one else nearby and heard just a faint whisper from the river that all is not well. There was silence between this other human and myself. Both of us taking pictures, trying to capture what cannot be truly captured. And certainly not with words. Only with emotions and connection really, but we directly expressed nothing. We didn’t need to. 

To be empathic means to allow the power of love to truly devastate you. Because love will again, break you. To feel what is true and real and meaningful all around us. To know that control is what you must relinquish. It will hurt. It will rip open the armor you have tried very hard to tightly wrap around your inner most depths so that you can endure the suffering. But to turn off any part of your self is also suffering. Numbness, morphine–it’s a slow death.

Smoky air fills up the breath of life. Graffiti all along the rails and posts and overpasses. It reminds us that there is much to say and much to feel and that at times, it is displayed in our faces because nothing else can be. The colors, the letters–‘I will not be silent but I will also not be fully known.’ 

As fires burn up the beautiful west coast, it is yet one more reminder that we as humans do not have full control. And also that we must rely on something else deeper and more powerful. I have unfortunately become numb to some of my own pain. And when it erupted this morning, I did not have any more answers. I still felt the chaos of not knowing what to do, how to start, where to go, and if I should put my mask on. 

But I felt the fullness of what life is. Fragile and heartbreakingly beautiful and good, except for all those parts when it is not. We have to somehow walk outside barefoot and willing and open, knowing simultaneously that we cannot save everything and that we also must relentlessly try. However, we cannot do it without our full selves. We must act, but we cannot truly know how or when or why without the guidance of that emotional, empathic, connected self that must not be neglected nor shutoff nor purely irritated. We all bleed the same. And everybody loves ice cream. Don’t you forget your humanity. Sometimes all it takes is to help a hurting animal or hug someone who is scared like you to remember who you are. Do that. Don’t let your ego tell you that you cannot do anything because there is too much to do. There’s something for each of us to do, and something for all of us to do together. Start now. 

The common octopus often only lives for one year. Then the process of creating hundreds of thousands of eggs that will develop into only 1-5 living babies deteriorates her body until she passes. But she fully lives that one year and it is remarkable to think about how we can do the same with whatever time we have. 

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.





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?


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

Facing goodbye.

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

Gift-less, Part 2: The Season.

Breaking a tradition, habit, or ritual is always tough, especially those that have been around for our entire lives. So, as one can imagine, going into the Christmas season knowing that there would be absolutely no presents caused some angst and uncertainty for a mother of two. Make no mistake: I was simply thrilled that I didn’t have to wrap up another grueling quarter of grad school only to fight the shopping crowds in the remaining two weeks before Christmas. Nor was it unpleasant to pack the car to visit family in Utah without having to play Tetris with odd-shaped packages while the bows found a new home in my hair. No, I was quite relieved and content. No black Friday shopping, no hour-long searches online. Just December. Just family and friends. Yet, I wondered how the kids would do with no Santa and no presents. I feared they would be sad, whiny, or miserable. I feared that I might be those things too.

It turns out that planning service projects is no easy task. For safety and liability reasons, many places would not allow children to volunteer. Well, that’s not exactly accurate. Many did not allow children to volunteer their time. They were happy to take money or gifts from anyone, including our 8 and 11 year old. However, it was somewhat difficult to find ways to actually give of our time and effort…to actually be with people who needed company and to seek to brighten their day. But, not surprisingly, the church had answers, and we were blessed to be connected with others who had suggestions. It wasn’t long before we had several activities lined up.

We began at a place filled with wise, wonderful people who are often overlooked or dismissed in our country: a retirement center for senior citizens. This was our first act of service, and the kiddos were nervous. Admittedly, so was I. Would people find it odd that we weren’t family or friends, but simply strangers stopping by? Would the kids be too shy? Would they be scared by those with dementia or physical disabilities? And what would we do? What would we talk about? Me, being the planner I am, made sure we arrived with bags full of games to play, books to read, and snacks to share. Things cannot go wrong if we plan well enough, right?!? Our first stop was a room with a couple who were not too interested in anything but a quick hello. Odd stares and nods. The TV was much more interesting than us. Our anxiety increased and my husband and I gave the “oh boy” look to one another. But, the next room was quite a different story. A dear 105-year-old woman greeted us with a big smile. She shared stories of her life: Born in China, was a teacher, moved to the U.S. with her husband, and attended school to further her education. Photos adorned her walls. Family, friends, and trips across the world. She was quite the traveler. She was warm and welcoming and it was a pure joy to watch as Cameron read an Elephant and Piggie book to her. She complimented him on his enunciation (she was a teacher after all) and told Adam and I what a great job we were doing on exposing our children to “people of different ethnicities.” She was simply wonderful. When we returned the following week, we could hardly escape her room without a half-dozen cookies filling our stomachs and hands.
cam reading

We made other friends at the retirement home as well. We played bingo together, swapped stories, and simply shared our time. Taylor and I will be returning soon to paint nails with the ladies and Cameron will visit his adored friend Dee, who has a wicked sense of humor that he loves. Some friends who know us by sight when we enter, and some who forget us the moment we step away from the room. All beautiful people. It’s always a mix of emotions as we walk out. Sadness, inspiration, despair, love, joy, contentment, and somehow….hope…even in a place where people are in their last stages of life. Hope in relationships, in humanity. The mix of emotions somehow boils down to a simmering love for and appreciation of this thing we call life.

We also had the privilege of being involved with a service project that a couple from our church have been doing for decades. Based in Mexico, there is a tradition called Luminaries in which lighted candles once lead the way to the church on Christmas Eve. This has been expanded over time so that the lights now represent preparing the night for the arrival of the Savior. So, every year, this dear couple hands out over 1,500 fliers to the homes of their neighbors and surrounding blocks. Families have the opportunity to purchase luminares for $1(a votive candle in a simple brown bag with sand in the bottom) to set out on their curbs, porches, or driveways on Christmas Eve. The money paid goes to the buyer’s charity of choice. So, our family helped sort candles and bags, and then helped scoop sand and deliver orders the weekend before Christmas Eve. We also purchased some of our own luminares and put them out at the Elizabeth House on Christmas Eve, a home for women and their children who are seeking to get out of abusive relationships.
Elizabeth house

It’s a simple idea, nothing explicitly life-changing about the task. Yet, simplicity is what we needed and I cannot fully describe the way in which we were ministered to during this activity. Ernie and Judy invited us into their home and their lives. They fed us, and treated us like family during our times with them. The kids could not get enough. The love and joy that they have fostered in their own lives and through this project was evident as neighbors flocked to their house to pick up orders. We once again found ourselves sharing stories, and feeling fulfilled as we saw the love of God radiating from others. That same love that we sought to give, was being given to us. And the bonus: It came with fun perks for the kids too! Cleaning up leaves and delivering luminaries becomes very exciting when one gets to use a leaf blower and a small electric truck. It reminded me of my times growing up, when being neighbors really meant something and people had time to just be together.
scooping sanddelivery truck

As I look back and reflect on the experience, I realize there was nothing spectacular or particularly amazing about what we did this Christmas season. However, the ease of which we were able to enjoy the holiday was remarkable. It was almost too easy, too good. Not once did we feel saddened or left out by getting rid of the gifts. Not one tear or pout on Christmas morning. Our attention and focus on relationships left us feeling content and satisfied in ways that are really not explainable. Our ability to listen to and really engage with others was heightened. And low and behold, we experienced…joy. We were deeply ministered to, in a way all too mysterious and all too uncommon in our lives right now. I remember asking myself countless times, why haven’t we done this before?

As we helped serve dinner in the park for those without a home, I was reminded that our relationships are not a given. There is nothing specific about being human that ensures we will truly love and cherish one another. I look at some of the people at the park and in the street who are homeless, and I think: I wonder when was the last time they were hugged? Have they been told lately that they mean something? That they are worthy to be cherished? And what about people in positions of great wealth and power? Do they experience grace and forgiveness? Are they appreciated just for being human? As I reflect on our experience and on my life in general, I cannot escape the difficult but necessary reminder that there are many people who are deeply hurting. There are times when we all have been hurt or have inflicted pain on another. Yet, there are also people who are serving and loving one another, despite their circumstances. Bearers of relentless hope and perseverance. And we all have the chance to do just that. In small ways that make a big difference. Not just for the served, but also for those who serve.
Tay serving drinks

On Christmas morning, we woke up and had breakfast as a family. We played games and simply relaxed and praised God for the miracles He provides every day. And not the house or the car or the clothes. Instead, the people. Human beings, with all of their strife, shortcomings, and vices, have wonderful potential for love, connection, and a life worth living. The family and friends in our lives, old and new, young and old, are nothing short of miraculous, undeserved gifts.

Fam in truck 2