Uncategorized

A word about facing death…

Some of you have heard me tell this story in person, and maybe I have even written it here, but when I met my oncologist for the first time, and he confirmed a diagnosis of a lymphoplasmacytic B-cell lymphoma (which we would later drill down even further to Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia) I looked him straight in his very deep and very dark eyes, and I said, “I am a full-time single mother. And I need for you to help me see my daughter to adulthood.”

Those deep dark eyes widened. He froze, just for a second, and then, almost imperceptibly, but with great clarity, he nodded his head to me and quietly said, “Ok.”

And then I consciously formed a goal of five years, saying to myself, and to God, “That’s what I need. Five years. For her.”

I know now that the chances of Waldenstrom’s taking my life before something else, anything else, does, are slim. It’s a slow-growing, chronic, manageable lymphoma, and so though I will never been free from it, at least on this side of the grave, I will, in all probability, not die from it.

But I had to say those words to him. I had, to, in those early days, admit the full realm of possibility that comes with cancer. I had to, in those first weeks, make a plan for my beautiful girl. I had to, when we weren’t entirely sure what we were dealing with, face the uncertainty of my own mortality. And for me, facing it meant saying aloud, into the quiet of a Kentucky spring morning, “I have to get her to adulthood.”

I have a colleague who will not see her children to adulthood, likely not even to middle school. Her cancer is a far more ferocious and unforgiving kind. I have yet another colleague diagnosed with leukemia just in the last two weeks. She is young and bright and full of life. And the college-age son of another dear friend is facing his own battle with lymphoma right now. My heart breaks for them all. Daily.

As the saying goes, “Cancer sucks.” No matter who you are, or what kind you have, or what your treatment plan is, it sucks. It does not care about your money or your poverty or your fame or your life story or your successes or your failures. It is, perhaps, the most common of denominators and the greatest of equalizers.

Cancer sucks. But I’ve also never been more aware of the beauty and sanctity of human life. Every life.

Cancer sucks. But I’ve also never been more determined to choose hope.

Cancer sucks. But I’ve also never felt more free to just be who I am. Fully and completely. Even when the people I love best might not understand it.

Cancer sucks. But I have never loved this world more. Even in its utter pain and horror.

Rush Limbaugh died today. I couldn’t stand Rush Limbaugh. I can’t stand much of anyone who uses their gifts at commanding public attention in ways that harm. Whether they be conservative or liberal or another brand entirely, I’ve no use for it. There is too much pain in the world for jokes at the expense of others. No matter who those others are.

But when I learned he had died, my first thought had nothing to do with my disdain for much of his work. My first thought was remembering he’d been diagnosed with lung cancer sometime back. That binds me to him in a strange and maybe merciful way. And I thought, as I have many times in the last year, “I would not wish cancer, in any form, on anyone, at all, ever.”

The most common of denominators. The greatest of equalizers.

Today is Ash Wednesday. And, for me, that means taking a moment or two to remember the truth, “that from dust I am made, and to dust I will return.” I am mortal. Human. Given life purely by love and grace and miracle. And one day, despite any attempt otherwise on my part, I will die. Just like Rush has.

And this is depressing, I suppose. Morbid, even. Especially when we’re all so anxious and grieving and scared anyway given the last year.

But what I know is that joy and pain come from the same place inside us. Dwell side-by-side in that place, even. And just as I have known the pain and fear of a cancer diagnosis, I have known the gratitude and joy of seeing life in a new way. Of being more determined than ever to practice kindness and seek understanding and explore what it means to both offer and experience abundant mercy.

Because the truth is that our very mortality is the real most common denominator. The actual greatest equalizer. My life is no more precious or greater than yours. Nor of my enemy. Nor of anyone’s. From dust we all came. And to dust we shall all return.

And it seems to me, that this is something worth claiming, something worth holding on to. Especially when so much is tearing us apart, including our own tendency to dehumanize the ones we disagree with, the ones who have hurt us, the ones we do not understand.

It seems to me that the truth that we will all one day die ought to be what fuels us to care for one another in the best ways that we can, as long as we have breath to do so.

What if we just let our hearts be broken open for ourselves and for one another? What if we just stared the grace and fragility of our lives full in the face? And, in doing so, what if we saw God in the broken places? Felt Love in the fleeting sacred mortality of it all?

What if, in facing our common eventual death, we learned life entirely anew?

Uncategorized

Where the pain is.

She slid one powerful hand across the top of my shoulder, and I gasped as her gifted fingers crackled, hard, against a very stubborn and painful knot. I flinched, and then realized even though she was working on my right shoulder, I could feel the reverberation of pain running across to my left shoulder and down my left arm.

“What is that?!?” I asked, feeling my arm twist against the unexpected and uncomfortable sensation, “It’s on the other side!”

And quietly, because she’s perfect at quiet and calm, she said, “They teach us in school this very thing, that where the pain is, is not where the pain is.”

Where the pain is, is not where the pain is.

Fortunately our session had just begun and so my astonished brain had a good 45 more minutes to unpack that little gem of a sentence.

Where the pain is, is not where the pain is.

I once worked, just for a few months, with a man who’d recently retired from the Air Force after some twenty years of service. To say he had “seen alot,” is putting it mildly, especially as his service had included long tours in the Middle East.

We shared an office, and one morning, when he came in, I could tell something was…off. I didn’t know him well, and so at first I just stayed in my work. But then I realized he was just sitting there, staring into space, not at all his normal get-to-it, high energy MO.

“Hey…are you okay?” I finally asked, softly.

“My dog died,” he said, “had to bury her last night.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, that’s so hard,” I immediately responded, having known more than once the pain of losing a furry friend.

In a matter of seconds, he crumbled. Tears upon tears, wracking his entire frame. Sensing that to move or speak would simply make everything worse, I just sat, as still and quiet as I could until, after a while, his sobs slowed and his breathing began to return to some semblance of normal.

And then into the space between us he spoke, “Ridiculous. I can stand over the bodies of six dead airmen and not shed a tear, and I lose it over a damn dog.”

I’m not even sure he remembered I was there as he said those words. And as I certainly had no adequate response, I simply held his gaze when he finally looked up at me, nodded my head every so slightly in affirmation or empathy or something, I don’t really know…and then we both returned to our work.

Where the pain is, is not where the pain is.

I’ve written here before about asking one another, “Where does it hurt?” It’s a valuable question, and one that would, I think, help reclaim one another’s humanity in a world hellbent on the game of dehumanization.

My fear is that we don’t really know where it hurts. And so it manifests in ways and places that simply exacerbate our pain instead of finding a path to healing.

My childhood best friend, who I talk with via text on almost a daily basis, is a speech therapist. She says that so often vocal injuries or challenges are a result of our having forced our bodies to sing or speak in a way that the body was not designed to do–as a result, nodules (Where are my Pitch Perfect fans? Nodules!!) or other injuries develop.

At the core of who I am is a deep belief that we were created in love, for love — breathed into being by One who calls us into real relationship with one another and with that One. Our wellbeing hinges on our connectedness, and our survival as communities and as species is only possible when we seek that survival together.

Shew. Do we ever screw this up. I mean, let me count the ways, right?

As a result, our very insistence on working against God’s intent for us–because somehow we find selfishness secure and disconnected rewarding (?!?!?)–means that pain riots in all sorts of places, in ways we cannot expect and often do not recognize. We’re so blind to the consequences of “Me First,” we can’t even see how hurt and alone and isolated we’ve made ourselves. It hurts too much to face it full on, so we hide behind the very things that lead to our pain in the first place. We are, in this particular country, awash in a lack of empathy, and I suspect that at least in part, this stems from our own futile efforts to disguise where our own pain is.

Hide the pain, try to force yourself to live in a way that goes against the very essence of who we were made to be, and that pain, will, eventually, make itself known another way–generally at someone else’s expense.

Where the pain is, is not where the pain is.

George Orwell once wrote, “I thought of a rather cruel trick I once played on a wasp. He was sucking jam on my plate, and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with this meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed esophagus. Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that happened to him. It is the same with modern man. The thing that has been cut away is his soul…”

I am convinced that, as a whole, we are, most of the time, walking around gobbling our jam without even realizing we’re broken. Until suddenly we’re sobbing with ragged breath over a dead dog–for the pet itself, sure, but also for the battle comrades we lost, and could not find a way to grieve.

Where the pain is, is not where the pain is.

We have to be brave enough to face it, y’all. To do the work to address where we really, truly hurt. It is, I am convinced, the only way forward.

Uncategorized

Something More

9pm and snow had been falling since late afternoon. Dark, except for a clouded moon and street lights. Quiet. The air completely crystal clear. Everything and nothing at all could be heard and felt all at once in the sort of silent stillness enveloping me and the dog and a winter’s night. I felt my heart give way to strange, brief, restorative peace.

And I remembered–there is always something more.

****

8am and though the snow ceased hours before, a deep cold had settled in over the wee hours of a long night, the dog and I both bracing against it as we set out for a quick walk. The gray of last night’s snowy sky had given way to the bluest of Kentucky skies, and sun so bright I immediately regretted forgoing sunglasses. Between work–at-home and school-at-home, the neighborhood was mostly still sleepy, the sidewalks and yards untouched, and within seconds I could see it–millions and millions of tiny diamond-sparkles, just where the sun hit the snow, the whole length of my street dazzled, as if Tinkerbell had set loose her own army of tiny fairy lights against the darkness of this COVID winter.

And I remembered–there is always something more.

****

Something more than COVID-forced isolation.

Something more than the internet blinking in and out just exactly when she has 8th grade Algebra and I have a Zoom meeting.

Something more than the hatred of those not like us and the way social media breeds contempt and loathing.

Something more than the selfishness. Something more than fear. Something more than grief.

Something more than toilet paper hoarding and vaccine anxiety and missing the warm grace of being folded into the arms of your most beloved people.

Something more than missing my voice joining hundreds of others in prayers I know as well as my own skin on a Sunday morning.

Something more than longing for drinks with my best girls and aching to pack a bag and travel to anywhere but here.

Something more than every single awful thing that has made the last twelve months of any and everyone’s existence so inexplicably difficult.

There is always something more.

In between silent nights and sunlit mornings, in between hasty breakfasts and takeout again because you didn’t plan well, in between the monotony of endless days at home and the blessing of having that home, in between the pain of a world on fire and the grace of every moment some blessed bit of water lessens the flames, in between the pain of everything we’ve lost and the possibility of what we might do better on the other side, in between our broken hearts and the very things that put them back together…

there is something more.

Call it mercy. Call it miracle. Call it the unending and incomparable love of a God who spoke us into being and has not yet left us to be entirely destroyed…

there is something more.

And because there is something more, we know for sure that all is not lost and we are never alone.

Something more keeps us, still.

Uncategorized

1918 v. 1984 v. 2021

“The monkey’s paw takes as much as it gives.” – Diana Prince

There’s a short story you might have had to read in high school, maybe freshman year of college. The Monkey’s Paw was first published in 1902, and is, on the one hand, a supernatural sort of thing kinda ahead of its time, and, at the same time, a cautionary horror story about what happens when we ask for, and then receive, exactly what we want. Anyone else’s desires be damned, the course of our lives or of history, too.

If you’ve seen Wonder Woman 1984, this might sound oddly familiar. Diana even refers to it, in that moment when she’s come to the awful, gut-wrenching realization of just how much evil the Dreamstone has let loose via people’s frantic, desperate, and often very scared and angry wishing on it…”The monkey’s paw takes as much as it gives,” she whispers, as she watches Maxwell Lord attempt his endgame.

I watched this movie on Christmas Day, right at its release, having signed up for HBOMax just two days prior in preparation. Because, well, I love Wonder Woman–as portrayed by Lynda Carter and Gal Gadot both. And I loved this movie, even as I realized early on it would be way different that the 2017 blockbuster.

Set circa 1918, in the last gasps of World War I, Gadot’s first turn as Diana Prince was absolute cinema magic. I paid to see it on the big screen three times. And I can’t tell you how many times I have watched it since. And yes, I cry Every. Time. she crosses No Man’s Land. (Gah! Was there ever a better moment for women in a movie?!?) It was the most beautiful and heartaching depiction of Love v. Hate, Good v. Evil, and the most gorgeous reminder that again and again, over and over throughout history, Love has won. Not without pain. Not without horror. Not without bloodshed and deep loss. But eventually and always, almost in spite of our attempts otherwise, Love wins.

December 26 media erupted with All. The. Feelings. about WW84. Much of it negative. At first I taken aback–like, did they see what I saw? I mean, sure, it was different…but a bad movie?

And then I wondered something…and y’all, full confession, I could be totally wrong, but I have this teeny suspicion that we didn’t love 1984 like we loved 1918 because in 1918, the enemy was not only clearly defined–damn Ottoman Empire!–but was clearly evil and clearly “other.”

In 1984, the enemy? Well, it was … ourselves. Our own agendas and hidden desires, some of them seemingly innocent, except for the havoc they wreak in the lives of others. Some of them straight up selfish and awful, and yet often born out of deep heartache and pain. Like dear Barbara, so brilliantly portrayed by Kristen Wiig — I can assure you, that every woman in the workplace, no matter her smarts or creds or experience, has felt looked over or dismissed, at least (and only if she’s very lucky) once. For her it had happened over and over. Can we blame her for wanting something so different for herself? Even with all the hurt it caused?

It’s easy to know where we stand when the evil is obvious and real and outside ourselves. But when it’s our own hearts creating it? Y’all…that’s a different thing in entirely. What I saw in WW84 was an exploration of what happens when all that has threatened us, both personally and communally, makes us turn in on ourselves and our neighbors, creating the perfect sort of space for pure evil to pure riot.

Fast forward to present day. 2021.

Shew….

There’s a whole mess of things we could talk about, no?

So…let’s take COVID.

We could have fought COVID united. Instead we’ve let it tear us apart, sorting ourselves into masked and unmasked, believers and unbelievers, when, way back in 2020, a little bit of shared sacrifice would have left us all better off and having spent Christmas with all our loved ones and in our favorite bars and at our favorite holiday events.

There’s a lot of talk these days about “rights.” I wrote an essay on freedom once, for a local writing competition, about whether it was a right or a privilege. I’d have to read it to be sure, but I’m pretty sure I landed on the side of a precious privilege (that everyone should have access to) that we must protect at all costs. For all of us. Far too many men and women–brave souls like Diana’s Steve Trevor, but in real life–died, so that you and I could have it. And yet every day we tout that freedom like a badge of selfishness. “I’m free, I can do whatever I want!”

No. That’s playing so small with something so sacred, something another person literally gave their life for. Something men and women and children all over the world are still fighting and begging for, scraping out existence in places we wouldn’t let our dogs live.

You’re free. To live and move and have being as you choose. And the ONLY right response to that is live your life so that everyone else can live theirs, too. That isn’t treading on your own freedom, not by a long shot, and I’m not suggesting we all have to be the same or believe the same or live the same or have the same amount of money or any of that. It’s bigger–it’s about making room for all of us to have the sort of life where there’s plenty of laughter and no empty bellies and no seething hatred. Where we are all finally and wholly loved and safejust as we are.

My favorite thing about the first Wonder Woman was her motley crew: Steve Trevor, the epitome of a selfless soldier if there ever was one; the Arab, Sameer, who really just wants to be an actor; The Chief, a Native American — maybe a hat-tip to code talkers, but either way, a fabulous character; and Charlie, the broken and often drunken sharpshooter who just breaks my damn heart when he plays the piano as the snow softly falls in a now-liberated French village. I feel like, in the United States these days, this group of people would have a hard time having lunch together, much less fighting a common enemy together. And yet–there they are. Saving us all.

I don’t have answers, y’all, but I do believe that our desire for change in this country begins with ourselves. And that means a whole lot less finger-pointing and whole lot more self-reflection. Michael Jackson wasn’t wrong about that person in the mirror. Your experience is not everyone else’s. In fact, it’s not anyone else’s. And we can only begin to understand one another when we admit this very real truth and set about honoring the experiences that are different than ours.

A million little kindnesses, thousands of small sacrifices, myriad efforts at real relationship, listening with open hearts to those who believe differently than we do, to those who are terrified at a world that has changed so quickly, to those who have waited far too long for a seat at the table…this is how we might begin the very slow work of healing the gaping wounds of our nation.

No Monkey’s Paw. No Dreamstone.

But…maybe a little bit of Steve Trevor, who only ever wanted to give his life in service to others.

Uncategorized

what has been and what will be…

Today’s footbridge across Fourteen Mile Creek, just as it branches off the Ohio River, to Rose Island.

Yesterday my favorites and I took a trip to Rose Island — the location of a once glamorous resort and theme park on a piece of land known as Devil’s Backbone, right on the Ohio River, just as it branches off at Fourteen Mile Creek. In the early 1920’s, a man by the name of…wait for it Schitt’s Creek fans…David Rose (!!!!) developed this popular spot for leisure. Cottages, a hotel, a massive dining facility, a dance hall, the first filtered swimming pool in the Midwest, even a zoo graced it all, and folks came from far and wide, either by boat, or via a long-gone suspension bridge to relax, unwind, and near as I can tell, party 1920’s style.

Rose Island’s guest list dwindled mightily when the Great Depression hit. Then came The Great Flood of 1937, destroying just about everything in its path. And so, for the last 80 or so years, Rose Island has been reclaimed by nature, and to walk through it now feels like walking through a delightful and eerie bit of history: the edges of the zoo cages visible just above the earth; tall trees standing in the depressed bit of land that once held the hotel; beautiful wrought iron arches, grown over with ivy, marking what was once a dazzling entry way; the pool long filled in but its side ladders still intact; the boat dock washed away with only three stone pillars remaining to mark where it once was.

(Why someone has not made a blockbuster movie about what was once there is beyond me.)

I walked slowly and softly through it. It was a gray day, and rain threatened, so we had the place mostly to ourselves. Except for our voices exclaiming over various things found along the way, it was so quiet. So still. It was easy to close your eyes and imagine sparkling evenings of merriment long gone. Here we were, on the cusp of this godawful year’s end, walking through the ruins of what must have been a place of laughter, of joy, of community and connection. It makes no sense to say this, but the presence of what had once been was almost palpable.

And somehow, hopeful.

I felt so alive. So very much alive.

Even as, like all of us, I carry with me the grief and fear and anxiety of a year that has taken its toll in ways we have yet to discover.

****

It’s New Year’s Eve. Perhaps the most anticipated one in recent collective memory. You can list as well as I can the things that have threatened to undo us. That have, some days, left us on our knees, shaken and worn, and begging for something bigger than we are to somehow make sense of it all. To rescue us from the dumpster fire that has been 2020.

In the face of what has been, I know this to be true: this life we live, it is the most painfully beautiful combination of joy and heartache. And we humans, we are capable of such grace, even as we are capable of utter selfishness. We are capable of as much destruction as we are creation. We are capable of as much love as we are hate.

And that means that what will be is up to us.

As much as we’d like for it to, all the ugly isn’t going away at midnight. There’s so much that is broken, that it will take us a good long while to find wholeness again. Still, I believe we can. Maybe I just choose to believe that–but in the choosing itself there is hope.

My friend Sunny and her husband are parents by adoption of two delightful and gorgeous little humans. And in the long months of waiting before the first adoption, these courageous parents made a choice to believe that a child would one day be theirs. So much that they went ahead creating a nursery, filling its shelves with books and toys for the child who would one day be. And I remember thinking what a brave thing that was–this making space for something they had no assurance of, but that they believed with all their beings might one day happen.

This is faith.

Of the fiercest kind.

No, tomorrow won’t mean all things new. Not just yet.

But choosing to believe that it might, I think, makes space for the healing that could be. That will be, should we choose to begin the work of making it happen.

****

So much was lost at Rose Island. And in some ways it felt so sad.

But also? In the wake of what has been, a haven has been created there. And for my soul, battered and bruised this year, just like yours, the space cleared by mighty waters and the slow march of time has given way to something good and true and beautiful.

And so my prayer this night is that in the wake of all that has been since last New Year’s Eve–the loss, the heartache, the fear, the anger, the hate, the anxiety, all of it collective–there has been made space to remember that what matters most is how we live this life…together.

If Ram Dass was right, and we are all just “walking each other home,” then it seems the very best thing we could do at midnight is, if we’re lucky, grab the hand of a loved one and promise, “You are not alone.” And if we are not as lucky, trust anyway that we are not alone.

Because over and around us all, is the Love that created us, just waiting to dive into the spaces in our lives where we need that Love most, washing away what has been, so that what will be has room to do its lovely and merciful work.

Happy New Year, beloveds.

Onward.

Uncategorized

When the sun stands still…

Today is the shortest day of the year. Tonight will be the longest night.

Solstice.

If you’re a word geek, you might know that the etymology (or, root) of the word has to do with the Latin words for “sun,” and “still.” At solstice, summer and winter, the sun literally stops, is still for a moment, and then changes direction. Tonight, the sun will change course — I’ve always imagined it as if the sun rolls up inside itself on its way to December 21, and then unrolls again back to June 21.

I wonder what that moment of stillness tonight might hold…

Is it possible that all our pain and heartache from this last year might be held, right in the center of that of stillness, and somehow softened? Redeemed, even? Or at least offered a glimpse of hope? Could we, like the sun, change course and begin a journey towards something better? Something less godawfulpainful than what we’ve been living?

It seems the right time of year for a miracle.

****

Last night, I had this fleeting thought about what exactly has been so damn difficult about the last year. There’s a whole host of things we could name, but I suspect that at the core of our grief and anguish (because we are most certainly in a time of communal mourning) is the very real, and often very startling, truth, that our time here on earth is so very finite. And between our first and last day, there is so much that we cannot control.

I’ve noted before that a friend of ours, a cancer survivor himself, told me last spring that cancer was going to teach me new things. He was not wrong. And while I would have picked a different professor for sure, had I been given a choice, I find myself deeply grateful for having come (quite sharply) face to face with my own mortality. It changed me in ways I am still trying to make sense of, but that I know have made me more of who God created me to be.

COVID-19 has forced us to reckon with the truth of our finite lives–and with the reality that there is so little we can control. All the money in the world, the finest of houses, the most perfect schools, the most well-lived and faithful lives–none of this can protect us from how something as simple as a global virus (even if we do not contract it ourselves) can wreak havoc with all that we have built up around us. Isolation and financial ruin and disrupted normalcies are deep griefs of their own.

Grief is a darkness all its own. It changes you. It changes us. Some of us draw closer to one another in it; others pull further away.

And so the thought of a long night, when this whole year has often seemed one….

Except even in the dark of this long night, there will be light. Tonight, for the first time since the deep darkness of the Middle Ages, Jupiter and Saturn will come so close together that it will appear they are one giant planet. The phenomenon has, for perhaps obvious reasons, been nicknamed, “The Christmas Star.”

And y’all, I’ve got no real reason, no proof as such, but I can’t help but believe that there is something rather mystical, perhaps even God-like about it all. Because, look, I wasn’t there 2000-plus years ago. But my faith tells me that angels sang and shepherds gathered and a young girl gave birth in a messy manger. And it all happened during a time when no one in their right mind would want to welcome a child–Rome’s tyranny had run completely amuck and things were bad all over. But into all of that–straight into all the terribleness of it all…well, light and love showed up. No magic–it’s not like Mrs. Weasley waved her wand and everything was perfect by morning. But hope. Real, live, breathing, desperate hope was born.

And like Andy Dufresne said to Red, “Hope is a good thing…”

Like I said. It seems the right time of year for a miracle.

My head and heart are full of all the pain I know, and all the pain I don’t know, all across the world, even as I type these words; so, know this: I have known long, dark nights. I have wondered if morning would every actually show up. I have slid down a wall to the floor below in tears, begging God with ragged breath to please do something. I have feared for my own life and wellbeing, and for the life and wellbeing of my most loved.

I have known long, dark nights.

I have also seen light pierce the darkness. And so I know it is possible for all that has left us so hopeless and worn to somehow, beyond our wildest imaginings, be redeemed.

And so y’all? It doesn’t seem too far a stretch to believe that maybe this year, just as the sun stands still, we might have a chance after all.

Because even this longest night will not last forever.

Uncategorized

blessing in suffering.

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

–Matt Redman

We have an aversion to pain in this country.

A fear, really, of it. So deeply rooted in our myths about how money and power and wins can save and protect us, that we refuse to even consider the possibility of vulnerability–to the point of denying our own mortality.

Meanwhile, R.E.M. was actually right–everybody hurts. And not just sometimes. Many times. Right now most of the time.

What we’re really afraid of is, at the absolute least, feeling anything difficult; at the absolute most, truly suffering.

And so we numb. With whatever drug we have available: substances, sure, but processes, too–internet surfing (some of it mentionable, some of it not), over-working, sarcasm, shopping, identity politics, blame casting, attacking those we don’t agree with. Whatever gives us the (however false) impression that we’re “okay,” that “we aren’t the problem, they are,” that whatever is broken inside of us doesn’t really need attention or mending.

If there were ever a time when we needed to admit our pain, give voice to our decidedly not okay-ness, this, right now, would be the time. The collective trauma of 2020 could, if we were healthy as a society, be a rallying point for change and healing. Instead we’ve all retreated further into our corners, pronounced those in the opposite corner as enemy, and rallied our tribes like a Scottish clan war gone horribly awry.

I’m not even sure we know what we’re fighting against anymore, so much havoc social media and true fake news have wrought. We just scream. Blindly and forcefully and without ceasing. Or we seek control–of everything and everyone, as if somehow that will make it all easier to manage.

Maybe it is easier, I suppose, than admitting that deep within each of us are gaping wounds longing for the healing wells of real belonging, real joy, real fulfillment.

I read a great deal of World War I and II historical fiction–it’s kind of my jam, especially if it involves “based on real people” stories of the women who served as couriers or spies or undercover pilots for the Allies. Badasses. Every one of them.

Two things always stand out to me about these books–selfless heroism, often in such quiet ways, and sacrifice. Real, life-changing sacrifice.

Both of these things–the heroism and the sacrifice–require facing pain, really reckoning with how awful things are, digging deep into the muck and then making a decision to act or behave or live in such a way that seeks to heal the pain and awfulness and muck.

And it is stunning to me that we voice our great thanks to the men and women who rose to such heroism, who lived such sacrifice, on our behalf, and yet we refuse to rise to such heroism and sacrifice ourselves. We refuse to face full-on the pain of this world–in our own lives and in the lives of those around us–and then adjust our own feeling or thinking or behavior accordingly.

We refuse the grief. Avoid the pain. Wall off anything that might remind us that this beautiful life we’ve been given can hurt so very much.

I would not, for one moment, wish real, fall to your knees, life-altering, heart-wrenching, wonder how you’ll make it through the night suffering on anyone. Not even those that I just have let God love because I sure as hell can’t.

I also know that deep hurt and real fear and overwhelming grief have been my greatest teachers. And I know that I am a far better version of myself than I would otherwise be, or than I once was, for having learned from them.

This is what I mean when I say that I don’t believe God causes our pain; but I also don’t believe God wastes it. Why I believe that somehow, somewhere, in our darkest moments, God is at work. Even if we are entirely unaware.

If we could find a way, together, past the fear of hurting, and then walk straight through all that is tearing us apart, hands locked fast and hearts pointed in the same direction, I cannot help but feel certain that we’d learn something. And in the learning grow. Change. Become something more like what God intended upon breathing life into us.

There’s gratitude and hope to found in these days we are living. In the absolute trash heap of it all. But we don’t find those things by any other way than risking naming how terrible it all feels.

There’s blessing in this dumpster fire of a year. Not the dumpster fire itself…but somewhere in it. But if we’re going to find that blessing, claim it as ours, we cannot look away from the flames.

Because it’s entirely possible that in them is our salvation.

Uncategorized

Carrying hope.

Y’all, it’s the kind of fall day here in Kentucky that’ll make you feel anything at all is possible.

Warm sun. Cool, dry air. The bluest of Bluegrass skies. Leaves beginning to turn gold and crimson, just at the edges, sweet promises of the autumn glory to come. A pearly moon early this morning graciously giving way to it all. It defies accurate description, and after all that has been these last several months, it almost takes my breath away.

I’ve watched squirrels and chipmunks both scatter about while I work outside, and a couple of cardinals keep dashing in and out of a neighbor’s tree. A hawk is screaming shrilly every once in a while, like we don’t he’s there, circling for some poor unfortunate creature who doesn’t see him coming. There’s a blue jay, too, who struts around my yard like it’s his personal kingdom. Obnoxious as hell but of course gorgeous.

It’s all so beautifully alive! And that I am here, drawing deep, real breaths, seems nothing short of a grace I don’t deserve.

A friend I’m doing some writing work for asked me how I was the other day–in body and spirit both. It’s so bittersweet, y’all. So much is so awful. But I have to be honest about this pure joy and gratitude I have for being, right now, relatively healthy after biopsies and chemo and scans. I’m just about as good as I can be at this moment. And I write about it as a reminder that I cannot, for one moment, take it for granted. Not ever again. Not when just a few months ago I spent most mornings on this same back deck in tears, praying desperately for the cancer to be kept at bay as much as possible. At the core of that deep grief was fear for my daughter, who is already growing up without her father. I could not fathom her having to lose me, too.

I cannot take it for granted when, all over the world and certainly in my own city, the lives of so many others are at stake.

I cannot give you some rational explanation, some transactional analysis, for how prayer works. I once had a very difficult conversation with a little boy at church who thought prayer was magic, you know, get a wand as cool as Harry’s and you’re good.

How I wish it were so.

And while I don’t know who else to thank but the God I believe in, stake my life on, for this space I am in, I know, too, that there are righteous and real and desperate prayers rising all over this city, all over this world, all over this country…and in the very lives of people I love fiercely…that seem to go unanswered.

As you’ve maybe heard me say before, I do not believe God leads us to suffering. But I sure as anything believe God gets to work for our good in the midst of it. Even if with painful steps and slow. And even if we cannot see it for ourselves.

Our world is on fire, y’all. At least my corner of it is, and I cannot believe yours isn’t either. And in the midst of the communal flames lie our own personal heartaches, too.

And I know that for so many people hope seems at absolute best, the most Pollyanna of pipe dreams.

My dear friend Russ and I have, at various difficult or scary points in our lives and ministry, promised this to one another, “I’m going to believe that for you, until you can believe it yourself.”

And I wonder if, right now, the responsibility of those of us who are able to carry even the tiniest sliver of hope, is to offer to carry a little for someone else. I wonder if right now, those of us who have survived the things it seemed we could not, might need to shoulder hope for others.

“I’m going to hope for you, until you are able to hope for yourself.”

I guarantee there is someone in your life who needs to hear this from you. I guarantee you will need to hear it yourself at some point along the way. If today happens to be that day, then know this, “I’m going to carry that hope for you, until you are able to carry it yourself.”

The pain all around us is real, y’all. Palpable. Tearing us apart in all sorts of ways. “What’s going to become of us?” I have seen people write and heard people say. We’re in a tight spot. And it doesn’t some days, look good at all.

But I cannot believe that the Creator of this utterly beautiful and alive day has done any of that creating out of anything but love. Pure, unending, all-encompassing love.

And if that’s true…then this cannot possibly be the end.

Hope.

Even if I have to carry it for you.

Uncategorized

Resurrection

I caught up with a dear friend this week. It’s been almost two years since we’ve really dug into conversation together, which seems crazy because he is one of my favorite people. He has the truest heart, and the deepest faith, and, like me, is a frequent public weeper–so…solidarity!

He also knows what it is like to live with chronic illness–a kidney transplant from decades ago still needs regular monitoring. Truthfully, back then, no one thought he would live as long as he has. And one of the gifts of our time together was a real and honest conversation about what it’s like to grapple with your own mortality, and, in doing so, find yourself grateful for the opportunity.

Yes.

We talked about being grateful for having stared at the reality of death.

****

There are things that happen to all of us in this life that are very difficult to be sure. But there are also things that happen to us that leave us wondering if we will survive. You will, at some point in your life, face something that you truly believe might be the end of you. It might be loss–of a dream or a relationship or a person. It might be betrayal–your own or someone else’s. It might be illness–chronic or terminal. It might be addiction–to a harmful substance or a process. It might be the pain of your child. It might be mental illness.

It might simply be feeling completely bereft of any hope that things will get better–in your own life, or perhaps even in the world.

And in the darkest and scariest moments of whatever has happened, you may be so certain you won’t survive that you pray for the end to go ahead and come quickly. Pain and grief can literally take our breath away, leaving us feeling as if there’s a concrete block placed just so on our hearts.

Staring into the abyss of that which seems it will destroy us is nothing short of the deepest agony. And whether you are rich or poor, or a Democrat or a Republican or neither one, or black or brown or white, or a Christian or Jew or Muslim or agnostic–none of these things will protect you from the kind of pain that I’m talking about here.

To be fully alive is to know deep love, and, as a result, deep pain. Not even Captain America’s shield can deflect it.

My own life is centered on loving God and following Jesus as best I can. Sometimes I do this better than other times–but I never get it entirely right. Still, the faith I have been taught hinges on tremendous, life-altering, grief and pain and betrayal. It is built on having lost all hope, on believing that nothing will ever be okay again.

And then into the void of everything lost — life. And with that life, hope.

Not a Pollyanna, rainbows and unicorns hope. Not, “I hope Target is still open.” or “I hope we win the game Friday night.” Not even, “I hope ________ becomes President.”

No. It’s bigger than All. That.

I mean hope that literally reaches down its hand to pull you from the sadness and fear of all that surrounds you, such that you are lifted to a place where grace has space to rain down its restorative and gentle mercy into the very center of our hurt, softening the pain just enough, that something beyond it becomes possible.

I mean the hope born of resurrection. Of Good Friday having swallowed us whole, and then Sunday coming, offering of a way out of the darkness.

****

I am often asked how I am able to be a person of hope. And I am never quite sure what to say to that in the moment. The obvious answer is that I just am. My whole life has led me to believe that all is not, and never will be, lost.

But also? This: Once you have survived what you think you cannot anything becomes possible. And once you understand this, you become grateful.

Even for the pain.

And all around us right now is pain–in our own lives, perhaps, but certainly in our communities, and most definitely our world. And there are days when it can seem that hope is, at best, futile.

But in the words of a colleague of mine who has stared down the death of addiction and lived to witness to the miracle of his own life made whole, “I have seen too much.”

And y’all, I have seen too much that seemed beyond repair, that somehow, in ways I don’t even understand, found a path to healing.

****

And so I will continue to cling to whatever hope is available to me…to us…because I cannot believe that the God that loved us into being will leave us without a way forward.

My prayer these days is that we have hearts humble and open enough to seek that way.

I suspect it will take some dying to what has been.

This is, after all, how resurrection begins.

Uncategorized

What sets your heart on fire?

My Curly Girl has a teacher who, among other things, is a cancer survivor. We love this teacher–he’s helped us navigate some tough middle school moments with creativity and grace, and he’s brought out the very best in M when it comes to her fierce love for all things theatrical.

When I was diagnosed with lymphoma, he was one of my first emails, because I knew that he would be a support for M. And in his response to my email he told me about his own journey with cancer, and he said, “I’ll tell you, it’ll teach you things for sure. You’ll learn.”

It’s been six months, many very scary days, many very tearful moments, 4 very successful two-day chemotherapy treatments, and some moments of feeling flat-out awful since he wrote those words to me. And for the last few days, they’ve been stuck in my head like an earworm of your most guilty-pleasure 80’s rock anthem. Because what I learned for sure these last six months is this: there is nothing like truly coming face-to-face with your own mortality to set your heart on fire for everything that matters most to you.

Nothing matters more to me than that my daughter carries with her into adulthood an unshakeable sense that she is and always will be loved beyond measure; that she believes in the depths of her heart that, no matter what, she will never be alone; that there is nothing she could ever do that could ever change how fully and completely God knows her and loves her.

Nothing. Matters. More.

But y’all? What sets my heart on fire is wanting that for everyone else, too. Every. One. (Albeit, full confession, there are those I struggle to want it for as much as others….)

I am, at this point in my life, convinced that the vast majority of what’s wrong with the world is rooted in unresolved grief, both individually and collectively. Whatever it is we’ve ever lost — namely any sense at all that we are worthy or loved or held fast –has wrecked us. Whatever dream has died — be it of a relationship or an idea or a desired way of being–has devastated us. And our inability to deal with the pain that comes with loss of any kind, whether it is physical or spiritual or mental or emotional, leaves us fearful. Anxious. Unable to trust any sort of inherent goodness in the world or how much our place in it matters.

And the fear roots, deep in the places of our souls where we hurt the most. And hate and anger flourish. And the schisms born of different ways of being or believing, of different life experiences, become vast chasms of rage and misunderstanding that lead us nowhere but further apart.

And, as a result, we build our lives and our communities on the lie that we are so different from one another that there simply is no other way.

If what I want for my precious girl, and for all of us, is to ever be fully true, we must find another way.

We do not have time, y’all, for the nonsense of hot takes and snarky identity memes. We do not have time for the arrogance of “virtue signals,” like “if you believe (insert supposed belief), then you are (assumption about a person’s ideology or theology or any other “ology.”) We do not have time to destroy one another. Life is too short. And we are, each of us, too sacred.

In your soul and mine, God dwells, and this alone should draw us to one another.

This alone should help us see past skin color or ethnicity or socioeconomic status and into hearts that look far more like ours than we ever want to admit. This alone should help us draw lines in the sand over things that truly matter, as opposed to things like wearing a cloth mask during a global pandemic. This alone should cause us to stop judging a person by what uniform they wear or what school they attend or what house of worship they belong to or what the bottom line of their bank account equals.

Good lord, people. We just do not have time.

Stop. Step way from your screen. And listen. For the love of all that is holy, listen. Search for what’s real and true and engage your mind and heart with someone who isn’t like you. Check your own assumptions. Your own biases. Your own world view. And seek to understand someone else’s.

We will not be able to fully love ourselves, to truly see our own worth, until we’re able to set aside the narratives of “either/or” and engage in the very messy work of where most of what’s best in life dwells–the “and.”

Because it is exactly in this grey area where we learn how complicated we all are, and how beautiful it can be to embrace the complication with our full hearts, such that your pain and mine somehow mend one another whole.