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For all our sakes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An extraordinary opportunity. It’s really quite simple.

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

For all our sakes.

 

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Difficult Things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Difficult things. 

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

Difficult things.

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

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

Difficult things. 

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

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

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

Cancer was not on the list.

Difficult things. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This gratitude is saving grace.

Difficult things. 

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

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

Difficult things. 

But also…

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

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

May it be so. 

 

 

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Requiem (and hope).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When will things go back to the way they were?

Y’all? They won’t. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On staying at home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All. Of. Us.

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

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

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

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

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

Because we belong to each other.

 

 

 

 

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We just don’t know yet….

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

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

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

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

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

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

We just didn’t know yet.

Yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And y’all. There are helpers everywhere. 

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

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

We just don’t know yet.

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

Maybe even be better for it.

 

 

 

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social media and social distancing.

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

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

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

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

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

But on the other hand…

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

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

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

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

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

We simply must.

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

One day at a time. 

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

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

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

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

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

See you soon. ❤

 

 

 

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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.