what in the hell does “transformation” even mean?

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. ~NASB Romans 12: 2

I have spent most of my life fighting a transformation battle. 

As a preteen, in a Baptist church you could find in any suburban neighborhood, I met my first ultimatum film: choose Jesus or choose hell. A carful of teenagers, after a fatal accident, were being lowered down to the sinner’s inferno on–of all places–a freight elevator encapsulated by steel bars. As they descended, their ghostly faces were obscured by the rails, but not the harrowing screams and leaping flames engulfing them. 

After that, and not surprisingly, most of my youth—my formidable years–was marked by a paralyzing fear of the judgment of God. I had regular dreams of the second coming of Jesus. One recurring dream still sticks with me: I was looking out the window from my teenage bedroom, my hands tilted toward the sky as it churned like a gray, stormy sea and softened into a blurry and muted End. When the full moon dripped blood-red in the sky–for scientific reasons that I now know–I was reduced to a crying puddle of terror. Sometimes, when looking out from my dorm, the clouds hung low and the lights glowed warm and the air grew still, I whimpered into my folded knees. 

All of this despite being a dedicated and disciplined Christian! I was in the right church. I was pure in my romantic relationship. I was a reputable leader in the youth group. I was an active recruiter of non-believers. I did not party. I did not cheat. I did not lie. I confessed my wrongdoings and expressed my gratitude. I sought counsel and always followed the advice of my leaders. I rebuked the sin in others. I withheld my voice and strength so as not to overshadow men. I worked hard to be good, damnit.

I knew the will of God, in all its good and acceptable perfection, but what hovered in mind was this nagging question: how come I wasn’t transformed?

Eventually what I used to label as the absence of the fruits of the Spirit, like peace, joy and faithfulness, the doctors diagnosed as anxiety. One winter, while living in a ski town, we were the first responders on a flipped car. A few weeks later, we drove by a car that had slid upside down into the icy river. These scenes–much like the ultimatum movie–became a part of both my narrative and my anatomy: I was near crippled with the inability to be out on winter roads. 

Not so long after this, I raced to my dying father’s bedside; Alzheimer’s would finally cease to exist in his body as his memories had years before. As time behaves, this blurs together with receiving the call that my Mom had breast cancer. And then lung cancer. And then fatal cancer. And then I was holding her still hands, wet with my tears, in a hospital bed. Now, the winter roads that had paralyzed me became the blood coursing through my veins: cancer was inevitable; death was mine to have at any moment. At every moment.

Despite my best spiritual, therapeutic, and pharmaceutical strivings, I could not escape these weights. I could not transform. Like one of those cunning and scratchy finger traps, in my chasing of it, transformation eluded me. It was exhausting. It was depressing. 

But, unbeknownst to me, something within me was sprouting.

I found myself equally repelled by and drawn to being alone with my soul. I would spend weekends at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House in the beige foothills of Colorado, my first experience with Noble Silence. There I channelled the vacillating and extreme emotions of David the Psalmist. There I grieved the death of my parents. There I bathed in nature. Back home in my day to day life, I found peace in yoga: the communal breathing introduced me to presence. Yoga for me was also an introduction to meditation.

But, when I arrived at a 5 night silent meditation retreat at Vallecitos Mountain Retreat Center in New Mexico, I had no idea what I was getting into. 

As any similar retreat goes, we spent the entire day meditating: sitting uncomfortably on cushions, walking like Zombies in a field, chopping vegetables in the kitchen, and bringing fork to mouth during meals. Everything was slow. Everything was silent. Everything was smudged. The first few days, I was going absolutely crazy. I could not, for the life of me, get my mind to stop wandering. And then I would berate myself for not doing it right. And then I would be so discouraged at how unkind I was to myself. And then I would seek escape. 

But, alas, there was nowhere to go. Session in and session out, I met my mind on yet another battlefield of transformation. 

I began to see how this harsh treatment of myself paralleled the patterns of my life. In an effort to be better, or holy, or peaceful, I beat myself into submission. 

But just like with fear, with hypochondria…it did not work. 

My unremitting striving became my very own hell.

And so, slowly and tentatively, days three and four and five brought with them a new kind of mantra: You, too, are welcome here. Instead of condemning myself for failure, I welcomed failure. You, too, are welcome here. Instead of berating myself for distraction, I welcomed distraction. You, too, are welcome here. Instead of fearing fear, I welcomed fear. You, too, are welcome here. Like Rumi’s “The Guest House,” I began to open the door for my visitors–all of them.

Since then, I have pursued a deeper commitment to meditation. More retreats. Daily practice. Professional development so I can also lead mindfulness in my school. 

And, without even seeing it, and most definitely without even trying to make it happen, I changed from the inside out. Winter roads and scary diagnosis do not derail me anymore. I have moved overseas to Brazil, where I do not speak the language and everything is new–a feat I would never have dreamed of in my old state.

I still am anxious. 

But I also am peaceful. And I am brave. And I gracious with myself. And I now see how I misread Romans 12:2. First comes the renewing of the mind, THEN comes the transformation. 

I am grateful to God that my mind has been renewed. I have been transformed. 

grace: microscopic new beginnings

There is something so dramatic about New Year’s Eve, isn’t there? Even the fireworks declare, “hey, even you can start anew?”

I like those kinds of new beginnings. They are easy. They are believable.

Not so easy when it’s, say, minute 4 of meditation and I’ve been struggling to be present for the last 3. I just want to quit. Escape. I don’t want a minute 5; I need a New Year’s Eve: a dramatic restart, a new year, a grandiose gesture that I can start over.

But I realized on my most recent meditation retreat that it is minute 5–not New Year’s Eve–that truly encapsulates grace.

[bctt tweet=”Grace, at its most glorious, is the tiniest of new beginnings. Imperceptible to others. Almost invisible to even me. But under the microscope of my heart, when I am still enough, and small enough, I can see it. I can be it.” username=”@eternitymod”]

And that’s all that matters.

As I wrote about, I meditated every. damn. day. last year. And I kept it going this year!

Until, July 10th. In a cabin in Breckenridge overlooking the Ten Mile Range, I completely forgot to meditate. I just forgot. I didn’t even realize it until the next day! And oh how my heart broke when I broke my streak of over 550 consecutive days.

But, alas, there was no New Year’s Eve on the horizon.

I had to start over, on a nondescript day in the middle of an ordinaryJuly; I didn’t even get a glass of champagne!

Grace. Tiny grace. Microscopic new beginnings.

I’ve learned a lot this summer about myself. About my heart. About how I treat other people. About how I care for my own soul. About how I connect with God. And with another school year beginning, I’m sure I will revert to some of my ugly ways. Probably on a daily basis.

And I will want to wait for a New Year’s Eve to start over. Because it’s so much easier. And more believable.

But.

Grace. Tiny grace. Microscopic new beginnings.

 

 

gates and guardians: a reflection on the state of a sorrowful heart

Dave and I have spent the last seven days in silence.

No, we’re not in a fight.

Well…

Not with each other at least.

Rather, we have spent the last week at a six-night meditation retreat. I did something similar a few years back and wrote about here (in prose) and here (in verse).

This retreat was a completely different experience and style, but no less impacting. Reflecting with Dave on the way back (finally out of silence!), I remarked on the oddest thing: to see forty people sitting in various states of stillness–some on cushions, some on chairs, some on benches–all poised like little perfect, quiet, quaint Buddha statues. But beneath that serene image, a war wages! Thoughts, “come back to the breath,” distractions, “be here now,” stories, “just breath,” narratives, “what am I aware of?,” memories, “inhale, exhale,” plans, “damn it, just stop thinking already,”–oh my! It is like this most placid, peaceful lake, but below the still surface, sharks are devouring triathletes piece by latex-laden-one-piece swimsuits (oh, can you see what I’m worried about…).

I spent a lot of (uncomfortable) time sitting at this retreat with these questions:

How is the quality of my heart? How open is my heart?

It wasn’t pretty.

After an emotional meltdown the final day of school, for some reasons fathomed and others only felt, I have been thinking a lot about a sense of deadening I have had lately. My highs aren’t quite as high and my lows aren’t quite as low. I wondered if this is a result of my solidifying meditation practice? I mean, that can be a good thing, right? But what I know to be true about my most authentic self is passion: rip-roaring laughter followed by belly-aching bawling (not to mention a few pants-splitting farts; did I mention this retreat was vegetarian and I’ve had a lot of roughage lately?!).

Anyway, back to the matters of the heart. Literally (how about that transition?).

I also reflected on the quality of my relationships with people. After all, isn’t this the sign of an open heart? I care for people–it’s my job after all–but all too often, it is on my own terms and when I can control it. I’m not very good at accepting gestures of kindness or affection (as demonstrated on this retreat, where I felt guilty and lazy [“I must not be working hard enough,” she thought to herself, “oh wait, stop thinking…”] because it just felt too nourishing–what IS that?!).

And though I’m still sitting with it (yep, trust me, my butt hurts, and brain, and heart), I can only explore the answer to these questions (at least at this point) through the lens of grief. My mere third decade of life has been defined by the razored edges of loss and grief. Prepared, but no less heartbroken, I lost my dad in 2011. Unprepared, and all the more heartbroken, I lost my mom less than two years later. Then our very old cat. Then our very young dog. (Which, really, come on, pets? What does that matter? But when the wound is open and raw, even a faint breeze stings deeply. Not to mention the odd parallels between my parents’ and pets’ deaths [read about that bizarre connection here]).

Who am I?

am grief.

And so, I coped. I’d like to say pretty well. I have not lost the roots of gratitude nor faith to the black hole of bitterness.

But I come back to the questions at hand:

How is the quality of my heart? How open is my heart?

How could I not, on some level–hidden, deep, essential, true–close my heart after all that heartbreak?

Perhaps the loss-womb birthed a Guardian who stands at the entrance with an iron grip on the pulsing blood-veined gates.

He is fierce. He is loyal. He is protective.

But maybe it’s time I bid him farewell. In peace. In gratitude. In honor.

Dear Guardian of my heart, you came unbidden, but ached for.

Thank you for the gift of one sure, slow step at a time in the dark, tear-damp forest of the grieving soul.

Thank you for the preservation of what is good while so. much. bad. gnawed at my bones.

I bow to you. But, alas, it is time I send you on your way.

May you protect another vulnerable heart.

But for now, it is time I open the gates.

I open the gates.

I open my heart.

 

 

 

 

 

you, too, are welcome here: the anxieties of change

When I was in high school, I lacked the finesse required to to discern my own levels of stress. Instead, in alignment with what I was taught and that which I believed, I held tightly to the safety net of God:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

In my world: anxiety = atheism.

But as much as I ached in my deepest soul to believe this, my body said otherwise. I was plagued with random stomach pains that I could not identify. Sometimes they were so bad, I would lie down in classrooms just to find some iota of relief. Eventually after many doctors’ visits, it was diagnosed that my gallbladder needed to come out.

And it did.

Yet, still, there were ailments I could not pinpoint.

Why?

The only way I knew to find boundaries or rest or–dare I say–weakness  (without guilt) was through sickness.

Now, with over a year of solid meditation practice in my corner, I realize I gave so much power to my anxiety by mentally avoiding it. My body has always known this. Driven by pure freedom, it always felt the experience without the stilted narrative.

And now, by changing my own narrative about stress and anxiety, I am beginning to taste that delicious freedom.

This summer, I have been amazed–perhaps even a bit frightened–with how calm I have been about the impending move. However, with less than four days left in country, I sense my internal landscape changing. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Just this morning, Dave’s mom asked me if I was worried. Honestly, I am not. But, in my body, I feel a heaviness. I am not sleeping well. I feel energy pulsing through my body. My skin is breaking out in rashes and pimples. I can’t stop eating. Sitting still takes an uncomfortable amount of control. I got ants in my pants.

But, instead of the striving and thrashing and condemning script I normally would have rehearsed, I find myself leaning into all the things.

All the things.

In my head and heart, I chew over and over on this poem by Rumi:

Welcome and entertain them all…

Meet them at the door laughing…

Be grateful…

And so, I will.

a recovering evangelical writes about homosexuality

I sit here at the computer, but my fingers don’t move. They are still, though my heart beats rapidly. I have wanted to write this since June 26th of this year, when a chasm already existent in America deepened to the lava core. But to be honest, I have been afraid: How many people in my life will defriend me for this post? How will I write this? How much questioning of my soul’s state will I bear? How do I even say what I think in any articulate or assertive manner? And then I was invited by the July 2015 synchroblog to write about gay marriage. A Divine Nudge. After all, what is writing if not a dangerous exploration?

I hope this dangerous exploration is sanctified by the truest Love.

Growing up, those of homosexual preferences were 1, foreign and/or 2, the butt of jovial jokes and insensitive insults. But this was out of ignorance, not fear or condemnation. That all shifted when I dove heavily into a strict, evangelical, conservative church during my formative years. The beneficial thing about such a context was I had very little decisions to make based on my own opinion. The toxic thing about such a context was I had very little decisions to make based on my own opinion. And so the decision, as ordained by the Words we leveraged to speak the words we declared as “the one true and only way,” was that to be homosexual was a sin: sad at best, disgusting at worst. Abominable.

I still cringe typing that. (Of course, we loved the sinner, even though we hated the sin.)

What I learned during that time of my life is undeniable in its treasure: discipline and self-control, true and authentic friendship, the art of leading, how to set apart sacred times for the Sacred, the skills of analysis and teaching that analysis, the delineation between superficial vs. deep, passion, social skills, humble service, etc. However, what I absorbed during that time is a subtle poison from which I’m still trying to detox:

  • Many Christian systems manipulate the bible to get what they want…and to feel good–or in true martyrdom, to feel guilty–about it. The fancy-pants term for this is proof-texting. This is the ability to condemn homosexuality while still allowing women to speak in church. This is the ability to declare one set of rules as softened by context (the Old Testament) while adhering to another set of rules more rigorously (the New Testament). This is the ability of a church to expect tithing while dismissing the need to walk around wounded in penance with one eye or one hand.  This sounds like: “Jesus was speaking metaphorically.” “Revelation is an allegory.” “Follow the spirit of the law, not the letter.” “It was a different time then.” “Pay attention to the audience.” “Paul was too radical.” “Now we have the Holy Spirit.” This looks like a myriad of Christian factions, each picking and choosing what’s important to them and then standing in self-righteous arrogance above the other “poor Christians” who just don’t get it. (This frightening lesson is exactly why I did no research in the bible, or outside of it about it, in order to throw around quotes and scriptures in this blog to back up what I’m saying. That was not easy for me, as this is still deeply ingrained.)
  • Many Christian systems judge the obvious sins on a much harsher scale as a way to distract from the internal, insidious “smaller” sins. How dare you love another man, look at porn, sleep around, and get drunk! That is murder against God. But meanwhile, please go ahead and oppress your wife, ignore your children, overeat, think in your heart evil things, speak half-truths, manipulate people to feel powerful, walk past those hurting, cheat on your taxes, talk shit about people on social media, change spouses like underwear, horde your wealth, envy the covers of Sports Illustrated and People, crave approval and advancement, and throw trash on the ground!

And we wonder why people avoid the church like the plague and leave it like a convict released from jail. I did, but I’m still recovering. I’m still wondering. I’m still questioning. I’m still healing. But I’m also still praying and seeking God. And what I have discovered on my journey as of late is that:

God. is. Love.

Where there is Love, there is God.

And so, a faithful and devout christian, who is full of judgmental hate towards something they have little experience with, well… where is the Love?

Meanwhile, a lesbian couple adopts a homeless and unwanted child, eager to give generously of their life and heart, well, there is the Love.

But, just to be clear, I’m not making blanket statements. I am DONE with that.

And so, a faithful and devout Christian, who is full of service towards the poor and spends Sunday mornings on the street passing out sandwiches, humbly and sincerely, well…there is the Love.

Meanwhile, a gay man misuses his position of power to lull in little children to his game of perversion, well…where is the love?

We are just people, looking for Love. We are all just humans, searching for Love.

So do I support gay marriage? No.

I support the marriage of two people, two humans, looking to get and give Love.

And in that place of Love, there is God. And ultimately, THAT is the “side” I want to be on.

***Other voices & opinions on this topic. Please note these posts are a part of the conversation, but not necessarily a part of my conviction.***

everyday easters

It’s been a rough couple of weeks around these here parts. Dave has been busy focusing on some consuming work projects; our house is in a constant state of remodeling flux; work for me is picking up with both the testing and senior season; we’ve both been sick. This all adds up to a cacophonous version of the song “Strangers in the Night.” Like two ships that can’t quite find the harbor at the same time, Dave and I have been feeling very disconnected from each other as of late.

And so Friday, we remedied that. We spent the day devoted to each other. Less phones and internet, more face time. Less TV, more living.

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We tried new restaurants.

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We ran. And I managed to get in a few balancing postures.

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We checked out a new brewery.

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We battled on the bowling lanes.

We sat, facing each other, and get this, talked. Like new lovers do. Like best friends do. Like old-fashioned married people do. Part of what we talked about were assessments of our current status, as a couple and as separate human beings. We came up with a plan to tend to our own souls, as well as reconnect and stay that way. We laughed, we remembered, we made new memories. It was a good day. It was a resurrection.

Many Christians will wake up tomorrow (or in some parts of the world, this already happened), and they will go to church to celebrate another kind of resurrection, a much more dramatic resurrection: Jesus’. The prevalent idea is that two-thousand and fifteen years ago, a sun-burnt, sand-blown and dove-blessed God-man lived, loved, died, and then was raised–raised (he needs no helping verb)–from the dead, leaving stones unrolled and surprises unfurled. Whether this is the actual timing, or the actual way the story went, what I do truly believe without a doubt is that I serve a God of resurrections. A God who believes in perpetual transitions into new glories. A God never defeated, but always abounding in incredulous second-chances. And third… A God who wildly abandons the norms and conventions of ordinary with a flair for the extraordinary, for the special, for the miracle.

So… then… where does that leave little ol’ human me? Precisely where I want to be, where my faith and hope rests: that e’ry day, all day (YOLO), for the dirty underdog and bejeweled prince alike, there are opportunities for resurrection–everyday easters. Just like with Dave and I. We were in a microscopic tomb of our own, as all married couples are at varied intervals. But, thank God, we didn’t have to stay there. We could roll the stone away, step out into the sunshine with beer in our hands and gratitude in our hearts, and begin anew. And countless times every day, at home or at work, with my own heart or with others’, stones roll away revealing such resurrections. With the new morning sun. With forgiveness instead of bitterness. With honesty instead of gossip. With courage instead of complacency. With relentless love instead of self-seeking transactions. With discipline and honor instead of indulgence and short-sighted pleasure. With thankfulness instead of complaint.

As I think about the wonder of this all, I cannot help but ponder the idea of “everlasting life”…you know, that thing that is dangled before converts like competing greyhounds at the track. Have we misinterpreted everlasting life? Instead of a pie-in-the-sky fairyland of clouds and trumpets, perhaps it’s something much more simple, and much more tangible, and much more now, and much more mundane. Perhaps the best part of a life with the resurrected Jesus is that we live perpetually in a state of resurrection. Everyday=New. Everyday=Heaven. Everyday=Easter. Everyday=Glory. After all, if it’s everlasting, doesn’t that mean it’s supposed to have started already?

I wanna live that way. Don’t you?

present to the I AM

To be mindful is to be present. To be present is to be fully engaged in the only life we have been gifted. In this present moment, we meet God, who names Himself “I AM”–not I was or I will be, but rather I AM, in this moment alone, here, now, the only moment available.

A lot of the Bible speaks of adhering to God based on his past credentials. His street-cred-resume: “great is His faithfulness” and “remember when He” and “the God of your ancestors” is a reoccurring trope throughout the Old Testament. The implication here is not to be here, now, with God, but to rely on a manifested-God of other people and other places and other times.

The other implication–just as dangerous–is the reliance on God based on His future promises. These bubble to the surface repeatedly in the New Testament: “you will be saved” and “will supply all your needs” and “you will know as you have been known.” In these, I rely more on what I’ll get from God, than who we are together, here, now.

But the more I’ve been focusing on being mindful in the present moment, the more I’ve come to see how being with God, here, now, is the litmus test for our relationship and my faith in Him. Can I worship in this moment, regardless of what came before or what will follow? Can I be grateful here, now, instead of relying on past or future revelations? Can I lean into both beauty and brutality, unsure of what influences shape or outcomes follow the here, the now? Can I know God only as He reveals Himself to me, in this present moment, here, now, rather than through others’ tainted histories or contextual comforts? Can I let God, here, now, just be I AM, instead of I was, or I will be?

Here, now, I say yes. And for each here, each now, an ineffable myriad more yeses.

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the soul’s greatest threat: ADD

This little disease epidemic is popping up everywhere. In disgruntled hearts. In ungrateful mouths. In slanderous conversations. In the broken public education system. Beneath the broken hearts of Christians.  On job (dis)satisfaction surveys. At restaurants. In my soul.

ADD: Attentive to Deficit Disorder.

I first learned about ADD–though not known by that name yet, well, because I didn’t invent it yet :)–when getting my Master’s in Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in Education. For students in our system who are emerging bilinguals, it is common to focus on what they lack (a foundation in English, parents who speak English, comfort navigating the American schooling principles, background knowledge, etc) rather than what they offer (flexible cognition, tenacity, diversity, varied background knowledge, a 21st century skill, etc). This deficit lens immediately and perpetually harms their potential–both for heart and mind learning in the classroom.

But ADD reaches into the adult hallways as well. Lingering in the air of my school lately is a heavy tension surrounding feedback. Teachers–me included–feel like there shouldn’t always have to be a next step. Can we just celebrate the good that’s going on in our classrooms? Just once? Of course, this stifling air is pouring in from beyond the walls of our building–a critical society of politicians and businessmen who in their ADD see fit to criticize our profession and demean our judgment. (Can I get a next step for them!?)

I saw and felt ADD in my Mom too. No matter what my Dad did, it wasn’t enough for her. No one at work could live up to her standards. We, her kids, strained to breath in the shadow of her martyrdom-to-negativity, encapsulated by her rally cry: “When it rains, it pours.”

Until she got breast cancer. The disease stopped her in her tracks, rewrote her map, and rerouted her direction. Did she become perfect? No, but her rally cry changed to “Well, I can’t complain; I’ve been blessed.” This will forever be one of the traits I admire most in my Mom: what should have proved to her that “when it rains, it pours” became a transition into a heart and life of thanksgiving. Even when she got cancer again, and then again, she declared her life as blessed.

Her prescription for ADD? Gratitude.

And this is without her earmarking The Secret or subscribing to “The Law of Attraction” or reading Ernest Holmes, who writes in This Thing Called You:

The barriers between you and your greater good are not barriers in themselves. They are things of thoughts. It is because of this that all things are possible to faith. Jesus summed up the whole proposition when he said, “It is done unto you as you believe.” In interpreting this saying, however, you must pause after the word as. Think about its meaning and you will discover that he was saying that life not only responds to your belief, it responds after the manner of your believing, as you believe. It is like a mirror reflecting the image of your belief.

As you believe.

Without using such succinct language, I’ve long pondered this with those closest to me. We’ve witnessed people in our lives with ADD: they never see good; they’re always complaining; their smiles are never deep; every good story has a “but” or an “if;” they seek commiseration from those around them; they are martyrs; they complain without changing; their conversations are tainted with passive-aggressiveness; they tear others down so they can feel better about their lives; they always play the victim but then conclude, deep-sighing “but, I’m okay.”

And as they believe, they just can’t catch a break, the sh** just keeps hitting the fan, spinning wildly above their heads on high, splintering the crap into tiny germs of toxic thinking that attracts more toxicity.

As they believe.

As you believe.

As I believe. This could be me. On my worst days, it is me, suffering from and for ADD. But I refuse to stay in this minefield-mindplace.

And just like my Mom learned and lived, I take my ADD medicine: gratitude.

My prescription as of late involves the delicious and divine words of of Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts:

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At the deepest diagnostic level of ADD is the distinction made by Tim O’Brien between the happening-truth and the story-truth. The events in my life are the truth, the happening-truth, the facts. But how I view them, how I count them and name them and interpret them, that’s the story-truth. Regardless of the events, I can tell the story however I want. I have that power, that choice, that authorship. Do I tell my story slanted with sorrow, burdened by ADD’s symptoms? Or do I tell my story, sanctified by sincere gratitude?

My Mom died last year. That is the happening-truth. But how do I tell that story? My Mom died too suddenly and how dare God do that?! or My Mom got what she wished, to end her life with her dignity in tact, dependent on no one, so thank you God! I choose the latter. Thank you. Again and again I choose the latter. Thank you. I refuse to succumb to the powerful hold of ADD.

My story-truths will be of gratitude, of thanksgiving, of blessing, as I believe.

Disclaimer: It would be negligent of me to conclude without a warning about the side-effects of ADD’s treatment plan of thanksgiving: DDD– denial of deficit disorder. There is a subtle but significant difference between positivity and faithfulness, between denial and gratitude. Positivity and denial leave a person consumed with “having to be happy” regardless of the happening-truth. They painfully push on (of course never on the surface, where there is always a smile) without the deep reflection and story-telling necessary to treat ADD. On the other hand, faithful and grateful people understand the severity of their happening-truths, while still instead scripting a story-truth of thanksgiving.

present. thankful.

bc90113e29ef351de769933bf5fbbb79Early in the lonely darkness, I wake this morning with a heavy heart; how can the absence of Something, Someone weigh so much? As in yoga, I will not fight this pain’s strain; I will lean into it. I will stay present in the sorrow, to the grief. And even in this, I will give thanks. Yes because it’s a holiday, but also because it’s a holy way.

  1. Though I don’t understand it fully nor embrace it completely, grace is more powerful than condemnation, compassion truer than judgment. The Divine, at the deepest core and at the wildest edges, is Love. For this, I thank God.
  2.  I live in a cozy house in the mountains, on a wildlife corridor–a glory this suburban flat-lander only imagined in daydreams. This house, once another’s outdated debt, has been made our beautiful home by my husband’s raw talent. For this, I thank God.
  3. I live and laugh with my best friend, a man of generosity, grace, strength, humility, adventure, athleticism, authenticity, wildness, industrialism, honor, spirituality, intelligence…love. For this, I thank God.
  4. I had a special relationship with my Dad. From playgrounds to cardinals to Frank Sinatra and Yanni to walks to movies, our spirits were woven together. Yesterday in the car, just like him, I whistled along and sang off-tune to a Christmas song. In his absence, he was with me in that car, in that moment. For this, I thank God.
  5. I had a special connection with my Mom. Our stories were written from the same words. When those stories are told now, in her absence, it is not only me–it is my husband. As we threw out bacon grease this week, we looked at each other knowingly, remembering and resurrecting Mom’s conniption fit at such a waste. His relationship with my Mom was a rare and precious gift, now a majestic river bird hovering above and between our love. For this, I thank God.
  6. Though my parents are gone, the utterance of “Mom” and “Dad” still floats up from my heart to glide across my lips. Dave’s parents hold a special place in my life–far greater than the empty label of in-laws. For this, I thank God.
  7. I go to work every day alongside people who fight for social justice. I teach students who teach me. I gift the power of words through stories that matter. My job is a ministry of empowerment for which I am equipped. For this, I thank God.
  8. My sister gets me. We are cut from the same cloth. Reunited by grief, our friendship’s foundation has solidified. For this, I thank God.
  9. I have friends of the soul variety. Tammy, who has been beside me and inside my spirit since I was 14. Laina, who when I am with, listening to her stories, makes me feel like I’m with my Mom. Libbi, who gifts me with the call to presence. These are but one small glint of a massive web of glittering connections spun around me. For this, I thank God.
  10. My body is strong and capable. My legs can take me to the hidden heights of the Rocky Mountains; my spine can bend and bow into peaceful poses of meditation; my lungs can fuel me through 13.1 miserably momentous miles. For this, I thank God.

Like beads on a Mala, I count my blessings. There are far more than this list; there are far more than I recognize with my eyes or name with my voice. For this, for the unseen and the unnamed, I thank God.

can I get a DOCTOR!?

If the church is the Body of Christ, then who/what is the doctor? So often symptoms and diseases and disabilities ferment inside the Body, while all the cells in the neck get together and discuss how the arm should respond, or the toes wiggle about and wonder what the stomach is doing up there anyway with all that space. Internal accusations feed on each other like a misinformed cancer. Incestuous, inside attempts at healing fail, because, well, sometimes “I need a doctor to bring me back to life,” as Eminem sings (raps?).

The media as of late has had a feeding frenzy on the bacteria of the Body. From Mark Driscoll to Ricky Sinclair to Ernest Angley, stories of scandal abound. And I think about my own life, and the life of friends and family I love, who also have self-amputated from the Body to prevent their own decay.  In response to these stories, mini to mega, my Synchroblogging friends have put out these questions:

…what would it look like for the Church as a whole when abusive leaders are held accountable and then are reconciled? How do we do that in such a way as to let victims be heard and redemption be the end goal? What does redemption and/or reconciliation look like in real life? What does grace look like in these situations?

Stay tuned for a link list at the bottom for others’ responses to these questions. I’d like to respond with these thoughts:

  • First and foremost, the Body needs to see a doctor. And not an internal doctor. An external doctor. An objective but wise counsel who can offer both a diagnosis and a treatment plan. In my opinion, there is no better healer to look to than the Native Americans, who have been practicing peacemaking circles long before Restorative Justice became latest alternative trend. What are the advantages of this? First and foremost, it is grounded in the idea that justice arises best from a strong sense of value for a unified community. And if that is not the ideal body type for the church, I don’t know what is. If a leader abuses his power (why did I automatically write “he” there?), that leader must sit in a circle with those traumatized by that abuse. The circle needs to discuss these questions: what happened, who was harmed, who is at fault, and who needs to repair what and in what manner, and how can the relationship be restored. It should be raw, authentic, messy, emotional, cathartic, brutal in honesty…but ultimately healing. And since it is a peacemaking circle, it may need to occur again and again, endless, in a cycle of courageous conversations that confront the illnesses in the Body. In fact, the Body should be taking regular doses of these supplements: a community connected by critical but compassionate conversations. These kinds of circles blur the lines between the leader and the led. These kinds of circles demystify the portrayal of perfection that runs rampant in the Body. These kinds of circles prevent the common responses of the body: turning a blind eye to the “sinner” or, worst, turning a back on the “sinner.” These kinds of circles prevent a mere public apology from the pulpit without weight and instead promote responsibility and repentance. These kinds of circles level the playing ground so that what is glorified is service and not supremacy. These kinds of circles foster raw revelations of the heart rather than painted portraits.

As I’ve thought about this post though, what my mind has fed on has not been the response to abuse in the church, but rather the proactive measures that should be taken. This is the kind of preventative medicine I would prescribe for the Body.

  • Leaders in the Body should not act nor be treated like soldiers of a higher rank. If we are a Body, than ALL of our parts matter. It is about how we work together, not in isolation in our awesomeness.  The flexing bicep might be more flashy, but ultimately without the anus’ expulsion of feces… well you get the point. Each part matters equally if not identically. As I write this, I am reminded of the story of David’s sin. Of course, we wonder how God and the Isrealites responded to his sin (probably as did the Old Testament Times, the media of the day; I can see the headline now: A Sexy Bath With Bathsheba: David’s Fall). But ultimately, what could have prevented this illness of the Body is David getting out of his comfy house of leadership and into the battle:

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Isreal…But David remained at Jerusalem. 

  • This brings me to my second dose of preventative medicine–the Body should not adhere to any of the prototypes prevalent in society. It should not look like a corporation; it should not look like a music venue; it should not be a well-oiled machine. It is a community, and by nature a community is messy. There is vulnerability, there is hurt and pain, there is reconciliation. There shouldn’t be PR, unless we’re talking personal responsibility. There shouldn’t be concern with an image, unless it’s “how does this apron look on me at the soup kitchen?” And of course, any of the leaders could answer that question, because they are in it, up to their eyeballs, fighting and lighting the world with their action and not just their polished words and glamorous power points.

It saddens my soul to watch the world paint an image of the church as a broken, abusive, toxic, profitable performance. It breaks my heart, more so, to know this is grounded is founded evidence. But I come back to the idea of resurrection. As the Body, we are risen. We can shine. We can love. We can restore.

I end in prayer, the only thing left to say:

May the Body heal…itself, the world.

St. Thomas Aquinas

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