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Restoring the deficit (and no, this isn’t an economics lesson).

I had a conversation earlier this week with a clergy colleague and friend re: our heartache over the ever-widening and angry tribalism in our communities and our nation.

(First up and real quick, let me be real clear I am not talking about things rooted in the darkness of real hate here–there are not two sides to real racism. Or genocide. Or the like. That I even have to clarify this is indication of what sport we’ve made of polarization. Ok, read on….)

And my colleague said so well something I’ve been rolling around for months–and that is, we’re operating with a trust deficit. And operating with a deficit–be it financial or otherwise, is not a formula for either a solid foundation, effective cooperation, or real relationship.

I have been fortunate enough to know some local and state politicians here in Kentucky personally. I say fortunate, because it means I see those men and women as human beings–I know them first by name, or how we first met, not by their job or political affiliation. And because of this I’ve learned at a deeper level what it means to vehemently disagree with someone, but also trust that he or she really does also have the wider community’s best interest at heart, even if the path there is not the same one I would take.

I have been fortunate enough, also, to serve congregations and organizations where I had beloved congregants, or respected coworkers, who saw differently than me about how we lived and moved and had being together. And because our life or work together was rooted in mutual trust of good intent, of best interest, of acting and speaking with love and respect first, we were able to work through disagreement with relationship intact.

Y’all know how this plays out in personal relationships–once trust among friends or lovers or family is broken (and certainly if it was never present at all), it’s profoundly difficult to repair. Not impossible, but difficult. And full communal confession here: we’re almost all guilty of contributing to broken trust–if we’re lucky, we also know the redemptive grace of the very hard work of rebuilding it.

And if this is true for us personally, it follows it would be true for us corporately (as in everyone together) as well. Mutual trust means a capacity to engage in real conversation about differing ideologies, because we’re able to truly envision and desire an outcome that finds the most common good possible, and then settles there. Mutual distrust means we just retreat further into our own tribe.

And this retreating–it is nothing short of our undoing.

Y’all also know I believe with every fiber of my being that social media, really any media, is a double-edged sword. It can encourage, truthfully inform, lift up, feel good and foster relationship. It can also discourage, lie, push down, feel awful and destroy relationship. It can be Harry Potter or it can be Voldemort. It can be Iron Man or it can be Thanos. It can be Darth Sidious or it can be Rey Skywalker. It can be the White Witch or it can be Aslan.

It can be good. Or it can be evil. And this depends entirely on how we use it.

When we do the retreating further into our own tribes, social media is, these days, the first thing we weaponize–it’s so easy to twist a fact, edit a video, exact a few words, such that everything becomes leveraged precisely to our own viewpoint or will. So easy to speak without accountability or face-to-face repercussion. And this further propagates distrust, further destroys any sense of community, further divides us against ourselves.

Still– when our better angels lead us to trust one another, social media can be immense blessing, because it means efforts and relationship are able to be much more widespread, sometimes even calling us back to what’s universally common about human beings–our deep desire to be known and to be loved.

I don’t have the answer, or even the beginnings of one, for how we restore the deficit. But I have some ideas about things we have to address if we even want to attempt it.

  1. Restoring a sense of trust requires listening. Not listening to respond. Not listening so you can better formulate your own argument. Real, active, set-yourself-aside listening. This is the only way we can begin to honor another person’s experience simply for what it is, not how we might interpret it, or how we would even respond to that experience ourselves.
  2. Restoring a sense of trust requires empathy. Shew, y’all, we struggle with this. It’s hard to make someone actually care about another person’s story, if they don’t already. Real hard. But acknowledging each other’s pain, and then maybe even adjusting our behavior so as not to add to it…man, if we could get this right, everything would shift. Every. Thing.
  3. Restoring a sense of trust requires a desire for truth. Lord have mercy, we’ve got to learn to verify, research, dig deep and discover what’s really going on around us. I fear sometimes that we’re actually just too lazy for democracy–something so much of the world would give their lives for; something so many of our ancestors did in fact give their lives for. We dishonor so many brave men and women the world over with our refusal to do the work that needs doing. And maybe this is just apathy–which I can understand to an extent. It’s hard to find honesty when it comes to democracy and the government these days. Money talks loudest and corrupt behavior is everywhere, and in every party. But to completely throw in the towel? Can we really do that and live with ourselves?
  4. Restoring a sense of trust requires humility. Not a single one of us has all the right answers. Not a single one of us sees the whole picture. Not a single one of us is without fault, or sin, even. Stepping down off our own arrogant pillars of supposed certainty would be a good first step towards the sort of humility I’m talking about here–but even more, it requires self-critique before critique of others. You know, that whole idea of cleaning up your own house first.

None of this is easy. 

None of this will heal us overnight. 

There is no silver bullet.

There is only the earnest, difficult, ongoing work of being human. Of admitting we do not, any of us, live in a vacuum. Of summoning enough compassion to see that your well-being and mine are inextricably linked. Even if we see the world entirely differently.

Even. Then.

Any business can only go so far operating in the red, and it stands to reason that we’ll only so far if we cannot move out of “the red” ourselves.

May we find the heart to do so. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lemon square prayers.

If you have been to my house for a social occasion at just about any point in my adult life, there were probably lemon squares as a dessert option. Specifically Ms. Sandra’s lemon squares–the signature pot luck offering of the most quintessential Southern church lady you can imagine.

My family moved to Winder, Georgia, in between Christmas and New Year’s of my 8th grade year of school. It took me years to forgive my parents for uprooting me at that point in life; still, as it happens, it brought a whole lot of goodness to my life. Including Ms. Sandra. She has been, whether in person or via prayer, present at almost every significant occasion in my life–quite simply one of the most giving and gracious spirits I’ve known. To be in her presence during my adolescence was to know love.

Over 20 years ago, Ms. Sandra was part of a group of women who prayed every single day of my mom’s journey through breast cancer. And when I was diagnosed with lymphoma in March, you can bet Ms. Sandra was one of the first people I heard from. And the next thing I knew, she had a group of folks in my hometown praying for me. The full circle moment of it has stayed with me every day thus far of my own journey, and has meant everything.

Some of you have heard me tell the story of the stroke patient I worked with as a 24 year-old hospital chaplaincy intern. Nathaniel was dearly loved man, and his family was almost always gathered at his bedside or in the waiting room in the days after his massive cerebral hemorrhage. They told me he’d been a song leader at his church, that he loved to sing. Nathaniel was not conscious during the times I visited him, and so for a few minutes every day of his hospitalization, in lieu of conversation, I’d sing. Every church hymn I could think of. And one day, halfway through “Amazing Grace,” Nathaniel’s neurologist came in for rounds. I immediately stopped and backed away from his bed, knowing his doctor had important work to do. But his doctor stopped me and said, “No, no. Please finish. Your work is important, too.”

In that moment, my understanding of the work between faith and science shifted completely and permanently, such that today I am confident that it is both a very gifted medical team and a very committed faith community contributing to my healing.

Neither thing guarantees anything. But both things mean I live with a great deal of hope. And when my primary GI doctor, who first found the lymph nodes that led to my diagnosis emailed me to say he was praying for me and hoping for the best, I added my thankfulness for his faith to my gratitude for his medical expertise.

But let me be clear that this isn’t just about me. This same dynamic leads me to believe that the great wounds in our country these days cannot fully be healed by tweaked laws or policy shifts. Certainly those things have a crucial place, and certainly there is a great deal about our nation that unequally favors one human life over another, and how we deal with those things in our communities matters. Lives are at stake. But at heart, we are in need of much more than any politician or SCOTUS ruling can truly heal. Certainly more than any social media post can heal–no matter how snarkily we put it, or what bright colors and ALL CAPS we might use.

At the core of our brokenness is our fear of real, authentic, transforming relationship. I have never yet seen hate reversed by anything but that, never seen gaping spiritual and emotional and community wounds healed by anything but a willingness to enter into sacred vulnerability and ask, “What has hurt or frightened or threatened you so much that you can act with such disregard towards another human being?” And, perhaps most of all, be willing to answer that question ourselves. When we have been hurt or threatened, it’s very hard not to hurt those around us in return. Because pain begets pain.

And so you bet I believe in science and policy. But I also believe those things will not save us. Because I believe something bigger is at work. I believe in the mysterious ways and timing of a God who first and only creates and acts in Love. And I believe that in a world brought into being by such goodness, there is always light–even if it seems but a glimmer some days.  (I also believe in our collective ability to ignore that Love, and so dig ourselves deeper into the muck we’re currently living.)

***

Ms. Sandra died last Saturday morning. And I swear, when I heard that news, it felt like the world got dimmer. Also I immediately ordered the makings of lemon squares with my grocery delivery for the day.

And then…Monday morning…I checked the mail. And in my mailbox, was, I kid you not, a card from Ms. Sandra. “I think of you often and my prayers continue with you. Much love, Sandra.” It was postmarked June 19, the day before she died.

And suddenly, y’all, the world got brighter again. Just like a batch of her lemon squares, fresh and warm and morning sunlight yellow, straight from the oven.

There is so much we do not know, even in our human brilliance. What I know today, is that at work all around us is the mystery and mercy of a grace that, even when we shun it, holds us close and promises to never leave us.

And somewhere between our human brilliance and that unexplainable and unearned grace, God dwells.

 

 

 

 

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The other side of hell.

“We must find a way to look after each other, as if we were one single tribe.”

— T’ Challa, Black Panther

I was privy this week to a couple of situations that left me speechless (temporarily anyway) in their blatant selfishness.

And yea, y’all, I know, selfish is human nature, and I’ve got my fair share of it to own. But these two things were different–painfully jarring in how obvious it was that not a single thought had been given to another human being’s mental or emotional or physical well-being. Not a single breath had been spared to pause and ask, “Wait, what might the repercussions of this be?” Not a single action was calculated for anything other than personal desire.

A person needs to make a selfish decision now and then (again, we’ve all got it in us, and I’ve got no issue with taking care of yourself as truly needed), but in both these situations other people got hurt. Put at risk. Sidelined as unimportant to the grand scheme of things.

I’ve been noodling it all around in my head and heart for days–and tonight, while watching Black Panther (I know, I know…Marvel again…stop rolling your eyes), finally put my finger on something that has been increasingly troubling to me since about mid-March.

A dear friend says there are no new stories–it’s just that some of us are living them for the first time. Racial tension is not new. Hate is not new. Global pandemic is not new. Political turmoil is not new. Economic despair is not new. But we are, right now, in the United States, living it all at the same time, and with the completely underestimated complication that we have–by and large–been practicing physical distance from one another (with good, sound reason) for some months now.

We’ve moved into actually living our lives digitally–at work, at school, with family and friends. I suspect that this physical separation is giving things like anger and pain and hate and greed even more room to riot–because no one has to engage in real, face-to-face, authentic conversation. It was already easy to hide behind a keyboard and issue our social and political and ideological hot takes–now we’ve actually been told to stay behind the keyboard, to connect through screens. And it just might be destroying what little regard we had left for one another; what tiny sense of grace in human interaction we might have had left; what glimmer of hope might be found in the redemptive power of relationship.

We’ve been given permission to wall ourselves off, retreat to our own tribes, bully up our own imagined certainties without having to be in-person accountable to someone about it, and the result is a disconnect from one another that is slowly but surely eating at our humanity.

Look, there’s always going to be selfish people. Narcissism is a thing and even the Ancient Greeks knew it. We deal, right? But something about this particular climate we find ourselves in is, it seems to me, making it far easier to lean towards that shadow side of our souls where fear of other and self-interest dwell.

We claim your side and my side. We draw false dichotomies and set up straw men with ridiculous precision. We fight over masks or no masks. We take a set of facts and allow it to be interpreted myriad ways, in support of whatever agenda we’re pushing. We refuse to listen to or acknowledge history, lived experience, glaring holes in the narrative we tell ourselves about freedom and justice and equality. And we demonize anyone who does not see it exactly as we do–quickly, efficiently, and most generally with a meme designed to make us feel better about ourselves.

Y’all. We have got to stop. 

We have Got. To. Stop. Because it is not, after all, about you. Or me. It’s about the absolute necessity of learning to care for each other. Because (and omigod I’m going to sound like a broken record here) this is what we were made for.

This is what we were made for. Relationship. Community. Connection. We are quite literally designed for it–and yet we act like its an option to love our neighbor or not, never mind the fact that your well-being actually depends on the well-being of everyone around you.

Our nation is so broken, y’all.  And it will not be fixed, at least not wholly, until we are able to get over ourselves and our godforsaken individual desires long enough to look one another in the eye and ask, “Where does it hurt for you?” And then listen, with hearts wide open and spirits willing to engage, as a fellow human being says, “This is where it hurts.”

Where does it hurt right now for you?

You know what? Me, too.

Full disclosure/real talk: I feel like utter shit today. I had a third round of chemotherapy this week, and if you have done chemo yourself, or know someone who has, you know that this often essential treatment can sometimes feel worse than the disease it is combating. It can wreak such havoc on a body that there’s a whole cocktail of drugs administered with it to mitigate its effects. So far, my own side effects have thankfully been pretty mild, but still, coming off that cocktail is like coming off a night out with your girlfriends except no one had a perfect Manhattan or flirted with the bartender or laughed until they cried. All the hangover. Zero the fun.

Still…

On the other side of it, is, one trusts, good things. Respite from the illness itself. Life to be treasured and memories to be made. Hope to be found.

Which is to say–there is on the other side of hell, a sort of healing to be found that cannot be fully known without the awfulness first. As Glennon Doyle says, “First the pain. Then the rising.”

Good Lord, how I am hoping for a rising of this beloved country I call home–a soaring into everything we were meant to be. How I pray for healing beyond the madness; for hope beyond the despair; for truth to be made known and love to be made real. Because right now, it, too, feels like utter shit.

“We must find a way to look after each other as if we were one single tribe….”

It’s not about you. Or me. 

On the other side of hell….

Meet me there?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When pain begets pain.

Glennon Doyle has this great piece where she writes about how sometimes we treat pain like a game of Hot Potato–wanting to get rid of it as quickly as possible, sometimes so much that we, intentionally or not, and generally through both words and behavior, toss it to someone else.

Let me make like Oprah here for a sec and tell you that there is very little in this world about which I am willing to say, “I know that for sure.” But I will tell you for very sure that there is absolutely no way to shortcut pain without it wreaking more havoc than it already has–on your own life or someone else’s.

Unmet pain will only beget more pain. And it will do so over and over until someone is brave enough to sit with the pain, no matter how much it hurts, face it, and let it do its awful and mighty work. This is the only way to the other side of it. The only way into something new.

I really, really value efficiency. This is not always something to be proud of. For example, when I was told a couple of months back that I have lymphoma, and that I was going to need multiple rounds of chemotherapy and immuno-therapy over the next few months to combat it, well…the struggle was real.

Can’t you give me just like one big dose and I’ll feel really awful for a couple of weeks and then it’ll be over? Do you really have to wait 28 days between each dose? Isn’t there a quicker way? A more…efficient…way?

Because the thought of several months of two days of treatment, and then another two days 28 days later…sweet baby Jesus and all the saints, that felt (feels) unending. But there is quite literally no other way through it. No other way to give my body the very best chance it has to tell lymphoma, “Nope. Not today. I have a life to live and I am not even close to done yet.”

And so I take it day by day, infusion by infusion, appointment by appointment, sitting (literally and figuratively) with this particular and painful leg of the journey I am on, and, because there is no other way through it, I do my damnedest to be open to what the blessings might be.

And this is how it is with pain. Whether mental or emotional or physical. Especially the sort that brings you to your knees. Leaves you crying on the kitchen floor in utter agony. Knifes into the very gut of your being so hard that you can’t catch your breath. It cannot be numbed (at least not for very long). It cannot be silenced (it will, in one way or another, makes itself heard). It cannot be ignored (it will wreck you, if you try).

And this is maybe, why, so often, sometimes in ways we simply cannot understand, people who have been hurt, especially those who have been hurt repeatedly, wind up hurting other people. 

I have come to believe that a great deal of what is broken in our lives…in our country…in our world, could find at least the beginning of a path towards healing if we only had the strength, when we encounter the pain of another, to stop, look deeply in their eyes, and ask, “Please. Tell me what has hurt you.” And then shut our damn mouths and listened.

Really, really listened.

Not–not ever–, “What’s wrong with you?” No. Simply, “What has hurt you?

Because in that moment the pain is met. The hurt is acknowledged. Even if we don’t fully get it, in that moment, the cycle is interrupted, and that tiny pause, if we’re very lucky and listen very well, makes enough room for even the smallest bit of hope to take root and begin its powerful and merciful and healing work.

It’s popular these days to tweet or post, “I feel so SEEN!” about a bit of news, or an on-point meme, or a song or a movie or some such that speaks to us in a deep or meaningful way. There’s generally an element of fun to it, but often, I suspect, it comes from a place of longing to be truly understood, of the need we all have to belong.

I’m not sure that these primal needs of ours can ever be fully met unless we are willing to first see each other’s pain–without turning away, without dismissing it, without offering some quick fix or card-worthy sentiment. Just see it.

And then, if it’s one of those days when hope seems like a real thing and grace a true thing…sit with each other in it. Fully present. No hot potato. Owning and honoring the pieces in all of us that ache for understanding and healing.

May it somehow, some day, be so.

 

 

 

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For all our sakes.

Last night, just as I was tucking her in, the teenager in my house said, “Mama, this virus thing could be so much harder for us than it is.”

I sat back for a minute, wondering where her comment had come from, especially when she and I have both had some real difficult days lately when it comes to being physically separated from our people. I looked at her, my head cocked to one side, and said, “Girl. What in the world are you talking about? You and I both have cried at least twice in the last week over all this.”

She laid there quiet for a second, and said, “But mama…some people are losing their jobs. Some people don’t have enough food.”

Some people are losing their jobs. Some people don’t have enough food.

I’ll let you imagine how completely humbled I was at her words, how I just sat there for a minute, stunned at her awareness.

It’s not like I don’t know the truth of her words. It’s not like I don’t read reports of joblessness and hunger every day, along with all the other “virus statistics.” It’s not like I thought her wrong or overly wrought or misinformed. She’s completely right. We know people for whom this virus has meant daily fear about health and financial stability.

She and I might be missing fiercely those we love best, and that might be working on us in some painful ways, but we are, for all practical purposes, okay. And so, so many are not.

Don’t get me wrong, we cannot underestimate the harm that this social distancing is doing to our psyches. A great deal is being studied and written about this, and by folks much smarter than me, but as many of you have heard me say, my own take is that it is damaging our sense of self and our sense of community in ways that will effect long after social distancing guidelines are lifted. A simple example is the panic I felt at the thought of returning to Sunday morning services at my church. I love my church. I love the people there with all my heart. I miss singing and praying with them in very visceral ways. But standing elbow to elbow, air full of shared particles, right now? Um…no, thank you. That I feel this way about a place and a people that mean the world to me breaks my heart. 

(SIDENOTE, reader: If you don’t feel as I do, That. Is. Ok. If you and I don’t agree on when and how communities and their economies reopen, That. Is. Ok. I have no agenda here– other than the one I’m about to claim. Ok…read on.)

But the thing is? I have the luxury of this heartache. I have the privilege of tears over missed hugs and missed occasions and missed vacations and missed events. Because I know that I can pay the bills next month and that my belly is more than full.

So I’m about to sing for you a song that you have heard me sing before. And that means maybe I’m singing to the choir here, but just in case, I’ll sing a wee bit louder today so I can be sure those of you in the back, or somebody brand new, can hear me.

Y’all. We have GOT to be better at taking care of each other. 

And we have got to do this regardless of how we might agree or disagree, (even if vehemently and with the best of intentions) politically, socioeconomically, or theologically.

We are living in a terrifying and anxiety-producing tension between our physical health, and the state of our communities as determined by functioning economy. And of course these two things are connected. Of course one influences the other. Of course the health of our physical beings relates to the health of our economy and vice versa.

Of course.

Because we live in an interconnected world. Because we were made for relationship. Because my life depends on the lives of others. Because none of us are islands unto ourselves. 

Our refusal to understand this, our insistence upon the myth of complete self-sufficiency, our own beliefs, our own “right” way, is tearing us apart and making us less human being and more ideological minion. To be sure, there is often a clear line between right and wrong, and for me, that line generally gets drawn around treating any life as more important than another–you know, in the spaces where we allow bigotry of any kind to riot and pronounce a person, any person, “less than.” But so much of what I see being argued about in public spaces has nothing to do with real hate and everything to do with ill-informed assumption and a flat-out refusal to listen to anyone who holds a different opinion than we do.

I have a dear clergy friend who is an alcoholic, in recovery now for over a dozen years, and committed to extending the grace of his sobriety by working tirelessly with local recovery communities. I once had a conversation with him about suffering–about what it’s like to spend a night on the kitchen floor, hopeless, tears wracking your body, wondering how you’ll ever be whole again, how you’ll ever find way your way back to life.

He and I have both known such nights, and we love others who have, too. And as we talked about how we walk with one another in those moments, he said (and I am admittedly paraphrasing his gist here), “You know, when you are that low, and someone is willing to come and sit with you in the muck, and maybe even lend a hand so you can begin your climb out of the darkness, you don’t care who they voted for. Or where, or even if, they go to church. Or what their take is on (insert hot topic issue of the day). Or where they live. Or what gender they are or what color their skin is. You’re just glad they came, even if you can’t quite understand how you are worthy of their presence with you.”

Y’all, from where I sit, this is the very heart of what it means to take care of each other. To set aside our arrogance and certainty and mistrust and bias long enough to see that we bleed the very same blood, and are made of the very same God-stuff. We have different stories, some of them too painful to speak. We have different ways of being, some of it beyond understanding to anyone else. Some of us have been bred to hate. Some of us have been gifted love so extravagant we cannot do anything but love in return. Some of us have never known safety. Some of us can face whatever comes precisely because we’ve been held safe our whole lives by someone else’s love. And someone of us have known lives so brutal and terrifying that the only way we know is to exact all that pain on someone else.

And yet, even still, we bleed the very same blood and are made of the very same God-stuff.

We have, in these COVID days, an extraordinary opportunity to set aside the BS and learn the tremendous blessing of serving one another. We have been gifted this moment to care for one another, to share one another’s pain, to offer something out of our own abundance to someone else’s need. To make a few sacrifices so that another person makes it another day. To see past “sides,” and into the common good.

An extraordinary opportunity. It’s really quite simple.

And it isn’t too late to take advantage. Because, as my sweet girl reminded me last night, this is so much harder on some of us than others. And it’s long past time we made conscious effort to take care of one another.

For all our sakes.

 

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Difficult Things.

IMG_3517My friend Fonda, who is ridiculously wise and insightful, says that everyone has a difficult thing (or things).

This is truth. Rather: Truth (note the capital T).

Somewhere along the way, life, if you live even a little bit at all, will hand you a Difficult. Thing. Of some sort. Likely more than once. Sometimes it will be Very. Difficult.

Maybe you were born with your difficult thing: a chronic disease or a miserable family of origin or something that makes you differently abled.

Maybe you grew up around a lot of violence and are unable to trust or feel safe. Maybe you’ve lost someone so dear to you that it seems the sun can’t possibly still be rising every morning. Maybe you battle anxiety or depression or just struggle with staying mentally well more than most. Maybe you deal with ADD, or have a profound learning disability, or are on the autism spectrum. Maybe you are a long-term caregiver for a dearly loved one.

Maybe the dream of what you thought your life would be has been shattered, beyond fixing it seems, and the path to some sort of wholeness and joy feels so very hopeless and long. Broken dreams are some of the most difficult things–because in their breaking we lose, even if temporarily, our sense of self, often finding ourselves navigating landscapes we don’t even recognize without so much as the most rudimentary map to guide us.

Difficult things. 

Mine no more or less than yours. Because, as my friend Meghan says, life is not a “suck competition.” Sometimes it all just sucks. For all of us. In a thousand-and-one different ways.

Difficult things.

Real, painful, life-shaping, mighty, awful, difficult things.

The havoc and grief and fear and isolation that COVID-19 has unleashed on our world and our communities is a Very. Difficult. Thing. For reasons medical and practical and logistical and otherwise. And, perhaps most of all, it is damaging our collective psyches in ways that I believe we are only just beginning to see. This drawing apart from one another, even if we must, even if it is the right thing to do, even ifeven ifeven if…is leaving an indelible and painful mark on the most inward places of our souls. And the healing will take more time than any of us will like.

Difficult things. 

On March 13th, the Friday before most of my beloved Kentucky shut down due to coronavirus precautions, I was visiting, for the first time, the office of the doctor who I now know as my oncologist. He ordered many, many tests that day, the last of which took place on Good Friday, nearly a month later–a bone marrow biopsy, which, let me just say, I do not recommend as a fun way to kick off your weekend. Maybe go for a root canal instead.

As it turns out, I have a relatively rare form of non-Hodgkins lymphona.

And y’all? This is a Very. Difficult. Thing. The Universe and I are still struggling to come to civil speaking terms about this. Because I have plans. Things to do. Experiences to share with those I love best. I have a daughter that I fully intend to see to adulthood, lymphoma be damned. I have Things. To. Do.

Cancer was not on the list.

Difficult things. 

There was a time in my life when this would have leveled me. When I was weak in every way a person can be–in body, in mind, and in spirit. When dysfunction of all sorts had me hemmed in, and I had nothing even close to the mighty village of loved ones who have rallied around and behind me these last few weeks.

This is not to say this diagnosis has not brought me to my knees. It is to say, I did not stay there. And even if I drop there again, I will not stay there, unless it is in fervent prayer to the God I believe is with us in all things, in all times, in all places, no matter what.

And so, I am grateful that if this cancer has to be, that it is now. And not then.

I am also grateful for a brilliant and experienced medical team, and a supportive employer, and excellent health insurance. (All of this is privilege, and I have promised to not take it for granted.)

I am grateful for a faith community that believes as, I do, that prayer matters. How or why or when, I do not even pretend to know, I just believe it does. I am humbled by the prayers rising on my behalf. They give me more strength than I could even begin to name.

And I am grateful for texts and phone calls and FaceTime dates and Zoom happy hours and every other way we have of staying connected during these COVID days. I am grateful for those who know that super heroes and ginkgo trees are talismans of hope and resilience for me, and so have populated my life with reminders of them in recent days.

But most of all, I am grateful for the redemptive power and unending mercy that I believe real relationships create in our lives. I crave the touch of those I love; long for the day when my backyard deck is full of my favorites once again; cannot wait to hold hands and share hugs.

This gratitude is saving grace.

Difficult things. 

A week or so ago, I came across the poem pictured up top of this blog–it is from The Cure at Troy, by Seamus Haney. And it seems just right for these days I am–we all are– living. Because we are in difficult things. All of us. And, I, for one, have had more than a few days of finding hope hard to come by on this side of the grave.

But y’all–even in our difficult things, even in these days when we’ve hurt each other and are scared and unsure–even now, we are people made to be in relationship with one another, because it is only in committing our lives to one another that we find anything resembling our best selves, and so make room for the sort of mercy that falls in great and graceful torrents into the most aching places of our souls such that hope can grow.

Difficult things. 

But also…

Farther shores to reach. And healing wells to be found. 

Justice League has been playing in the background as I write tonight, and it is no coincidence (because I don’t believe in those) that as I finish this post, the last lines of the movie can be clearly heard. They include, “Darkness, the truest darkness, is not the absence of light. It is the conviction that the light will never return. But the light always returns….

May it be so. 

 

 

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Requiem (and hope).

I’m listening to Gabriel Faure’s Requiem, in full, as I write tonight. I learned to adore this work circa 1996 at Berry College, under the direction of Harry Musselwhite. It speaks largely of death, and so maybe you might wonder at my love of it. Of course bottom line, it’s just gorgeous music. But also it tells a larger story–not just death, but the promise of something after that, the promise of light on the other side of that which we must say goodbye to.

“Requiem” is, in the Catholic church, a musical composition offered for the repose of the soul in death. I know–super cheery, but work with me here. It can also just a mean an act of remembrance, a token, of sorts, for that which is no more.

And of course that makes a full musical requiem an appropriate thing to listen to today–Holy Saturday, this time in between Jesus’ death and resurrection. This time of not knowing for Mary, his mother, for Mary Magdalene, for the countless others mourning him. This time of everything his followers had given their lives to having been, it seems, lost.

This time of utter terror and such pain and deep, deep grief.

Requiem is also an appropriate thing to offer in the middle of a pandemic–when in just a few short weeks, as of this weekend and this writing, 20,000 people have died, just in the United States. The worldwide number hovers just over 100,000. And yes–I know–many thousands more die of all sorts of things and in all sorts of horrid ways the world over. And certainly in the United States. But that makes this no less real. No less a tragedy. No less something we ought to take seriously, ought to do our best to combat, for our own lives, as well as those of our neighbors.

Lives have been lost. So have jobs. And financial security. And safety. And birthdays and weddings and graduations and memorial services and in-real-life classrooms and soccer games and baseball’s opening day and all sorts of community events. Make no mistake, the isolation that fighting this virus requires produces real grief and real trauma. It is, at best, uncomfortable; it is, at worst, a loss from which some of us will not recover. And for many who survive, the return to anything that resembles thriving will be a difficult road.

When will this be over? How long before grandparents can let their grandchildren back up on their laps? How long before separated significant others can touch, hug, kiss, just be, together again? How long before I can go to the grocery store without feeling like every particle of air is out to get me? How long before our children are able to resume their own lives? It’s so crucial for them to have being outside of us. When will I get to take communion again from actual hands of fellow church members? When can we stop waving through windows and pull one another into the embraces we are missing more than we ever thought possible?

When will things go back to the way they were?

Y’all? They won’t. 

We will not be the same. Even if come June we can mindlessly walk through Target again sipping a latte and smelling candles; even as vacations get rescheduled and postponed events issue new dates; even as we can hold and be held again when this is finally, and blessedly over–we will not be the same. This pandemic has tugged at the very core of our assumptions that we in the United States are above such a thing. This isolation has exposed our hearts and laid bare our deepest worries and fears and insecurities. And it will, I think, take us a while to trust community again.

I believe with all that I am that even in the most awful situations, goodness emerges–even if just eventually, even if only a tiny sliver, even if it is not at all what we imagined. And so, because I trust that somewhere there is goodness at work, my deepest hope is that we will emerge on the other side of COVID-19 having laid waste to life as we know it with these five things now woven into the fabric of our lives:

  1. Deeper humility–we are not, after all, invincible. Not by a long shot. And even the mightiest of us can be brought to our knees by a failed economy, by a virus ravaging our lungs, by a refusal to listen to the greater good and continue our own selfish ways.
  2. Greater intimacy–a friend said today that when this is over, she is going to be hugging everyone she sees. Every. One. All. The. Time. I’ll be right behind her. But even more than that, I wonder if maybe this virus isn’t teaching us about what intimacy really is. Suddenly hour-long and in-depth FaceTime conversations are a “date,” and zoom happy hours make space for conversation about how scared and anxious we all are. This is, despite the fact that we’d rather be in person, an odd blessing.
  3. Real community–y’all, every day I am amazed at how I see very real care and concern for neighbor unfolding across this country. The lie that we care only about ourselves has been given room to riot for a long time, and maybe we just learned to give into it–but not now. Now I see us offering shelter, supporting local businesses with great fervor, asking where we can donate, making time for phone calls and video chats, holding AA meetings and reading stories and offering encouragement online. It’s all completely beautiful.
  4. An appreciation for sacrifice–I am grateful tonight that a chaplain friend of mine, who spent yesterday sleeping off a 25-hour shift, is, safe. I am grateful that another friend, a single mama who I’ve known since our children were in preschool together, and who is an ER nurse, is beginning to emerge from a vicious two-week bout with COVID-19 that has left her shaken beyond measure. I am grateful for grocery store workers and non-profits serving those in need and police officers and doctors and EMT’s and the National Guard and those keeping an especial eye out for victims of domestic violence. Do you see that we owe these people our very lives? Our very civilization? Do you see that we cannot let their sacrifice go unheeded?
  5. A refusal to take anything for granted–I am so fortunate y’all. I work from home. My job is not on the line. I have plenty of head space to help my child with school work when she needs it. And even still I have been unsettled at not being able to find eggs or milk or some other such thing. And even I have spent the better part of a few days alternating tears and prayer at how awful this all feels, at how much I miss our people. And I resolve to never take any of it for granted again.

There is requiem to be sung, prayed, acted, noticed, for what has been lost. And yet, there is hope for what might be.

Even as I offer requiem, I remember that the truth of my faith is that Jesus is with us in all suffering. And because of this I refuse to let grief or pain or fear have the last word. Because never, once, are we truly alone. No matter closed doors and masked faces and the aching for a hand to hold. Never. Alone.

Meanwhile, we are in pain. Meanwhile, we are confused. Meanwhile, we are overwhelmed.

But Easter will come anyway, reminding us that we were made for relationship, and the strength to be found in each other is what gives us hope that light is, after all, shining at the tunnel’s end.

We are losing a great deal, my friends–more than it may seem we can bear.

But maybe–maybe–we will, on this other side of this terror, find a way of being more lovely than we ever thought possible. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On staying at home.

Y’all, I need to tell you…staying at home sucks. I need to name that aloud today. No rainbows, no kittens, no unicorns, no spin…it sucks.

Maybe you need to name it, too. And if you need permission to do so, consider this post that permission.

It absolutely, completely and totally, is awful. And yes, I know there could be far worse things happening. I know that Anne Frank lived months in a much smaller space than I am. And then of course was killed.

I know that there is blessing to be found in “extra” family time. I know that we are not being asked to ship out to war but to simply batten down the hatches where we are. I know Andy says we have to. I know. I know. I KNOW! (please say that last one to yourself Monica Gellar style).

But I also know it sucks. And we are collectively grieving the loss of so much during this time, and if we don’t name the awfulness, if we don’t just admit it and sit with it, we’ll never find a decent way through it.

There is, right now, a tender and conscious place in my heart for single parents staying at home–the ones who don’t have another adult to, in real life, process the day with over wine or Netflix or ice cream after the kiddos have finally and blessedly gone to bed. For single parents with a significant other in another house, and for split families, where kiddos go back and forth, this whole mess has a entirely different set of complications.

I’m mindful too, of those who are captive to their domestic abuser in these days. Of those whose marriage was already on the rocks and now there is no escape to process or get real, in person, help. Of those who live alone, and perhaps even normally enjoy doing so, but for whom right now it must often feel like burden. I’m mindful of those who are isolated from loved ones, who are medically fragile and so afraid that something will go wrong and there won’t be sufficient medical care. Of those who actually, truly, are out of toilet paper and pasta and milk.

I’m mindful of all high school seniors–but especially Sarah, and Jake and Ella, three seniors who hold their own special place in my heart and who I know are so sad at what they’ve had sacrifice in order to help flatten the damn curve.

I’m mindful of funerals postponed and weddings rescheduled and vacations cancelled and big events rain checked.

And I’m mindful of the sick and the dying. And of those who are risking their own lives to care for them.

Staying at home, living in this virus world, sucks.

Y’all, people are making masks for those who need them. And bourbon distilleries are manufacturing hand sanitizer. This is not a far cry from women rolling bandages during the Civil War. Or factories converting their production to needed equipment during both World Wars. What we’re living is, for us, unprecedented, and we have to name that. We have to absorb how different life is, and stare straight into the face of everything we’re losing.

And we have to mourn that. And feel the pain of it. Because this is–and I truly believe this–the only way we will find it in ourselves to rise up–to freaking RISE UP–and deal with this as only the human spirit as its very finest can–with grace, and strength, and resilience, and commitment to the well-being of all of us.

All. Of. Us.

There is goodness to be found in these hard days, but we can only see the goodness if we are willing to walk right in the pain of it, look around for what we need to learn in the midst of the awfulness, and then figure out how to move forward, knowing that we will never be the same.

No one knows for sure when this will end. What we do know, is that it will end faster if we can all do that rising up, that committing our lives to each other, that looking out for each other.

And maybe that is where we can begin to practice some gratitude. Maybe that’s where we look for what hope might be available as we weather this mighty storm–right in that sweet and sacred spot where we remember once again that we belong to each other.

We belong to each other, y’all. And taking that into our hearts, making it the very fabric of our lives, is how we face COVID-19, and so, are able to walk full into the sunshine again, holding the hands of those we love most, and never taking for granted again what it means to live life together.

I don’t want to live my life at least 6 feet away from you all. Not ever again. So as much as it sucks–and even if you have to hide in the bathroom and cry about it as I have–please, for the sake of all of us, do what must be done.

Because we belong to each other.

 

 

 

 

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We just don’t know yet….

About a month ago, my mom and I built a bed.

By “built a bed,” I mean we unpacked all the parts that the Lowe’s truck delivered in several boxes, and we unfolded and smoothed out the (lengthy!) instructions, and we ordered lattes with extra shots, and then turned up some Eric Church and George Strait and set about putting together a new double-sized platform bed for Curly Girl.

It took four hours. And that isn’t because we made mistakes. Or got lost or took long breaks. It’s because it was tedious. Dear. Lord. was it tedious. There were so many small pieces. And so many parts that had to be put together in certain ways so that other parts could then be brought in. At least 10 times I wanted to give up, especially when the instructions said to do something that just didn’t make sense. I could not for the life of me understand why we were putting together sides before base, or cross pieces before corner pieces. Ugh. There were some bad moments. Also some colorful language.

About midway through the four hours, when we’d once again been surprised by the order of things working out, we decided that from then on, we would not try to figure out what was ahead. We would just do what the instructions said to do and admit that there were just things we did not know yet.

(Side note: My mother and I neither one are big fans of “not knowing yet.” Uncertainty is not our forte.)

But time and time again we’d try to get ahead or guess what was next, and every time we were sorry we had.

We just didn’t know yet.

Yet.

It’s day 4 of quarantine here in Louisville and already, all around us, there’s talk of what the world will look like on the other side of COVID-19. Of how it will shape us for the next generation. Of how it will change the trajectories of persons and communities and economies. No one’s being asked to fight the Nazis, and so I hesitate to draw too much comparison to active global conflict, but I do think we are in the sort of uncharted, life-changing, destiny-making waters that can most assuredly make us or break us, that will change the face of parts of the world as we know them.

I’d like to think that we will, to a person, heed our better angels and let this transform our lives for good. I’d like to believe that on the other side of this is tremendous blessing because we will have learned once again what it means to depend upon each other for our very lives.

But the truth is that we just don’t know yet. So much is uncertain. And, y’all–my mom and I are not the only ones who don’t do uncertainty well.

What I do know is this: my heart breaks for those who have already lost someone they love to this virus; for those whose livelihoods are at risk; for those who do not have the buffers that I do of a flexible and supportive employer and plenty of food and a comfortable house to quarantine in. My heart breaks for high school seniors watching their best moments slip by; for cancelled weddings; for mom and pop businesses that will not survive; for children for whom no school means academic regression and daily hunger.

My heart breaks, because no matter what happens, lives are being changed minute-by-minute and we simply cannot know where it will all lead.

But I also I know this: that local cable companies are trying to get internet to low income families so they can keep up with schoolwork; that local energy companies are waiving late fees and disconnects; that folks are rallying around cries for diapers and medicine and even food; that celebrities are hosting online “story hours,” putting their skills to good use by reading children’s books so exhausted moms and dads can take a break from their new role as homeschoolers.

What I know is that Mr. Rogers was right and the very best thing we can do in terrifying times, when we just don’t know yet, is to look for the helpers.

And y’all. There are helpers everywhere. 

And there is music being made. And art being imagined. And stories being written. And neighbor helping neighbor.

And if in this horrid, scary, lonely time we discover the truth that we were, after all, built for relationship, and so commit to one another and our communities in new ways, well…I won’t be sad about that. Not even a little.

We just don’t know yet.

And so we go day-by-day, following instructions as they are given, throwing on some good music and maybe drinking a little extra coffee, knowing sometimes it’s gonna be tedious, perhaps spending a little more time on our knees in prayer, and trusting that together, somehow, we will get through this.

Maybe even be better for it.

 

 

 

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social media and social distancing.

These COVID-19 days are just beginning in the United States, y’all. And they are already hard. I vacillate between this sort of calm peace of, “Ok, this is what we’re doing now, it’ll be okay,” and utter rage at hand sanitizer hoarders and the arrogance of those who continue to think this isn’t “a big deal.”

Fear is real, even as I fight against it. I worry, even as I know worry is futile, about isolation, about empty grocery shelves, about those who have no access to medical care, about whether or not I’ve unknowingly put someone at risk. Logically, the very best thing to do is follow precautions and hunker down and practice some selflessness. But logic has a frightening way of eluding us in times such as these.

I’ve thought a lot about September 12, 2001, too. Yes–September 12th. That day after our whole country had been ripped apart by planes flying into buildings and everything felt so terrifying and upside down. That day we were at our worst and at our best. Our worst for how so many Muslim families (or anyone who looked Middle Eastern) were targeted with hate and accusation. Our best for how we mostly were kinder, gentler and practiced a little more humility, were more willing to take care of each other and flocked to our houses of worship in droves.

Because, after all, it turns out “it” could happen to us. And it did. Even the mighty United States of America can be brought to its knees, y’all.

Social media is, as you have often heard me say, the very epitome of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it fuels misinformation and stokes division and offers a platform for fear and anger to run rampant. Fake news is actually a thing and social media is riddled with it.

But on the other hand…

On the other hand, my sister and I used it to trade pictures of our daughters quarantine-crocheting yesterday. And my church just used it to call us all together in worship today. I had no idea how much I needed, or how much it would mean to see my pastors/friends reaching well outside their comfort zones to bring us all a word of care and hope. I’ve found myself posting even more, reaching out to folks via text or messaging even more, making sure my phone is charged and hungry for news of how people are doing.

Social media has, in many ways, made us less of a people. But man-oh-man, right now, we have the perfect opportunity to harness it for good.

There is no way, y’all, to get through this well unless we commit to getting through it together. Because the truth is, we are living through something really uncertain and, at least for several decades now, unprecedented.

And yet still life has to go on. Our libraries are closed and the grocery is running low and work schedules are all shot to hell and days off school don’t equal trips to the zoo and House of Boom right now. But still there are tasks to accomplish and mouths to feed and situations to manage. Still, there is living to do.

I know no other way to get through it all than to do so with equal parts patience and kindness and mercy. We must, for the sake of all that is true and good, choose to navigate the unknown landscape of the corona virus, by taking care of each other.

We simply must.

I have a friend whose 20-something daughter is an addict who has now been in recovery for several years. She is married and has a beautiful baby boy and is in nursing school. She’s doing so well. And her dad tells me that during the very dark days of the very worst of her addiction, when they’d had to take her to a recovery facility and leave her there, not knowing if they would ever see her alive again, they adopted these words, “One day at a time.” They survived their grief and fear and pain one day at a time.

One day at a time. 

That’s how we do this, y’all. That’s how we do anything scary and unknown. That’s how we do anything difficult. One day at a time. Trusting that somewhere in the journey there are lessons to be learned and relationships to be made or strengthened, and always, the promise that we are not alone.

One day at a time. Never alone. Full of love and grace. Casting aside fear, so that we can reach beyond it and care for one another in ways we might not have known to before. 

So update that Facebook app, and take a few awesome Insta-pics. But for the love of all that is holy–don’t let these methods of communication be what tears us apart. Instead, channel it all–in fact, channel all that you can, for good. We may well be stronger as individuals, as a community, perhaps even as a nation, on the other side of COVID-19.

And if so? What a story we will have to tell our grandchildren.

One day at a time, y’all. Never alone. Full of love and grace. 

See you soon. ❤