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Being seen.

I caught a bit of one of my most favorite movies last night–The Blind Side. There’s about 8 million layers to this story, on the screen and in real life, and so far, every time I’ve watched it, I’ve caught something new to mull about in my head.

Last night the scene where Michael asks Leigh Anne to help him get his driver’s license just wrecked me.

Wrecked. Me.

Leigh Anne’s busy working on a project, and Michael comes up to her home interior design workshop and kinda bashfully interrupts, “Mrs. Tuohy…?”

She stops him cold and says, “Mrs. Tuohy,” is her mama and to please not call her that. He grins, and tries again, asking if she’ll help him get his driver’s license. Now, Leigh Anne’s pretty caught up in the design task in front of her and so she pushes him off with a hasty and somewhat irritated, “Michael, why do you want a driver’s license when you don’t even have a car?”

Silence.

And then more silence.

And finally Leigh Anne looks up from her fabric and drawings and says, “Ok, Michael. Why do you want a driver’s license?”

“Something to carry around,” he says, so quietly and humbly that if it doesn’t tear at your heartstrings you maybe have ice in your veins. “Something with my name on it,” he adds, again, so quietly and humbly.

“Holy hell,” I said to my friend watching with me, “He just wants to be seen!”

She nodded her head, “Yup.”

Something with my name on it. To carry around. 

To be seen.

I cannot get his words out of my head this morning, “Something with my name on it.”

Y’all, being seen is everything. And this morning I’m thinking about how not being seen, how feeling overlooked, inconsequential, left out, discounted, excluded, can wreak such utter havoc on our lives and our communities.

Feeling unseen breeds a sort of anger and discontent that can destroy a person–or lead them to destroy others. Because hurt people hurt other people, and this has been true since Cain knocked off his brother Abel in Genesis.

Feeling unseen encourages the lie that some lives matter more than others, that the color of our skin, or who we choose to love, or how we vote, or what our bank balance is, or where we live defines us as worthy or not.

Feeling unseen is a cause and byproduct both of bullying, especially among our children. A bully feels her only platform is to ridicule and strike out at others, meanwhile those who receive her sad rage feel themselves as if they must not matter much to anyone.

Feeling unseen, at its worst, leads to extremism, to radicals of all sorts, as those who have, rightly or not, felt as if their voice has no place to be heard force others to hear them–usually violently and at human cost.

Feeling unseen, sometimes, is simply and terribly a perfect host for our own depression, anxiety, and/or self-harm. 

Because the truth is we all, no matter who we are or where we have been or how we behave, just want our name on something.

Y’all, we are in some dark times in this country. This has been true before, and it is true now, and it seems to me that at heart of our discord, at the very center of our screaming and shouting and name-calling and degrading, is that so many of us, in one way or another, do not feel seen. Do not feel we matter. Do not feel counted.

My faith tradition holds powerful stories about this: A lost sheep being relentlessly searched for when 99 are perfectly safe. A reckless and misbehaving brother welcomed home from his stumble into depravity with great pomp and circumstance. A woman of questionable background and decisions who also likely struggled to stay healthy mentally pulled next to Jesus as one of his closest confidants. A tiny little tax collector, despised by just about everyone, told he’d be hosting that same Jesus for dinner.

The unseen–seen. The outcast–brought in. The ne’er-do-wells made whole. 

Find someone who needs seeing, y’all, and let them know they matter.

Trust that you, too, are seen, even if there’s no quantitative proof as such.

Work to see those you’d rather not.

Allow yourself to be seen even when you’d rather not.

This might not, on its own, completely change the game. But it could be the tipping point.

 

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desert prayers.

83799234_2240792596222841_7516243208095924224_nI’ve been in the desert the last few days. Literally.

Full confession, the desert generally does not do much for me. It feels…well, like a desert. Abandoned. Barren. Lonely. Even the constant sun gets to me after a while. Does anyone need that bright of a light shining all the dang time?

But if you’re going to go to the desert, a good time to do so is when a long and grey and cold and wet Kentucky February is seeping a little too much into your bones, all the way into your heart, making it almost hard to breathe fully because everything feels so closed in.

Work sent me to the desert, specifically to a retreat center across the way from Camelback Mountain, just outside Phoenix. Franciscans founded and run the center. It’s modest in many ways, and the coffee situation (as in, the lack of good coffee) sometimes makes me wonder if they really believe in God there, but, on the upside, the chef is excellent and the grounds kept beautifully.

Yesterday morning, I had a while before I needed to be anywhere, and so, caffeine headache in full tilt, I threw on leggings and a warm sweatshirt to stumble over to the little nave where coffee is kept, knowing I’d be disappointed, but also desperate (sidenote: I think powdered creamer probably makes baby Jesus cry).

The sun was beginning to creep up over the mountains, the air was cool and dry, and I wasn’t into heading inside again just yet, so, mediocre coffee in hand, I went for a walk, and I did so trying for an open mind about what beauty might await me in the desert.

Turns out the first golden rays of sunlight reflecting off budding cacti is actually quite lovely. So is the moon in a completely clear sky, fading into full transparency up over the mountains as it gives way to daylight. And desert rocks lining a well kept path through desert flora and fauna make for a pretty peaceful morning. Remember, it’s a Franciscan center, and so along the way I found icons, scripture verses embedded on stone there and there, and prayer prompts of various sorts.

And then I stumbled on the labyrinth (a prayer walk, really, in every day language), morning sun shining on it just right, so that all around it there this sort of glow, the edges gilded with sunlight’s gold, all of it drawing you in, inexplicably and determinedly. Whoever plotted that labyrinth either knew exactly what they were doing, or (and perhaps and), something holy was at work in its creation, because it leaves no doubt you are on sacred ground.

I took a deep breath. Forced some stillness and quiet into my being, and entered the labyrinth, doing my best to walk slowly, purposefully, calling to mind as I did the things that are wearing on my soul these days.

Eventually, I came to the center, and found there an altar of sorts. Built up of smooth stone it was covered in talismans of prayer, some of them no more than a name or a hope or a desire written on one of the stones: “a healed heart,” “peace,” “forgiveness,” “Maria,” “James….” I found a chip from Alcoholics Anonymous at this altar, and wondered if it had been offered in thanksgiving for sobriety or as a prayer for someone in need of recovery. I found a little package of Oreos, and thought it perhaps the favorite food of a lost loved one. I found prayers for the Pope, little crosses, rosary beads, smlal toys, even a few loose bills tucked among the stones.

We talk a lot about “falling to our knees in prayer” in the Church. And generally, unless you attend a church with kneeling benches, that is a figurative phrase, but y’all, for the first time in a long time, I literally fell to my knees in the middle of the desert, this odd and wondrous little altar calling me, and though I had no physical talismans of the prayers I left there, left them I did, the sore and weary places inside me joining the prayers laid out before me.

I sat there for a while. Quiet. Breathing. Trying to take in the heartache and joy both expressed among the stones, trying to make sense of why it was speaking to me so clearly.

And in the end, as I reluctantly walked away, all I could really fathom is that what tugged at me was truth that we have, in this world, forgotten our common humanity. We have chosen to believe the lies that some of us are better than others, that some of us matter more than others. We have given in to polarization and division. We have let those who profit off these things tell us how to live our lives, instead of reaching deep inside the holiest parts of who we are and recognizing that the God-shaped hole in my heart is not any different than the God-shaped hole in another’s. We are all, in one way or another, searching frantically for security, for community, for belonging.

Whether we choose to admit it or not, we are all searching frantically to believe the truth that no matter who we are or where we have been we are beloved.

I’ll write that again: No matter who we are or where we have been we are beloved.

Near as I can tell, scattered with careful intention across the stones at the center of that labyrinth were the deepest prayers of human beings just like you and me. The people who laid those prayers there—I have no idea if they were Protestant or Catholic, black or white or brown, gay or straight, Democrat or Republican. Moreover, I don’t need to have such an idea…because whoever those prayers came from, they came from children of God.

I know, y’all, I know. This is not an easy truth. Hate and distrust and miscommunication and tribalism are so, so easy right now. It feels good to wrap ourselves in those just like us, makes us feel less alone, like we have that belonging we’re searching for. But the real truth is that we belong to each other…all of us. And making the conscious choice to do the work that helps us remember this is unabashedly difficult. Impossible, even, some days, it seems.

It is also our only way forward. And, so, where our greatest hope is to be found.

We were not made to tear each other apart. We were made to belong to one another. And so as I fly back east today, I am carrying in my heart desert prayers, trusting that in the madness and chaos around us all, God is still at work, and that out of all that threatens to destroy, something whole and beautiful and redemptive might be trying to make itself known.

For all of us.

 

 

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Aware.

When my Curly Girl was 5 or 6, one of her greatest pleasures was pushing her own cart at Trader Joe’s. “I can have my own, Mommy?” she would ask, and I’d smile, pull a little red TJ’s kiddie cart out for her and tell her to put a few things in it.

Full confession, I did so begrudgingly–because it was more work for me to keep up with her unwieldy carting and my own grocery shopping. Without fail, there would be a minor collision in the produce aisle. Because it is hard–so hard–when you are in kindergarten and are trying to push a cart as big as you and also be aware of everything and everyone around you. Right?

It’s always been an important thing for me to be able to teach her awareness. “Slow down kiddo,” I say when we come up behind an elderly person moving slowly, “We can wait.” “Watch out for those around you,” I say when she’s pushing a now full-size grocery cart, but looking at the gazillion cereal choices on the shelves instead of the path in front of her. “Do not look at your phone while you’re walking,” I admonish. “Pay attention, baby,” I say all the time, when we’re in a crowded place, or travelling, or moving forward in a line.

She’ll tell you I’m strict (I’m okay with this). And often what I’m telling her is, of course, a needed reminder to me as well, as my brain is generally full of far more things than is helpful or necessary.

But mostly, I want her to learn the practice of awareness–aware of people, location, behavior, weather, danger…all of it. Because mostly, I think, life is hard. And it is too chaotic. And sometimes it just hurts us or wears us out. And so we retreat inward, the thoughts or tasks that are right in front of us becoming all-consuming.

We miss things when this happens. 

Last weekend, I was privy to a group conversation that touched on some difficult topics–in particular, topics that can sometimes trigger the place in my soul where I tend to grief and pain. It was a safe conversation, with caring people involved, and so I was fine–just not very talkative.

Two days later, I got a text from a friend who was also part of the conversation, a friend who has known me for 13 years and so knows more than a bit about my life. “I just wanted to check on you,” she said, “because I know we talked about some difficult things and I just wanted to see if you are okay.”

Aware.

Now, my friend is a therapist, specifically with trauma-informed training, plus she’s just generally an empathetic person. She has skills. Gifts.

But still…. Aware.

Aware that someone in the room might be reliving some pain. Aware that we all have our stories and sometimes those stories come to light in painful ways. Aware of the ways life beats us up and how that beating pervades our very beings.

Aware.

Yesterday, my Uncle Matt posted on social media something his sister once wrote, “Stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about who needs a casserole.”

Pithy, sure. An effective tweet. But also? A call to awareness.

  • Who around you might be in pain today?
  • Who do you know who needs checking on?
  • Where will you be today that might call for you to look and listen just a bit more intentionally?
  • What person in your life, even if marginally, might need a casserole?

How, today, can you practice awareness?

We live in a bubble of social media hot takes and supposed newsworthy sound bytes these days–an isolating narrative of our own making that does nothing to foster our best humanity. And we are, most of the time, blissfully unaware of what might be at work in those around us, never mind global conflict and suffering.

And I am confident–confident, y’all–that if we practiced less judgment and control and  certainty and more compassion and awareness and listening, we could, collectively, move the needle of our communities and our country towards a way of being that would make space for such desperately needed healing and wholeness.

It isn’t, after all, all about me. Or you. It’s about all of us. And when one of us is not okay, the very best thing would be for the rest of us to practice a little awareness and start making casseroles. 

 

 

 

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LEGOs. And life.

If you know me in real life even a little bit, you have likely experienced that I am infamous for losing my keys.

And by “losing,” I mean just this general unknowing of where they are at any given moment. I don’t actually leave them in mass transit or restaurants or what have you.

And…YES. I’ve tried the basket by the door. The hook in the kitchen. The “always” putting them back in the same purse pocket. I’ve tried laying them on top of the microwave, or my dresser, or my desk. I’ve tried it all. Believe me.

Once, someone even gave me an electronic device that would supposedly help me keep up with them. Spoiler alert: that did not work either.

I have to tell you, at 44 years old, the chances of me finding a way to prevent the morning cry of, “Gah! Where are my keys?!?” are getting real slim.

Look I get it–it must be annoying if you’ve lived with me or worked with me or even gone on vacation with me–but the thing is? It just is.

It’s just how I’m built, y’all.

I was talking to a friend the other day who struggles mightily with feeling different from those around him–and not just different, but like something is wrong with him, like maybe he’s broken. First of all, we’re all broken in one regard or another. But second of all, this person’s brain does work a bit different than most folks…but I’ll you this…he always, and I mean always, knows where his keys are.

“You know,” I said to him recently, “this is just how you’re built. It’s like you’re your own set of LEGOs…and this is what YOUR set came with.”

Y’all know what I mean by that, right? You’ve seen a box of LEGOs…not the random pieces you can free-build with, but the sets. Star Wars. Harry Potter. Volkswagens. Ships. Castles. Construction zones. Entire scenes to imagine as you build, the right pieces given to you in little bags inside the box.

Work with me here, because the metaphor isn’t perfect, but if I were a little LEGO bag, part of a 1000-plus piece set, there’d be nary a sign of keys. Hopefully, another person’s bag would have them. Or another person. I’m imagining something like the Lego Advent calendars here: Over 24 days you can construct an entire Christmas wonderland with each daily bag of LEGOs. But you have to have each bag, otherwise the scene isn’t complete. You have to do them all, otherwise you end up with Hogwarts without a Dumbledore presiding over the Yule feast. Or the Millennium Falcon wishing the Ewoks a Merry Christmas without Han. Or an intricate ice-skating scene without, I don’t know…skaters!

You have to have all the little bags to make it work. You have to have all the little sets within the big set.

Please tell me you know where I’m going with this….

You have to have all the people. All the gifts. All the ways of being. All the strengths and weaknesses. All the good and the bad and the ugly of every single living, breathing one of us to make real community, real life, real partnership, real anything at all work.

You gotta have the girl who never knows where her keys are, but who, I promise you, remembers names. And stories. And significant dates.

And you gotta have the guy who always knows where his keys are, and is insanely and beautifully calm in crisis, even if he could not tell you what he ate for breakfast that morning.

You have to have the builders. And the dreamers. And the planners. And the visionaries.

You have to have someone to ask the pragmatic questions, and someone who doesn’t care one whit about what’s practical or not. You have to have the numbers people, and the ones who can get 5 from 2 plus 2.

You have the poor and the rich right up alongside one another. The outcast and the queen bee stuck in the same line.

Let me push deeper here for a second, y’all…because yes, we arrive to this life just as we are, in many, many ways. I was born with a genetic marker for celiac disease. Nothing I did to deserve it or develop it. It just is.

But also…life forms us; shapes us; pushes against us and tears us apart and makes us whole again (maybe a bit differently, than we once were, but still, at heart, us).

Under my daughter’s bed is a giant bin full of LEGOs. They are mostly no longer specific sets. No longer sealed little bags with a certain scene in mind. They are pieces and parts from a hundred scenes gathered over the years, some of them marked and separated into Ziploc baggies, others of them loose. And man-oh-man…the things that can be imagined with it all! All the LEGOs, come together, into something else entirely.

And this is maybe the very best LEGO set of them all….

Because, we are who we are. And your LEGO set and mine came with different pieces. And maybe you’ve even put it all together perfectly near as you can tell.

But even still…yours needs mine. And mine needs yours.

Yours needs mine. And mine needs yours. 

ALL the LEGOs, to build and to be what we were…what we are…meant to be.

 

 

 

 

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When Chewie cried.

(SPOILER ALERT!Do not read this if you plan to see Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker and are making every effort to avoid spoilers. You’ve been warned.)

“Exactly how many blogs do you have jumping around in your head right now?” he asked, as we left the theater on New Year’s Eve, my eyes red from crying, and both of us feeling surreal and tender at the 40-year saga we’d just seen come to an end.

“So many I don’t even know where to start,” was my quiet answer, as quotes and scenes from Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker flashed through my head and heart. I was struggling to reenter the real world after having gotten so caught up in George Lucas’ imaginary one.

Look, as you likely know, there are All. The. Opinions. regarding how it all wrapped up. Everything from, “That was perfection!” to “What a waste of money!” and anything in-between. Because of course there are a few plot holes here and there. And it’s hard to walk away without questions. And folks tend to think it was just exactly on point emotionally or that it was simply an opportunity for GenXer’s to wax nostalgic.

I don’t care about any of that. Have your opinion…because, as you might guess, what follows is mine–at the heart of which is my bias that it was, in fact, a beautiful ending to one of the greatest overarching stories of all time.

There are three things that define Rise of Skywalker for me. Three things that connected it to “real life,” in such a profound way for me that I have not been able to shake them.

FIRST THING: “We had each other. That’s how we won.” Lando Calrissian says this to a discouraged resistance fighter at a pivotal moment. Those rising up against the First Order are tired. Scared. They’ve lost so much as they’ve continued to fight Emperor Palpatine’s evil and things are looking pretty bleak. “How did you do it?” he asks Lando, referring to the glory days of Princess (now General!) Leia and Han Solo and Luke Skywalker and their defeat of Darth Vader. And quietly and determinedly, Lando answers, “We had each other.”

We have forgotten this, y’all. Lost sight of the very real truth that deep in our bones we are starved for real relationship, and have forgotten what it means to nurture trust and respect. We hide behind our social media screens, the supposed anonymity giving us the false courage born of carefully crafting our snark and hot takes. We believe whatever click bait or biased information we see, as along as it affirms our own beliefs. We draw lines in the sand between “us and them” with startling speed and inhumanity, failing to actually listen to one another’s stories or sense one another’s pain, pitting ourselves tribe against tribe in ways that are destroying the very core of who we are.

To be sure, there is evil at work, and goodness must always take a stand against evil–but goodness does not ever win without listening. Without some effort at understanding. Without patience. Without acknowledging how very much alike we all are. Without loving…loving…loving–without condition, restraint, or demand. We have each other. And we have to find a way to remember this, to carve it into our souls, to set aside our own agendas, our own fears, long enough to work towards some glimmer of common good.

SECOND THING: My friend Cathe talks a lot about “the fullness of time” — this idea that where we are in any particular moment is not the end, that there is so much we don’t know at work, and that, in fact, we might not get to see “the end,” whatever that is, but we can be sure there will be one…and, that, it will be very, very good. Because, always, in the fullness of time, Love. Wins.

Y’all, Ben Kenobi didn’t get to see the final, ugly, and blessed end of the First Order, at least, not on the mortal side of eternity. Neither did Han Solo. And though she came very close, knew it was just within reach, neither did General Leia Organa. These giants of the Star Wars story, these heroes of generations of those who had been abused and controlled and made afraid by forces of evil…they gave their entire lives to the cause only to die before their work came to full fruition in the full hearts and clear eyes of those they’d inspired…trained up…empowered to do the work after they were gone.

And the new guys: Rey and Poe and Finn and BB8, with some careful guidance of the old guys along the way, they did it. They finished the fight. They completed the work begun so long before they were even born, and, in doing so, paved the way for a new way of being for everyone who will come after them. They shattered evil, and they ushered in a sort of hope that reminds you anything really is possible.

In the fullness of time, I believe, good is always at work. Always. And so perhaps it is our jobs, to, while we’ve got our little time on earth, to use the gifts we’ve been given, whatever they might be, to usher that good along as best we can, even if with painful steps and slow.

THIRD THING: The entire heart of this movie, everything I’ve already written, everything I felt as the credits rolled, everything I still feel 5 days later, is nested in the moment when Chewie cried. 

That courageous and precious Wookie, his grief over Leia’s death tore me apart. Those sobs, they were the sobs of a creature lost in despair, his heart ripped open at knowing his dear and faithful comrade was gone. His cries were the cries of a whole world on fire, deep, guttural, heart-wrenching cries that can, I think, only really be understood by those who have faced a night not sure how they’ll get to the next morning. By someone who has lost the kind of loved one he’d just lost. By someone who has known the sort of heartache that brings you to your knees on the kitchen floor, not sure how anything will ever be okay again.

When Chewie cried, I heard in his anguish the truth of all our broken hearts–the reality of how possible it is for this life we live to break us.

When Chewie cried, I heard in his anguish my own heartache over our own world on fire.

When Chewie cried, I heard in his anguish my own griefs and heartbreaks.

When Chewie cried, I heard in his anguish the cries of an entire world begging for something good, something true, something grace-full.

When Chewie cried, I heard in his anguish what it means to think that all is finally and completely lost.

Only…it wasn’t. And Chewie rose out of his grief to join his friends in their victory. He lived to see “the fullness of time.” He made it to the other side of the Emperor’s darkness. He was not alone–not in his grief and not in his rising. They had each other.

They had each other. 

And in this perfect gem of a truth they found their salvation, their lives, their hope.

I cannot help but wonder what our communities, our nation, our world would look like if we could remember this truth, too. 

 

 

 

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Christmas fudge and slivers of light.

IMG_2622First, you need to know one thing: my Aunt Janet makes the world’s best fudge. 

You may think you know someone else who does. You may think you know a little shop that does. I’m sorry, but you do not. Unless you know my Aunt Janet, and are on her Christmas fudge mailing list, you have not yet had the world’s best fudge. Full stop.

Beyond its deliciousness, its perfect consistency and flavor, my favorite part of her Christmas fudge is that it gets sent every year in some adorable little tin she’s collected along the way.

The fudge used to arrive at my parents’ address, wherever that happened to be. The last few years, it has arrived at my house. Partly because that’s where the whole family eventually landed, but also, I suspect, because last year she was not going to send it, trying to respect some family health concerns (everyone is fine–no worries). I got wind of this and shot off the fastest email you ever saw, begging her to reconsider, that I simply could not “do Christmas,” without her fudge. I’m pretty sure that’s why this year, two days ago in fact, the fudge arrived. At my house. In a lovely little red tin with Santa on it. And after sampling One. Little. Piece. I tucked it away in the back of the fridge until the rest of my family can enjoy it too. I’m good like that. (Really I’m afraid they’d do bodily harm if I did not.)

For as long as I have memory, Aunt Janet’s fudge has arrived somewhere around the third week of Advent. And while I really, really, really enjoy the taste of it, I love what it represents even more.

My aunt prays for me regularly. She prays for many people regularly, and with a steadfast, unshakeable faith. She is also one of the most gracious people I know. She knows what grit is, I can tell you that for sure, and she loves so very deeply.

Real talk: the holidays are not easy for me, and that has been true for a few years now. Still, the heart of who I am as a person of faith rests in the truth of the Christmas story, because I believe with everything I am that there was, and still is, something profoundly powerful and redemptive and salvific about the birth of Jesus. I believe that God hard-wired us for the kind of love expressed in the Gospels, and that in such love and relationship lies tremendous hope.

This year, on the back of our little family of two’s Christmas card (which I have not mailed yet…gah!), I had printed an excerpt from the words to a song sung by Indigo Girls. I’ve shared them below (and I highly recommend you find it online and listen to it in full):

One tiny child can change the world
One shining light can show the way
Beyond my tears for what I’ve lost
There’s still my joy
There’s still my joy
For Christmas day
There’s still my joy for Christmas day

Which is to say…I am not the only one for whom the holidays are not easy. In fact, for many folks they are much harder. And the “merry and bright,” all around us can make it seem even more difficult. And…we live in a very dark, and very angry, and very chaotic, and very scary world. Also full stop. And our hearts get broken, and our lives get shattered, and so much does not turn out the way we intended, or planned or hoped.

But also…just like it has my whole life long, Aunt Janet’s fudge, made with more love, I am sure, than I even realize…shows up. And in such a small and yet simply everything gift I find light enough to remember that we are so loved. And that all around us, if we’ve eyes to see it, pulses that light enough–in all sorts of ways and in all sorts of places and sometimes in the most unlikely ways.

There’s still my joy. In hands held, and songs sung, and prayers whispered and stories shared and the pure grace the girl-child in my house brings to this life.

Last night was the longest night of the year, y’all. From here on out, every day, light wins the battle against darkness. And I promise you, somewhere, light is shining, even if through the tiniest sliver. Look for it. Wait for it. Trust that it will come. As reliable as Aunt Janet’s fudge is, this light, it is so much more so. It is everything.

And it came into the world, this light, full of life, so that you and I might have life, too. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Still (part 3: feeling the pain)

“I’m so sorry,” she said, as I tensed, my teeth clenching against the aching poke of a needle into a vein that clearly did not want to receive it.

“It’s fine,” I said. And managed a weak smile, turning my attention to the cold Diet Coke on the infusion suite chair arm rest, and the Chicago PD rerun on the TV.

“So sorry,” she said again, “I’m just having trouble finding the vein.”

“It’s okay,” I murmured, as Hank Voigt’s gravelly voice launched into a “Get your asses in gear!” speech to his detectives.

Finally the needle and the vein both cooperated and liquid iron began its journey into my body. The nurse vanished and I let out a deep breath, settling back into the seat, quiet and stillness once again my twin companions.

Today there is a small, faint bruise at the crook of my arm. And as I noticed it this morning, and felt its tenderness, I thought, “Why did I tell her it was fine? Why did I try to minimize the pain she was causing?”

Is it because I knew it wasn’t on purpose, that she was trying her level best? Maybe. Is it because I knew I had to just get through it? Maybe. And those are valid reasons to say, “It’s fine.” Sometimes, “it’s fine,” is how we cope. And sometimes, that’s okay–it’s what gets us through to the next part of the journey.

But the whole thing has me thinking about pain this morning. Particularly the ways we try to hide it. Mask it. Even deny it. And I am fully convinced, that roughly 90% of the world’s, and most certainly our nation’s, problems could be solved if we quit attempting to mask what hurts us, what scares us, what leaves us feeling vulnerable and instead shouldered the immense bravery required to say, “I hurt. Deeply. And sometimes that hurt makes me act out in ways I don’t even understand. Sometimes that hurt makes me hurt others. But really, I just hurt. And I don’t know how to make the hurt stop.”

The only way through the hurt, y’all, is to feel it. To let it work on you. Teach you. Lead you into whatever’s next. Open a path to healing.

Feel. It.

There is very little that tells us how to do this. Very few places that give us room to let the pain wash over us so that we might find a way to its other side.

And there are many, many things and many, many places that do quite the opposite–that offer us ways to escape and refuse it. Alcohol. Drugs. Ill-advised sex. Being a workaholic. Lashing out at others in hurtful ways so vicious we transfer the hurt (theoretically) to them. Attempts to control our environments and our loved ones and our situations.

Even “good” things mask our real pain sometimes. Hiding behind humor. Dedicating ourselves to a cause (even a good and just one) with such vim and vigor we don’t have to deal with our own demons. Anything to hide what’s broken our hearts and made us afraid or sad or anxious or lonely.

There is very little I know for sure, but, what I do know is that any attempt to disguise, hide or push away the things that break our hearts and wear on our souls is, in fact, futile.

This is not to say, y’all, that the whole world needs to know your business. Boundaries are important and discretion matters, especially when broken lives are at stake. It’s the denial that the brokenness even exists that gets us in trouble. Time and time and over and over again.

Such denial brews discontent. Edginess. Hate. Assumption. Misunderstanding. Insecurity. Doubt. It slaps a weak bandage on something in need of whole healing. And lets us lie to ourselves so effectively that we’re able to muster “I’m fine, everything’s okay,” so convincingly that we begin to believe it.

In my faith tradition, it is the season of Advent. And while Advent often gets misconstrued and commercialized into this sort of happy anticipation about the event of Christmas, it is, at its heart, a season of allowing ourselves to feel pain of this earth. Feel it so deeply that we are able to hear the earth’s cries for healing, for peace, for a way forward out of the angry chaos, and into the light of the joy of Christ’s birth.

Because joy and pain, they live side-by-side in each of us. We cannot know the saving grace of one, without having known the destruction of the other. 

The world has always been broken. The world has always been full of pain. God created us beautifully human, and we mess it up time and time again. But – God created us beautifully human, and that means we are just as equally capable of the love and mercy God wants for all of us, as we are of the things that deny such love and mercy.

I have marked the weeks between Thanksgiving and this week before Christmas in an IV infusion suite – where lives hang in the balance every day, and where I am confident God’s tears often flow. And where I have also been given space — quiet and stillness enough– to see what’s possible, to reach down deep and believe once again that all is not lost.

Because unto us has been given the love of God made known in the most vulnerable thing of all – a baby.

And if nothing else, this tells me that from the very beginning, God never intended us to hide our pain, but to join one another in it, so that there might be hope for all God’s children.



 

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Still (part 2: feeling the grind)

Traffic was thick on my way to the hospital last night. It’s full-on Christmas, you know (even if Mary might not even know she’s pregnant yet), and the back roads into the two shopping malls I live near, plus any number of strip malls and restaurants, get super clogged super quick between Black Friday and New Year’s Eve. Still, I managed to find a parking place relatively easily and rushed against the cold and into those sliding doors as fast as I could.

A woman was on her way out. Wheelchair bound, clearly so ill. Another man was, too. He was lined and weathered and half-asleep and I ached for his caregiver. She looked so deep-in-her-bones tired. I took a deep breath and walked past the dark side hallways and closed offices–only the infusion suite is still open in this part of the hospital at 5pm, and I stepped into it gratefully.  Knowing I would be warmly welcomed.  And I was.

I noticed immediately that last week’s plastic floral arrangement had been replaced with shiny Christmas baubles of varying sizes, and cheap greenery hung wherever they’d been able to anchor it. I knew the effort had been made with good, full-hearted intention–a dash of merry and bright in the midst of sickness and trauma. But it felt off, somehow. Like we were trying to gloss things over.

A different nurse this week–no less kind and personable as last’s. But the same suite mates–faces I recognized from last week, and, that, this week, looked just as worn and worried as they had a week ago. All of us quiet and still.

Soon enough we were all hooked up to the machines and tubes that gave us whatever we’d come for. My own IV bag is the darkest, brownest red you can imagine. Liquid iron, of a sort, and it drips slowly and surely for close to an hour. And while it does, done as I am with needles, I work on distracting myself with a rerun of Chicago PD and an ice cold Diet Coke, straight from the can.

So this is Christmas inside the stillness of an infusion suite…the constant and daily grind of bodies betraying themselves and nurses offering truer compassion than is evidenced most anywhere else, and beeping machines and bandages and warm blankets upon request. It does not stop for Santa or the Christ Child either one. It just keeps going. Still and constant and never-ending. 

I’m not feeling super-Christmasy, y’all. Not even Advent-y, for those church folk out there who mark the liturgical season. This sucks for someone who has delighted most of her life in the days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, who typically drags out the tree as soon as the leftover turkey is stashed in Tupperware, and who adores the chaos of shopping, the hustle and bustle of music and lights and All. The. Things. holiday.

This year, I feel the truth of a world that I truly believe is crying–deep, agonizing, heart-wrenching sobs for the weight of all that is threatening to destroy us. I am sick to death of the left and the right making a mockery of democracy. I am sick to death of families torn apart by conflict and anger and selfishness. I am sick to death of children going hungry and women being judged less than. I am sick to death of money guiding every damn decision that’s made in the general public. I am sick to death of greed. Of gluttony. Of snark passing as actual opinion or fact. Of social media determining who and what we believe. Of broken hearts and broken promises and broken lives. I am sick to death of how we hurt and exclude and judge and manipulate–all in some shallow effort to make ourselves feel more secure…as if our very survival does not, in fact, depend upon our cooperative efforts at community.

Good God how we need that baby Jesus to come among us and show us the way home again. How we need to eschew Amazon (full confession: they’ve already been to my house twice this week) and embrace caring for one another. How we need to set aside our insistence on who is right and who is wrong, and simply admit that we’re all so very scared and feel so very alone, and the only way forward is to recognize that within each of us dwells a bit of the God who made us. Within each of us. Even that person you hate.

Especially that person you hate. 

The grind is real. And it is hard. And some days it wins. It just does. But it cannot–it canNOT have the last word.

Because into infusion suites and shopping malls, into political posturing and policy manipulating, into hate and ugliness, into the utter shambles of our broken hearts comes, I promise you, one day, the very good news that you have not, ever, not once, been alone after all–that all along Love has walked beside you, and it will, in the end, lead you home. 

And if it takes the stark stillness of four hospital walls and a needle in my veins and just wanting to get home to my precious girl to help me remember that…then I am grateful beyond measure for every bit of it.

Sometimes, being forced out of the grind and into stillness is the very best thing that could happen. Because it’s in the stillness that such a clear, calm voice is able to be heard…the one telling you that all is not lost.

And that there is, sometimes even if just in the garish beauty of a tacky Christmas decoration hung with love and care, and a cold soft drink with the tab popped open for you, hope to be found. 

Hope to be found….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Still (part 1: feeling the rain).

Dusk was quickly turning to evening as I found a parking place, easier at 5pm than I’d thought it would be, maybe because a bunch of folks were leaving for the day. The sounds of rush hour city streets swallowed up the atmosphere, and the tantalizing smell of grilled meat and spices wafted up from the Mexican joint across the street.

I dashed across the lot and slid through the automatic doors, making it to an elevator just as a group of of nurses ending their shift exited, calls of “See you tomorrow!” bouncing down the halls as they parted ways. I punched “3,” for my floor and took a deep breath in step with the “whoosh” of the elevator’s ascent.

Suite 309’s door opened easily. And then–just as I’d known it would–time did a funny thing. It didn’t stop, exactly. It just…changed. Became still.

Very, very still. Like I’d stepped into a part of the universe pocketed away from the chaos and noise, the frenzy of 5pm in a major metropolitan area kept at bay by the charge nurse’s kind hello and the somehow just right array of cheap and fake fall flowers surrounding the check-in counter.

Time always does this funny thing inside the walls of a hospital. It’s as if the outside world keeps marching along while inside things move at their own pace, their own culture, their own way of being. I used to feel this as a chaplaincy intern in my early twenties. I’ve felt that way holding the hands of church members or friends laying in hospital beds. I’ve noticed it as a patient myself.

Stillness. No choice but to step out of where you came from and into what you’re there for.

In my case, the first of four weekly iron infusions for a stubborn case of iron deficiency anemia–most assuredly a result of celiac disease, and, while troublesome and annoying and not great for my energy level, nothing at all compared to what the folks around me waited for–chemotherapy. A terrifying word no matter how you say it.

One gentleman told me he’d been there yesterday, too. And the nurse said, “See you tomorrow!” as he left, and my heart flipped in an odd ache for what this holiday season must hold for him. Another man came in on crutches, smiled in recognition of the nurse, and they exchanged easy conversation–it wasn’t his first visit either.

Stillness. Like we were all in our own little snow globe scene, each with a part to play in our shaken up moment.

I’ve yet to find an unpleasant infusion suite nurse. They are kind. Gentle. They know you’d rather be anywhere else and there’s an overall quiet compassion to these suites that always makes me feel like I’m seeing the best of humanity. It’s humbling. Graceful, somehow.

They called my name and I went back, my nurse working quickly to get me set up for an hour of iron dripping slowly into my veins. (Get ready, world–I could be the next Marvel heroine–or at the very least, perhaps Pepper Potts could make me a matching suit?)

Sprite. Check! TV remote. Check! “Do you want the lights off or on?” Ooh…a nap sounds good. Check! She grinned, said she knew I just wanted to get it over with. I allowed as much, but then said, “You know, it’s fine. There’s folks a lot worse off than me down the hall.”

She stopped for just a moment, looked at me, and said, “Yes. There are.”

And then she sort of looked off in the distance for a moment, and, almost like a prayer, quietly said, “You know, sometimes, when it rains, I walk outside and raise my hands up to the sky and just stand there. Letting it rain. My husband, he thinks I’m crazy when I do this. But I tell him, ‘I see patients every day who would love to be able to feel the rain. And many of them will never feel it again. So I don’t want to take it for granted.'”

She walks outside to feel the rain, y’all. For her patients who cannot. 

Stillness. Like I’d just been in the presence of the holy.

An hour later we said goodbye, and I walked out into a now inky-black night. Immediately the stillness faded and life pulled me back in to its familiar embrace. Normalcy returned, but with this little corner carved out, for what I’d just heard and seen.

Stillness. Space for my soul to remember the capacity the human heart has to love: simply and wholly and without constraint.

 

 

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belonging (and not).

Dark. Rain pouring and wind gusting. Miles of traffic backed up and at standstills on multiple major thoroughfares due to wrecks. Headlights and brake lights fusing into disorienting patterns of light.

This was the scene on our drive to school this morning. I felt as if a really talented movie producer had instructed a cameraman to pan out wide, all across the city, the shot would feel so disjointed. So stressed. So edgy and isolated.

I took a long and rather wandering route home across side streets and through neighborhoods, simply to avoid the chaos of a gridlocked interstate, and even still, things were so snarled, and so little could really be seen, that I felt like I was in a video game of sorts, just trying to dodge all the distraction and make it alive to the castle or the stone with special powers or what have you.

I felt lost. Alone in my own community–a place where I have undoubtedly have a tribe, places where I belong, and a safe, warm, beloved home…but even so….

I’m not sure there is much that can wreak more havoc on our souls and well-being than feeling as if we don’t belong.

Even if we know we are loved. Even if we do have folks we interact with every day. Even if there are those in our lives that we care deeply for. Still, feeling that we don’t quite have a spot where we just fit can tear at the edges of our hearts in really painful ways.

And we really, really, in these United States, in this day and time, have trouble with true belonging, with feeling anchored, at port, no matter if the day is calm or stormy.

I know a middle schooler struggling mightily with that these days. And I talked with a bright, beautiful, talented young adult this week who does, too. And one of my most favorite people in the world, expressed to me last night the same feelings of disconnection as that middle schooler and that young adult. Which is to say, y’all, this need to belong, it knows no bounds of age or stage in life. We are, as brilliant researcher Brene Brown says, “hardwired,” for belonging, for real relationship.

And when we’re adrift, feeling aimless, not sure where to look for a northern star to guide us home, we feel so very vulnerable. So anxious. So uncertain. So lost.

I’ve known the rough landscape of not belonging. Of feeling like my own life story is unfolding in ways that make me too different to relate to, to damaged for anyone to want to include, to much a failure for anyone to want to claim me. I wanted to crawl inside myself. Hide inside the pain. Never come out, because to do so would mean facing all those people whose lives were still in order.

External appearance and false influence about what does or doesn’t really matter in life doesn’t help. Because even if you know, deep in your bones, that the size of your bank account or your house isn’t the measure of a person, even if you really do believe that the best legacy we can leave is how we loved, how we treated others…even still, it is mighty difficult to keep your head up when all your friends are taking fancy vacations, or all your married friends still have intact relationships, or your Instagram and/or Facebook don’t seem to quite be keeping up with the Joneses.

God, y’all, we’re so hard on each other and on ourselves. Not single one of us has a perfect life. Such a thing is pure myth.

I know a person who I perceive as incredibly selfish, who engages in a particular sort of manipulation of others every single day that makes my insides rage. And the only way–the only way–I am able to keep my cool around this person, to practice even the tiniest sliver of compassion (and therefore not give into my boiling blood…) is to recognize that such rampant self-centeredness must be rooted in such tremendous, unhealed, vicious pain…of having known what it is to not belong, and having never dealt with it. And so, as Glennon Doyle says, the hot potato of this person’s pain just keeps getting tossed around, damaging everyone in its path.

(And, there’s also this: I am confident, too, that I sometimes wield my own pain in ways that hurt others. I’m so, so sorry….)

What I know for sure is that I don’t want go through this life–and I don’t want anyone else to have to, either–like I drove back home this morning–so anxious and lost and frenetic…so not belonging to the world around me, rather, just trying to survive it.

I’ve no idea what the fix is, what a path towards healing for all of us might be, but I suspect it has to do with more kindness. More willingness to talk to each other. More bravery–the kind that steps away from some jacked-up notion of perfect status and embraces flawed humanity. I suspect it means caring less about how others might perceive us and just working towards authenticity in our behavior and in our conversation. I suspect it means being willing to share each other’s pain instead of running blind from it, and I suspect it means having enough courage to face our own hidden fears and insecurities and traumas.

And that, my friends, is all terrifying work.

May your journey home today include someone who says, “I love you.” Someone who takes your hand in his. Someone who includes your well-being in her own. Someone who simply lets you know you matter. Baby steps, sure, and not a one of them the single answer…but it sure beats driving home in the dark of an angry fall storm with no clear path in sight.

Somewhere, you belong. 

You. Belong.