Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Resurgence in review (of sorts)


The feathers have fallen, scattered in mournful disarray, an entire story trod by the feet of people who rarely look down in haste. But I look and notice. I can't help but notice - and wonder - from which body they fell. A pigeon, I believe. How many there are. And the way they've fallen, as if each ruffled strand tells of a struggle I did not witness. 

I am curiosity brimming over, crouching on my haunches in the rain, on a downtown city sidewalk, as people step around me and the feathers. 

I collect them as treasures, tuck them gently in my lunch bag. And I marvel, at the treasures that have always laid hidden in plain sight, when I was one of the haste- driven ones who rarely looked up or down to see. I keep them in an empty porcelain flower planter on our kitchen-table-converted-to-art-workshop: feathers, leaves, conifer cones, strips of birch bark peel, shells, the fuzzy cone of a magnolia tree with red seeds hanging through slits by the tiniest of filaments. I carefully drop these treasures in small glass ornaments, a few of my favorite reminders of the world I love in microcosm. 

* * * * *

I love books, always have. They have been among my favorite friends and teachers through the years. But I find myself in a larger, more rugged classroom these days, reading stories not in print but in wood and filament, leaf and cone, feather and bird call, wind and rain. These are my friends, my teachers, and it's taken more than two decades to bring me back around to this classroom. To the ground I began upon. 

This instinct as deep as the deepest roots, that each creature, each created thing, no matter how small, has something to show me. To teach me. But I forgot how to listen, how to see, how to slow, how to wonder. I was never taught to see the sacred here, in all these beings, in all these things and places. We worship the Creator, not the created, I heard for years, nodding my head in agreement. As if I had permission only to notice their beauty, then look quickly away, lest I fall into the temptation of worshiping the wrong god. It is not a feather, after all, that speaks sacred things to us, but God who created the feather and the bird from which it came. And so for many years, I looked away, looking for God in acceptable places, resolving not to love the created world as I did the Creator.

For. They. Must. Be. Kept. Separate.

* * * * * 

 And, alas, they cannot.

The year wore on, and I grew more weary of the dichotomies. The division of soul and flesh from trees and feathers. Can God not be found on the wind and in the water, stretching through the arms of a tree, in the quiver of a flower petal, the wing beats of a hummingbird, the drumbeat of rain, the stretchmarks of a drought blighted land, the DNA of a pine cone, the bleat of a goat, the penetrating eyes of a tortoise, the warmth of a donkey's neck? Is the Divine so small and insecure as to separate things so incessantly as we humans? Or is the Divine not also like a tapestry: colorful, distinct and yet inseparable; bound together from and in and through all things eternal.

I sought to know God also in the meditations and practices of Buddhist monks, who honor all life as sacred. The prayers of Native peoples, who love the earth and the spiritual world as one. The art and traditional celebrations of Mexican Catholics. The questions and ever-unfolding journeys of agnostics and atheists. The language of the created world, revealing to me spiritual treasures everywhere I look. Not as a choose-your-own-religion as much as a flinging off of religion to choose the One who cannot be contained by a label. Nor can I.

As this year comes steadily to a close, I see: this is my resurgence

[My word for 2015 has been resurgence. For more posts on this, you can read here and here and here and here.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

What lies behind the quiet

photo credit

While the wind and rains kicked up a blustery November gale outside, a large group of us packed in the Town Hall auditorium for Amperstand Live, an event hosted by a conservation organization called Forterra. We came with at least as many reasons as people present, but one shared reason drew us close to hear stories: our love of wild places and the Pacific Northwest. 

And stories came these two and a half hours, from poets and wildlife photographers, a paper artist and children's book writer, a chocolatier and a wild mushroom hunter, a conservation canine (i.e., black lab) and his human coworker, architects and a classically trained singer, a dancer and a gospel choir, an ecologically-minded clothing designer and two radio talk show hosts. They stood up and spoke of place, through words and pictures, through song and story, through dance and poetry. And I sat these hours on the edge of my seat, leaning in as these voices howled like an emerging wind inside me. 

I looked around the auditorium with a swelling pride of place. I live here, in this beautiful region, and I love it down in my bones.  I feel less alone. These are my people, strangers though they may be. We are lit with similar flames. 

Sitting there, I knew, I'm coming home to myself. 

* * * * * 

photo credit

Being the introvert I am, I’m not too keen on socializing. Period. I hate small talk and ice breakers and being thrown in groups where the pressure to connect with people creates a sense of forced relationship. That, and I have no clue where to go to find more like-minded, open-hearted people, after more than two decades in the church.

So as I’m walking to our neighborhood community center in the rain at eight o’clock a recent Saturday morning, preparing for a morning of planting trees in Seward Park, making new friends is the very last reason I’m doing this. The social aspect of participating in Green Seattle Day is not a perk for me, more a nuisance I have to endure to get to the real pleasure: giving back to the forest, the birds, the park. The satisfaction of hard physical labor, of smearing dirt on my face and pants and shirt. The tiny hope that these trees we plant today will one day be towering members of the forest, extending its borders.

Arriving at the community center, I draw a deep breath and walk inside to a small group of people gathered in the waiting area. Within five minutes, I’m chatting with a single woman in her fifties, Lisa, fully relaxed. Ten minutes later, we’re in the gym with a growing group of people and I’m having a conversation with Ted, who works at a Trader Joe’s, about the perks of our kind of jobs. Thirty minutes later, I’m walking out to a school bus with Tamira, a single mom, and her two adorable boys, Luke and Jonah. Luke, five, wants to sit with me on the bus, and he sticks close to me the rest of the day.

“Are you sure you’re ok with this?” Tamira asks with a raised eyebrow. “He isn't usually drawn to people like this.”

“Yeah, of course. He’s super sweet,” I assure her. I’m not exactly what you’d call a kid person, either, I think. That is, they aren’t usually drawn to me. But this one is and I have no desire to fight it. This little boy with the rocker haircut, one side flopping in his big brown,  long lashed eyes, with Spiderman pajamas peeking behind his ripped jeans, is an unexpected delight.

When we arrive at the park and climb off the bus, we gather in the rain beneath a tree for introductions and directions. Luke wants to stand by me and I reach out my hand to him. He takes it and all I’m aware of is the soft warmth of it, the smallness of it, in mine. The wonder that he took it at all.

We divide into groups - planters and mulchers - and I’m a mulcher. Which means I will make multiple trips from the planting site to the mulch pile with a wheelbarrow to fill and distribute around potted trees and shrubs. Again, Luke wishes to stay with me, so each trip down and back is peppered with puddle splashing, attempts to help steer the wheelbarrow, the removal of a rain boot to search for pesky pieces of mulch that inhibit his walking, a stop by the drinking fountain, instructions not to throw mulch on our heads as we’re shoveling, encouragement to hurry and catch up with me, and reminders not to play with shovels. I’m not used to being slowed down. And yet, somehow, it comes more easily today, adjusting my pace to include him.

We’re sweaty, streaked with mud, wet from rain, winded from the back and forth with heavy loads. I’d envisioned a morning that was more quiet, more reflective, more focused on the beauty of our surroundings, soaking in the peace of the trees and the songs of birds. But this, this was all about people working together. People caring for the forest and the birds. People of all ages, from babies to elders, showing up early on a rainy Saturday morning to give something back to the city parks. And a little boy tagging alongside me as I trekked and hauled and muscles ached, and all I could do was settle in and enjoy the companionship with strangers who quickly felt like friends.

It’s time to go and Luke and I climb the steps of the bus first, heading straight to the back where he says it’s his favorite spot. He squeezes in next to me on a small seat and heaves his jacket and water bottle across my lap, then turns to stare fixedly out the back window. Tamira calls to us from the front of the bus and asks me to take a picture of Luke and I with my phone and send it to her. I’m taking fish-faced selfies with a five year old at the back of an old school bus, covered in mud, and I wonder if maybe something was planted in my soil today, too.  Something like joy.

Back at the community center, I’m chatting in line for a hot lunch with Emma, a twenty-three year old software tech who was on my team. We sit with Tamira and the boys, who have saved us a space at their table, and laugh through our delicious meal of Ethiopian food and hot chocolate. Luke and Jonah are stabbing apples with their forks and calling me silly names, with their boyish giggles and mud streaked faces. Emma and Tamira are making plans to help out again next weekend to finish the tree planting, because Tamira says she wants to volunteer like this with the boys nearly every weekend, and I wish I was going to be in town to join them.

I leave the community center with two new names and numbers saved in my phone and a genuine desire to see them again, these ones who also love parks and forests and getting dirty and giving back.

* * * * *

  You know that feeling in your gut, perhaps especially after months and years of not knowing its dwelling, of finding your people? The core, the heart, of your life's work? I've known this, or thought I did, for brief periods of time in my young adult life - and it's been a long, long time since. 

The last time I felt a deep sense of purpose would have been in my twenties, when I thought mostly of Africa. It consumed me, to some degree, enough to shape my two years in grad school and aspirations beyond. But all they amounted to were aspirations, in the end, blowing away in the rubble of loss. This sense of purpose and ambition that consumed me was all about where I was going, who I would be when I arrived there, and what big things I would do with my life. It was so very well-intentioned - and largely theoretical. 

But this new-and-not-so-new sense of clear purpose is not about theory for me. It's not about arriving. Nor is it about defining identity, proving worth, warding off guilt or shame, or a deep-seated fear of failure. It's about living into: seeking, questioning, acting with intention, evolving, becoming. It's rooted in smallness, instead of bigness. The smallness of daily life choices. Of where and how to invest my time; of what to read and what to write; of what to eat and what to buy; of what to give and who or what to give to; of whether to walk or bus or drive or bike; of how to practice authentic faith and spirituality. The smallness of one human being showing up for life each day, as best she can, determined to leave evidence of love behind when she goes. 

* * * * *

photo credit

I've felt these colorful strands of story flapping in the breeze for more than a few years, side by side, not yet bound to each other. Crumbling of religion. Environmental stewardship. Advocacy. Deeper connectedness with the natural world. Artistic development. Insatiable curiosity. Slower pace. Sharper sight. Communion.  Love of non-human beings. Rumblings of a new faith.

And I need you to know, those who have read me for some time now especially, that I am truly well. I don't even remember the last time I felt this good. And while not much has changed in certain life circumstances, some big changes are abrew and hope is pushing its way out of the ground. That, and I am constantly changing in ways that are expanding and liberating and healing me. Ways that are helping me feel deeply rooted in the tumult of change, connecting me more with my true self. My blog may be more quiet than it's ever been, but I am still writing. The words are just not intended for this space.

And that's a big part of why I'm not here on my blog much anymore: I'm shifting my focus. Most of my writing is being accumulated for what may or may not culminate in a book one day. While the essence of beautiful rubbish is one I carry inside me, wherever I go from here, I also sense a honing in of my voice in accordance with my life's work. I wish to keep these writings separate for now, my blog and this honed in place of writing. I also know that my audience, if it hasn't already, is likely to change. As my faith has shifted, I know some (or many) of my readers may lose a sense of connection with my story. While this does not need to be the case, I also understand and respect it. And you are free, always free, to come and go as best suits you. The door is ever open to you; and also, I cannot remain the same in order to keep anyone from leaving. 

The truth is, I don't have any idea where my blog is going from here. And I'm at peace with that uncertainty. But for now, I'm still here, and I wanted to say hello - and thank you - to whoever is still reading.

Peace to you. 


Saturday, October 31, 2015

In which I confess on faith in a guest post

Back in September, I was asked by a friend and fellow writer, Liz von Ehrenkrook, to participate in a 31 day series of confessions she would be hosting on her blog in October. I thought about it, tentatively said yes, sat down to write, and soon changed my mind. Thank you, but I'm good, I told her. I've confessed my guts out this past year or more. I don't think I have anything more to say on the matter of faith.

But I was wrong. At the beginning of October, when her series was already in full swing, a confession started brewing in me. I wrote it down and offered it to her, for she still had a space to fill. While each writer in her series is kept anonymous, I felt the tug to open this up to my blog readers, too. This is all part of my journey, as a writer and a person transforming in her faith, and I realize as I grow more comfortable in my new skin, I have nothing to hide.

This is what Liz has to say about her series, before you head over to her blog:

There is something every single one of us keeps inside out of fear of what others may think; maybe it’s a choice you’ve made that has dramatically shifted your life or a personal belief that doesn’t align with the organized religion of Christianity.

It is because of this I chose to craft a series of confessions written anonymously by 31 friends. I wanted to create an opportunity for Christians – current, former or questioning – to share a confession they don’t feel the freedom to speak aloud for fear of being judged or outcast. Each piece is written by someone I know and care about; someone who chose vulnerability and invited me on their journey. Each piece is honesty at its finest, and part of being a collector of stories and words is to honor authenticity even when I might not fully agree.

The comments will remain closed. Writing a confession to be published online has been a tough exercise for most of the writers, but it has been a necessary step toward healing and growth for each person. I want my friends to understand their value; to know it’s okay to feel what they feel and say what they are saying without worry of judgmental comments. If you’d like to respond to any of the confessions, you can contact me via email (there will be a form at the end of each post), or you can share on your own social media outlets to create discussion.
There is nothing we can do to make God love us any more or any less.
God loves every one of us, no matter what we’ve done or what we question or what we choose to place our belief in. I do not think – as humans – we know love without condition, so we will never fully grasp the true depth of God’s love. As we hold to our own versions of faith, religion and Christianity, we should not forget there are very real people behind these confessions. I hope this series inspires you not to fear sharing your journey with others, and I hope it encourages the practice of being open-hearted towards those whose lives and beliefs don’t align with our own.

And now, if you'd like to read my confession - or peruse the list of others, brave and beautiful - please continue here.

Friday, September 11, 2015

This little slice of same

The light at dusk spills through our bedroom blinds, yellowed as the faded cotton of a vintage quilt. And there is dust. Copious dust, clinging to the blinds. The scent of freshly laundered clothes drapes like a curtain in the doorway. A red hummingbird feeder hangs from a copper chain outside the window. Feathered neighbors zip in and out, pausing, sipping, chittering, diving. Green and brown silhouettes against a backdrop of golden light.

It is the same light and it is never the same, each day a few breaths shorter. And these are the same birds, as much as I am the same, as yesterday, each of us several thousand breaths older. Together we inhabit this little slice of same, under an awning of rotting wood and concrete, beside a hanging basket of dying geraniums and a sycamore swaying in the breeze, on the corner of York Road South, on this ever-revolving, ancient earth we call home.


Linking up with Five-minute Friday, to the prompt of "Same."


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Meditations on yes

Growing up Christian in America, I was thrown into overlapping cultures of a yes mentality. 

In American culture, yes is often associated with positivity; possibility; hope; risk; openness. In Christian culture, there is possibility and hope, but yes is more often synonymous with faith; obedience; selflessness; service; discipline. 

There is a bit of a fake-it-till-you-make-it approach to yes in Christian culture. Say yes, whether or not you feel like it, if that is the Right Thing to do. Your emotions will follow, but more importantly, you will reap the spiritual rewards of obedience. 

So I grew up saying yes. Yes to weekly and twice weekly and sometimes thrice weekly church gatherings. Yes to daily bible readings. Yes to Christian books and Christian music and Christian friends. Yes to abstinence and promise rings and True Love Waits. Yes to mainline doctrine and theology and everything I was told to believe. Yes to raising my hands in worship. Yes to one-sided relationships with needy people - the more, the better. Yes, in fact, to whoever wished to be my friend. Yes to giving people second chances and third chances and endless chances, always the benefit of the doubt, no matter how they hurt me. Yes to volunteering, to leading, to ministry commitments. 

Yes, ultimately, to God.

Still, I thought this was the way I was choosing, all these yeses. I want this, I told myself. It's what I've always wanted.

Until I landed in my counselor's office in the midst of a spiritual breakdown and utter life unraveling. And she said to me, more or less: "You can't say a genuine yes unless you've first been given the freedom to say a genuine no." 

Because sometimes yes is a liberation and sometimes yes is a captivity to fear; we need to have the maturity to know the difference.

* * * * *

All along, many of those things and people and belief systems I was instructed to say no to were out of fear. 

No, you cannot ask those questions. No, you cannot read that, watch that, enjoy that, listen to that, participate in that; they will corrupt you. They will rob you.

But what if yes, in itself, can rob us of freedom?

And so, I started learning to say no. Tentatively, quietly at first, growing steadier in my voice as time and ground grow firmer beneath my feet. No to saying yes out of fear.  No, I won't be in church anymore. No, I can't read the bible right now. No to so many certain beliefs. No to Christian gatherings that trigger spiritual unrest. No to hiding who I am in order to make others more comfortable. No to friendships that no longer feel safe or life-giving. No to offers of friendship that feel counterproductive to my healing. No to endless games of catch-up in relationships. No to doing so many things out of obligation alone. No to a constant battering of self-doubt and shame. No to ignoring, stuffing, annihilating my needs.

No, even, to God.

That's right. I said no to God. 

Not the no of a hard-hearted rebel (because haven't we Christians loved to paint people with such broad strokes?), but the no of a weary soul working out her faith with fear and trembling.  No, I cannot be close to you right now, I say. No, I don't know what I think of you or what I believe, but somehow I know that is exactly where I need to be right now. No has become, for the time being, the most honest, courageous, soul-searching word I've said. A spiritual milestone. A practice of deep faith. 

For surely, a God not big enough to hold me in my no is not big enough to sustain me in my yes. 

Surely, a God this big deserves a yes coming not from obligation, fear, upbringing or familiarity, but from a woman having stared her nos in the face, wrestled with them, made peace with them and decided what she can say yes to. And so I give myself permission to hold these nos without condition. Some of the nos will remain, and others may transform, with time, into yeses. But I will know each yes coming from my heart, for they will be my own, honest and firm and unreservedly free. 

* * * * * 

It's been a long, long while since I linked up with Five-minute Friday. But here I am, writing way more than five minutes, to the prompt of "Yes."  


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

On converging stories and hearing voices

I grew up with an intermittent longing to play piano. Not until I got older, however, did I hear songs - or snatches of them - in my head, like the words on the tip of the tongue, not quite formed. If I was near a piano, I would sit down and let my fingers rest on the keys, poised between mounting desire and frustration, consumed by my inability to give musical expression to what I was hearing. 

Sometimes, the same is true with writing. The difference is, it carries a heavier weight, deeper pain, greater cost, to not find expression. Instead of hearing music, I hear voices; voices inaudible to all but the ears of the soul. These days, the core of who I am feels inextricably bound with giving voice to what I'm seeing, hearing, sensing, in the world around me and how it intersects with mine. 

I grasp for words, not unlike I've done many times as a writer in the past. And at the same time, utterly unlike any grasping in the past. 

There's an urgency to what I find myself compelled to write. 

There's an overwhelming lack of words to wrap around it all, to know where to even begin. 

There are two stories converging, parallel voices. I am seeing the transition and turmoil of my inner world reflected back to me in the natural world I fiercely love. It's as if we're both groping along in the dark, clasping hands tight, in this journey together for better or worse. To hear one speak is to know, in some facet, a curve of the other, for we belong to each other. But I am the one with a voice that carries through the noise of a human-centric world.

And there's confusion and fear, over whether it should all tumble out as a rant or dirge, prophet or poet, mystic or madwoman, another voice drowned out among the many. As if there's only one way this voice should sound, instead of the natural rise and fall of inflection and tone and cadence and style that voices tend to have throughout the telling of a story. 

It feels too big, too vulnerable, too painful, too unresolved. Too sacred to do justice to the depths of beauty and raw ugliness of it. So much so, these days, I don't even want to try.

It's a magnificent, terrifying racket in my soul and I fear that, sitting down to write it, I'll once again find my fingers on the keys with no sound coming out.

But still, I try. I begin here, and I begin again and again, as many times as it takes to start. And when words fail, as they often do, I come with pictures.

These images come from one of my favorite places in all of Seattle, down by a corner of the lake in the neighborhood I call home. After a mild, dry winter and a hot, dry summer, we are in the midst of drought, ravaged by numerous wildfires in other parts of the state. I choose to let these have the final words of this post today, as I have no way of wrapping things up neatly. 

And neither do they.


Monday, August 10, 2015

As ash in the wind: On long goodbyes

In April, my family spent two nights at a beach house, in a quaint little town on the Oregon Coast we retreated to many childhood summers. Since long before Papa died, we hadn't returned to this place together. But this is where we decided to scatter his ashes, nearly seven years after his death.

This scattering was to be our goodbye. I knew in my heart, somehow, it wasn't mine. Not yet. 

When I saw his ashes, I couldn't believe how they looked like sand. Sand in an hourglass, bleached white; I'd been prepared for them to resemble the remains of a fire. It was surreal, seeing him reduced to nothing more than what fit in a modest plastic bag, to hold him in my hands, to feel him slip away.

I took a portion of him home, in the beautiful ceramic urn I bought a month after he died, at Saturday Market in Portland. It's sat empty for all these years on my wooden chest, waiting to hold him. Waiting, for who knows what. 

* * * * * 


I will forever remember him in a handful of cashews. 

Buried in the chest of artifacts of Papa is a plastic bag of cashews nearly seven years old. I brought it home from Guatemala, from the peddler shuffling the streets of Panajachel along Lake Atitlan. He approached our table, four of us girls, as we sat dining outside with our cheap wine and flan, hauling his sacks of roasted nuts to sell. I answered him quickly, as I'd grown accustomed to doing, "No gracias, SeƱor."

He didn't press us further, didn't hardly seem to register us, as if he were suspended between one world and another, then turned and walked away.

Papa had been less than two months dead. He hadn't yet shown up in my dreams, but I caught my first glimpse of him sitting on the steps of an open shop at the end of this day. Wearing a familiar tattered green sweatshirt, white socks, black shoes, sacks of roasted nuts at his feet. This memory of him is a watermarked photograph, singed around the edges.

We passed him by as the darkness spread through streets, hurrying back to our hotel. And he, wearing the weight of the day, of life, of dejection, of who knows what, on his shoulders, sunk into me.

I turned back to him with haunted eyes, this ghost of my Papa in the flesh of a Guatemalan man on the steps.

His name was Fransisco.

This time I really looked at him, looked at the lines on his face and deep into those weary eyes with cracks of light filtering through. I looked until my soul broke through its windows, spilling down my cheeks. Until I had to turn away. But not before I bought a handful of cashews with the remainder of my coins from the day and we locked eyes for a moment, and he smiled, faint and piercing, into my pain.

Back at our hotel, I excused myself and disappeared in the dark lobby, pressed into a corner, doubled over in waves. A flash flood of grief and questions.

* * * * *  

It's not normal, I think, to catch his reflection, like a peek of his nose or bat of his eye, a swath of his skin, in such unlikely places. In such unlikely people. Because it's troubled me. Since that day of meeting Fransisco, I've only ever seen Papa in the faces of homeless men. Impoverished men. Men bent over, hidden in quiet masks of sadness. This is not how I wish to remember him. 

But while the Papa of my childhood is fuzzy and nostalgic, endearing and hauntingly distant, the Papa of my adolescence and young adulthood is mangled, crushed in spirit, an ache in my gut. He is a storm battered ship, leaning into the wind, even as the hull is cracking. He is a set of blank journals, like those left behind by her mother in Terry Tempest Williams' When women were birds, speaking volumes and mysteries in the absence of words. This is how he's come to me. As if I've been entreated by the grief he left behind - his lonely ache, his unfinished dreams, his hopes deferred, his unspeakable pain - to see what he bore. To bear witness. To lay his pain to rest, as we have his ashes, save for the ceramic urn of what remains of him on my wooden chest. 

I didn't know all these years, the depths of layers of grief. How his grief has haunted me in a cast of many faces. And I've searched to see him, to listen to these faces, to let go, as ash in the wind.

* * * * * 

Seven years of sands have slipped through the glass. 
And now I see, as I write this story, that these words are his ashes, scattered again and again. Through seven years of grieving and storytelling, digging deep, exposing layer after layer, slowly mending. This is my long goodbye.

I've written this story of the cashews twice before, and with each telling, I release him to the wind, to the sea, to the earth, to the heavens. Until today, when I do what I wish I would have done at the coast with his ashes, now with my words: I build a sandcastle, dig a moat, lay his remains in the trenches, watch the word-ashes carried slowly out to sea.

He must be at rest now, no longer haunted or haunting, no longer entreating me to listen. There is no grave, no grave marker, but this moment. I've born witness here, it says. Now, rest in peace, sweet Papa.

I will always love you. And my heart concurs, It is enough. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Till all that remains is soul

I'm running through wooded trails on creaky knees. Cocooned in quiet, under umbrella of shade, in that middle space between light and dark. Each step radiates warning through my legs, axles grinding. But I can't stop. 

Because the sun has lit her match and I'm racing the ring of fire.

In the heart of the woods, I see. The flames dancing on tree trunks, across forest floor, through fingers of peeking branches. They point toward the fire and I turn to follow their gaze. To the edge of forest, where all is set ablaze, burning yet not consumed. Here in these woods, I, too, burn. From head to toe and underneath my skin, as if to say, I'm alive I'm alive I'm alive.

Reluctant, I exit the fire. 

The air outside the forest is a wool blanket on a summer night and a sheet of breeze flapping on the line; it is both. I gulp air, limp toward water, shed shoes as fast as the sun has smudged pink ash across lake shoulders. The water welcomes, soothes radiating skin, a cool hand brushing across my cheek. I plunge in head first and still I'm racing toward the edge of smoldering fire. Eyes squinting through curtain of water, enough light to see ahead, one breath to three strokes. 

In the middle, I flip over to my back and I'm staring now at pale blue mystery, baptized in bigness. 

My husband waits for me at the shore, holds my towel up and wraps around my shoulders. Dripping wet, I'm still burning, and I don't want to leave this place where flames dance on my skin, too, till all that remains is soul. 

We drive the lake perimeter home, all traces of fire dissipated, until I look back at forest growing distant. A naked moon glows, bold and sheer, in bare chested sky above the woods, strikes a new match and sets me ablaze.

Burn, she says, and carry on.  


Friday, July 3, 2015

How brave comes to be

I never once considered myself brave. Some people, I think, are born into it and others meet it face to face in a turning point moment, when the scales tip and they plunge headlong into courage. But me, I've baby-stepped my way into bravery. One foot and then the other, day after day after day, for months now.  Until in one day, one moment, with shaking hands I force my quivering voice to steady and speak, to shatter a terrible silence. 

I did that today, with a male customer who has spoken words and given looks and caught us in embraces that, for at least a year now, have made our skin crawl. And we have swallowed it, absorbed it, with indignation and that lingering self doubt we've been taught as women in our culture. Maybe we're over-exaggerating. Maybe he's just dense. Maybe he doesn't mean them the way they sound. Maybe he's just touchy feely.

Until, no. Not a second more could I bear to swallow this pill, bear the violation of self and others. And so I looked him in the eyes and spoke, watched him as the one squirming and flushing and walking away embarrassed. And I was glad that finally, yes, finally, I spoke up. 

I wanted to run whooping through the store, for now, the magnificent reality of who I have become settled upon me.

I am brave.

* * * * * 

It's been a hard won bravery.

And I can't tell you where it started, some while back. But that first time I stepped into my counselor's office and wound up crying in the bathroom stall afterward, knowing I was crossing a threshold and it was painful and scary, holy and good; yes, this, perhaps, was a first step.

And in the months to come, staring down the questions of faith that had haunted me a long time. The anxiety trailing me. Letting myself fall into the questions, sit with them and come unraveled. To allow myself to wonder if this tower of beliefs, like a game of Jenga, could withstand another piece pulled, or if it might all topple for good. This was the bravest thing I'd ever done.

Bravery came in slowly, like shards of light, as I learned to stare into the darkness and to parce through the guilt and fears. To find my own voice among them, and here, to know the difference. To find, in the unraveling, that here is the Divine Presence and I am held and we are good. Yes, this is bravery.

Here, all these steps, all these bricks laying a new foundation of courage in my soul. I have found my voice. I am finding my voice, still. 

I am finding it in facing where I've come from and altering where I go from here. And I'm finding it in the trenches of marriage, the vulnerability of keeping my heart open in the midst of deep pain and hard-to-see hope. I'm finding it in setting new boundaries and holding to them, pushing aside guilt even as it presses from my belly up to my chest, that old onslaught of self doubt and accusation that says to have a self is selfish. That to not meet people's needs, even at the expense of mine, is unloving.

I'm learning to open my mouth and speak from my heart words that are tough and clear and laced with grace. To risk rocking the boat, even to the point of losing friendships, losing respect, being misunderstood. I'm finding courage in no longer hiding who I am.

And here, I'm learning I'm not responsible for keeping other people comfortable. 

* * * * *

Months back, I was heading into a difficult weekend and had to coach myself, with deep breaths, into going through with it. I packed a pair of earrings I had painted, goofy looking birds on bottle caps, with a word on each one: Be Brave. I wore them, not only on my ears but on my heart all weekend long, and now, each time I need to coach myself to courage, I put them on. 

I wore them the weekend I headed across country with five women, four of them I'd never met, to attend a writer's retreat far outside my comfort zone.  I came home with a new little tribe of friends who continue to inspire me to greater bravery and love.

I wore them last week, when I posted my story of learning to love without strings and the journey of affirming same-sex marriage and homosexuality.  Because I knew there might be harsh words, or just as painful sometimes, silence. And I needed to remind myself of who I am regardless.

And when I contacted an author I admire, who lives in Seattle, and inquired about her being my writing coach - and she responded yes - and my mind hissed back at me, What the hell have you done now? You're not good enough for this! And I took some deep breaths, told my mind to take a flying leap and stepped forward to jump off the cliff anyhow, wherever I may land.

And when I called Animal Control to report neglect of a dog I found wandering last weekend and returned to his owners, who are neighbors, and worried if this was the right thing to do, even as I knew that it was.

And when I gave myself permission to step back from a friendship of many years and let my heart recover from the pain of multiple hard conversations and not being heard, even as I shook inside and cried at the tearing of it all, and prayed for grace to light the way through. 

You're brave, I whisper to myself these days. I'm proud of you.  

These are not words that have come easy, goodness no. But here they are now, settling in to stay, a beautiful echo in my soul.

So, too, may you hear this echo grow in your soul, in your own brave steps, whatever they may be.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

My long walk to Pride

photo credit
photo credit

This is not a story I sat down and wrote in an hour or a week or a year. It's the kind that's been writing itself on me for longer than I've known to pay attention. My journey to love without strings.

Here's my honest confession: there's no way to write this story without stepping on someone's toes on either side of what is painfully still a deep, inflammatory divide. There's no way to tell where I've come from without hurting gay friends who may read this and, perhaps, feel betrayed that I ever stood where I once did. And there's no way not to offend friends and family and other readers who resonate more with where I used to be. It requires an inordinate amount of grace from all of us, grace to myself, and some amount of grit and courage in admitting where I've been and where I now find myself. And in the end, knowing I'm tired of cowering when it comes to things that burn like a fire in my bones, regardless of the response or lack of it.

I can no longer be silent. Because, friends? People are dying because of this.

And the thing is, it's no longer only a matter of theology, as the rag tag Jesus follower that I am, and all our differing interpretations of obscure references to homosexuality in sacred texts. It's a matter of justice. It's a matter of impact.

It's about looking deep within ourselves and challenging our definitions of love.

* * * * *

You see, this week is Gay Pride week here in Seattle. It's honestly not a festival I've paid much attention to in my fourteen years of living here, except for knowing what times to dodge the crowds. And for many of those fourteen years, feeling discomfort gnawing at me regarding people I didn't understand in the slightest.  I wouldn't have called myself a homophobe - I had gay coworkers I hung out with on occasion as the only straight person in the bunch, and I felt genuine care for them and enjoyment of their company - but deep down, I rumbled with tension over my quiet beliefs toward homosexuality and what it looked like to love and be in relationship with gay friends in light of those beliefs.

I felt I lived a double life. I lived in dread of ever having The Conversation about homosexuality with gay friends or customers, doing all I knew to do to communicate love and respect while privately holding the belief that, as a follower of Christ, I could not support what is commonly referred to among evangelical Christians as the homosexual lifestyle.

* * * * *

I remember sitting across from a respected friend of mine some years ago when she shared her coming out story with me. I was completely thrown off guard. Nearly three decades of my religious upbringing had taught me, in explicit and implicit ways, that being gay was wrong, gross even. I'd been indoctrinated in "Love the sinner, hate the sin," a phrase that now makes my skin crawl. And here I was, hearing that someone I knew and loved and respected as a person of faith was gay.

My theology, at the time, did not allow me to respond to this news without a great deal of inner anxiety. I did not possess a worldview, faith, or view of God that encouraged me to question outside the clear-cut lines I'd seen drawn. Even though a growing part of me ached to. Even though sitting here, listening to her story, trying to piece together the notes that rung in discord within my heart, I felt myself tear in two. It was the early stages then, but I was feeling less comfortable in the skin of my religious beliefs.

Oh, the tension! Love, but remain detached from her identity change. Love, but do not communicate interest in these changes or acceptance of them. Love, somehow making her feel she is supported without supporting her lifestyle.

So, I did the only thing I knew to do. I listened, trying not to convey my tortured insides, and probably made a few vague, empathetic statements like, "Wow, that sounds hard," but mostly remained quiet. I couldn't say, "I'm happy for you" or "I'm proud of you." I distinctly knew this was not the time, if ever there would be a time, to say, "I love you, but I don't accept this." So I said it very, very quietly through all the things I didn't say or do to show my support for her. All the ways I silently refused to be open and curious about her life and romantic relationships and her deepening sense of joy and contentment in embracing herself as gay.

Let me just go ahead and tell you how that worked out: it's a fucking exercise in futility when this is what love looks like. 

Over time, I think, our scope of safe topics to discuss in friendship became so small as to not fit much of her in them anymore. After all, you can only divorce someone's sexuality from who they innately are for so long before realizing it's woven into every piece of their lives.

No matter the deeply genuine intent of my heart to love her - truly love her -  the impact was to minimize her. 

* * * * *

I wrote something on my blog, more than three years ago, about my intent to love liberally, even though I identified with more conservative beliefs*. Including my inability to support gay marriage. It felt liberating and terrifyingly brave, at the time, to write those words in the place where I live. And even though I wrote them edged in grace, and even though they resonated with the bulk of my evangelical readers, they wound up being read by my friend who is gay. And they angered and wounded her.

I invited her and her now wife to our wedding shortly after and never heard back from her.

Months passed, and finally, a message showed up in my email. She found the words and courage to share her anger and hurt with me. And while initially it stirred my defenses, as I sat with her voice, her words, they began to seep through those defensive places, right down to my heart.

Because, deep down, even though I was still formulating words and shifting beliefs, I knew she was right. I knew, on some level, I was wrong. But a change of belief that deeply ingrained does not happen in a wild jump, at least not for me. The most I could do was listen. Ask for forgiveness. Search out and read or listen to other stories told from the experience of what it's like to be gay, bisexual, transgender or queer in a world that has not largely been kind and receptive to these voices. Open my heart to the possibility of being wrong about homosexuality, of not having black and white answers, as I'd been taught.

I came to see, with a lot of time and wrestling, that I did not have to be confined or defined by the system of beliefs I'd grown up in. If I was no longer convinced, on this issue and others, these beliefs measured up with the ways of love, I could choose a different way. I could stand up and confess: I've been wrong.

* * * * *

It was right around the time that I decided I was done with traditional church and Evangelicalism that I had my first real taste, small as it was in comparison, to what it's like to be on the receiving end of a Christian friend's conditional love. My husband and I were called out by this friend on our lack of commitment in church attendance, among other things, in what was a very well-intentioned manner. But it reeked of judgment. It left this taste in my mouth: You are loved, insofar as we attend the same church and see eye-to-eye on things of a biblical nature. You are loved, insofar as your beliefs and who you are don't make me uncomfortable.

With all due respect, I wanted nothing more to do with this sort of love. I began to see myself as the one, unwittingly, however well-intentionally, spreading this gospel of love for so many years. With all due respect toward where I've come from, I wanted nothing more to do with propagating this manner of love.

It was here I began to see: intent does not trump impact. No matter how good someone's intentions are to love, if the impact is the opposite of love, then it is not truly love. It's just not.

No matter how much we protest that love is the driving force behind our theology, if the fruit (or impact) of any theology is alienation, insecurity, judgment, fear, minimization or reduction of a person, oppression or compartmentalization - it is not love. It's just not.

If our theology stems from words on a page - even pages we consider sacred - and yet is detached from relationship with the flesh-and-blood people whose realities we are taking a bold stance on, it is lifeless.

If our theology is not open to being shaped by the narratives of the ones who are not finding welcome in our communities of faith, it is stagnant.

* * * * *

This road has been long, my friends. I have scars to bear from the journey, and I have also been the one to leave scars on people's hearts. It has taken years of soul-searching, years of reading and listening and questioning and sitting in the unknown. It has taken laying down my defenses, laying down my limited understanding of scripture, laying down my need to be right, laying down my fears of the disapproval of others as my views have changed. It has taken forgiving myself and forgiving the Church, our great failures of love, and receiving forgiveness from one of the ones I've wounded. It has taken being on the receiving end of criticism, of judgment, of rejection, of losing friendships, of being misunderstood, for being true to who I am.

But I am here.

And I want to weep at the grace of it all, for truly I have never felt so freed to love as I do now. To know with a conviction that transcends the tits and tats of so many theological debates: love trumps all.

So I look forward to Pride week for the first time. To honoring the lives and stories, the joys and heartaches, of those I know and love in the LGBTQ community. I enter it with a sense of grief and profound gratitude, for the suffering they've endured, the victories gained. For the forgiveness I've been shown. For the freedom to walk together.

* * * * *

* The blog post in reference has since been deleted.  Though it reflects my journey of transformation, I have no interest in causing additional pain to those it disrespects.

I've intentionally left out specifics of how my understanding and interpretation of passages in the bible regarding homosexuality have changed. That is beyond the purpose and scope of this post and has been much more articulately, thoughtfully addressed by people more qualified than myself. Like, actual LGBTQ people, and those who love them well. But here are a few good places I've found, if you're interested (because the best way to enter a conversation, I've found, is to open-heartedly listen):

Dan Bravo's "I'm gay. Other people are, too. Let's move forward."

Rachel Held Evan's "The false gospel of gender binaries"

Open letters between Heather and Vikki

An Evangelical pastor at his first Pride parade

The writings and mission of Soulforce

Saturday, June 20, 2015

When finding our voice is a meditation

photo credit

A dear friend told me her recurring childhood nightmare, of opening her mouth to scream and no sound coming out. Of being rendered voiceless. But this nightmare betrayed her waking reality, as a girl growing up feeling unheard, seeping in to haunt her dreams at night.

I wept when she shared this with me. For her as that little girl with the soundless scream. And unexpectedly, for me as a little-girl-now-grown-woman who is still learning to open her mouth, let alone project her voice. To name her needs, her hurts, her anger, her fears, her desires. I was - and still am - the girl who muffled sobs in her pillow, trying to contain sound before it reached someone’s ears. Who learned, for one reason or another, to make herself smaller, quieter, more agreeable. Who learned to read everyone else's needs and not her own.

You see, I was nearly born a listener. But I’m just now practicing how to speak from the depths of me, without editing and cushioning words until my voice is swallowed.

* * * * *

Finding our voice begins, as yoga meditation does, on the mat. That place where we are fully present, coming home to ourselves. That thin cushion between our sit bones or the soles of our feet and the earth, which holds us up, and our awareness of our full weight bearing down upon it. Or just as likely, it can begin in child’s pose: face down, fully resting pose, arms outstretched in surrender. Here, with eyes closed, we’re ready to come awake.

It starts as a flutter of knowing. An awareness of heart beating, blood pumping, emotion coursing through veins and pathways of flesh and bone. We are a cauldron of life and we are starting to pay attention. The way we begin to listen to what our bodies are telling us, we scavenge for words to pair with feelings, to give form to the opaque masses. We call forth words from the deep of us in the form of breaths and our chests expand and contract, ever lengthening as voice emits. Even without words, the sound releases courage in vibrato.

The breath, the word, the voice generated from deep in our bellies slows, slows, slows -  and we expand.

This finding our voice is a journey of curves, high arches and low dips, not lines drawn in perfection from here to there. It’s a bending and a stretching, a bowing and a rising, a breaking and a mending, an opening and a lifting of our hearts upward. It’s an unfolding into vulnerability, to that very real pain of being unheard, unseen, misunderstood. It’s an unstifled cry, a scream that empties our lungs and fills us back up again, a plea from vocal chords on fire. It’s anger and forgiveness, learning when to hold position and when to release.

It’s a merging of body and soul, our past and present selves, cradling us in the now as we forge the way of becoming.

We practice breathing-speaking in the daylight and in the dark. It matters not because when our eyes are closed we see more clearly, lit up from the inside. Still, we light our candles, turn our mats to face new directions, open windows and prop our backs against the walls. We balance, we fall, we bruise, we rise again.

We gather words in breaths of quiet strength, and open our mouths.

Joining these words with the Kelly and the Small Wonder community