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Back to School for the First Time!

My daughter will be entering kindergarten this year at our local, public school. We went to an orientation last week to get a tour of the school, meet most of the kindergarten teachers, and get a sense of what their days will be like.

I haven’t been a super sentimental mom. I’ve taken most of my kid’s developments in stride, happy to pass through one phase of growth and onto the next. I wasn’t particularly dreading the start of school, especially since she’s been doing pre-school for the last two years. So I was surprised at how emotional I was throughout the event!

There was a good showing of parents with their little kids, and it was so heartwarming to look around at all the cute kiddos and watch their parent’s beaming faces as the kids lit up at some fun feature of the classroom or another. Most of the adults had a semi-shocked, happy look on their face as the disbelief set in that their little baby was starting school. The first kindergarten teacher we met was the most caring, loving, over-the-top sweetest lady, and made each kid present feel seen and special within the 20 minutes of time spent in her room. I felt such a sense of gratitude for these adults who spend their careers helping to turn tiny people into functioning humans.

I was so encouraged to see how the school made intentional efforts to be inclusive. My kids fit into the majority – white, neurotypical, able-bodied – and have no difficulty finding crayons, books, and dolls sharing their features. But knowing that isn’t the case for every child, it made me smile so big to see a little Latino boy get to use the perfect matching crayon to his skin tone while drawing his self-portrait.

I’ve learned a lot from Heather Avis, author of Scoot Over and Make Some Room, about school inclusion for kids with different abilities. She has two kids with Down syndrome and has been fighting tooth and nail to get them placed with the appropriate accommodations into the regular classrooms. The public high school I attended, back in the day, had a completely separate set of classes for differently abled kids, interacting only with the “normal” students for PE class. Avis educated me on the many benefits of inclusive classrooms for both the typical and differently abled kids. I was thrilled to learn that my kids public school district does not disintegrate its students, but keeps all kids of all abilities together in class. I want my kids to be aware of all the many different ways people can be in this world, and seeing all different kinds of kids at this young age will be a great intro into the great big world that’s out there.

The public school system’s mission is to provide “a dream, access, and opportunity” for every student within the system, and the Superintendent’s message emphasized that the foundation for that is love. He said, “love leads to connection, connection leads to belonging, belonging leads to engagement, and engagement leads to learning and being the best version of ourselves.” I could feel the love pouring out of the staff during that tour, and it made my Mommy heart so relieved and comforted. I felt so excited to have my daughter in a place with so many dedicated staff committed to her success as a person. Between her classroom teacher, the music teacher, art teacher, librarian, PE coaches and all the other support staff, she is going to have an army of people helping her to grow into a healthy, well-rounded person.

The kindergarten teachers said the main thing they try to push this first year is emotional learning, teaching kids about all the various emotions we may feel in a day and showing them appropriate, safe, and healthy ways to manage those feelings. I am much more concerned with raising kids who are well-adjusted, adaptable, caring and kind than kids who can speak Mandarin or do calculus by grade 5, so this was music to my ears.

Mostly, I was overwhelmed with emotion realizing the huge step my daughter will be taking into her own, individual life. Up until now, her life has been mostly subsumed within our family. She spends the vast majority of her time at home, with either me or my husband or with our family member nanny. She has friends through my connections and does activities that I sign her up and take her to. Now she will making new friends who I won’t know, will be learning things I’m not there to witness, and will gain interests that may not even be on my radar. And I felt so comfortable and confident that she will be doing all that in a safe, loving, caring space.

I know she’ll have bad days and that no school – private, charter, public, or home school – is perfect. I have very real, sobering concerns about gun violence and pure hatred that that is a thing I need to worry about in this country of ours. I am hopeful that she’ll make good friends with kids who will be supportive, kind, inclusive and encouraging of her. I am hopeful that she won’t be forced to grow up too quickly or be pushed too far out of her comfort zone. I am aware that bullying and body dysmorphia may become challenges we’ll face now that she’s out interacting with the larger world.

And we’ll cross any and every one of those bridges if we come to them. But for now, she’s excited, I’m emotional, and life is about to drastically change for our little family. No more lazy mornings spent in PJs until 11:00am because we have no where to go. Our lives will begin revolving around the school calendar, vacations set to match the school break periods, sports and extracurriculars taking over our lives. And I’m here for it.

Class of 2035 – here’s to a great start!!

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The Hill, part 2

Three years ago, I wrote a blog post about my commute to work on my bike. This was three jobs ago, and now I find myself making the same commute down the same roads, but to a new destination. And this time, I’m on an e-bike!

After being laid off twice within a 6-month period, and operating my own small clinic for over a year, I am now working at a place that’s around the corner from my old job. I’m at an assisted living facility, where most of my patients are in their 80s and 90s. And I am absolutely loving it there.

The pace at my old jobs in the outpatient ortho world was fast and furious, with patients arriving every 30-40 min, and administrators who wanted me billing as much as ethically possible with each one before passing them off to an aide and starting the next person. I had to be ready to go by 7am or earlier, because we needed to capture patients before their work day started, and I usually worked 10-hr days so we could make it easy for folks to come in after work as well. I often felt rushed, frazzled, and unable to give the full quality attention and care I would like to give had I more time. Patients themselves were often stressed from missing work or normal activities due to their injury, and worried about their, at times, massively high co-pays. I had folks who would have benefited from weeks or months of therapy ask me to give them a home program and let them go off on their own since they couldn’t afford more than one visit.

Now, I don’t start seeing patients until 9am because none of them want to get up any earlier. I’m done by 4:30 at the absolute latest, since that’s when they start serving dinner. I get one hour to work with each patient. The pace is very relaxed, as many of them are deconditioned and fatigue quickly and require many rest breaks during the course of treatment. We sit and chat while they rest until they are ready to continue. I get to inquire about their lives, their travels, their successes and their families. I’ve heard amazing stories from some truly impressive people! And the cranky ones inwardly crack me up and don’t offend me at all.

Being around all these people who are nearing the end of their time on this planet is actually quite invigorating. I find myself more aware of my mortality and the briefness of life, and am inspired to make the most of my time. I appreciate seeing what matters to folks after making it this far in life, and am relieved to discover that dress size and productive hours logged are not so highly valued. There’s a gal I work with who loves watching the birds out her window, and was still reveling at a particularly beautiful golden finch she saw days later. The slow pace, the little joys, meals and relationships – that’s what seem to win out in the end.

I find myself moving more slowly around my house, no longer taking the stairs two at a time, but slowing down and soaking up every moment. I’ve been better at stopping and really engaging with my kids on the days I’m home. I am watching them more closely, marveling at their growing minds and imaginations. I am quicker to laugh and much slower to overbook our schedules. Sitting on the swing in the backward while they play feels like the biggest parenting win.

Best of all, I basically have 30 Grandmas now. The role of the grandparent is to be the uber-supportive, delusionally proud, relentless cheerleader in their grandkid’s lives. I start every single work day off with the same patient who covers me with praise and admiration each day. She is the sweetest woman, and she has pretty severe dementia and doesn’t remember lavishing the same compliments on me just days prior. I get to start each day off with a big ego boost from a truly grateful woman. It is delightful.

I can’t help but laugh at the irony as I ride my bike in to work each morning. When I was at my old job, I was burnt out and barely even realized it. I was coasting and losing empathy, and had lost my vigor for my field. After getting laid off, and certainly while running my own business, my passion reignited and my empathy swelled. Now, I no longer feel burnt out but feel helpful, needed, appreciated and even loved at my job, and my bike ride is literally one hundred times easier. I approach that old hill that used to make me question whether I shouldn’t probably take the car every time, and I cackle obnoxiously as I motor up at 20mph on my fancy e-bike.

The hill has been conquered, and life is feeling good.

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Getting Lucky in Marriage

Next month, my husband and I celebrate our 10th anniversary. I have been married for an entire decade, a longer period of time than I spent in higher education. That seems both crazy and feels about right.

We have lived several different lifetimes already within our marriage. The fun, action-packed dating life. The more intense, future-looking engagement life. The early honeymoon life. In fact, we went on over six honeymoons, counting each vacation we took together after the wedding and before we had children. The back-to-school for my husband and single-income life. The pregnant and newborn-parent life. The (Dan’s) job changing – unreliable income – newly self-employed – pregnant again with a toddler this time life. The two-child family life, now with a twist of pandemic, unemployment, (Sarah’s) job changing, attempted double self-employment, (Sarah’s) job changing again, continuing pandemic, life-is-crazy life.

We’ve been through a lot, and we managed to pull off a solo vacation – grandparents watching the kids – to Kauai for 5 days to celebrate, which was a heavenly reset. Especially after the last two pandemic years, when all of the shit hit all of the fans, and we were home-bound and going crazy and nothing felt guaranteed or predictable. It was fun to discover that we still like each other! That without the chaos of the kids running around, without the responsibility of a household to run and careers to maintain, we still have things to talk about and still enjoy spending time together!

Over the last ten years of our marriage, we have watched as most of our friends have gotten married and as a few of those marriages have dissolved. My thoughts of divorce have made a whiplash 180* spin. I used to think divorce was something that happened rarely, only if someone really messed up in a very serious way, and even then it felt sketchy. I had been shocked with how straightforward Jesus seemed to speak about divorce in the Bible – one of the few times he really came out and said something concrete and rule-soundy. So I never thought of divorce as a valid option.

Looking at it now through older eyes that have seen lots of marriage experiences and witnessed long-lasting as well as brief marriages, I now think it sounds crazy not to let divorce be a completely valid, acceptable, understandable choice for couples to make.

A lot of friends I know got married in their young 20s. Our brains are not done developing until age 25. The part of the brain that completes growing by age 25 is in charge of the tough stuff – complex behavioral management and executive functioning and decision making. How could we possibly expect a child who made a decision to marry someone to have to live with that decision – no matter how it turned out – for the rest of their one and only life on this earth?

Even taking a marriage that started later in life into the equation – full brain capacity or not, people change! Sometimes in massive ways. Sometimes that original decision to get married was a really good decision, and through experiences, circumstances and changing situations, the decision to be together no longer makes sense or serves each partner well anymore. My belief that this life on earth, here and now, is the one and only shot we get at consciousness and experiencing ourselves makes me much more lenient to allow people to change their minds if things are no longer working.

It seems cruel to force people to live in an unhealthy or unfulfilling union just because they made a decision at one point in their life that, for whatever reason, is no longer working out. We allow people to change careers, change friendships, change spiritual beliefs, political beliefs, to move around the world, to change their bodies and hair color and tastes and preferences – why can’t one of the most important relationships in our lives be allowed to change if needed?

My current self is significantly different than the woman Dan originally married. Parts of me are the same – my traits and general personality – but my politics, my religious beliefs, my passions and priorities have taken massive pivots. I am simply lucky that my spouse has been processing those changes with me. My religious identity shift (from a devout, very serious Christian to an atheistic, poetic naturalist) was shocking and rocked him to the core. It took us to counseling – both together and individually – to process, and we’re still working through the ramifications. I’m just lucky that he’s willing to keep at it, which is possible because he has also changed and has largely, though not entirely, mirrored many of my changes too.

I’ve always thought that most of us don’t really know what we want, or certainly what we need, in a spouse. I thought I wanted a rock-climbing, motorcycle-driving, scruffy Pacific Northwest mountain man of a husband (At least, that’s who I wanted when I was 25. When I was 15, I thought I wanted a blond-haired, blue-eyed surfer boy). I got a tall, dark and handsome nerd. A Star Trek devotee, a gamer, a cautious, prepared, worst-case-scenario boy-scout.

Dan and I randomly found each other online and each saw some potential in each other’s profiles to give it a chance. I very nearly backed out after the first month, but I felt something strong enough to compel me to continue the relationship.

We are SO compatible. Like, scored off the charts in our pre-marital counseling assessment and left our pastor speechless as to how to advise our future union. For being someone I probably wouldn’t have dated had we crossed paths in real life, he is perfect for me. Through sheer dumb luck, we’ve ended up together and have had a very easy, smooth, fun, drama-free relationship. Our strengths line up very nicely and fill in each other’s gaps, and our faults don’t drive the other one nuts. Twelve years after starting to date, we still cuddle, tease, flirt, goof around, have sex, and have deep, profound conversations. We also still snap at each other, annoy, pick and critique, let another down, and avoid sex for weeks on end. We are human.

We got lucky, and I honestly think neither one of us can take credit for it. Now, I will say that we have been intentional about our marriage and our relationship, making purposeful decisions about communication and handling conflict. We have systems we’ve created to make sure the ship isn’t getting off course. We talk all the time about everything, and give ourselves lots of opportunities to course-correct as needed. We (I) read up on healthy relationships, and we put the concepts that made sense for us into practice. It was lucky that we met each other and started dating, and we have been intentional and strategic to a degree in the meantime.

After observing the randomness of life, and watching other relationships come together and fall apart, I’m simply grateful to continue doing life with a man I love. A man I not only love, but also like, respect, appreciate and admire. A man who has grown with me and also allowed me to grow in different ways than himself. Who has a strong enough sense of self to allow me to live my authentic truth without being threatened by it. Who values growth, introspection, adaptation and progress. Who isn’t satisfied with the status quo in our personal life or in society at large. And with whom I was lucky enough to end up with and lucky enough to keep changing and growing with in compatible ways.

We had five, blissful days in Kauai – hiking, kayaking, exploring, swimming, eating, and celebrating. We were fortunate enough to get to explore a beautiful part of the globe and spend leisure time savoring this one beautiful, crazy, confusing, overwhelming, joyous and infuriating life we are gifted for the brief flash that we are on this planet. We hope to go back in another ten years, with the kids next time, and see what life is looking like then.

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Room for Optimism

Back at the new year, I wrote about resolutions and how I find January a depressing time to try to commit to a large goal or purpose for the coming year. I was drawn to indigenous traditions I had heard of that used the Spring Equinox as a time to set goals and intentions, which made much more sense to me timing-wise. Spring Equinox was March 20th, we’re entering Easter and the eggs are being dyed and bunnies set out to decorate, so I thought it time to revisit that concept.

Humans have long celebrated the coming of Spring. It is a symbolic time rife with images of birth, growth and renewal. Especially in places like the Inland Northwest or Midwest where I was raised – coming out of a long winter and feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin again, seeing plants budding and hearing the return of the birds is so life-giving. I’ve often forgotten the sensation of walking outside without needing to bundle up and brace myself against the cold, forgotten the smell of earth, rain, and pollen, forgotten hearing all sounds of life from critters that have been dormant for months. The very idea of dormancy – of hunkering down and sleeping or resting before bursting out into the world with new life – is such a beautiful symbol of renewal.

My life in this particular Spring of 2022 lines up quite nicely with the symbolism. I’ve started a new job and am very happy with where I’ve landed. The pandemic is loosening its choke-hold on my social life, and I have many fun plans on the calendar to look forward to coming up soon. I am in a new space with regards to my faith history and find myself in a completely foreign and fresh mindset this Easter season. I am embodying the symbols of rebirth and renewal both professionally, socially, and spiritually.

Beyond this past winter and the literal, physical cold and darkness that winter brings, the last several years have felt dark, scary and cold. I’m still processing the Trump administration and all that entailed, still working through how to view my fellow citizens with grace and compassion when we’ve disagreed so dramatically and violently. I’m still learning about American racism and am losing my shock over how egregious mistreatment is still present in our modern, “post-racial” world as I see just how purposely and intentionally it’s been baked in all along. I’m still wrestling with how to best support my LGBTQ family – especially the transgender folks who have been under brutal, relentless attack from political policies and new laws in addition to their regular discrimination, bullying and harassment. I’m still wrapping my mind around the many effects of a global pandemic that has left close to one million Americans dead, over 200,000 children orphaned in the US, and wreaked havoc on the economy, supply chain, and employment sector. I’m still processing my own stuff from having been laid off twice in one year, being on unemployment for months, being an unplanned stay at home mom, being a small business owner and all the stress that comes with that, and being a friend and family member in all sorts of relationships with their own stuff going on.

And despite all that difficult stuff, I am realizing that there is still room for optimism. That the human story has been getting steadily better all along, even now. That we still have less deaths from war (although the horrific Ukraine war is unthinkably hard), still have doubled our life span, still have increased the birth rate and literacy rate world wide, still have more countries living in democracies than ever before, still have made huge advances as a species. Humankind is getting incrementally better with each passing decade (here’s a great Ted Talk on that topic if you don’t believe me).

It’s been a long, harsh winter, but Spring is here. New life and growth always follows dark, dormant days. I’ve felt myself split in half as I look at my own, individual life and the the collective suffering of society. I am in a great place and feel so at peace in my life. I’m in a job that I truly enjoy. That job comes with unexpected benefits and more money than I assumed I would make and has hours that fit my family’s needs perfectly. I am healthy. My kids are healthy, well-adjusted, and – keeping in mind realistic expectations for their age and level of development – are quite reasonable, helpful, kind, empathetic, and understanding (despite my 3 y/o showing me a whole other angle of “threenager” than I thought possible).

My spiritual revelation – namely that I no longer believe that a divine creator or god really exists – has left me feeling more free and at peace that I’ve ever experienced before. Not needing to defend God against all the moral and ethical controversies is a relief. Not feeling any pressure whatsoever to convert others to my set of beliefs has been freeing. Not doing the mental gymnastics to understand how a God defined in the Bible as Love itself could let so much suffering exist over the course of human history has given me a deep sense of peace. You would think that thinking there is no god and that we’re all simply here as a byproduct of evolution with no greater purpose or intention would make me feel existential angst, but in reality it makes so much more sense and takes the pressure off “why do bad things happen to good people?” They just do! Life is random, and we’re all simply along for the ride. We create purpose and meaning in our lives (or we don’t). We get to do our best to live a life of joy, peace and connection working with whatever is handed to us.

All that to say that I’m not feeling any big need for a Spring Resolution or goal-setting session. I’m along for the ride. It’s been a tumultuous, long winter season and I’m finally seeing the light. I’m reveling in the sun-rays on my skin, appreciating the budding trees and flowers and color bursting into the world again, taking delight in the bird song and warm breezes blowing through my hair. I’m savoring every hug and cuddle I receive from my kids, knowing they’ll be outgrowing such exuberant signs of affection sooner rather than later. I’m making sure to invest in my husband and our relationship as, twelve years in, the pull of auto-pilot is strong. I’m practicing seeing people as more than their vote or political beliefs. I’m trying to avoid hypocrisy and am looking at ways to put my money where my liberal mouth is and help some of the problems in society I lament. I’m recognizing how interconnected we all are on an individual and societal level and am doing my best to both lean on and uphold others where I can. I didn’t get anywhere alone, and I’m trying to look for opportunities to pay it forward where I can.

I’m attempting to truly appreciate all the big and small things around me.

Because this is my one shot to enjoy my life. I will only be me for a tiny blimp on the stage of the universe, and I want to chose Heaven over Hell every chance I get.

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Quitting for the Win

I am no longer self-employed. My physical therapy clinic, Flourish, has wilted away. Not exactly wilted, more like it was surprisingly and thoroughly uprooted, not to be transplanted elsewhere. And I am wonderfully at peace with this.

Owning my own clinic has been an unexpected journey, a challenge, and a rewarding experience. I was thrust into self-employment after getting laid off at the onset of the pandemic and with zero job opportunities on the horizon. I ended up learning a lot, reinvigorating my passion for my career after realizing that I had become burnt out at my previous job, and meeting lots of cool new people and friends. I loved the freedom that came with working for myself and outside of the red-tape and decreasing-reimbursement nightmare that is working within the medical insurance system.

But starting a clinic during a pandemic, with no built-in referral source or connections, and convincing people to pay cash and not use their insurance was an uphill battle. Add to that my husband’s self-employment – complete with wildly unpredictable and variable income – and things were not going smoothly.

When my husband started suffering from mysterious medical ailments – we think anxiety-induced – and we lost our free family babysitter and I lost my very affordable shared-rent situation, the writing was glowing on the wall. I tentatively started poking around the job market to now find numerous opportunities, decided to apply for one in an unfamiliar setting, and received a job offer within a week. The path to move forward with my company was shrinking and overgrowing with weeds and downed trees, while there was a wide open, well-manicured boulevard of working for someone else begging me to walk in that direction.

I was surprised, however, with how much shame I felt at quitting or “failing” in running my own clinic. Success and failure are self-defined, but closing my doors felt pretty fail-y. I had surrounded myself with online resources and social media accounts dedicated to small business coaching, cash-based physical therapy ownership, and “Girl Boss” hoo-rah. They all seem to know the “secret” to successful self-employment, and knew that success was guaranteed if you bought their coaching package and followed their simple do’s and don’ts. I had positive affirmations pouring out of my screens, encouraging me to persevere and success would come.

Now, obviously, statistically that is far from true. Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2004 showed that 20% of new business in the health care sector didn’t make it past their first year. In the second year, another 17% dropped out, and the percentage continues to drop every year. I made it over the 1-year mark, so at least I got through the first culling!

I believe my bruised ego also came from the “can’t stop, won’t stop,” “never say die,” success-driven culture we live in. Of course I wanted to succeed! But truthfully, the only way I made it as far as I did is because I am married, my husband was pulling in some (random, unpredictable) money, and we got a bunch of stimulus checks! I had several good months compared to others, but never was I close to what I would have made working regular hours at another business.

Switching gears and going back to work for another felt like an immense relief, once I allowed myself to really consider the option. No longer would I have to stress about when my phone would ring next, about what to do for marketing and how to get clients, about finding content for never-ending social media posts, about wondering what would actually be effective out of the umpteenth efforts I’d made to get my name out there. Now I could simply show up to work, patients would be there, and I could do my job and go home with a paycheck.

Most happily, this new arrangement has even assuaged many of my general fears about working out of the house at all when I have young children starting preschool and beyond. I was so confused how anyone could work when their kids have early release days every Friday, have one or more days a month with no school (adding up to way more than typical PTO allotments), and are done with school at 3:00pm after not starting until 8:30. The daycare situation seems to get even more complicated when kids aren’t home all day every day, but have these less-than-a-full-day-of-work windows at school and still need supervision when home.

My new job is at an assisted living facility, where the average patient is 82 years old. They have earned the right to slow, lazy mornings and do not want to be seen before 8:30 at the earliest, and they are generally ready to be done with appointments by 4:00 in order to get ready for that early dinner. So the hours will perfectly fit my life moving forward, and I have a boss that truly respects the work-life-family juggle and is willing to make my job fit into my life rather than the usual vice versa.

Add to that the regular paycheck and the weight that takes off my husband’s shoulders, and I am feeling pretty optimistic about the future again. While I would have loved Flourish to live up to its name and continued working for myself, it simply wasn’t meant to be at this time, and that is perfectly ok. Despite the title of this post, I don’t actually feel like I quit, but rather like I pivoted and adapted, as we are forced to do so often in life.

Nothing in life goes according to plan, and if it has been for you so far, just wait. The only constant in life is change, and we cannot see the future. In my job interview, my now boss asked me where I saw myself in five years, and I laughed out loud. “Umm…living on Mars?” I have no idea. The chaos of the last two+ years has only highlighted the fact of how little we know about what will happen and how little control we actually have over our lives. We can control our reactions and how well we adapt to the road bumps and chaos, but there’s no controlling the chaos.

So here’s to being flexible, adaptable, willing and able to change. I’m grateful to work in a career that is typically in demand, so I could become employed again. I’m grateful to have survived the pandemic, to have my family intact, to not be camping on the side of the highway like so many new people I’ve seen. I’m grateful to get to continuing living this beautiful, horrific, chaotic, destructive, and joyful thing called Life.

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In Praise of Winter

Crisp, cold, stunted days make me long for the light. The cold and the dark push me indoors, into my warm house and cozy clothes. The busy activity of summer naturally falls aside, and I rest. There is a time for everything – a time for action and a time for repose. My thick, heavy blankets get a lot of use. As I type, there is a fire cheerfully crackling in the fireplace, keeping the cold at bay.

Standing out in the snow and below-freezing temperatures, I find my senses heightened. I can smell Cold, Wood-smoke, Evergreen and Mountain. The bleak, white world outside makes me more appreciative of color. Unblemished snow sparkles in the sun like a frigid diamond. I find myself hypnotized by the bright, waxy Ponderosa pine needles standing out against the sharp, blue sky. A clear, sparkly icicle – prisms of sunlight dancing within –  holds my attention hostage. Tree branches laden with snow take on a spidery, web-like design. I pick up on the subtle changes in shades of grey in the clouds – the dark, snow-laden clouds appearing almost purple. Sunsets feel subdued compared to the brilliance of the summer sky, but nevertheless beautiful, the sun slipping away in pastel shades of lavender, peach and mauve. Eager for every last drop of sunlight, I drink in and savor every brief moment until the darkness sets in. Winter skies reveal a delicate, even deathly, beauty. This is beauty that can cut.

Surrounded in a world of white and grey, I find myself shedding my childlike tendencies toward black and white thinking. The cold snaps me open to appreciate the subtlety and complexity of life. The breathtaking beauty of a snow-covered mountain is both gorgeous and lethal. The fire that can indiscriminately destroy life and ruin entire communities also provides comfort and a cozy gathering place when properly harnessed. Is there truly such a thing as good or evil? Aren’t we all a little bit of both at times?

After a fresh snowfall, the earth feels hushed. The silence has weight. It seems as if Nature is asleep, but then I notice delicate little footprints in the snow – bird, squirrel, deer. I shovel around those, leaving the evidence of life for my children to discover.

The Quiet invites me to draw inward, to think more deeply and ask harder questions. I use time to reflect, to look back and analyze, to look forward and dream.

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Regaining Focus

The last two years have felt like a blur. Time slowed and warped – my memories are all hazy. Did that happen this past year or was that 2020? I honestly have no idea. It seemed like we were living in an episode of The Twilight Zone.

I’m not one for specific resolutions at a new year, but I do like the idea of looking back, assessing, and looking ahead. And I like setting a word of intention for the year to be my guidepost. This year, after the chaos and haze of 2020/21, my word is PLAN.

The drifting and coasting and waiting for the next insane thing to happen has run its course. Early into the pandemic, freshly laid-off and on unemployment for months, with zero national leadership on how to navigate the pandemic, “wait and see” was a perfectly acceptable response. No one knew what the future held, even looking mere weeks or months ahead. Things were changing constantly and a heavy amount of adaptability was paramount to sane survival.

But we’ve reached a more stable level. We have a leader who isn’t bullying his critics, isn’t leaking national security on Twitter, isn’t freaking Tweeting fifty times every day. The daily five-alarm fire has been put out. Vaccines have arrived. We have better treatments for those who do contract covid. On a personal level, both my kids will be attending in-person preschool starting this month, and I secured a more stable job situation. My family’s finances won’t be a completely unpredictable guessing game.

I’m ready to make plans. I’m ready to get more social and have people over more often. My whole family (except the 3 year old) and all of my close friends are vaccinated, so we can safely gather without being overly concerned. My kids are getting older and have quit napping, so we can be out all day on an adventure. I love hosting but haven’t done it for a while due to early bedtimes, coupled with the pandemic for the last two years. I’m ready to throw some parties! I’m ready to travel!

My husband and I have a phrase we shout throughout the house often, called GSD – Get Shit Done. We have GSD days, GSD weekends. I’m leaning into full GSD mode for the year. Not that I want to overburden myself or have high-pressure productivity goals, but I also don’t want the little things to be overwhelming. I gave myself a lot of passes over this last two-year blur, and rightly so, and I’m ready to move out of free-pass mode.

Etched into my life-lesson book from the pandemic season has been the awareness of what is truly important. I have a solid sense of what I want out of life – namely community, joy, love, adventure, altruism, and living into my most authentic self – and what I can’t be bothered with – eg possessions, appearances, fitting in, judgement, and caring what others think. I feel more clarity in how to plan for the life I want.

I’m also aware that my husband turns 40 this year, and I’m not far behind. I am hitting the point in life when I need a plan to be my strongest, healthiest self. I’ve dealt with more pain in my body this past year than probably ever before. So going forward, I am making a plan to thrive in my body. That includes more weight lifting (I typically stick with cardio), and hitting the yoga mat at least 5 times a week.

I also plan to get more involved with social activism. I am a card-carrying member of my local NAACP and attend marches, rallies and school board meetings, but I want something more consistent. A way to volunteer and contribute to the good of the world. I’m not sure exactly what that will look like yet. I’ve grown more and more concerned with our climate crisis, and I’ve signed up for emails from 350Spokane (a volunteer non-profit group for climate activism) and the Spokane Lands Council. We are currently dealing with a homelessness crisis in Spokane. There is an influx of refugees now that Biden lifted Trump’s cold-hearted restrictions a bit (though not enough, disappointingly) that need help getting acclimated. There are issues of poverty, mental health, inequity…too many options. I hope to find a way to get involved somewhere on a monthly, consistent basis.

So those are my 2022 intentions – to have a plan and take more initiative. To remain humble and to keep learning, keep growing. To be a good friend. To schedule more social events for me and my family. To put boots on the ground for a local issue of need. To Get Shit Done and to enjoy this one wild and precious life while doing it.

(And to anyone who reads this and knows me in real life – please feel free to hold me accountable! Ask how it’s going. Public accountability is a great motivator 😉 )

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Brown Baby Jesus

I’ve found myself getting increasingly irritated at my children’s Christmas books this year. I’m this close to taking a marker to them. Not only do next to none of them portray Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus as the brown skinned, Western Asian family they are – but so many of them draw Jesus with blond curls and blue eyes!

And that matters. Changing Jesus and his family’s physical appearance to be classically “white” is not only historically inaccurate, but it erases the cultural meaning and significance of where God did actually chose to enter into humanity. It places whiteness- already screaming like a spoiled toddler whenever its supremacy is confronted – at the center of a story in which it doesn’t belong.

If the racial tension of 2020 and the continued injustices done to people of color in the US aren’t enough to convince you that racism is still a present threat, then I don’t know what will. We have a problem with race around the world, and in America in particular. We have problems born of colonization, of Europeans and their manifest destiny thinking they could and should conquer indigenous groups around the world. Colonization and racism were a religious problem from day one. Manifest destiny – the idea that God ordained for Europeans to commit genocide and the enslavement of entire groups of people – used faulty theology and religious beliefs to justify atrocious actions that have consequences to this day.

The reaches of racial injustice are insidious and prevalent. They have penetrated our systems and ways of life, including our religious systems. And when the American church keeps pumping out images of White Jesus, it perpetuates the harm.

Jesus was a brown baby who grew up to be a brown man. He was born to an occupied group of people that were oppressed by a large empire. His family had no power or influence. While he wasn’t enslaved, he has more in common with an enslaved person from Africa living in the United States than with the current white majority citizenry of the US.

We don’t get to make Jesus look like us and think we would have been on the same team. His story should make us (speaking as a white woman myself) uncomfortable. It should make us look at today’s societies – around the globe and including our own – and ask where the image of God is being oppressed as we speak. His life should make us take a critical look at the power structures at play in our world and ask if they are operating according to God’s Kingdom. And when we realize that they aren’t – that most of our leaders in government and religion and business are not acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly – Jesus’ example should galvanize us to fight to bring God’s Kingdom to earth.

Brown Jesus – oppressed as he was – wasn’t interested in political office, in gaining power, or in acquiring wealth. He was concerned for the individual people he met and wanted them to feel God’s mercy, acceptance, forgiveness and love. He loved before he judged, helped before asking for qualifications. He purposely looked past his own in-group to the outsider, showing humanity to groups of people deemed “lesser than” and “unworthy.” Ethnic groups (the Samaritans), women, sexual minorities (the African Eunich), the unclean and ostracized (the lepers, think of AIDS patients in the ’80s) were all recipients of Jesus’ respect and were all granted dignity.

I have very little in common with Jeshua bar Joseph of Nazareth. I’m not Jewish, I wasn’t born out of wedlock and into shame, I’ve never been a refugee, I’m white, I’m female, I’m Western, I’m affluent, I’m married, and my ancestors do not have a history of being oppressed but rather were the oppressors. And Jesus demonstrated in his life that I need not feel ashamed of that part of my story as it doesn’t define me, but rather that I am a beloved creation of God, that I am beautifully and wonderfully made, and that I have been asked to participate in Creation and God’s Kingdom. And participation in that Kingdom involves subverting the existing power structures, lifting up the oppressed, supporting the poor and needy, healing the sick, and challenging the religious leaders of the day.

So let’s please stop co-opting Jesus and pretending he looked like us. He didn’t. And that matters.

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HeSheTheyZheWhat?

One of the more pivotal shifts of culture I’ve witnessed in my lifetime is the more open discussion of the gender binary. I’m no historian, but at least in America in the last several decades, the societal opinion seemed pretty straightforward that people were either male or female with no other options. Many people today would still roll their eyes and snort at the suggestion that is there more than male or female when it comes to gender.

People decry that it isn’t natural for men to become women or women to become men (transgender folks would argue that they aren’t “becoming” anything other than what they’ve always been on the inside). That “God made male and female, and there is no in-between.” That logic really falls short though. There aren’t many, if any, true binaries in the natural world. Sure, we’ve got night and day, but also dawn and dusk. We’ve got water and land, but also shores, swamps and bayous. We’ve got black and white, and at least 50 shades of gray 😉

Not to mention that there are many examples in the natural world of hermaphoditic creatures, such as worms and slugs, some fish, and most plants. Clownfish and frogs can change their sex after birth. Butterflies, reptiles and cardinal birds can be half male/half female (scroll down in this article to see a picture – with the different coloration in male/female cardinals it’s quite obvious!) Clearly God (or science) created a lot of creatures with unique, changeable, non-binary genders.

Human understanding of science is always learning new things, and that is true when it comes to gender identity. I came across a book years ago called Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt. It was an eye-opening book for me. Not only did it closely follow this one specific family’s journey as one of their identical twin boys very clearly identified as female at an early age (she was insisting she was her brother’s sister as young as 2 years old!), but it dove into the science behind gender and how a person could be born feeling different than how they look. I found my own opinions changing with this new information.

I was most astonished to learn how many different biological reasons could cause a person to feel different on the inside than how their gender seemed on the outside. I had always been vaguely aware of hermaphrodites (a term that isn’t considered polite anymore) – people born with both ovaries and testicles. I never thought much about what happened there, but oftentimes the OB physician and/or the parents make a decision then and there about which parts to remove. And if they remove the ovaries but the baby grows up feeling female, then oops!

We now refer to people born this way as intersex, and there are many different variations of non-typical genitalia that happen at birth. Intersex variations are naturally occurring in humans and happen in about 1-2 in 100 births! That’s fairly common, about as common as people born with red hair. According to those numbers, in my town of Spokane, WA, population of 217,353, that means there are between 2,173 and 4,347 intersex people. Doctors must pick one gender to write on the birth certificate, but without waiting for the child to develop an identity or go through puberty, it isn’t much more than a guess. It may or may not match how they feel when they begin to articulate their gender identity.

Another condition that rarely happens is called a micropenis, about 1.5 in 10,000 male births. Some baby boys are born with a micropenis and possible other hormonal issues and have surgery to become baby girls. Many of these people are dissatisfied with their female gender as they age and identify as male. There is an actual scale, like on a ruler, that is used to measure the baby’s penis to see if it “counts” enough for the baby to stay a boy.

Getting away from the genitalia, there are hormonal changes that happen during development of fetuses in the womb. In fact, the current understanding is that the brain is the largest sex organ, moreso than a penis or ovaries/uterus. There’s an area of the brain called the BSTc that has a different number of neurons in male vs female brains. Transgender females (people who were born male but identify as women) had the amount of neurons consistent with a typical female brain. And the opposite is also true – transgender males (people born female but identifying as male) had the number of neurons typical with a male brain’s BSTc. There are similar size differences in the INAH section of the brain that will appear male in transgender males and female in transgender females.

Genes play a role as well. There’s a specific gene, ERβ, that is associated with transgender men. And of course some folks don’t feel entirely male or female, hence the term “non-binary” or gender fluid. The terminology has exploded as people have become more open with their gender expression. I found a great “cheat sheet” to explain the many different terms in the LGBTQIA2S+ spectrum.

The terminology and pronouns matter. I see people’s shackles rise when confronted with differing pronouns, or massive eye rolls at the “PC culture” that forces us to adjust our ways of communicating about each other, but these are people’s deep, bedrock identities we’re talking about. No one chooses how they’re born. I didn’t decide to be a cisgender (my gender identity matching my external appearance), heterosexual woman. I am who and what I am, period. Same for all these folks who are born with genetic, hormonal, or gonadal differences. And they shouldn’t be forced to fit into some box that doesn’t fit them because that’s more comfortable for everyone else.

If you are interested in learning more about the science, Harvard University has a great resource page here, or you can read this article from the National Institute of Health. There are several documentaries on Netflix now – Disclosure, TransFormer, A Secret Love, Pray Away and more. I follow @mx.deran, @janaemariekroc, @queersurgeon, and @thejeffreymarsh on Instagram to learn from different perspectives. Check them out and see what you think. As George Bernard Shaw says, “Progress is impossible without change; and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

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Free Will…?

Since the Enlightenment days in the 18th century or even earlier, there has been a debate on whether free will actually exists or not. There are educated, scholarly people who do not believe in the existence of free will. There are esoteric, philosophical arguments on both sides that do not feel very practical to day-to-day existence. Based on my rudimentary understanding, one argument against free will seems to be that no one has the free will to chose or even think about unheard of things – you can’t think of a color that doesn’t already exist, or imagine an animal that isn’t already present in nature, or at least a made-up animal derived from parts of others animals in existence. No one has the free will to chose to be invisible, or start flying, or teleport themselves to Mars. It seems the definition at play here is ultimate free will – absolute freedom of choice via any and all conceivable and unconceivable possibilities.

But I would like to argue about the existence of free will within a more functional definition. The definition of free will I would like to discuss is the ability to have free will within the realms of possibility and scientific absolutes. So, I’m not talking about the lack of free will to grow myself wings, or even the ability to make a choice that isn’t psychologically primed in some way, but a more realistic approach to the question.

Do all humans really have free will, or only a favored few with privilege, power and resources? What about the person born enslaved two hundred years ago – they didn’t have the free will to leave, to eat as much as whenever they wanted to eat, to earn and spend money, to marry who they chose, to move, to keep their own children. Does the girl sold into sex trafficking have the choice to get out? Does she have any free will over the course of her life, as she’s fed drugs, moved around, kept disoriented and dependent on her pimp? I supposed you could say they have the will, but by no means the way. Those choices weren’t available to them to make, no matter how much they wanted them.

What about the free person not enslaved, but born into poverty. Do they have free will? Do they really have the choice to simply change their life, to work hard get a better education or a good paying job? If their only option for school is a poorly funded, burnt-out teacher graveyard with little chance for opportunity? If they can’t afford to move into a better district? Do people living in food deserts have the free will to eat healthily and lower their risks for all sorts of disease? Do the people living downwind of chemical pollution have the choice to breath clean air, to drink clean water, to eat from their garden without poisonous chemicals in the soil? Not everyone can afford to move or has connections to get a new job that could take them elsewhere into safer conditions.

Or taking the discussion out of the realms of poverty and enslavement – do I, as a middle class, very privileged white person in America – do I truly have the free will, practically speaking, to shop ethically? I care deeply about the people who make my clothes, and have done the research, and it is nearly impossible to find clothing that I can guarantee is ethically produced. Twenty-two percent of raw cotton used to make clothing worldwide is currently coming from China, where the Uyghur people are being essentially enslaved into the workforce. It is a human rights nightmare, and it touches almost all of our textiles. It is hard to even track that information and figure out where your favorite store gets their textiles from, let alone how they treat and compensate everyone involved in the process. I do not have the knowledge or time available to grow my own cotton, turn it into a usable product and make my own clothes, so I’m essentially dependent on what’s out there. And if the majority of what’s out there is unethically made, where’s my free will to chose otherwise? I do have the option not to buy new and benefit these greedy companies, which is how I’ve handled that particular issue, so I secondhand shop. And there are some companies that produce their goods in the USA only where we have tighter labor laws (but even some of them have been caught using China-made products in their line).

Likewise, do I have the free will to make food choices that aren’t laden with GMOs, additives, fertilizers, or have been artificially ripened? I would barely know how to track down the source of produce in my grocery store, contact the farm or company in charge, and ask them what chemicals, fertilizers and preservatives are used on my food each step of the way before it hits the grocery shelves, LET ALONE how to that for any processed food that comes in a box. And even if I knew how to go about doing that, I certainly don’t have the time to do that for every item I buy. Functionally speaking, I don’t have the time or knowledge to grow and produce all my own food. I can try to shop farmer’s markets and local farms, but the farmers markets don’t run in the winter, and I don’t know how or have time to can and preserve enough food for my whole family for the winter season. My choices are limited to what’s in the grocery store, even the natural ones, and I don’t get to have a say in how those products were grown, raised and treated. I am constantly putting things in my body that I would not chose to consume if given a true choice.

This feels disturbing to me not because it makes me feel like I’m living in the matrix, or am a puppet on a string, but because I used to use the argument of free will to explain suffering in the world. The only way I could conceive of a god who would allow such atrocious and horrific suffering in the world was if that god had decided that free will was an absolute right, and would not interfere in humanity’s free will at any cost, even when that free will caused some humans to chose evil and in doing so, cause enormous pain and suffering to others.

But if free will, practically and functionally speaking, on a day-to-day basis in the actual lives of humans, doesn’t really exist, then what does that mean about god? If what we really have is simply a small minority of people in power who have amassed wealth and influence, therefore getting to play chess with everyone else’s lives – where’s god? Or what is god’s role there?

I’m really asking and truly wonder what Christianity would say to this. I don’t know. I don’t have an answer. It’s one of the large fissures that’s shown up in my faith life recently that I don’t know how to handle. Currently, it’s pointing me away from the concept of an all-knowing, all-loving Being. If such a Being exists, and – according to the Christian Bible – is Love itself – how could that being allow such suffering without the gift of free will to all to explain it? How could that Being design a world knowing that a select few would rush to grab all the power and create misery and suffering for billions of people over the centuries? I would argue that Love couldn’t do that. At least, I know that if I had ultimate power and control over the physical universe, and was watching toddlers, young children, and families fleeing from war-torn countries, targeted and discriminated against, dying and being murdered in droves in attempts to cross deserts and seas toward the dangling promise of hope and safety in a foreign land – I would not be able to stand idly by.

And the scenario with a god who intervenes is equally problematic – if god can stop pain and suffering, then presumably god would do that all the time to the people god loves. So then why do so many good, honest, kind people suffer so deeply? And then we have to wrestle with questions of partiality – would god only help some and not others? Then we would all be striving to live perfect lives to be worthy of god’s help, which goes directly against Christianity’s message of scandalous and free grace for all.

If someone out there has an answer to all this, I would genuinely love to hear it. As it stands, I’m finding the God I grew up believing in very hard to get behind anymore.

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Flourish

It has officially been one year since my business opened. This was never in the plan. In fact, I am on the record saying that I would never ever want to operate my own physical therapy clinic. I did not want the headache of dealing with insurance, marketing etc

And yet here I am! Forced into a corner after getting laid off at the onset of the pandemic and seeing no new jobs on anywhere on the horizon. What few jobs popped up were not in my field of outpatient orthopedics, and my resume never even got a call back. It truly seemed like my only option to keep my license active and to see patients was to go find them on my own.

I was quite terrified to do this, and yet felt like I got pulled along by an invisible thread. I didn’t hem and haw too much – once I decided that this was my only option, I jumped in head first. I wrote a previous blog post in here (Strength in Numbers) about all the help and assistance I received along the way to make this a reality. A shared space to rent, helpful mentors who had already gone down the paths I needed to travel and who helped light the way, friends and family who encouraged and advised me, and new contacts that helped spread the word. Flourish came together through the support of a large network of people.

And now, a year into it, after a very slow start and months where I only saw zero, one or two patients, I’ve now made more in one month than I did in all five months of operation in 2020! The marketing efforts and word of mouth have started to take root. My goals are modest – I’m only really working one day a week right now – but they are being met. I’m starting to fill up that one day each week, and hopefully will need to add a second full day by the fall. Working two days a week while staying home with my kids the other days has been a sweet spot in the work/life balance for me.

As I look back on the past year and feel the momentum picking up, I feel absolutely grateful. The circumstances aligned just so to make this even a possibility. Getting laid off and the extra unemployment assistance kept my family afloat through last year. Having a spouse who kept his job and brought in money was vital. The extra pandemic assistance came in very handy for us, as we were on a much tighter budget than usual without my typical income. Having a kind and selfless family member babysit the kids for my one day of work every week allowed me to work on the business and keep the meager income I received at first without having to spend it all on childcare.

I can certainly take some credit for my success. I chose to go slow with my spending and not get all the tools and toys I would have liked immediately. I just bought myself a laptop to keep at work instead of using my personal laptop and carting it back and forth each time (which also means I can now ride my bike to work again – yay!). I learned about SEO and modified my website to get those Google searches, opened and managed several social media accounts to get the word out. I reached out to lots of local health and wellness providers to network. I made fliers and passed out cards around town. And, most importantly, I made sure to be available and attentive to my clients, did the best job I know how with each one, and provided high quality care.

But despite my hard work, I don’t feel like I can take much credit. Flourish simply wouldn’t exist without the timing, circumstances, and assistance I’ve had along the way. If I were a single mom, or if my husband was also laid off or didn’t make enough money, or if we didn’t get those extra handouts last year, we would have been in complete panic, worried about keeping the lights on and food on the table. I’m in a privileged position that allowed Flourish the time it has needed to take root. I had the luxury of not absolutely needing to make a profit right away.

So for that, I am beyond grateful. I’m thankful to my husband and my family who have helped, thankful to the people that stepped up and helped me out along the way, thankful to my clients who have been spreading the word, thankful, thankful, thankful.

It is such a gift, an absolute blessing, to work for myself. To get to call the shots, to treat patients exactly as they need – nothing more, nothing less, to have time to spend with each client without rushing in a mad dash for productivity, to set my schedule and my dress code, to be allowed to think and act out of the box.

In situations like mine, where suffering led to what appears to be a better outcome, people like to say that it was meant to be. I don’t know that I totally agree with that sentiment. It would have been nice to never have gotten laid off. It would have been nice to not have been more worried about finances than ever before in the lifetime of my marriage.

And it’s true that I would not have done this any other way. I was planning on never opening my own business, planning to work for other companies for the duration of my career. I would be in a safer, in some ways less stressful, financially stronger position at my previous employers.

I think what happens simply happens, and we get to chose how to react. I was pretty traumatized getting laid off the first time. I could have let that take me down hard. I could have stayed on unemployment and hung out at home with my kids without the side hustle. I decided to do this thing, and it seems to be working out, although I’m very aware of the statistics of businesses that make it vs. fail, and the high percentage that don’t make it past the first year, or the first five years.

I don’t know what the future will bring. I hope Flourish will continue to live up to its name, and that I will be able to keep helping people in this new style. And I know that to say life is unpredictable is a huge understatement. Whatever happens in this random crapshoot we call life will happen, and I’ll get the chance to decide how to react yet again. And for now, I am so damn grateful.

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Please

It’s summer in the Pacific Northwest, a beautiful time to get outside and enjoy all the region has to offer. My family loves to get out and take advantage of the local parks, pools, splash pads and hikes nearby, and we always make plans to go camping a couple times each summer.

This year, we only booked one camping trip because we didn’t know if the air quality would be good enough to go camping later in the summer. Our intuition proved correct as we even had to come home a day early from our mid-July camping trip due to an air quality level that was unsafe for small children to be out playing in, let alone living and sleeping outdoors in the camper. The smoke rolled in from nearby wildfires and made the air dangerous for my young kids to be outside.

We were supposed to have a reunion with dear friends the following weekend at a beautiful mountain town in the Cascades Mountains, and that entire weekend was forced to be canceled by yet another fire in that area. The fire caused Highway 20 – the North Cascades Highway – to be indefinitely closed while they battle the fire. There were fears that the fire was threatening our friend’s family ranch, and the air quality in the region has been at times at the highest, most unsafe, “hazardous” level.

Before all the smoke blew in, this summer had already broken records in my region for having the greatest number of days over 100*F in a row – which happened in June! I used to think of June as being late spring, with potential for rainy weather and cooler temps, but apparently June is full summer now.

We’ve been talking about climate change for quite a while now. Ever since Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth aired, it’s been a conversation. My governor – Jay Inslee – ran for President in 2016 on a platform dedicated to climate change, mostly to turn up the volume on the national conversation. We’ve been seeing the rise of “once-in-a-lifetime” storms getting more frequent, have seen massive flooding and freezing temperatures in places like Texas get so severe that they threatened the very power grid we all depend on daily. During the Texas power outage in February this year, over 1.3 million people were out of power with temperatures far colder than they normally experience. People died in their homes from carbon monoxide poisoning from trying to heat the house with a grill out of desperation.

I’ve been able to visit Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, and got to drive up the Icefields Parkway to see the Athabasca Glacier. I was there in 2014, and it was a sobering drive up to the glacier even then. There were markers, similar to a mile marker, but with dates on them, showing how much the glacier has been receding in the last decades. You could visibly see how much larger the glacier used to be in 2000, 1990, 1970 and so on, and the amount lost was staggering.

Likewise, I’ve been able to visit Glacier National Park in Montana, and was fortunate enough to see some of the remaining glaciers before they melt away and vanish forever. The visitors centers there had photographic evidence of how much larger these glaciers were in decades past, and of how great an effect warming temperatures have had in the region.

A good friend of mine has a degree in meteorology, and recently mentioned to me – while we were complaining about the smoke and wildfires in our respective areas of the country – that at some time in the not-distant future, the entire cities of Phoenix, Las Vegas, Reno and others in the Southwestern US will be forced to evacuate. They will no longer be sustainable and able to provide enough water to keep the population going. We will see “climate refugees” moving en masse into other parts of the country, putting a crunch on those local infrastructures and communities.

And of course, there are some areas of the US more threatened by flooding and severe storms and hurricanes. The entire state of Florida is at sea level, and with the rising seas from melting glaciers and snowpack, will be quite literally under water soon. I’m not educated enough to speak to the dangers worldwide, but I know there are coastal regions worldwide that are severely threatened by the rising water levels. It seemed like the entire country of Australia was on fire last year, and I know of island communities and coral atolls that are being forced to consider evacuating the entire community as their way of life literally sinks beneath their feet.

I know how doom-and-gloom all this sounds, and I know the tendency to want to put our heads in the sand and pretend like it isn’t happening, especially if you don’t live in an area where your home is constantly threatened by wildfires, or you are not getting choked by smoke and feeling the effects of climate change on a regular basis. But this is reality and ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.

I get easily overwhelmed thinking about how big all this is. These are huge, global issues with huge, global causes, and what am I really supposed to do about it? And truthfully, I think the effects we have as individuals exist, but are very small.

  • We can switched all our lightbulbs to LED, and be mindful to keep the lights off when we can.
  • We can install solar panels on the roof, and indeed my local energy company has a large rebate option for that right now.
  • My family removed over 1/3 of the grass in our yard recently to save on watering (and spend less time mowing – win/win!).
  • We can try to run the dishwasher and washing machine less.
  • Used clothing is especially helpful, as we waste SO MUCH energy and resources on fast fashion and clothing that barely gets worn and then takes up so much space in our landfills (another issue that we don’t like to think about – but that garbage doesn’t just evaporate!).
  • If we can afford it, we can switch to an electric car, or ride our bikes to commute or take the bus.

All of these things to help, and stack up when more of us are doing them. But I really think that the biggest, more important thing we can do here is to vote in politicians who care about climate change and will make it a priority. Who will hold big companies accountable who are largely responsible for most of the issues we’re seeing. Money and power rule the world, so to save the world, we really need those with the money and the power to be a little less greedy and think about the whole picture and the greater good. And they won’t do that on their own and will need world governments to put the pressure on.

I would encourage everyone to do the research on their candidates for local and nation-wide elections (there are resources out there to help with that, such as the progressivevotersguide.com and local community action networks) and see who is talking about environmental issues. Our vote is a powerful way to tell those in charge that we care about the future of our planet, for our children and grandchildren.

I get tears in my eyes thinking about what the world might look like for my grandkids. Already, my kids are having to play inside during entire weeks of the summer and suffer through canceled plans, and we are very privileged and lucky to have that be our biggest issue at this point. I worry about our local water reservoir – they have to use so much more water to fight these fires, pulling it from lakes and rivers – and it won’t last forever. Every drop of water on this planet is the all the water we’ve ever had. We won’t get more. There isn’t new water raining down from outer space. What we have is all we get.

So please, even though it is scary and uncomfortable to think about, please think about the climate, do a little research, and use your money and your vote. Buy used, save and conserve where you can, and vote for people who are committed to fighting climate change. Just prior to writing this blog post, I sent out an email to my Mayor, city council president, city administrator, Governor, US Representative and US Senators to express my concerns. It took all of 5 minutes. I wrote one email, and copy and pasted it to each of them. People in power need to know we care for them to get active and involved.

I hate how dramatic this sounds – but please, do your part for your sake and for the sake of future generations. I want my kids to be able to take their kids camping and make all the same, wonderful memories I am trying to make for them. Please vote with the Earth in mind.

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Splash

Writing things down has always been clarifying for me, and my spiritual journey this last year or so has taken some whip-lashing turns. I am using this post to process my recent journey. If it resonates or helps you out, I’m thrilled!

My faith has been a journey since the beginning, with my beliefs and thoughts constantly being assessed, examined, and morphed along the way. I’ve always taken my spiritual life very seriously, spent time praying, reading the Bible and many other spiritual books, learning and growing. As a young woman, I believed in a loving God – but that love was only extended to people who chose to believe in Jesus. Anyone who chose not to – or who never heard the name Jesus before dying – was doomed to eternity in hell.

Cracks started to appear in that mold as I traveled the world and met devout people of different faiths who believed as reverently as I did in their respective religions. I had a hard time reconciling a God of love with someone who would let all these faithful people suffer for eternity. So many of us hardly even choose our religion, it mainly depends on where we are born. How cruel that someone could be doomed simply for being born into the wrong place/family/religion. I began to believe there must be more ways to connect – that Jesus was a human man, yes, but also a spirit. And the Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, must be able to convict and communicate with people outside of Christianity.

My faith loosened it’s possessive, exclusive death-grip on eternal life.

I was also meeting people I would have classified as “sinners” – Gay people –who still claimed to be Christian. Could something I believed in fervently from my youth be wrong? I looked into it, read the 6 passages of the Christian Bible that mention any semblance of homosexuality (not that that concept or word had been invented yet), read books and watched documentaries, and updated my beliefs. Science confirmed that people are born wired for sexual attraction of different types, this exists in nature, and if that’s how people are naturally made, then God must have made them and loves them the same as all of God’s children.

My faith became less judgmental.

Then I sat for a moment one day and thought about actual Hell for 30 seconds. Could I truly, possibly believe that a human who lived a mere 45 years of life on Earth and never “prayed the prayer” or committed their soul to God would be doomed for all eternity?!? Actual millions and billions of years of torment and suffering because they didn’t make the right choice in their brief blink of life? That seems incomprehensibly cruel and the exact opposite of a God defined as Love itself. If God is Love, as the Bible states, I couldn’t possibly believe that Love would allow eternal suffering. Some other way must exist. I didn’t pretend to know what that might look like – purgatory, refining fires in Heaven, scandalous grace and mercy for all – who really knows?

My faith became less black and white.

And then I educated myself a bit on evolution. When the topic came up in high school, I had righteously covered my ears and ran to the Creationist history teacher I knew for solace and confirmation, and missed out on that education. After reading a book on the human fossil record, I saw how many links there are out there who aren’t human, but aren’t ape, rather something distinctly in-between (Australopithecus sediba, homo habilis, homo erectus, homo heidelbergensis, neanderthals). Did they all go to Heaven too?

My faith became filled with mystery.

And what really is Heaven by the way? We’ve seen far out into space enough to know there aren’t mansions in the sky anywhere close. It must not be a physical place. Is it in another dimension? The spiritual realm?

And who really is God by the way? Richard Rohr pointed out that many modern day Christians really still believe in a pagan god – in Zeus up in the clouds, watching us with love or judgement, ready to rain down blessings or punishment. It hit me like a ton of bricks – I believed in a God who was essentially human. I thought there was a person of some kind who knew me, made me, loved me, cared about me – but a person. Rohr says that God isn’t so much a being, as being itself.

The Bible itself talks about the presence of God in all of Creation. Colossians 1:17 points out that “He (Christ) existed before all things, and all things are held together in him,” and later in chapter 3:11 blatantly says “Christ is all things and in all people.” Jesus said “the Kingdom of God is within you,” and analogies such as the vine and branches make the point that God is in us – “If you remain in me and I in you…”

So if what we call God is the force of life that animates and gives us all soul, consciousness, being, then why am I praying to God and not gravity? Gravity is this invisible force that is holding us all together, keeping objects from floating off into space. It’s constant, omnipresent, ensuring none of us gets lost in the emptiness of space. My concept of God is starting to feel comparable to gravity. There is something that makes us sentient. Humans are more than mere physical bodies, we are clearly some type of spiritual being as well. But is that force really a person-like figure somewhere out there who has a personal relationship with us?

If life itself is divine – if we are all divine by the fact of our existence – then that changes how I look at my fellow humans. That changes how I live and operate in this world full of living creatures. Suddenly I don’t care what label you choose for yourself. I don’t care about religious labels, gender labels, national labels. We’re all humans, no matter how we look, where we live, who we love, or what we believe. If we are all a part of this mysterious, beautiful, at times horrific, thing called Life – we are all connected at the deepest level. Every living thing is animated by this same force that brings Life – God, Love, Creator, Consciousness, Universe, however we choose to label it.

There’s a new analogy I heard along this level of belief: that we are all from a single Source – this unifying, animating force of Life – that can compared to the Ocean. And our human life on planet Earth is like being a drop flung from the Ocean in the spray of a wave. For a moment, we have our own, unique, individual consciousness. We can revel in the feeling of life – of flying through the air, taking in the blue sky, the sights, sounds, and smells of life – before dropping back into the Ocean and rejoining the Source.

I love the imagery of that. Our life is a blur, a drop in the bucket of time. There’s no denying that. And no one truly knows what comes next any more than any of us remember where we came from before birth. But for now, we are flying through the air, above the crystal blue water, and can try our best to make that flight full of love, joy, and peace rather than fear, judgement and pain.

There are so many things we have no control over – where we are born, to which family, how we look, the amount of wealth and power we enter life with, natural disasters and our physical health – and many of us suffer through no fault of our own. Life is random. Certain groups of people have clawed and clutched all the power to themselves, are self-centered and unwilling to look out for the greater good. Good and bad things happen to good and bad people. But we have some control over our response, our attitude, our ways to function, believe and live in this world.

I choose to live my splash through the air with freedom – freedom from “shoulds,” from cultural expectations and restrictions. Freedom from categorizing, judging, and comparing my status to others. Freedom from shame. Freedom to be who I truly am, however that looks and sounds. Freedom to be open and vulnerable with my fellow drops of water. I don’t know what happens after this, where “I” will go when my splash rejoins the great Ocean. But I will chose Love, light, joy, and freedom at every chance I get.

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Proceed with Kindness

I have been fully vaccinated since February, so when the newest CDC guideline saying fully vaxxed folks don’t need to wear masks almost anywhere came out, I was gleeful! Finally! The time has come to return to a more normal life!

And I have been shocked at how uncomfortable and awkward I feel being mask-less out in public. Not while outdoors – I’ve always felt that the fresh-air, open spaces didn’t warrant a mask and rarely wore one outside. But going into grocery stores with no mask? Into coffee shops? Into the library?

I was surprised at my reaction, because I wasn’t uncomfortable from being afraid of getting covid now without the mask. I fully trust in the vaccine. I think the science behind the mRNA delivery system is out-of-this-world, and the data is so impressive at how good a job they are doing. So I feel confident in the vaccine and my protected level of health with that on board. I know that getting covid is still possible, but if I do get it, it would likely be a mild case.

I was surprised because I was uncomfortable at what people were thinking, seeing me walk around mask-less. I’m not someone who typically cares a whole lot about what others think of me, although I am human and I think we all care sometimes about certain things. But I have not done a great job at staying non-judgmental myself toward the covid-deniers, the “plandemic”-ers, the abrasively anti-maskers. I’ve felt the division deeply and personally. So now, I was worried that I would be seen as an anti-masker, rather than as a fully vaccinated person following the new guidelines and trusting in the science.

I’ve found myself announcing to the clerks and fellow library patrons – “don’t worry, I’m vaccinated!” Putting on an awkward face, saying how strange it is to be out in public sans mask, but we’ve got to start trusting the vaccine and getting back to normal, right??

In my personal life, I have been really working on giving grace to myself and others. Grace to myself to not be “the perfect mom” (whatever that is!), the perfect wife/friend/daughter/anything really. I’m always trying to improve, while recognizing that I am a human who makes mistakes and is still learning. And grace toward others – that one has been harder for me.

I know we’re living in an era of division. That’s nothing new – name calling, picking sides, and snap judgements have existed since probably the beginning of human society. Today it’s very loud and constantly visible with news and social media in our pockets 24/7. And we’re creating our own echo chambers, mainly reading, listening, and talking to people that mostly agree with us. It’s very easy to think that our views are correct and other opinions are incomprehensible. As the lyrics to a recently discovered band I just heard snarkily sing:

“i think my opinions are the right ones. if i didn’t think so, i’d get new ones. i think my ideas are the best ones, if i didn’t think so i’d get better ones”

Poke you in the Eyes by Humans on the Floor

I’m as guilty of it all as the next person. I’m aware of my echo chamber, and try to bust out of it in fits and starts, but listening to the “other side” mostly drives me bananas. I try to find neutral sources of news, to check the bias ratings and to stay in the middle. I listen to podcasts who make the effort to stay nuanced and not villainize any alternative opinions or beliefs. I try to understand why the other side might think the way they do and often can find some level of appreciation.

But I’m certain that much of my awkwardness around being mask-less in public is because I know what I thought about people I saw in public without masks as recently as a few weeks ago. And now I look like I’m one of them.

I say all this to encourage us all to proceed with grace and gentleness as we enter this new phase of the pandemic. We’re not going to know who is truly fully vaccinated and mask-less and who was mask-less all along, and we shouldn’t have to. For one thing, being vaccinated protects us really well, so being around an unvaxxed person isn’t much of a personal risk now. And while my instincts still want to say how self-centered it is to flaunt public health policy because you are not scared and to not think of yourself as part of a whole society with lots of fragile people in it, I don’t know what someone else thinks, believes, has seen and has gone through. It is on me to make the best choices for my life, as much as I can with limited information, and to let others alone.

We all learn different life lessons at different times, if ever. My views of being an integrated part of a large society – where my decisions effect others and therefore I have some level of responsibility toward my fellow human – are new to me within the last 15 years or so. I haven’t always believed and acted this way. And I’ve got more learning to do about judging others, thinking I’ve got everything figured out, and giving others enough freedom and grace to make their own decisions. I can admit that I can be self-righteous and proud and am working on toning that down. Someone on the other end of the political, religious, or social spectrum from me has their own values that they’ve learned and are really good at, and things that they need work on.

It’s true that you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar. Being kind, being polite, being gracious – even when strongly disagreeing with someone’s stance, beliefs or opinions – will always do a better job of connecting, listening, learning, and ultimately finding potential common ground and mutual respect. And society could certainly use more of that. I’m going to keep working on it in my own life. Join me?

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Be Human

I read three books recently that couldn’t have been more different, and yet got me thinking the same thing – that humans are meant to be social, cooperative creatures and that – despite making us appear strong – our individual independence is hurting us deeply.

The first book was Anxious People by Frederik Backman. Well-written, quirky, and charming, it tells the story of a bank robbery gone horribly wrong. The bank robber ends up accidentally holding an entire apartment full of prospective buyers hostage, and throughout the book we learn a lot about each hostage and the interconnectedness of their lives. We realize that many of them were silently suffering, afraid to ask for help or appear imperfect and needy. The bank robber ends up in a terrible situation that could have been largely avoided if they had only been honest and vulnerable with someone and asked for a little help.

The second book was The Lost Man by Jane Harper. This murder mystery is set in the Australian outback (a harsher living environment would be hard to imagine!) and was a good, suspenseful read. And again, and I set the book down on my lap after turning over the last page, my first thought was – that whole, terrible situation could have been completely avoided if only people had spoken openly with each other! If only everyone didn’t assume that others were judging them or falsely assign motives that don’t exist to the people in their lives!

I myself am a very open person – obviously I write my deep, personal thoughts in a blog for all the interwebs to read – and have a hard time understanding private people. I do respect the fact that not everyone is comfortable opening up as quickly as I am (I am Midwestern – we can make a new friend while waiting at a bus stop), and I respect personal and emotional boundaries. However, I think a lot of suffering could be avoided if only people had the courage to be vulnerable and open up to even one other person about their struggles.

So many of us are so preoccupied with what we think others are thinking about us, when in reality others aren’t thinking about us much at all! Even before social media came around with its filters and highlight reels making life appear beautiful and glamorous all the time, we still compared and competed to “keep up with the Joneses,” without realizing that the Jones’s marriage was falling apart and their kids were unhappy and why do we want to be like them anyway??

The third book I just finished that solidified my belief that humans are meant to be social, community-driven creatures was First Steps by Jeremy DeSilva. This book attempts to answer the question of when and why our ancestors first started walking. The author is a paleoanthropologist, so the book deep dives into early human and pre-human history, looking at all kinds of fossils and evidence of our origins. We, as homo sapiens, are not the first mammal to walk on two feet, but we and our predecessors (Neanderthals and the like) would have been tiger food if not for the fact that we were social. We are slow, relatively small, and not equipped with great physical offense or defense (no tough shells or large claws). Our babies are entirely helpless for the first year or so of life, making us rely on helpful aunties and cousins to guard the babies while Mama climbed up the tree for food. Giving birth itself is a forced community event because of the inherent danger that comes from childbirth in creatures like us that walk on two feet. The shape of our pelvis is well-suited for walking, but makes labor risky for mom and baby alike and required assistance from the very beginning. By walking on only two feet, we are very vulnerable to injuries making us even easier prey. There is evidence dating way back in the fossil record of pre-human creatures surviving life-threatening injuries (significant damage to bones, head injuries, even tumors that showed evidence of recovery and a continued life span)– something that would only have been possible with care and assistance from a cooperative community looking out for each other.

The lie of independence, of self-reliance, of the self-made man threatens one of the very things that makes us human. Isolationism, tribalism, fierce independence – these things make us weak, not strong. It is not a sign of strength to bear all your burdens by yourself. It is not a sign of strength to withhold your fears and doubts from those you love in an effort to put on a show or protect them from your reality. As the life-long work of Brené Brown keeps proving to us in the research over and over again – vulnerability is strength.

“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

But it does take courage. It’s hard to open up to someone, even a dearly loved friend or family member, without knowing how they will react. Without knowing if they will be gentle with your pain, your fears, your worry. And too often we don’t react well. Too many times we jump in to fix things, or smooth it all over, or offer empty platitudes, preferring the lie of comfort and ease to the reality that life is full of suffering. It is hard to look pain in the eye – whether ours or someone else’s. But pretending it doesn’t exist doesn’t solve anything either.

It isn’t pleasant to be honest when things are hard. It’s scary to ask for help when you don’t know how someone will respond. But when we are lucky enough to have people who truly care, who see us at our best and our worst and love us the same, then they can help share the burden. Their presence, their care, and possibly their actual resources or aid can lighten our load. They may know information that can completely improve our situation, or have a connection to someone who would be the perfect resource. They may have suffered similarly and could offer a sympathetic ear and shoulder to cry on, making us feel less alone in our pain. They may simply stick around and be with us in our suffering, their loving presence itself a balm to the pain.

In 2015, I suffered a partial molar pregnancy, which required emergency surgery. It was shocking, confusing, deeply disappointing after thinking we had successfully gotten pregnant, and a grievous experience. There was a risk it could develop into cancer which hung over our heads for months after my surgery. There were unknown timelines about when we could safely try to conceive again. And I am SO GRATEFUL that we had told our closest friends and family about the pregnancy before it all went to hell. They showed up with care, encouragement, meals, massages – support. Many women told me stories of similar experiences they had suffered, making me feel less alone, broken, or defective. Our people got us through a very difficult time feeling seen, cared for, and loved.

To all the private people reading this – those who keep their stuff close to their chest and go it alone – I am not saying that you need to air your dirty laundry for all the world to see, or to unload your problems on everyone you meet. Again, I respect personal and emotional boundaries. But I would encourage you to find one trusted person. One person with whom you could be real, be honest, be open and vulnerable, be human. One person to be in your tribe, to watch out for predators while you look for food. It can literally be the difference between life and death.

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He Is Risen

I saw so many messages in my Instagram feed today with this message. Today is Easter Sunday, so it makes sense. The conversation I wish I could have with everyone who shared that is – “And?”

What does that mean for you? How does that effect how you live your life?

In Jesus time on earth, he repeatedly talked about the Kingdom of God. He used many stories and analogies to get people to understand what the Kingdom of God meant – that it was like a lost treasure, a contradictory place where the last are first and the first are last, where rich people find it nearly impossible to enter, where the poor and the humble are blessed and lifted up.

Being a Christian and celebrating that “He is Risen!” is so much more than punching your ticket to eternity. That is step one. I took that step when I was prepubescent. The point is – what am I doing with the rest of my life? How am I supposed to live here and now?

Jesus made it clear how we are meant to live our lives – in a way that brings the Kingdom of God down to earth. We puny little humans are tasked with being God’s hands and feet on earth – the actual presence of God at work in all our lives. It is up to us to make this world a better place. To spread love, joy, and peace to ALL.

One of Jesus’ well known stories was that of the Good Samaritan. In it, a man is beaten by the road side, robbed, and left for dead,. We don’t know by whom. A priest walked by, noticed the man, and did nothing. A Levite (an even more elite religious person) likeways ignored him. But then the good Samaritan man (part of a despised and discriminated against race that the Jews looked down on at the time) took heart and helped the man with his own money, care, and attention.

I think most of us are not the Samaritan. The Good Samaritan would stop to help the black man getting killed by the police at the side of the road, the homeless person on the corner begging for food. The Good Samaritan would be fighting to protect LGBTQ rights, taking in gay kids who got kicked out of their Christian home. The Good Samaritan would fight for women’s rights, and stopping anti-Asian violence, and assisting children at the border, and helping the poor immigrant fleeing violence and searching for a better life. The Good Samaritan would be comforting the suicidal girl who was born looking like a boy, distraught because no one believes her when she says who she is, distraught for having the Image of God within her stamped out by others.

Our faith is meant to have arms and legs. As the Bible says, “faith without works is dead.” Now I don’t take that to be a legalistic order dictating a certain number of prayers, donations, or good deeds in order to achieve salvation. Because, “it is by grace you have been saved through faith…it is the gift of God.” Gifts are free and undeserved; they are given because the giver loves the receiver.

So it’s not that we need to do certain good deeds to earn a pleasant eternity; again – being saved is the first teeny tiny baby step in the life of a person of faith. What are you doing with it? Why does it matter that Jesus conquered death? Receiving that amazing free gift is meant to spur us to action.

And our current, every day world is still very bent and broken, a far cry from the Kingdom of God. Every human being is created in the image of God. The black person, whose life is still held back by systemic racism and a long history of oppression. The factory worker making cheap clothes for us to buy while getting treated like dirt. The desperate father, afraid because his profession is dying and he has no where to turn, no safety net to catch him, while living in the “greatest country on earth.” The immigrant who is afraid for their life and their children’s future and is seeking stability. The gay kid who was simply born loving people of the same gender.

Are we loving them? Are we protecting the Image of God in them? Are we fighting for equality and fairness, fighting against discrimination and hatred? Or the more insidious acceptance of the status quo? Are we fighting against the urge to say it’s too broken, and it’s always been this way, and it’s too much to change? Are we willing to pay a bigger share to ensure everyone gets what they need? Are we willing to sacrifice and stay humble and have faith that there is enough for all of us?

As Jesus said, ” whoever believes in me will do…even greater things than these.” Jesus reached out to the culturally oppressed and discriminated. He mingled with the low lifes, the rejects, the illegal aliens and sex workers, the corrupt politicians and ethnic minorities. He treated women with far more respect and honor than was customary for his time. He healed the untouchable sick.

We will do ever greater things. We ended legalized slavery. We ended counting our fellow countrymen as 3/5ths a person. We ended unsafe working conditions and child labor (in the US at least). We will end workplace discrimination. We will end systemic racism and the many lingering, hidden ways it persists – the prison labor force, unequal school funding that cuts kids off from a remotely equal chance in life, the food deserts and healthcare disparities. We will end misogeny and transphobia. We will end the rule of the power-hungry, vain, and proud. We will save the planet from massive loss of life due to climate change.

Because in the Kingdom of God, the last will be first, righteousness (morally correct behavior) reigns, the merciful, peaceful and pure in heart will be blessed. Not the richest, the politically powerful, the elite class, the superPACs and Fortune 500 CEOs. Not the vainly privileged, unwilling to look down on the lowly humans they’ve used and stepped on to get to the top. Not the naively privileged, ignorant to how their way of life is only possible because of the suffering of others.

This is a big task we’ve been given. Punching your ticket to Heaven is only the beginning. But take heart. It’s not up to each and every one of us to tackle all these massive issues. We all have our passions, the issues that get under our skin and keep us awake at night. Maybe it’s hurting kids, or LGTBQ rights, prison reform, compassionate immigration, environmental causes, anti-racism, sex trafficking, political corruption, voting rights, women’s rights, the mentally ill, homelessness – there are many things to care about. Many things that God cares about. And God is counting on us to be the hands and feet of the Kingdom.

Remember what Jesus said in the story of the sheep and the goats:

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Are you the Good Samaritan? Or the pious priest, walking right on by, without caring about your fellow human – no matter how different they look, or how sinful you believe them to be – laying there beaten and left for dead? How are you using your one and precious life?

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If Only

I keep thinking about the attack on the Capital from January 6th. I keep thinking about the fact that people – Congresspeople, their family members, members of the Press, building staff – were afraid for their lives, and have had to immediately go back to work at the place where it happened. What additional echoes do they hear as their feet walk across the tiled floors on their way to work now? Whose faces do they expect to bump into while rounding a corner?

How do we expect these people to continue governing our Nation as if nothing happened?

The current top-level movers and shapers of our government suffered through a terrifying, traumatic event. They may have watched as police officers were beaten with flag poles and clubs. They may have seen the noose on the lawn and known that it was intended to be used. They saw the bloodstains from the five people who were killed that day, and heard about the two more police officers who later died by suicide, traumatized by the day’s events.

We are not a society that is good at handling trauma. Collective mourning and grief are not part of our vocabulary. If we mourn – and feel our hard feelings – we do so in private, maybe with a therapist, maybe with our closest loved ones. Like any collection of humans, America is not faultless. We’ve done harm in the world, both on our own soil – enslaving and horrifically abusing West African people, attempted genocide and enslavement of Native peoples, the Trail of Tears, the Trail of Death, Native boarding schools, Jim Crow segregation, and Japanese internment camps to name a few – and overseas. And we seem to think that pushing things under the rug, pretending they’re only in the past (as if the past doesn’t affect the present), and never confronting, apologizing, owning and making amends is an acceptable or healthy way to live.

This cultural attitude bleeds into our personal lives. Awareness of mental health among veterans has improved, but they are still 1.5 times as likely to die by suicide vs the general population. I know my own grandpa, who fought in the Korean war, never ever talked about that experience. I’ve treated elderly patients who had fought in the Vietnam war, and they would admit to me in hushed tones that they saw and did things that they’ve never told another person. We seem to believe that burying emotions and trauma actually gets rid of them, when in reality they seep into every cell of our being and leak out in unhealthy ways that inflict harm on ourselves and our relationships.

My grandma was a difficult woman. Easily offended, she would punish the offender with the silent treatment or passive aggressive nastiness and hold a grudge. She was very present in my childhood, and loved my brother and I, but we always had the feeling of walking on thin ice with her. Visits to her home were always filled with a mild sense of dread. I learned, as I entered adulthood myself, that she had a traumatic childhood. Her mother died young, and her father did not feel capable of raising my grandma and her sister himself as a single father. He sent them to live with a loving aunt & uncle, whom my mother adored as her own grandparents. My grandma’s father later went on to remarry and became a stepfather. And as I learned this, I could see them – the ripples. The life-altering effect of being given up by her father, who later chose to be a father again to new children, different children. My grandma seemed to be always on the lookout for the next betrayal, always doubting the love of those who loved her, always trying to head hurt off at the pass.

If only she had gotten therapy! That wasn’t yet common in her era, so she continued living with unhealthy emotions and relationship patterns throughout her long life. I can only imagine her personality if she had been able to work through her pain, work through the hurt and abandonment issues, and come to find her inherent sense of worth and belonging. What a different life that could have been.

If only America would get therapy! If only we would turn our full gaze on the past as it truly was, shortcomings and all. If only we would acknowledge the pain and suffering done in the name of Manifest Destiny, in the thirst for power and greed. An entire economy built on the backs of unwilling humans. An entire continent stolen from those already here. Did you know that the Native tribes had roadways that crisscrossed the entire continent? Many of our major highways today follow those old footpaths. They had established, thriving communities. Did you know that the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, Confederacy is the oldest living participatory democracy on earth, founded in 1142? These weren’t simple “savages” that we nearly eradicated from the land (over 560 recognized tribes are still alive and present). They had governments, societies, trading partnerships, and a beautiful religious tradition. Imagine if Western Europeans had arrived with curiosity, with an ounce of humility, and had learned from these people. What a different history that could have been.

So I hope our leaders in government are getting therapy and taking care of their mental health. Trauma effects our brain, our higher levels of thinking, our physical health. I know people joke about governmental red tape and the mess it can make of things, but they are trying to keep a culturally, geographically diverse country of 331 million people running smoothly. I can barely keep my homogenous household of 4 running smoothly half the time, so I don’t envy their job. I hope, having lived through that terror, they might be more motivated to do real work to stop the terror of school shootings. That they might be more motivated to stop talking about bipartisanship and to start living that out, to stop the growing, hate-filled divide between Americans.

I hope they, and we, take the chance to ask how we could have gotten to this point. To look at the past, at the roots of this great society, our “great, unfinished symphony,” and to examine them closely. To hold up what needs to be brought to the light, to acknowledge what needs to be said out loud. To process the trauma done by us and to us so we can all heal and move forward together, healthy and strong. If only.

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Man up

I was listening to a discussion on the Keystone XL Pipeline recently, and the pros and cons were being analyzed. The perspective of the Native tribes in the areas effected by the pipeline was brought up, and I learned that one of the negative effects of construction of these pipelines is the increase in disappearances, murders, and rapes against local Native women. These horrific acts go up in frequency due to the “man camps,” or work camps set up for the men hired to construct the pipeline.

As I heard this, I felt an internal tornado of mixed emotions. A part of me was not surprised at all. Women have historically been taken advantage of, treated as property, and used by men for their selfish purposes since the dawn of time. Women of color are victims of violence and injustice even more than white women like myself. Justice has rarely prevailed in the protection of women. We’ve all heard the statistics. That tide is finally changing a bit, with great strides being made by movements like #metoo.

That part of me wanted to start railing against men. Why are men such pigs? Why can’t they see women as an equal part of humanity deserving of dignity and respect? Why are people of color, and these Native women specifically, not better protected from suffering the violence and harm coming from predominantly white men?

And that’s when the tornado started swirling, as I thought about the specific white men in my life. I flashed back to that time in college, while studying abroad in Australia, when I was drugged at a bar. My friends from uni and I traveled en masse to this certain bar every Thursday night, and it felt like a home away from home. I’m not a heavy drinker, to the point that I was teased for my work-arounds to avoid drinking too much during drinking games (“Sarah sips”), so when I suddenly started throwing up at our table one night, my friends’ red flags started flying. They noticed that I seemed too out of it for how much I’d had to drink, and that my eyes were fully dilated. When they all realized that I’d been drugged, they flew into a rage. My male friends wanted to find and murder whoever had attempted to use what they assumed was a date rape drug on me. I was gently led home, shielded by this whipped up wolfpack, and my girlfriends kicked all the enraged guys out of my dorm room so they could help me into my PJs. One of my guy friends remembered that I wear contacts and, as my consciousness had started to return, I saw his fingers coming at my eyeballs to take them out for me.

For what could have been a terribly traumatic, horrible night, it ended up being a weirdly beautiful experience that let me feel how much my friends loved me. I felt so protected and cared for, and was touched at how upset all my friends were on my behalf. I assume it was a man who drugged me, and who had dishonorable intentions. And yet my male friends, in particular, made me feel very respected and honored that night.

And I started thinking about my husband, who is a better husband than I even knew to look for. He is so intentional and purposeful in overcoming bad prototypes, working hard to help more around the home and with our kids than has been traditionally typical. He is a fierce defender of human rights and proud feminist. He is working on his built-in blind spots and is constantly trying to improve.

And I thought of my father, who I doubt would consider himself a feminist, and yet who always encouraged me to dream big and reach for anything I thought possible. Who trusted me and my judgement and never acted like I was his property as I began dating. While friends of mine from church had their dads purposely stage their shotguns in the living room when they got picked up for prom, my Dad was so chill and relaxed around one of my boyfriends that my boyfriend thought it was a bad sign that he wasn’t getting grilled. My dad showed me that he trusted my brain, my character, and my judgement and didn’t consider me vulnerable, weak or gullible because of my gender.

I think the problems around violence against women, and women of color in particular, run deep. My country was built on the premise that we could own women’s bodies if they were black, and rape and murder them if they were Native. It’s woven into the very first fabric of my nation. White women faired better, but were still not considered fully human in the writing of the Constitution. They couldn’t vote and rarely had an avenue to own property. Grown ass women were completely dependent on their husbands and then sons in the event of widowhood, due to the coverture and dower systems set in place.

I can understand how men came to act so entitled, to think that their desires and whims trumped everyone else’s, and to feel justified in taking what they want, even at the expense of a fellow human being and their rights. Sadly, the Christian Bible has been misused in this way as well, to uphold the false message that women are inferior to men. There are great analyses of the patriarchal messages of the Bible, such as Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey, that break down how misguided such interpretations are. Society has been patriarchal for much of human history, and that lens colored the authors of the Bible. It’s clear from the Creation story in the beginning of the Bible that God intended male and female, both created in God’s image, to be equal parts of the image of God on earth.

So while I can understand how we got here, and why so many men act the way they do, I also hold no mercy for those unevolved men who chose to use their privilege at the expense of others. Because I’ve seen what a quality man looks like. I’ve seen men so self-assured in their inherent worth and value that they don’t need to prove it by lording it over anyone “beneath” them. I’ve known men who don’t allow the narrow definitions of what a “real man” is to restrict their emotions or behavior. I’ve met men who understand that all of humanity hold the same amount of inherent dignity and worth as they do. I know men who recognize the terrible, ugly patterns in societies across the globe that have gotten us to where we are today and who want to work that change that. (check out the New Zealand based, She’s Not Your Rehab group – amazing!)

Society is crawling forward, inch by agonizing inch, into a better reality for us all. The Kingdom of God professed so much in the Bible by Jesus, in which the powerful are made humble, the poor are made rich, and the lowly are lifted up, is being clawed and scratched down to Earth. And it’s been a fight. The rich and powerful (read: predominantly white men) aren’t going to be quick to give up their privilege and power. Why would they? But as more of us glimpse what an equitable, supportive, inclusive and open world looks like, we can’t but help to fight to make that a reality. So fight on, man up, evolve, and make the world a better place for us all.

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Epiphany

Am I a Christian? That word is so loaded these days. It can mean very different things to different people. There are Christians out on the forefront of suffering, serving their brothers and sisters in Christ around the world through solidarity and support, and there are people holding “Jesus Saves” flags while storming the US Capital during a hostile situation. Mother Teresa identified as Christian; members of the KKK identify as Christian.

Sadly, to many from the outside POV, being Christian equates to the things Christians do not support. Christian = anti-LGBTQ, anti-science, and judgement-filled. Within Christianity, there are hundreds of definitions and views of who is “right.” Each denomination thinks they’ve got it figured out while everyone else is missing a key point or belief. Nevermind that the Church has been around for over 2000 years now with a WIDE variety of beliefs held over the centuries. Spend a little time researching church history, and you realize how arrogant anyone would be to think that only they, only now, have reached the Correct way of thinking and believing.

I myself hold a lot of conflicting ideas that may throw me out of each closed-box ideological category we like to create. I do define myself as Christian. It’s the world I grew up in since I was a toddler, and I’ve stayed immersed in it ever since. It’s my spiritual mother tongue. Active in AWANAs as a young child, active my high school church youth group, active in college campus ministries and my church in college, active in church in my post-college life through to today.

But I am very open-minded and willing to admit that there are so many things I do not know, cannot explain, and are a mystery to me regarding the very existence of God, the afterlife, and the nature of the universe. I do not think that God is limited to one religion, or that the relatively recently invented religion of Christianity (which Jesus did not set out to create) is suddenly the only correct one. I believe that God can be living and working inside of all kinds of belief systems. God is bigger than Christianity, which has only existed for a small blip of time on the scale of eternity. Religions are people’s ways of trying to work out who we are, who Created all this, and what is our purpose in being alive. And truthfully, religions, more often than not, quickly become power structures, corrupt ways for men to control others.

I believe in science very much. I support whatever widely accepted scientific views are current, while knowing that we are all always learning, and that ideas and theories keep changing and evolving over time. I support the dignity and rights of all humans, including people of all color, all sexual orientations and gender identities, all races and all religions, exactly because I believe that God created all life and loves all humans as God’s very own children.

My faith far supersedes my nationality. My Christian values, derived from the Bible in the voices of the prophets and Jesus himself, tell me to care for the foreigner, so I’m more likely to worry about the humanity in those getting separated at the border than in the law of the land that arbitrarily punishes them for reaching for a better life. My faith does not prevent me, and even encourages me, to look with open eyes at the fruit of my nation, and to criticize where we have failed and to push for growth and change.

There have been times when I’ve questioned if any Divine Creator or God really exists. Maybe we are all just here, just a byproduct of life, and will be as non-existent after death as we were before birth. Because what kind of God, who claims in the Christian Bible to BE love (1 John chapter 4, verses 7 & 8: ” …love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love”), what kind of loving and all-knowing God creates this world where SO MANY people will only know suffering? I think of the woman, born enslaved, “owned” and controlled her whole life, raped daily as if she is the personal property of her master, who died still enslaved – why? Or the child born into poverty, sick and malnourished from day one, who will never grow and thrive but die before puberty – why? Love brought this into being? How?

And then, there are times when I think I have heard the voice of God. Once I was out hiking in the Superstition Mountains in Arizona, all by myself and far from any town. I hadn’t seen another human for over an hour, and I was happily hopping from boulder to boulder while traveling up-stream to a swimming spot I’d read about in my hiking guide. I stopped to eat my lunch, and while sitting on a boulder under the hot Arizona sun, I received a message so strong, it was as if I heard a voice. It was more like I felt a voice, deep within my being, saying “Go back.” That’s all. No further explanation, but a very palpable message that I needed to turn back. And I did. Who knows what would have happened? I’ll never know.

Another time, I was sitting alone in agony, thinking about an upcoming reunion with dear friends from college, friends I had met in Australia and bonded with via partying and drinking. We were having a reunion, and I had just decided to give up alcohol for a period of time as a sacrifice to God (I can be a tad earnest sometimes lol). I was honestly terrified of how they’d react, since so much of our relationship seemed to be centered around drinking together (not in an unhealthy way, that’s just what we did to socialize and have fun). And I thought to myself, “I can’t do it!” And again, I nearly heard a voice, it was actually a sigh of exasperation, that seemed to say “I know! I’ll be there to help you!” And I summoned the courage, told my friends about my decision when we got together, and it was anti-climactic because they were super chill about it.

I’ve had other little experiences of internal dialogues that seemed to get timely responses from gusts of wind and other things of that nature. God, if they are out there, seems to reach out to me through Nature. Which makes sense, since God was incarnate in Nature before Yeshua bar Joseph was ever born. From the book of John chapter 1, verse 1 & 3: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (even mosquitoes? even viruses? Why, God?!)

So am I a Christian? I don’t know. I think so? Some days yes, some days no. I want to believe in an all-powerful being who created the universe out of Love and will one day reign supreme in love and will banish suffering forever. And I can admit that sometimes that does sound like a fairy tale we tell ourselves to give some meaning to this otherwise random little blip of life we get to live. And I admit that I have felt things and have had experiences that I can’t explain. There may be a biological, neurologic explanation that we haven’t discovered yet, for those divine experiences. We’ll see. I do take comfort in the fact that I am not alone in my doubts. Even great thinkers of the Christian faith have been atheists for periods of time, including CS Lewis and Madeline l’Engle, questionably even Mother Teresa herself. There are certainly Psalms within the Bible itself that question if God is really there.

God or no God, I think the question for me is, “how should I live my life?” Religion at its purest is supposed to give structure, give guidance, give direction and give hope. And the God in the Bible was always radical and progressive for the time period recorded. This God was shockingly forgiving, shockingly inclusive, shockingly protective of the mistreated and undervalued. This God is supposedly made of Love, an all-encompassing Love for all of Creation – human and otherwise.

So I will try to live a life of Love. Which is no easy calling. Humans can be real assholes sometimes. I struggle with loving my fellow humans, I struggle with being selfless vs self-centered, I struggle with being slow to anger and quick to forgive. I struggle to see the plank in my eye before noticing the speck in someone else’s. But if God is real, and if God is Love, this is what I must strive for. And if God isn’t real, well, living a life guided by Love is still a pretty good way to live and be a human.

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Open to Chaos

Recently, I read that some Native cultures celebrate the Spring Equinox the way white Americans celebrate New Year’s, with resolutions and goals and new beginnings. It makes much more sense to me. Let January be the worst month of the year as it is, dark and cold with winter nowhere close to ending. Not exactly the most inspiring time to drop weight, get fit, or tackle big projects. More like the time to cuddle up, snuggle in, and hibernate. Spring feels like such a natural time to start afresh, with the air getting soft again, the grass greening up, and the flowers and trees coming into bloom. We can all begin to grow again, after slumbering under the snow.

All that to say that I’m not doing New Year’s resolutions. However, I do like the optics of a fresh calendar – a clean, new year to mark up. It feels like a good time to look back, assess what has happened and what I’ve learned, and to gain clarity going forward.

I usually pick one word to focus on for each year, and for 2020 my word had been “content.” I was going into 2020 having been laid off for the first time in my life, having breathlessly landed at a new job with less pay, no more paid time off, and zero benefits. Between the loss of money and PTO, and still having two small children at home besides, I knew I was in for a quiet, homebody sort of year. We weren’t planning any big trips, and were bracing to tighten our belts.

And then covid hit! My mission to stay content got a fresh challenge. I found myself totally jobless and shut off from all my usual options for keeping the kids entertained. We managed fine all spring, summer and fall by staying outdoors as much as possible, playing in the backyard, at parks, and on a couple camping trips. I got together with friends for walks and bonfires to maintain my mental health and social life, and I got to practice savoring the small, daily joys.

For all the challenge that this year has brought, I have felt oddly content. I feel this like it’s a blanket someone else wrapped around me. It is an other-worldly feeling, not one of my own volition or control. God, the Universe, the Creator – someone/thing has blessed me with contentedness.

Being laid off again, and trying to start my own business without any initial, raving success, has given me a lot of time to think. I signed up for the doctorate level PT program as a high school senior, and have not deviated from that career path in the last 17 years. Suddenly, without an option to continue my career as usual for the time being, I find myself thinking outside this box for the first time. I am wide open to whatever the future may hold.

I feel like I am standing in the middle of an expansive prairie, deer paths shooting off in every direction. Maybe I lean into stay-at-home-motherhood more, getting involved in the kids’ schools and volunteering again, which I’ve missed. (And yes, I humbly recognize the high level of privilege I have to even consider that option, since I am married and my husband is currently making enough money to support us all.) Maybe I find another job, maybe I take a sharp left and try out a new field altogether. I want my business to take off, but it may not. Fortunately, I don’t feel that all my precious eggs are in that vulnerable basket. I have a naïve, unfounded confidence that something will work out or come up (the delusional bliss of an enneagram 7).

I feel very open in a spiritual sense too. This year has been extremely spiritually challenging for me. Watching all the ugliness in politics, the blatant hypocrisy of the Religious Right and evangelical church, and especially the racism that boiled over the surface this year, put me in a dark place. I’ve questioned God before, but I’ve never really questioned if there even is a God, until this year. If we suddenly got undeniable proof of whatever happens in the afterlife, or if an afterlife even exists or not, I don’t think I’d be shocked regardless. And that makes me feel open and excited, not foundationless or lost. I feel curious, creative, inspired, and content.

This year has been a global shit show in so many ways, yet there was also tons of beauty and love. I feel hopeful (on the days that I do – the dark days still sneak up on me, when I seriously wonder how we shitty humans will ever do anything right). I feel excited and motivated. I’m only in my mid-30s, too young for a mid-life anything, but this feels like the opposite of a mid-life crisis. I’m having a mid-life renaissance, a mid-life jubilee. Re-examing it all, finding a light (Love is my light), and holding each idea up to that light, twirling them around with open hands and observing with curious eyes. Not trying to prove or force any point. Discarding the useless, ugly, false, petty, boring and scripted. Embracing the awkward, brave and kind (thank you, Brene!). Embracing my individuality lived collectively, a small but important piece of the whole big picture. Embracing the whole human family, the common spark that unites every being, every good idea, every Truth.

Embracing the beautiful, the creative, the Real.

Embracing Love – demanding, relentless, all-inclusive, complete, far-reaching, difficult and rewarding Love.

Living open to chaos, determined to make something exquisite from it.

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Weary

The sky has been gray, gray, gray this past week in the PNW, and I always forget how much that affects me. I have been feeling glum, anxious, restless, and undone. I feel this mounting pressure of Christmas on the way, and knowing how different it will be this year makes me feel even more pressure to make it special for my kids. But my heart’s not in it. I can’t get myself to plan ahead, so all the activities that require reservations – the free carriage rides downtown, skating on the ice ribbon, etc – keep slipping out of my grasp.

I am usually optimistic, laid back and happy, so it’s unusual for me to feel weighed down. And yet I know that this is a perfectly normal way to feel right now, at the end of a long and difficult year, when COVID numbers only continue to get worse (practically all 50 states are in the Red (highest) risk zone right now according to NPR). I feel mounting annoyance at folks who don’t seem to be taking COVID seriously. That’s part jealousy since they’re gathering with friends and family when I’m not, and part judgement that they are part of the problem of why COVID is spiking and keeping me at home. I feel low-level rage at conspiracy theorists spewing lies and misinformation out there, wondering on one hand how people can be so gullible and on the other where my blind spots and naivety are.

I feel deep sadness for the 317,000 people in the US who have died from COVID, sadness for their families who will be trying to “celebrate the holidays” while the virus that killed their family member is still raging out of control. I feel lonely for my family who I’ve had to cancel trips to see and miss so much. I feel isolated from my local friends, as it seems like all of my closest friends are frontline workers who are extra risky to be around (and heroic badass women for doing their jobs in this time!).

I feel a weird sense of guilt for still being unemployed, working at becoming gainfully self-employed, and yet not having to stress about finances thanks to my husband’s job and some unexpected windfalls from inheritances and family generosity. I feel pressure to do more to be helping my community besides donating money to Meals on Wheels, the Union Gospel Mission, The Black Future Co-op Fund, the Loveland Foundation, the Minnesota Freedom Fund, Khan kids academy, Catholic Charities, Washington Community Action Network, and Legacy Collective (I list all these places not to toot my own horn but to share some amazing groups that are doing good work and could always use more financial support). I’m trying to shop local way more often, and eat out to support our local restaurants, but those are fun things for me and don’t feel that sacrificial. Which I guess is unnecessary – I have a weird hang-up from my churchy childhood that giving and serving have to be trying, difficult and/or demanding to “count.”

I was joking with a friend a while back in April, when the lock down still felt exotic and like an interesting project, that I’ve been training for this for the last 4 years. Since having my daughter, I’ve run the household around a tight nap/bedtime schedule, so unless I have a babysitter or my husband is home, I’m at home way more than in my childless days. That’s been hard, but I do it because I read sciencey parenting books, and am convinced on the huge importance for sleep and a predictable routine to raise healthy kids. So I’ve already practiced being content in this homebody phase of my life.

I do think that is serving me well, for both the practice of being content in an unsatisfying or challenging moment, and the realization that everything is temporary. That has been my parenting mantra: Every phase is temporary. Every barrier, restriction, worry and preoccupation belongs to a certain timeframe in my kids’ life and will be addressed or grown out of eventually. And that rings true for this gloomy weather and for this COVID pandemic. The sun will shine again; the pandemic will end.

But that certainly isn’t making the day-to-day struggle any easier. Life is just hard right now. Life will always be hard in varying ways and to different degrees, so we’re just getting more practice at being human I guess. Today I was able to get on the elliptical during the kids’ naptime, which always helps. I got cozy afterward with a cup of tea while writing this. Writing these blog posts always help to clarify and calm my mind. I’ve signed up for Yoga with Adriene’s 30 day yoga challenge starting in January, with the theme of “Breath.” I’ve been avoiding yoga for a while recently, since I feel too jittery to be holding so still, and I can’t listen to a podcast while following along like I do while doing cardio. My hamster brain has needed to be spinning on several wheels at once lately, which isn’t super healthy or sustainable. So I think it’s time to try to calm down and focus on my breath again.

So I guess the moral of the story is that life is hard, it’s ok to feel down about it, and it’s important to process those feelings, and to have strategies to get energized and content again. Getting stuck in the gloom and doom doesn’t serve anyone well, and pretending that everything is ok all the time is a delusion that will crack open at some point. I think we all get a lot more
“passes” right now to have off days, but I hope that each of us can find a way to move our bodies, to process our emotions, to reach out and connect with our community, and to practice being content, grateful, and mindful about this one precious life we know can go all too quickly. 317,000 Americans, and 1.7 million humans around the globe, have lost their turn at living a joy-filled life, so I don’t want to spend too much time being unhappy in my own little life.

Grace and peace to all of us trying to do this thing called life well.

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Fate vs Manifestation

I just finished the phenomenal The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd. It tells the story of Ana, a Middle Eastern woman from 2,000 years ago with a voice, a vision, and a powerful drive inside her to live her own life and story. There are many pieces of the book that are going to sit and resonate with me for a while, but this particular exchange between Ana and her aunt really struck me:

“‘Your vision means what you want it to mean. It will mean what you make it to mean.’ I stared at her, baffled, perturbed. ‘Why would God send me a vision if it has no meaning other than what I give to it?’ ‘What if the point of his sending it is to make you search yourself for the answer?'”

Sue Monk Kidd, The Book of Longings

Inner knowing, inner wisdom, manifesting. The whole concept of positive thinking, in my opinion, is equal parts woo-woo and legitimate. While I certainly think it sounds privileged and naïve to think that we can simply “think ourselves” into success, comfort, and happiness, I do believe that there is power to our intention.

Imagine really wanting a certain job or promotion, thinking yourself the perfect fit and highly qualified. You want the job so much you can taste it. Likely you will stride into that interview with a straight back, clear eyes, and with the utmost confidence and excitement. That energy comes through to the interviewer and you get the job. Or say there’s a new person who you feel drawn to and really want to befriend. You may fire up the charm and be extra witty when first talking to them to help solidify a connection.

And on the flip side, feeling insecure, unsure or lackadaisical about a job or relationship will also translate in your attitude, voice, posture and demeaner and will decrease the likelihood of success.

In my professional world, in the case of pain, often times people hurt simply because they expect to hurt. There’s a story of a construction worker who jumped down onto a plank and had a nail go right through his boot. Screaming in agony, he was taken to the ER and sedated. The doctors were shocked that, after removing his boot, the nail had not even scratched his skin. It went cleanly between his toes. He felt real, physical pain because he expected to feel pain, thinking a nail had gone through his foot, when in fact he was completely uninjured.

The woo-woo part that I think is dangerous in this line of thinking is the idea that all it takes is belief to make a dream come true. Positive thinking or good intentions doesn’t highlight the need for hard work, effort and commitment. That’s why I love the quote above – “What if the point of his sending it is to make you search yourself for the answer?”

Having a dream, a goal, a desire can light a fire in a person. It can overtake their thoughts, direct their actions, and influence their choices. And with an optimistic outlook, a sense of confidence, a firm belief in the success of the outcome, the chances of success seem bound to improve. There is some real science and data to back up the benefits of optimism, both in health and in financial/career success. Being optimistic about one’s future can predict success, and in the case of failure, helps us bounce back and redirect more quickly.

I don’t think there are any guarantees about anything in life. Unforeseen situations are bound to arise. But if you belief strongly enough, you can be flexible and adaptable, get creative and inventive and keep trying to work things to your advantage. The dream might shift, the goals may morph and the direction may change to go with the curveballs. And you learn that you set the definition for success yourself. “Success” is whatever you decide it to be. You are not bound by the current world’s definition of success. Your dream, your fulfilling, abundant, full life is unique to you.

So search yourself, dig deep for what drives you, set your sites on a goal, and be optimistic about achieving it! All while knowing that no matter how things work out, you can learn to be satisfied with your life as it is when you are living true to your self.

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Faith Like a Child

The other night, we were saying a prayer together and my daughter, who is 4, demanded quite firmly to God to “take the sickness away and take away all problems.” It made me think of the verse in the book of Matthew in the Bible where Jesus is talking and says, “if you don’t turn your lives around and become like this little child, you will definitely not enter the kingdom of heaven” (matthew 18:3).

What are little children like? They are curious, demanding, eager and empathetic. My kids are so curious. My son is constantly upending boxes and containers, turnings things around and exploring the objects in his little world. He puts things in his mouth to learn how they feel and taste. He throws them across the room to see what will happen. My daughter is heavy in a science phase right now, and performs “experiments” in the bathroom that mostly involve filling up every container she can find with water and adding food coloring. Sometimes she convinces me to freeze the bowls of colored water to further the experiment. (She also narrates what she’s doing to her “mirror friend” – it’s seriously cute)

My kids are demanding. They fully expect that their needs will be met the moment they feel them. The instant they are hungry, they demand I feed them and don’t like to wait. Thirsty, needing the toilet or a hug – same story. They are aware of their needs, and expect their caretakers to fulfill them in short order. Beyond their needs, they frequently demand things they want out of life as well – to go to the park, build a fort, read this book, play that game.

My kids are eager. They are filled with energy and seem ready to enjoy all that life has to offer. They will sit still, to play with legos, craft, or read books, but they are always trying to draw joy, fun and satisfaction out of life.

And they are empathetic. My son has a book that goes through various emotions that people feel, with pictures of kids looking happy, sad, embarrassed or angry. He flips through that book and kisses all the kids who are sad, embarrassed, and angry. He is a tender little guy, constantly hugging and kissing all the stuffies in our house. He gives kisses to our carved pumpkins; I’ve even seen him kiss the floor and the wall! My daughter recognizes emotions in others as well, and gets sad thinking about other people who are sad. She has an innate drive to want to help, to alleviate the suffering of others, often offering to share half the brownies we’ve baked with our neighbor friends.

So having a childlike faith to me doesn’t mean blind acceptance and faith without intellect, as I think that sentiment gets interpreted often. Kids ask a million questions, they want to know everything! To me, a childlike faith is one that is self-aware, confident in the love of our Heavenly Father/Mother, and forceful in demanding that our own needs and those of others are met. It is feeling the pain of others, realizing that we are all connected, and somehow knowing that when one of us (humanity) is suffering, it hurts all of us.

(Just to ensure that you don’t walk away thinking I have actual angels for children, know that they are definitely working on sharing and the benefits of bringing joy to others instead of hoarding it all for themselves ;))

And just like with my actual children, those demands and needs aren’t always met right away or at all. Sometimes I tell them to wait to eat when they are hungry, because it is not yet a mealtime. Often they do not get the activity or thing they are demanding (lately my daughter keeps insisting that we build her a tree-fort in the backyard…). Sometimes the reason I say no is explained to them, other times it is not. They don’t always understand, usually because they can’t see the big picture that I am considering.

But holding it all up is the firm belief on their part, and actual Truth on my end, that they are loved. That they are worthy of having needs and having those needs be met. And that being in their position of privilege where their basic needs are always met requires them to look out and see who’s needs are going unmet, and to ask how they can help. I believe that is the childlike faith that Jesus requires of us all.

So let’s all keep demanding that “the sickness” (covid19) be gone, and keep trying to draw joy and fulfillment from this one, brief burst of life that we are gifted to live.

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Whew

Man oh man. That was a very stressful week on top of a stressful year. 2020 is no freaking joke. I felt tension in my chest all week watching the election news slowly trickling in. We just found out this morning that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the election and will be our next President and Vice President.

I’ve been ecstatic all morning. Crying, smiling, dancing, screaming, shimmying and shaking. It feels like such a RELIEF to be almost done with the Trump Presidency. And I am a white person. The accounts of people of color I follow were all in tears as they finally get to feel safer in their own skin. They will no longer have a President who garners the support of white supremacists and tells Proud Boys to “stand by.” Transgender people can feel safer without getting banned from participation in being a full citizen. Did you know that more trans folks have been violently murdered this year than any other year on record?? Muslims can take a breath of fresh air knowing they won’t be banned from America again. Immigrants will be able to stop looking over their shoulders wondering if another raid is coming. Victims of domestic violence can get their full protection back under the law. LGTBQ people can stop feeling under attack from the highest seats in office.

America can take a deep breath and step forward.

I found myself wanting to say “Thank God” that Trump has lost. But do you know what? I really don’t think God is all that invested in American politics. The God of the Universe, who has been around since before time began, who has seen thousands of empires rise and fall, rise and fall, isn’t American. God isn’t a republican or a democrat. God sees all of humanity, Americans, Middle Easterners, Africans, Europeans, Asians, Antarcticans? (scientists, haha) all as God’s beloved creation, as God’s children.

This God I believe in cares about all of humanity and wants to see everyone thriving and living lives of safety, joy and peace. I imagine that God is happy when we take steps in that direction. God has, for whatever reason, seemingly limited their power to working through the hands and feet of actual humans living on the planet at any given time. It’s up to us to push the needle forward, to make sure the long arc keeps bending toward justice, to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven here on this earth.

I don’t think I’m being overly dramatic to say the Trump Presidency was a clear step in the opposite direction from that glorious future. His constant bullying, ridiculing of people with different abilities, pettiness, xenophobia, closed arms and tight fists, selfishness, greed, and division revealed a lot of ugliness still present in humanity today, in white Americans in particular. White America is still the overwhelming majority group in this country, and we narrowly voted Trump in in 2016 and narrowly voted him out now. The forces of temptation, that want to hold tight to power, that act as if there isn’t enough prosperity and goodness to go around, as if we are splitting a pie and wanting to hoard the pieces; they are strong. The fear of change, the fear of humbling oneself in order to think of the greater good, the fear of the “other” is very real.

I’ve been fighting hard to maintain decency toward Trump supporters. I do believe that we are all trapped in a bad system, one that is overly binary with only two choices to pick from, and that cunning men have spent lots of years and lots of dollars manipulating voters to think that Christians should all be voting in one particular way. I’m hopeful that the messiness of the last few years will allow us to usher in some creativity and change. America hasn’t given ourselves an update in a while, and we’re overdo. Things were changed in the past (I literally learned that the VP used to be whoever got 2nd most voters from watching Hamilton!), and it seems high tide to adapt again to our current population and situations. Hopefully we can find a better way to vote, a better party system, and a way to better represent all of America’s diversity in Congress, Senate and the Supreme Court.

We’ve got work to do. And I think God is counting on us to do it. It is humanities’ job to be God’s hands and feet and to make this world a better place for ALL who dwell here. Godspeed.

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My Best Life

I’m periodically checking in to this online faith conference that is live this weekend. I got to hear Jeff Chu ask a question along the lines of: “Have our imaginations also fallen victim to the evils and suffering present in the world?”

He was asking, what are we living for? What good thing do we desire and want out of life, other than to avoid bad things happening.

The question really hit me, because I often operate like I’m always nervous for the other shoe to drop. When things are going well and I have no big complaints, I’m always nervous to jinx it. Suffering seems completely inevitable, and I believe it is, so I often live just hoping to avoid suffering. My prayers even look like that – “Please protect us from harm, keep my family safe, keep us healthy…”

If I unleash my imagination and dare to dream big for the opposite of suffering, what would that look like?

Research shows us that we are more motivated by a positive goal than by avoiding a negative consequence. Working to avoid suffering is not fulfilling or motivating to our lives. Trying to stay healthy because you are afraid of getting sick is not the best way to stick to healthy habits.

My positive, motivating, rewarding life looks like this: It is full of friendships. Both deep and surface level. I love people. I just read recently that people who participate in small talk, chatting in the checkout line, are happier overall. Human beings are built for community and connection, no matter how surface level and frivolous it may be at times. My best life is full of people. It’s (currently) going for walks, backyard dinners and bonfire dates. It’s Skype and phone calls.

My best life is full of family. My husband and I are loving and affectionate with each other, still making time to talk and cuddle. Our current scenario involves lots of interruptions as we save the kids from themselves and each other mid-sentence often, but we try. In my best life, I am mindful and present with my kids and get so much joy watching them grow and develop.

My best life is one in which I run a thriving business. By thriving, I mean keeping 16 hours a week full of patients at this moment in time. I’m not looking to see as many patients as possible and make as much money as I can. I’m looking to fill two days a week with patients, to help people get out of pain and dizziness and improve their function. My job is very rewarding, and I love having time at home with my kids while they are as young as they are. My best life maintains my version of a work/life balance, which currently is low on the work and high on the family time.

My best life gets me outside as much as possible. Whether simply in the backyard or at the park with my kids, or more adventurously going camping and hiking. Ideally, it’s traveling to new places (once that’s feasible again).

My best life involves lots of books. I love to read and am always interested in new topics. I gravitate toward non-fiction the most these days, but still get sucked in my a great novel here and there. In my best life, my brain is always stretching and growing, making new connections. I give myself permission to ask difficult, challenging, scary questions and see where they lead me.

My best life is one in which I respect myself and my body, treat it well with healthy decisions. No starving, dieting or guilt tripping, but a loving embrace of who I am and what I look like. It’s eating well because that makes me feel well. It’s exercising because that takes care of my mind, my body, and my emotions, and because that gives me more energy and more life to do the things I want.

My best life involves more dancing than I currently practice. Dancing is fun, energizing, athletic, a great way to work off stress, and did I say fun? I’m motivated to dance more.

My best life creates more opportunity for others. In my best life, I want folks around me, especially folks who don’t look like me, to have the same opportunities to live their best lives. I’m motivated to actively work toward civic liberties and equity for all so my privileges are not unique to my skin tone. In my best life, the people around me are thriving as well. My best life is not made easier through the subjugation of others. I don’t get to buy cheap clothes because someone made them in a sweatshop while getting taken advantage of. I make amends for the history of my people stealing land and stealing labor to get where we are today. It’s not a pie. There are enough pieces to go around – enough talent, enough resources, enough money, enough skill, enough goodness. There really are.

And more dancing 🙂

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Fighting for Optimism

Something good did happen this year, in this cursed 2020. In fact, several good things happened and to save myself from giving up on humanity, I have decided to list them. These are all my own personal joys; I’m sure there are some societal positives out there, but I don’t have the energy to go digging, and digging would be necessary.

#1 My son has started talking. He has the sweetest little voice, and his growing vocab is so fun to observe. “Mailman!” is his most frequently screamed word (he’s obsessed, and is going to be a mailman for Halloween, with an official USPS costume and everything!). “Kank you,” is my favorite phrase of his, which he says often.

#2 One of my absolute best friends, who had moved away years ago, has moved back in town! We get to hug and dance and have play dates with our kids! It’s amazing!

#3 Friends of ours who have struggled with infertility for years have conceived and heard their baby’s heartbeat! Hallelujah!

#4 Aside from one awful week, we had a blissfully smoke-free summer in the PNW and got to enjoy lots of outdoor time. I took the early days of my unemployment to go on loooong, long walks while the kids napped/TV’d and my husband was working from home. Those long walks in the early spring/summer days, listening to encouraging, informative, and/or thought-provoking podcasts gave me a lot of life.

#5 Stemming from #4 and from being out in the yard so often, we’ve become friends with more of our neighbors! Two families in particular, with young kids close to our kids age, have been so great to get to know. It is super convenient to have fun people to hang out with within walking distance of our house 🙂

#6 My husband’s business is picking up a lot of momentum and looks to have its best year to date. It’s been so encouraging to watch all his hard work starting to pay off.

#7 My son finally got his molars, which honestly makes feeding him so much easier. He was super late getting teeth, so it’s extra appreciated now that he’s got them.

#8 I’ve been making new friends from starting my own business. Networking can be exhausting and overwhelming at times, but I’ve become actual friends with people I’ve met, which is a real treat. Making friends as an adult with someone you truly choose to make the effort with is so fulfilling.

#9 Opening my clinic has changed my mindset, invigorated me in my desire to learn and grow within my profession, and sparked my creativity in ways I didn’t anticipate. As Brené Brown perfectly says, “You’ll also wonder how you can feel so brave and so afraid at the same time. At least that’s how I feel most of the time…Brave, afraid, and very, very alive.”

#10 I finally got my pop-up camper that I’ve been wanting since the minute we got pregnant with our first child (over 4 years ago). It’s been on two maiden voyages now, and it is the best. I get so excited thinking about the trips we’ll take all over the Pacific Northwest and beyond with this baby.

#11 My daughter’s personality is emerging more and more, and is such a delight to watch. She is so creative, loves crafting and has illustrated multiple books now, and is trying to be funny (her one joke is “How do you make a tissue dance? Put a little boogey in it!” and is getting hard to keep laughing at with any semblance of genuine laughter). She overhears us listening to NPR and made her own “black people matter” signs for the yard without any prompting. She loves her brother, is affectionate, reasonable (as in, I can reason with her using logic and she can put off instant gratification), brave, friendly, and has the attention span to listen to 200+ page chapter books read aloud to her.

#12 The avocado tree that my daughter and I grew from an ordinary, grocery store avocado seed is THRIVING! Which is a huge relief, because I put a ton of pressure on that little seed to be the symbolic foreshadowing of how my fledgling new business would do. It’s looking like a good omen so far!

2020 has been rough. Personally, societally, and globally. I am normally an obnoxious optimist, and even I have struggled with staying positive or hopeful. I’ve honestly had some of the darkest thoughts/moments that I can recall in my life. But I keep telling myself that humanity has been through some rough waters before and made it through. Somewhere I heard or read (maybe it was Lisa Sharon Harper?) that we are witnessing the death throes of white supremacy. One can only hope. Fingers crossed that 2021 takes a massive pivot for the better.

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Can we talk?

Can we have a real conversation, genuinely listening and seeking to understand each other, one in which we don’t both necessarily see eye to eye yet can manage to stay civil? Because that is possible, you know. Please comment below or reach out to me personally so I can hear your side.

I would like to talk about voting, as a Christian, and abortion.

Yeah.

I was discussing a conversation a friend of mine had recently, in which the person said, “We [Christians] have one platform: defend innocent life – so end abortion…Biblically, abortion is the only thing a Christian should be concerned with.”

May I gently, kindly, disagree? As a fellow, life-long Christian, I believe that there are many platforms which we should care about, politically, and that abortion doesn’t fit the #1 spot. There are a number of reasons, and I would like to clarify that I am all for ending abortions. I don’t want to see them be a part of our reality, and am not at all encouraging casual abortions by any means. I would also never vilify anyone who made or is making that choice, because there many reasons why we all do what we do, and I believe in grace for all.

My #1, which I derive from Jesus’ own self-proclaimed #1 command, is to love God, and to love my neighbor. Now, that is a broad command. It doesn’t boil down to one action or stance. It means a lot of things. And certainly, protecting the unborn is an act of love. And yet, that is one small piece of the “love your neighbor” puzzle.

Jesus also made it quite clear that our neighbor is every person. We are all neighbors. So the refugee is my neighbor, the immigrant is my neighbor, my political opponents are my neighbor, guns rights activists are my neighbor, pacifists are my neighbor, criminals are my neighbor, gay people are my neighbor, every color of person is my neighbor, and babies are my neighbor. I need to be loving them all, and one way I can do that is to protect their rights and stop discrimination and harassment against them as much as I am (feebly, it feels) able to from the voting booth.

So I would certainly push back against this idea that a Christian’s #1 concern in voting is to be abortion. The Bible’s official stance, if you want to go there, is that life begins at the breath. That’s all they understood of science at the time. The conservative church’s official stance (look it up ) prior to the 1970s, was that life began at breath (birth). Even after Roe v Wade, the official evangelical position was to support the option of abortion for cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity, and threats to the mother’s emotional, mental or physical health.

If you take even a brief glance back in evangelical (my background) church history, you will see that the church didn’t care much about abortion until the formation of the Religious Right. While fighting to stop integration at schools (you read that right, while fighting to keep private, Christian schools racially segregated), they realized they had some political clout when working together as an evangelical voting bloc. Abortion became the new rallying cry to get evangelicals to vote together as a pack, and “pro-life” became the token you needed to get elected by that group.

So, I’m not saying that Christians shouldn’t care about abortion. Of course not. But know your history, and realize that you may be getting played. No one you vote for has any power to change laws about abortion. Congress can’t do that, Senators can’t do that, the President can’t do that. Yes, the President appoints judges, who do control the laws, and the President can pick pro-life judges, but ultimately it is the judge’s call (who you aren’t voting for). And if you truly care about ending abortion, there are better ways to do that besides voting for someone who doesn’t actually hold that within their power.

Again, the thought of abortion saddens me deeply, and I would love to see a world in which they aren’t happening. Teaching actual sex-ed (not abstinence only) helps lower abortions. Having financial support for families, single mothers, and daycare decreases the desperation that drives someone to get an abortion. There are many, complex, nuanced reasons that people get abortions, so the solutions are many, complex, and nuanced. Let’s tackle more of those.

It’s harder work.

It’s not as easy as casting a vote and never thinking about it again until the next election.

How much do you really care?

Voting is complicated. There are lot of factors to weigh. It should be that way. Boiling it down to one issue is doing your civic duty a great disservice. Unless I myself run for office and vote for myself, I will likely never vote for a candidate that I agree 100% with. I go through a list of issues that I hold dear and weigh the candidates’ stances on each of those to make my choice. It’s a balancing act.

Again, please reach out and share your thoughts if they are different than mine. I can handle a tough conversation. I think we need to be having more of those. I’m open to new ideas. But please, please, vote and take it seriously this fall. Do your research, on candidates and on issues themselves. One resource I love is Pantsuit Politics (a podcast). They periodically do “primers” on different issues and go through the history and nuanced details. Or find a resource you like. Make your vote an educated one that you can truly stand behind.

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Musical Thoughts

I’ve been reading a very nerdy book on neuroscience lately, called The Brain’s Way of Healing, by Norman Doidge. It’s been fascinating on many levels, both professionally (in my role as a physiotherapist) and personally. Our bodies and our brains are so amazing!

In one part of the book, he was discussing the question “Where, exactly, are our thoughts/ideas/emotions/memories located?” As in, does the brain have a literal file cabinet where specific cells are dedicated to store specific memories? Is the brain a big computer with enough RAM to store all our experiences?

The answer is NO, and there are multiple theories as to how memories and thoughts are actually stored. One theory which I LOVED that has captured my attention for days now, is that thoughts/ideas/emotions/memories are not statically stored in a physical location in the brain, but rather happen when all the neurons responsible for those thoughts/ideas/emotions/memories fire together.

He used the analogy of an orchestra. One memory isn’t the cello player, another thought the violinist, another idea the trumpet player. Rather, every thought/idea/emotion/memory is a song played by the whole orchestra. Individually, neurons are all separate musicians, and when they act together they create the song, which is the thought/idea/emotion/memory.

I thought this was so absolutely beautiful. Our brains are making music, creating a song that tells the story of our life and experience. It was inspirational for me to think about, and to ask myself what type of song was my brain making? There are times when my brain is a punk rocker (usually that’s when I’m thinking about politics), times when I’m making a folk song (anytime I’m outside enjoying nature), times when I run toward flamenco and Spanish guitar (while cooking, relaxing and reading), or the alternative rock set (backyard hangouts with friends).

What we think, what we notice, what we feel, what we attune to changes our experience. In psychology, there is a concept called the facial feedback hypothesis, which says that our body (in terms of the muscles of our face) will directly effect our emotions. So if you frown, you will actually feel crankier. If you smile, despite not feeling happy in the moment, you will begin to feel happier. I am sure that our thoughts have this same effect. Think calm, happy thoughts and feel calmer. Think angry, ranting, frustrating thoughts, and feel angry.

There is so much in life that we have no control over. No control over the environment, the weather, other people’s decisions (hugely apparent right now as we debate how we’re all handling the covid19 pandemic), changes to our health, etc etc. But we have more power than we realize to control how we respond to our circumstances. Our thoughts can be powerful.

What song are you writing with your brain?

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Look Up

My family went camping this past weekend. Far away from the city’s lights, the night sky was inky black. We got lucky with a cloudless night, and the stars were popping out of the sky.

The kids had (finally) fallen asleep in the camper, and my husband and I got to sit out by the dwindling campfire and stargaze. There had been a meteor shower earlier in the week, and maybe it was residual meteors still flying around, but we saw 6 shooting stars! Some were quite bright and covered some distance before sparking out.

It got me thinking: there’s a likely chance that every night while I’m sitting on the couch in front of Netflix (or, more likely Disney+ for Hamilton!), there are shooting stars lighting up the sky above my house. While I’m doing the dishes, cleaning up the kids’ toys, washing up, reading my book, going to bed: celestial beauty flying around overhead.

It’s so easy for life to feel humdrum, to fall into a groove, and think that nothing special is happening. Even when things are good, the routine sets in quickly. Especially now, when everything seems negative (the pandemic, a deeper cultural reckoning of racism, Trump, the upcoming election etc), it can be easy to forget the beauty that is all around us. When really, it’s flying by overhead every night. We just need to take the time to look up.

I remember, back when I was young and cool and got to travel the world during college, I went SCUBA diving in Fiji. A whole new world was opened up to me. I felt like an intruder on another planet or in a magical new dimension. I was spying on a huge school of fish that turned and encircled me in a mesmerizing dance to the music of the stars. My astonished eyes roamed over the most intricate, delicate sculptures of coral that burst out in huge fanned formations from large rocks and underwater canyons. I almost gasped and lost my life line when one of the Fijians pointed out some coral that changed color when “tickled” by agitating the water around it. For deep sea companions, there were fish colored with a rainbow paintbrush, sea cucumbers, and electric blue starfish. I stood on the ocean floor at 15 meters below the surface and gawked like a tourist.

Millions of people will go their entire lives without ever experiencing the ocean depths the way I did. That complete oblivion strikes me as profound. Here was this entire world that I had never known existed. All this wonder and beauty and music had been there every day, and I was totally unaware.

The world is still a mess. Pain and evil still exist, and at the same time, we can try to see past the suffering to an underwater world of wonder and joy. Signs of beauty and love are all around us, hidden in the obvious, buried under the daily grind. I feel it in the sunshine on my face and a soft breeze while walking from my car into work. I hear it in my children’s giggles, the rustling of the wind in the trees, and the wind chimes from my neighbor’s porch. I smell it in the spring lilacs, in smoke from a campfire, in my baby’s soft skin.

Beauty, joy, humor, peace, love. They are always present somewhere. Sometimes, it’s as simple as taking the time to look up.

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Strength in Numbers

{Sigh} 2020 is the actual worst. We all know this. I don’t need to list the reasons why, but one of them is that I have been laid off (again!) Never in my wildest thoughts did I think that I, as a physical therapist, would be laid off twice in the span of 8 months. But, covid19.

After reaching out to employers, doing the job searches, joining the job community fairs (virtually, of course), and collecting the unemployment, it became apparent that I was not getting hired any time soon this time around. There simply haven’t been jobs out there for a PT in my region. Unemployment has worked out for our family, and we’ve been able to stay afloat with the added funds from the CARES act, but the clock was running on that.

I am known for loudly and emphatically saying that I would NEVER want to own my own PT clinic. My husband suggested I think about it years ago, and I firmly said no thank you, sir. Who would want the stress of dealing with insurance, billing, and marketing when I could just show up to work every morning, treat my patients, type up my notes, and go home? But with the lack of job options on the horizon, and the need (and desire) to work still very much present, my mind started to go there.

About 5 years ago, I had taken a continuing education class on Chronic Pain. It was heavily based in the latest neuroscience, and argued that we as a society and a medical community still have a poor understanding of pain. Tissue damage does not equal pain, but most people, medical professionals included, tend to still think and act that way. It was a mind-blowing course, I geeked out all weekend, took a ton of notes, and felt that we were really missing the point the way we were currently treating people for chronic pain. But I went back to work and didn’t know what to do with it, since the approach the class argued we should take would look very different from traditional PT. Much less hands-on manual work, and much more talking, teaching, and getting to the roots of the problem.

Fast forward to getting laid off this past March, seeing that there weren’t going to be job options for a long time, and starting to think out of the box. What if I could open my own clinic, focused on a different approach to treating chronic pain? I could dive in deep and really mix it up, tackling this complex, complicated issue from a more holistic approach. Running my own clinic, I could allow things to look different from traditional PT.

I started looking into it. First I looked to see if anyone else in Spokane was doing this. I stumbled across a few other wellness groups. One clinic is run by an ARNP who has become a friend and mentor, and who strongly encouraged me to go for it and open my own place. So I reached out to former co-workers, gals who handled the insurance side of things. And the strong message I got from them was DON’T DO IT. Don’t work with insurance, it’ll be too much for you to handle by yourself, you’d need to hire someone right away to manage it all. You’ll be on hold for 45-minutes for every patient, calling all of their individual plans to verify benefits only to get obtuse, confusing answers, and end up seeing them without dotting some i or crossing some t that will mean you won’t get paid for the work you already did.

Ok. Yikes.

A friend from PT school sent me info on cash-based PT, with articles, blogs and resources to go out-of-network. This looked more promising. I could see patients and bill them directly, get paid upfront, and the patients could send in my bill to be reimbursed via their out-of-network benefits. There are successful PT clinics doing this around the country, in big cities and rural towns.

My next Google search pulled up the other cash-based PT clinics in the area. There were 2. I knew the woman, a former co-worker, running one of them, who reiterated that I should not work with insurance if I wanted to run my own place. I reached out to the other cash-based PT owner, who immediately offered to mentor me, answered ALL the questions I blitzed her way while she was on vacation, no less, and set up a video chat for when she returned from vacation.

Ok. I’m doing this.

Things start coming together. I reach out to a woman who runs her own acupuncture clinic that I had frequented as a patient, and she is happy to let me share space with her and work on the days she isn’t there. She is super chill and doesn’t mind if I share her furniture and treatment table, or hang posters in “her” room of the last 10 years. Her landlord immediately agrees to let me sublease, and she herself is an ARNP who used to run a wellness clinic out of the building and is really excited about what I’m trying to do.

Website made, business license acquired, business bank account opened, malpractice insurance secured, documentation system figured out, marketing begun.

I set a Grand Opening date for the first week of August. Now it looks like I own, run, manage and treat in my own PT clinic! Wahoo! NONE of this would have been remotely possible without the help of an army of people. The whole “self-made man” is such a myth. I guarantee you that any successful anyone did not get there without the help of others. I am so grateful to have friends, coworkers, mentors and a supportive spouse to have helped make this a reality. And I’m grateful to The Octonauts for entertaining my daughter while my son napped so I could get any work done during the day.

Earlier this year, my daughter and I attempted to grow an avocado tree from the seed of an avocado we had eaten, a regular, non-organic grocery store avocado. I do not possess a green thumb, so my hopes were not high. And shockingly, it worked! The seed cracked open, a sweet little root started working its way out, the crack split the seed from top to bottom, the tentative stem started to reach for the sky, and as of today, it has 3 leaves!! I’ve taken it as an omen. That little seed that I did not think would do anything has turned into a tree. And my little clinic, which I opened out of desperation, a lack of options, and a prayer, will hopefully Flourish into something strong and nourishing and beautiful.

(I would be remiss not to ask you to check me out if you live in the Spokane area and have any PT needs! 😉 FlourishPhysicalTherapyandWellness.com)

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It’s Complicated

Life has felt more than a little crazy as of late. We’re still fighting a pandemic, which people have seemed to stop caring about. We are seeing the largest rise of racial justice protests and movement I’ve ever witnessed in my life, both across every state in the US and in countries around the world! That is both exciting and depressing that it took the murder of another undeserving person of color to get people to finally care enough to do something. We’re coming up to a Presidential election which is always its own special kind of crazy. We’re still in an economic crisis. Whew.

As I’ve been getting more and more engaged with politics and civil issues, I’ve found a very tempting tendency, which I have certainly fallen into many times, of over-simplifying things. It’s mentally easy to make things black and white, good and evil, right and wrong with no in-betweens, no gray zones. I’ve never used the n-word, so I’m not racist. I’m a Christian, so I vote Democrat (in my case; I think for a lot of people it’s the reverse). Welfare recipients are taking advantage of the system. Immigrants are bad/dangerous/stealing our jobs. When in reality, it’s never that simple.

Especially as I’ve learned more and more about racism in the US, I’ve been blown away by how ingrained and complex it can be. One of the podcasts or books I’ve read on the topic said that racism is the air we breath in the US. It can be hard to see, hard to define, and hard to identify when we’ve grown up here, especially as white people. But it is a very complicated topic and history. Do the research.

As a Christian, I’ve grown up reading the Bible. I’ve read the whole thing multiple times and many books several times. I haven’t been to seminary and I don’t have a degree in theology or Biblical studies, but I’ve been reading lots of books by people who have. They have taught me that the Bible is complicated. The many different books (66) are written by many different authors in many different writing styles (poetry, history, prophetic, personal letters) and in more than one language. Each book was written to a specific group of people in a specific era with a specific lived experience that would have common knowledge within itself which is no longer common knowledge to us today. The Bible was not written to or for modern day Americans. It’s not trying to answer all the questions we may have with today’s mind. It was very preoccupied with its own questions (most notably how to explain the exile of the Jewish people to Babylon, did God abandon them? Etc etc) So the stories, the meaning, the implications – it’s all complicated. We miss out on a lot when we don’t do the research.

I understand the desire to make things simple. Life is crazy, busy, difficult, stressful, and complicated as it is. In addition to the entire first paragraph above, we all have our own personal issues, drama, family problems, health problems, financial stress etc. Life is hard! It can be equally beautiful, but it is hard! So it’s nice to take the easy way, to not do the extra research or searching or thinking, and go with the pre-formed ideas that come out of whatever package we ascribe to. I get it. I’ve done it.

The truth is, in very every single issue in politics, in religion, and in life, things are complicated! I’ve been reading a fantastic book on politics called I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening) by Sarah Stewart Holland & Beth Silvers. They do such an amazing job of discussing politics from each side of the traditional aisle (Sarah from the Left and Beth from the Right) and doing so in a nuanced, grace-filled, amicable way. Their book is the closest thing to therapy I’ve ever read. It’s pointed out areas that I’ve fallen back on talking the party talk. They bring up many examples of different political hot-topics – welfare, trade, healthcare, abortion, etc  – and show how truly complicated these issues often are. I certainly have not done all the research to fully understand many if not all of these topics. I have “formed hardened opinions on subjects without understanding them.”

We all only have so much mental energy, so much time, so much brain power. It is necessary and ok to prioritize and have boundaries. What I’ve been realizing is that I need to keep my mouth shut more often when I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I don’t have the right to get into heated conversations if I haven’t done the research. And I should be doing the research more often. We live in the nirvana age of access to information. I can do a quick google search on my phone, make sure I’m looking at a trusted source (and hopefully a few), and learn some background on a topic. The ladies who wrote the book I’m reading have a podcast called Pantsuit Politics, in which they’ve done several “primers” on complicated political topics to give people the background knowledge in 20-30 min sessions. There are books and podcasts on any topic you care about that make it easier to learn from someone else who has done the deep dive.

I think if I, and more of us, could stay calm when discussing current events and politics, and could stay open and humble, we could enjoy a much more friendly atmosphere. Staying humble allows us to truly care about the person we’re talking to, to remember that they are in fact fully human and deserving of dignity, even when we don’t agree, and to listen with curiosity before jumping to respond. Staying open allows us to dig down to the root issues of why people think the way they do and find that maybe there is some common ground that has translated into different courses of action.

I’ll be honest. I’ve truly struggled with understanding anyone who supports President Trump. I see him act in ways completely counter to what I value as a Christian and as a decent human being. They are too many to list here. He’s one of the few people that I truly find despicable. However, I know people who voted for him. The people I know personally who voted for Trump are good, loving people. They volunteer and spend their time and money helping others. Again, it’s complicated. I’ve seen a lot of people unfriending and unfollowing people they disagree with or who vote differently than they do. I think that is so dangerous. The more we cancel each other out, the more set in our ways we all get.

Let’s try to find a way to have healthy conversations again. Let’s stop villainizing the “other side.” Let’s remember the full humanity of everyone we’re talking too. People are complicated, motivations are complicated, issues are complicated. Let’s stop taking the easy, lazy way and actually do a little research. Actually learn about the issues and the history. It’s always more complicated than it seems. Maybe your stance doesn’t change, but at least you get more sympathetic to other viewpoints. I think if we can practice true listening, humble hearts, and open minds, we can change the ugly state of US politics. And especially with an election coming up, that is my deepest prayer.

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To My Fellow White People

I grew up in a suburb of Chicago. It was an insulated upbringing. My world was white. White staff at school, white classmates, white pastors at church, white friends. There was some diversity, but little enough that it was very noticeable. I never had to think about race. I fully assumed that my culture was just “normal life.” Anything else was “ethnic,” “exotic,” “other.”

My mom worked for the local police department for a period of time, so I knew some of the officers on a first name basis, and would roll my eyes if they pulled me over while driving around with my friends, knowing they wanted to scope out us high school girls. Never once worried about the results of such an encounter.

I would go for long, long bike rides down miles of suburban and country roads. I would jog around the local lake by myself. I would have friends over regularly for bonfires. We’d sneak around in the dark to TP each other’s houses. I worked as a lifeguard at the lake, and various other fast-food jobs throughout high school. Never once worried about my skin putting me in danger.

I went away to Marquette University in Milwaukee and finally encountered more diversity. Not really within my classes at MU, which was still predominantly white. But through the neighborhood, through volunteering with groups like Big Brother/Big Sister and different soup kitchens and after-school tutoring programs. I noticed the differences in Milwaukee’s communities of people of color, noticed the fear of wandering too far off campus into the “dangerous” outlying neighborhood.

I was fortunate to have been paired with a random, freshman roommate who became a sister for life. Her family was from India, and through her I ended up joining the Indian Student Association on campus, and participated in their cultural events and dance shows. I learned a Diwali candle dance and Bharatanatyam style dances. Most importantly, I was exposed to a huge friend group of people who mostly did not look like me. And, still ignorant to my white privilege, I remember thinking how FUN it was to be the only white person at some of our parties, and how cool I felt. Not realizing that for a lot of my new friends, the experience of being the only brown person in the room a majority of the time could be alienating and exhausting.

I traveled farther away for one semester to Melbourne, Australia, and there I made friends from all over the world. I made lots of friends from Australia, but also from Malaysia, Mexico, Japan, Canada, Germany, France, the Philippines, and lots of fellow Americans from around the States. And I began to appreciate the absolute beauty that comes from diversity, from seeing humanity in all it’s beautiful, colorful, varied, fascinating and messy differences. I was in the minority again, this time for being a Christian. Australia is very atheist, and there is a strong presence of Islam from different ethnic groups. I was beginning to see more of what my identity meant beyond “the norm.” The way I lived and acted, ate and worshipped was not the norm for most of the rest of the world.

Fast forward to young adulthood. I’ve gotten more political, started paying better attention really to the world around me. And the terrifying reality of white supremacy was showing itself to me. I started watching the sickening pattern in the news:

Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd.

I started reading books:

When They Call You a Terrorist by Asha Bandelle and Patrisse Cullors

The Warmth of Other Sun’s by Isabel Wilkerson

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

Raising White Kids by Jennifer Harvey

Defining Moments in Black History by Dick Gregory

Me and the White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad

Seven Sisters and a Brother: Friendship, Resistance, and Untold Truths Behind Black Student Activism in the 1960s

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Granny

Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God by Kaitlin Curtice

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkens

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

So You Want to Talk about Race By Ijeoma Oluo

The Wrong End of the Table: A Mostly Comic Memoir of a Muslim Arab American Woman Just Trying to Fit In by Ayser Salman.

I started to learn more about the full history of our country. Of course I’d always known that white Europeans came over and wiped out the Indians, ended up kidnapping and stealing people away from their homeland in Africa to work as slaves, and established America. But SO MUCH got glossed over, and not fully examined in that history and the long-reaching after effects it has had on the very fabric and nature of this country.

There is a lot of history there and a lot to learn. And white people don’t have to bother since we are often not directly affected by race. Unless you marry someone of another color, or someone in your family does, or you or someone you know adopts a child of another color (and even in all those situations), it is very easy to remain ignorant. But we do so at the peril of Black and Brown lives.

America was founded on the idea of white supremacy, that the “Christian” (I don’t know how to call people who believed in manifest destiny and were totally ok with genocide and owning other humans Christians without the biggest eye roll in the world) founders of this country believed that they were superior to the people already here and the people they’d stolen away from their homelands to work for free and literally build the country. To stomach genocide and owning people, white people had to lie to themselves that those folks were less than fully human. And that lie has stuck around in a thousand different ways.

And not only has the belief that white is better, that white is “normal” and anything else is too [loud, ethnic, foreign, different, aggressive, etc etc] stuck around, but racist practices and laws were molded into the very fabric of America. Red lining, funding differences to predominantly black school districts, sentencing differences for crime, racial profiling; race laws are as prevalent as they are ugly.

Racism is still here, because it is a core part of America. White people NEED to recognize that, to educate themselves on the topic since our white schools did not teach us the full truth, and we need to speak up. We need to be calling our elected officials; we need to be voting in anti-racist politicians. We need to increase our exposure to diversity and read books, watch movies and shows, and follow black and brown artists. We need to examine our whiteness and what the invisible effects that has had on our lives. Me and the White Supremacy is a great book for that, and there are a lot of black activists out there doing the work that we can follow and support. The Great Unlearn / Rachel Cargle, Lisa Sharon Harper, Writing to Change the Narrative/Nyasha Williams, United Street Tours / Chakita Sharnise, Speaking of Racism, TNQ Show (The Next Question) / Austin Channing Brown, Latasha Morrison, Ibram X. Kendi, Black Lives Matter, there are many.

To my fellow white people: PLEASE do the work. Please learn about racism and white supremacy. Please be humble, be aware of our history and how that has affected us as white people over people of color, whether you feel it personally or not. Please try not to get defensive or to bury your head in the sand and pretend like we had a Black President so racism must be over. It is not. I promise you. And the longer we stay ignorant, the more of our black and brown brothers and sisters will keep dying. There is a lot to learn and a LOT of work to do to overcome it and become truly a country with Liberty and Freedom for ALL. And we need everyone on board.

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Faith, hope, and love

Our living room has seen a lot of sacred moments. My husband and I got legally married in front of the fireplace, with our pastor, my best friend and future brother-in-law as witnesses (our wedding itself was in another state that wouldn’t allow us to use an out-of-state pastor). We’ve broken bread and drank bottles of wine in countless meals with beloved friends. We’ve delicately held newborn babies and attempted to nap with them on the couches. And, most recently, we’ve had church. My husband likes to turn on the twinkly lights on the mantle, light all the candles, and set up a little altar on our couch table with my old, wooden cross from Belize. The kids are running around and paying no attention, but we manage to get a few holy moments.

In the sermon from this past Sunday, one of our pastors was talking about faith as waiting and watching. Faith means not having black and white answers, but resting in the unknown, and staying calm in the face of mysteries. He quoted my favorite author of all time, Madeleine L’Engle, who I give credit to forming much of my early spiritual development. She was a mystic and blew my mind from early on with her open-handed approach to life and faith and Christianity. She was not afraid of mystery, but embraced it whole-heartedly. So I’ve been ok in gray spaces filled with unknowns and haven’t always needed to find the black and white absolutes.

I’m seeing a lot of talk lately admonishing people to “live in faith, not fear.” I’ve seen it mainly from people who are confrontatiously critical of the government-mandated social isolation and business closures affecting our country right now. “Live in faith” seems to be code for, go about your normal business and trust that God will protect you. When did faith become an anti-viral?

There are so many things wrong with this logic that it’s difficult to know where to start. First of all, God does not promise to protect us from germs. I know a lot of religious people that have gotten sick. Along that argument, for folks saying “no big deal” if they catch COVID-19, it is selfish and unloving to willingly expose yourself and to not prevent that exposure to those you encounter in life. Secondly, the Bible warns us, with Jesus himself providing a strong example, not to test God. Arrogantly saying that God will protect you from the global pandemic because you have faith would have been like Jesus throwing himself off the cliff to be caught by angels when tempted by Satan. Having faith does not mean ignoring science and best practices for healthy living.

I understand the push back against life as we know it getting a hard pause. The financial strain alone is enough reason to freak out and urgently want to reopen businesses. I know businesses that have shut down permanently from this, others that have laid off or furloughed employees (I myself being one of the millions of the unemployed from this virus). People are worried about the businesses they’ve painstakingly built or about keeping/getting a job so they can keep food on the table. There is a lot of stress for everyone right now, no matter your situation. Add to that the American mentality of “each man for himself” and not being in the habit of caring for the well-being of our communities as a whole, and you’ve got people protesting in the streets. (A small number of people by the way, seems bigger than it is from being reported in the news).

“Live in faith, Not fear” to me means that I will respect the recommendations and pleas coming from healthcare experts and front-line staff to stay home in order to stop the spread. I have faith that life will go on if we all do the smart thing and protect each other. And I value life more than finances. I don’t say that to demean people who are worried about their business. But maybe business can start over and rebuild, or get revamped and redefined? I have faith in our creativity and resourcefulness. Maybe we need to grossly overhaul the system and build in more safety nets to protect all of us in these scary situations. Maybe we can all learn to live on less and give up some of our privileged expectations and assumed comforts.

I believe that life is all about love and relationships. In the Bible, it says, “what is important is faith expressing itself in love.” I think it is more loving to sacrifice our financial security, our ability to go out and have fun, our social lives, and our routines in order to protect vulnerable people in our very communities. The numbers are staying relatively low because people have been doing that. The “antibiotics” are working, so don’t stop taking them because we’re starting to feel better.

This is a scary, unique, mysterious new reality we find ourselves in. There are a lot of questions and few concrete answers. So much has changed and will not go back to the way it was before the pandemic. We are living in a gray zone, a world of mystery with an unseen future. The faith that I have is a belief in an all-loving, all-knowing, all-seeing Creator who did not send this as a punishment or a test. I think blessings and challenges come from life itself, the random colliding of a million chance encounters and exchanges. I think that God sees us, knows us, and is present with us if we only pay attention. God will be with us in this pandemic, in our unemployment, while shuttering our businesses and tightening up our belts. God can guide us to live in a spirit of peace, joy and gratitude even in the midst of suffering. Here’s to faith, hope, and love.

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Upside-down Easter

Easter weekend. In quarantine. As a full time stay at home mom on unemployment since I have been laid off because of COVID-19. What a strange time. I never thought I would be laid off twice in 6 months as a physical therapist! I certainly never thought the whole world would get shut down by an invisible virus, grinding everything as we know it to a halt. Everything is a mess right now.

The Easter story is one of absolute disappointment, shock, and dismay as the leader of this new movement within the occupied Jewish population in the Roman Empire was killed by the state. Jesus lived a radical life, eschewing the norms and wandering around the region, homeless, preaching and teaching about this “Kingdom of God.” Jews were excited to hear him talk, as an occupied people who had never recovered from being exiled, thinking he was finally going to liberate them and give them their own country/land/home. That he would throw off the shackles from the Roman empire who had wiggled its way into corrupt Jewish leaders.

And yet. He died. That was it. He had said enough things to royally threaten both the religious leaders with all his talk of free and unearned love and forgiveness, and the political leaders with his casual disregard for the empire, and they killed him. We could not stomach the free, unearned grace Jesus offered, so we killed him. It couldn’t be that easy, God! People have to believe/do/pray/say the right things before they get your love, right?? Religion did not care for Jesus’ disinterest in judgement and rules.

“Give to Caesar what it Caesar’s,” when asked about paying taxes. Caesar wants your money? So what, give it to him, big deal. I want your very life, your very soul. I want you to live completely contrary to the small-minded ways of this world. Fame, power, wealth are completely meaningless. Love, joy, compassion, peace – these are the things I value and want you to live for. The empire didn’t like that. A bunch of liberated people walking around, immune to the enticements the empire could dangle as false hope? What a threat!

I can only imagine the deep shock and depression of Jesus’ followers after his death. This man, the physical representation of God on earth, that they loved and believed in so deeply, many leaving their jobs and families to follow, was gone. The Romans were still in charge, the Church was still corrupt. They were expecting massive change and revolution, and it looked like nothing had happened. It’s hard living in that space.

It’s hard living in this space of so many unknowns. How long has this virus been here? Is anyone immune or are we all still in danger? How long am I going to be holed up in my house, unable to go out and enjoy the world and socialize? If I risk it, could I be a silent carrier and bring this virus to someone vulnerable? How is my community going to survive this, is my business going to survive this? How am I going to pay the bills? What is going to happen here?? How does this end? Is this going to keep happening every year? If a vaccine comes out, will it be safe? Can I trust the people in charge?

These are not easy questions or easy times. Conspiracy theories are flying around like pollen in the air. The level of crazy-talk I have seen on social media is a new shock for me. And I sort of get it. Believing in one of these conspiracies provides some sense of order and explanation. It can be oddly comforting to think that someone (the Chinese, the democrats, whoever) created this thing, because at least then someone is in charge, even if in an evil way. The truth – that viruses are a fact of life, are frighteningly transmittable in our global economy, are adaptable and deadly, and that we are not prepared for this – is scary to deal with since it can make us feel powerless. The scary truth is that we are powerless against so many things – viruses, hurricanes, cancer, tornadoes, death. There simply are no guarantees in this life.

After the despair of Good Friday, after the shock and bitter, total disappointment of sitting around on Saturday knowing Jesus has died, we get the story of Easter. Of resurrection. Jesus defeating death, returning to his people, and giving them a message of hope. What a twist. Jesus didn’t defeat the Romans, he didn’t liberate the Jews from their oppression, he didn’t create a grand kingdom and set up all his followers with a lavish life. Instead, he lived a counter-cultural life, showing us a different way to operate in the world. An upside down way, where the leader acted like a grungy servant and washed his friends’s nasty feet. An upside down way, that cared nothing for worldly power and influence and instead drew the outsiders, the powerless, women, slaves, children and minorities to him like moths to a flame. An upside down way, which opened to doors to anyone willing to admit their powerlessness, their need to be seen and known and loved, no matter their religion or ethnicity or sexual identity or station in life.

In Jesus, we get the promise of Easter. The promise that, ultimately, the viruses and the catastrophes and the corruption won’t win. That it may look like the powerful are in charge, but in the end, they are dying like the rest of us. I think about the promises in Bible, promises that Jesus made saying we are cared for like the flowers of the fields and the sparrows of the air. The flowers don’t worry about material goods, the sparrows aren’t worried about their next meal. And I see good, beautiful, kind people dying from hunger, dying from poverty and exposure and easily treatable diseases. Was Jesus lying? Or maybe, was the promise not that we would all have our every, human need taken care of and would never suffer? Maybe the promise was that, whatever life dishes out, and it will dish out both good and bad things to both good and bad people without regard, Jesus sees, Jesus cares, Jesus knows our suffering because he suffered himself, and Jesus is with us in spirit. That somehow, when this earthly blip of a life is all over, we will be taken up in his arms, seen and known and deeply loved.

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Beauty from Ashes

I didn’t write a blog post last week because my mind is mostly consumed with COVID-19 and I didn’t want to write about it again. And yet, here we are, a week later, and that’s still mostly all I can think about. So I’m going to do a word vomit thing here and see if anything interesting comes out.

I actually can think of other things. The weather has been beautiful and I’ve been outside a lot with my kids, noticing the buds coming out on the trees and the growing strength of the sun’s rays. I’ve noticed my son actively trying to make me laugh more, and interacting and laughing with his sister. I’ve noticed my daughter starting to make up her own stories to tell us, and the pride she gets in her eyes when I listen and interact. I’ve noticed a lot of neighbors I’ve never seen before out walking by themselves or with unfamiliar dogs. I’ve noticed that I’m very caught up on my instagram feed, which has been full of live-streamed concerts and book readings and positive news stories.

Life has gone on in some ways. It’s just that I’m acutely aware of the fact that it isn’t for way too many people. Way too many people are sick, have died, or are entirely consumed with fighting this thing in our world’s hospitals and medical labs. It’s impossible not to feel affected by this, even though I’m still going to work my two days/week. I was brought to tears today to learn that Italy has made the horrific decision to only use ventilators on people under 60 yrs old, since they simply do not have enough. I was in Italy four years ago, and the sweet couple that ran the bodega under our AirBnb that we befriended over morning cappuccinos are over 60. Their elderly father still worked with them, who had to be in his 80s at least. If they get this thing, they are doomed. This is a conundrum I often face from being aware of suffering in the world, whether it’s COVID-19 or poverty or racism and white supremacist society or sexism or homophobia or child abuse or sex trafficking. The world is hell for some people, and I’m just over here living my life.

In this instance, at least there is something very real and concrete I can do to help, which ironically is to do nothing. To stay at home and not interact with anyone outside my immediate family. I’ve been doing pretty well with that surprisingly, for being a raging extrovert. Aside from work, one Target run for bubbles and sidewalk chalk, and one outdoor hiking date with my bestie, I’ve been home. Thankfully, the last 3.5 years of part-time-stay-at-home-momming has prepared me well. I adhere strictly to a nap schedule for the kids, so I’ve been “nap-trapped” for the last three years and unable to leave my home except for certain small windows anyway. I’ve been working on being ok with a slower pace of life, on being ok with feeling like I’m missing out on bigger adventures, on being ok with less social interaction. Working on tapping in to the here and now, being present in the moment, savoring the time at home with my kids.

And there were days that I was often distracted and on my phone before, and that has certainly increased. I do feel a strong pull to check in with social media often, as the only means of connection I have to the outside world. And I’m video chatting and texting friends more than normal to reach out and stay connected. It’s been hard for me not to obsess, to want to see every article and post out there about all this. Which I know borders on unhealthy and should be controlled. I try to leave my phone in others rooms still and really play with my kids, but I think we all get a few passes during this mess.

I was in Australia in 2006, and did some bushwacking in the forests outside of Melbourne, Victoria. One of the forests had recently been through a fire, and our professor told us that there is a certain flower that blooms only after the intense heat of a forest fire (I’ve recently googled it and several Eucalyptus species have specialized buds that are protected under the bark of their trunks. The buds only emerge after the trees have burned). After the utter devastation of a sweeping forest fire, beauty emerges not only despite of but because of the tragedy. Sometimes, suffering unlocks next-level joy.

This is intense, scary, new territory. The world has not faced this before, and there is no “right way” of being or acting currently. There is no normal. I am a fierce optimist, and so I feel strongly that this will be stopped, that there will be a treatment and a vaccine within the year, and (some) our lives will be able to resume. But the death toll and the damage is very real and will be tough to overcome. Hopefully humanity will pull together, set aside some differences (not by any example from our federal leadership in the US, sheesh), and support each other. We don’t know what the outcomes will be yet, but I’m sure there will be some beauty among the ashes.

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Do Not Fear

All anyone is talking about is COVID-19. At my work, I’ve had 14 conversations about it every day with every patient who comes in. It’s all over the news, all over social media. 4oz Purell is sold out on Amazon, Costco is out of Clorox wipes. People are FREAKING OUT. Even though most of my patients seem to be Keeping Calm and Carrying On, and I only heard one person who stocked up on toilet paper themselves.

I’m not one to ignore or disbelieve science (although the science in this case is telling us that COVID-19 is pretty easy to prevent and control the spread, is easy to recover from and isn’t all that serious for the majority of people), however, the reaction to this thing has been a textbook case of living in fear. Do we all just love drama? Are we all so bored with our lives that we want to freak out and obsess over things and make them bigger than they really are? Is there too much real, serious, scary drama out there so we would rather distract ourselves with less threatening “drama” instead?

All I know is that living in fear is a crappy way to live, and gets us nowhere. Fear won’t stop the spread of viruses, won’t keep cancer at bay, won’t stop us from getting our hearts broken. Fear does nothing except limit our own lives.

I was talking to a friend whose extended family doesn’t vaccinate their kids, doesn’t put them in public schools (because the devil is there), and doesn’t even go to church because no church in America is doing it right. They are so driven by fear and the false sense of control that they think they exercise over the world, that they have isolated themselves away from the world and from the possibility of the riches gained by friends, community, diversity and knowledge. How incredibly sad.

The devil is everywhere, Evil is everywhere (including within our own selves), viruses are everywhere, corruption is everywhere. And? That is the state of this world folks, at least on our planet. Walking around all anxious, guarded, cynical and closed-off does nothing to change that. But of course, what else is everywhere? Good, beauty, love, joy, peace, friendship, altruism, cute babies and puppies. It’s all about what you look for.

I’ve purposely curated my Instagram feed to be either people in my life that I care about, “good news” accounts that look for positivity in the world, or educational accounts on things like racial injustice, politics or spiritual growth that make me a better or more knowledgeable person through exposure. I never watch the news, as the news in America is notoriously fear-based. I try to live holding the tension of managing risk alongside of living a full life.

Worrying about what may happen is really pointless, especially if (God-forbid), you get killed in a car accident tomorrow. We have no guarantees except for the present moment. Living in the moment to me looks like washing my hands, putting down my phone, and tuning in. Tuning in to my kids, to my husband, to my friends, to my patients. Noticing and enjoying the way the spring clouds are chasing each other around the fresh blue sky. Living in the moment means trying not to agonize over the state of politics in America, since there really is little I can do, save for mailing in my ballot and signing petitions/writing emails to my reps. Living in the moment means turning off my hypothetical thought-machine: to stop planning what I’ll do when the next big check comes in, or the next milestone is hit by my kids, or the next vacation day comes. Not that it is wrong to have plans, but I tend to circle back too much instead of making what plans I can and then moving on.

Personally, what I find so difficult about living in the moment is that it makes me ask, “is this it?” It makes me fully sink into what is happening, which usually feels like the daily grind. I’m not jet-setting, not staying out until 3am meeting exotic new friends, not running a company or a country or a world-changing non-profit. I am changing diapers, making forts, playing make believe, cleaning up the kitchen the 30th time that week, doing the 7th load of laundry, driving to work, doing the work (which after 9+ yrs doesn’t feel all that exciting anymore most of the time), driving home, wash, rinse, repeat.

I once met a few jet-setting, altruistic, world-changing volunteers working for JVI (Jesuit Volunteers International), who were working in poverty-stricken Belize, and I thought, Wow, they’re doing it! They’ve packed up, given up a cozy job or making any money at all, are living in a poor country helping to fix the world, and do you know what they said it felt like to them? The. Daily. Grind.

Our life is what we make it, and when we let ourselves be governed by fear, our life suffers. All the bad stuff, all the good stuff, it’s all out there, everywhere we look. Focus on the good. Manage the bad as it inevitably comes along. Live with curiosity, expect joy and love and happiness, and you just may see it happen. And stop touching your face.

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Our Mother, Who Art in Heaven

I don’t believe that God is a woman, any more than I believe that God is a man. I’ve been very deliberate in this blog, and in my speech, over the last year or so, to stop referring to God as a “he” for several reasons.

I know the Bible refers to God as “he” often, and as Father, but the Bible also uses female imagery and pronouns for God, and we usually breeze by that. The Bible was written in a VERY patriarchal culture (one that was not getting the whole picture correct, in my view, and not meant to be exemplified in all those ways). It’s natural that the male, Hebrew and Jewish authors of the Bible used male pronouns for God most of the time. Women were literally seen as less than fully human in their time, so they wouldn’t dare refer to God that way.

However, from the very beginning, we see God describe the creation of humanity as “created in God’s image: male and female.” God is neither male nor female; God is not a human being. Women and men together, each give us an image of God. Aspects of God are nurturing and protective, such as verses in Deuteronomy where God is compared to a mother eagle with her young, and as a mother bear in Hosea. God says in Isaiah, “as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you,” and is compared to a nursing mother and a woman crying out in labor. In Matthew, Jesus says “how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.”

I think we really miss out when we only refer to God as Father and he. Not only do we all have very different examples of fatherhood, some great and some terrible, but each society and culture and time period have fairly distinct ideas of what masculinity embodies. In our current society, the stereotypical “male” is seen as tough, strong, confident, etc etc. Great qualities for God to have, but not complete. Not to mention the less than healthy stereotypical male qualities, like closed off, unemotional, “lone wolf.” Referring to God always as he may inadvertently get us attributing those unhealthy “male” behaviors to God.

When we leave out the feminine side of God, we miss those stereotypical female qualities such as gentleness, care, concern, and nurturing. We miss out on thinking of God as having a warm lap we can crawl into when we need comforting. We miss out on picturing God giving us back rubs and playing with our hair and giving us physical affection. We miss out on God dropping everything God’s doing to take care of us and to listen to our needs/complaints/worries/dreams. What a large part of who God is!

[And not to limit it to stereotypes either. I know plenty of men who are sweet and nurturing and good listeners, and plenty of women who are tough and gritty and driven, and they all equally bear the image of God! ]

I’ve been trying, as awkward as it sounds to my ears, to pray to Mother God sometimes, or switch pronouns to she/her when singing a song in church or reading a verse. And it has been powerful to do so! Thinking of God in a feminine way completely alters my interaction with God. It feels softer, gentler, more tender. And I believe that is how God wants to relate to us, at times. Just like in those verses when God compares Godself to a mother hen, a mother bear (fierce and protective, it’s not all soft and cuddly), a mother eagle and a nursing mother.

God is greater than our limited, human brains will ever be able to comprehend. It’s tempting and easy to put God in a box to feel like we get it. The whole Bible is written by human people who were trying to understand God. And they were doing so in a very distinct, temporary cultural mindset that greatly affected their understanding, just like we are. They got some of it correct, through Divine inspiration and wisdom, and I believe that they got some of it wrong (ummm, hello, never condemned slavery, all that stoning of sinners to death, violence and “God-ordered” genocide etc etc) because of their tainted lens. It can be scary to realize and admit that our current and historical understandings of God can be incomplete, or even flat out wrong at times. But thank goodness that God is still present, still saturated throughout all of creation, and is trying to reach out from behind the veil to reveal Godself to us.

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Thoughts from a PT

A majority of my job deals with pain. People in pain, looking to get out of it. Sometimes they’ve only been in a pain for a short while, from an ankle sprain or muscle strain. Sometimes it’s been pain since 1980 or “since I was 12 yrs old.” I have treated patients as young as 8 yrs old and as old as 95, and have noticed some patterns along the way that may serve you well as you try to grow old well.

For one thing, there is a lot of relatively new research on pain and how it works that I think is pretty life-changing. First of all, pain is created by our brains, and does not come from our body itself. The body only sends data up to the brain, in terms of strain, tension, shear force, temperature etc, that is meant to be useful data for the brain to determine if the body is in danger or not. The brain processes the data and decides whether or not to send out a feeling of pain.

Imagine you are in the final game of your sports career, running the last play, and you sprain your ankle with only yards to go to score that touchdown/homerun/etc/whatever. You likely will not even register that your ankle hurts, because the importance of the moment will override the pain signals and your brain will shut the pain down. Or imagine that you are a mother, and your child is about to get hit by a car in the street. You are barefoot, and running over gravel and broken glass to get to your kid in time; you do not feel the pain in your feet until your kid is out of danger. Your brain has literally blocked the pain signal from your consciousness until it deems you are safe.

On the flip side, have you ever had a bruise that you cannot remember getting? You injured your tissues to the point of a nasty black, blue or green bruise, but have no recollection at all of the event? An injury without any pain? Or what about amputees who have “phantom limb pain?” Those folks have pain in their “foot,” when the physical foot is literally gone.

The brain creates pain (or not) depending on a whole lot of factors. The situation you are in, the mood and mental state you are in (depression and anxiety are strongly linked to higher experiences of pain), your history of pain. If you grew up with parents who freaked out every time you got a boo-boo, you are more likely to think pain is the worst thing ever and to catastrophize any experience of pain, and therefore experience more pain. If your parents were more of a “rub some dirt on it, you’re fine” type, you are less likely as an adult to experience chronic pain.

All that to say that pain is normal. It is very natural part of the human condition and it serves a very good and helpful purpose. Pain is only meant to be information to serve as a warning that our body is in danger. When we have experienced chronic pain, or have depression and/or anxiety, or are under chronic stress (which is pretty much the natural state of being for all of us in the 21st century) or are prone to catastrophizing pain, then our warning systems get jacked way up, and things that are not dangerous at all (like bending over to tie your shoes), get processed as dangerous and therefore elicit a pain response from the brain. It’s like a car alarm that’s overly sensitive and goes off if a leaf lands on the hood.

For folks that have had chronic pain, it is possible to turn down those hyped up warning systems. Meditation and relaxation techniques can help. Deep breathing, as simple as that is, works wonders. Working on “graded exposure” to activity – slowly ramping up time spent doing an activity like walking to keep it under the pain-freak-out-zone – helps to turn down the system. Understanding how pain works alone helps to turn down the system, with realizing that every pain does not mean that your body is broken or that your simple normal movements are not making it worse. Being careful not to overdo it, but to find ways to move that are fun (walking outside, dancing, biking etc) will help.

What I’ve noticed with treating patients over the age spectrum and over a wide variety of physical states, is that the older folks who are still living a good life with a high level of function have some things in common. For one, they have a strong social network. Human beings are not meant to be isolated and alone and there is tons of research to back that up. Having a healthy marriage, or strong community of friends, people to volunteer with etc in old age seems to do wonders for people. I had a patient who still went square dancing in his 80s, as a widow, and had tons of friends that looked forward to seeing him every week. That’s huge.

Another big factor I’ve noticed is being realistic. The old folks I see that are in the best place realize that they are not necessarily going to be painfree most of the time when in their 70s, 80s, 90s. Although that 95 yr old patient I had was in no regular pain and still walked with ramrod-straight posture and only a cane for balance assistance (“just in case”). It is certainly possible to be painfree in your 90s. People who have realistic expectations and don’t put “make me 20 again” on their list of PT Goals, seem happier and more active in life. Pain is normal, and our bodies simply aren’t made to last indefinitely. Some parts are going to get injured, or worn out, and may have some pain on a regular basis. No need to freak out about it. Acceptance of a minimal-to-moderate amount of pain seems to help people succeed in aging well.

Lastly, and I cannot emphasize this enough, but the phrase “use it or lose it” is SO SO true when it comes to aging. The longer you can keep moving, keep working on strength, balance, and endurance, the longer you can keep active. It is really pretty simple. Our bodies are so efficient, so if we stop moving a certain way or using a certain muscle, it gets shut down FAST so as not to waste energy. To avoid getting weak and tired, don’t stop moving. Keep doing that thing you love, or keep trying out new activities. Keep exercising in whatever way you enjoy exercise. Keep moving, and you’ll be able to keep moving. Strength is function-specific, so if you want to be able to keep doing push ups into your 90s, keep doing push ups. Want to keep having an easy time getting off the toilet, keep working on squats or sit-to-stands. You get the picture. Use it. Or lose it.

Everyone likes to think that they are special. Especially people who are injured and have been through a lot. “My doctor said I have the worst knee he’s EVER SEEN.” “My surgeon said I have the spine of an 80 yr old (in my 30s).” “You don’t understand, I have degenerative disc disease / arthritis / bone-on-bone / a disc bulge (BIG WHOOP, who doesn’t??)” Unfortunately, doctors and surgeons have often exaggerated the role that imaging plays in people’s actual experience of pain and function for far too long. People see their MRI, hear that they have bulging discs or severe stenosis or arthritis, and they panic or think that they’re screwed. Their back is broken, their knee is beyond hope, their shoulder is destroyed, the rotator cuff torn up beyond repair. That’s simply not the case. You can google the specific numbers, but there are a lot of people walking around with bulging discs, fully torn rotator cuffs, and bone-on-bone arthritis with NO PAIN. Pain is determined by the brain from a wide variety of factors.

So if you get injured, yes, by all means, go see a PT. Acute injuries need to heal properly. You may have muscle imbalances that need addressing or may be too tight/weak/out of alignment and need some tweaking. And if you are in chronic pain, search for a good PT who helps you get moving again in a safe, comfortable, relatively painless way. If you are in chronic pain, try relaxation techniques, meditation, or therapy if you have a lot of anxiety or have depression. But know that hope is not lost. People have been aging with degenerative changes and injuries for all of life, more and more as we live longer. Our bodies are shockingly resilient, and can rebound from even catastrophic injuries. Don’t underestimate the strength of the human body or the power of the mind. Seek out good friends, fun activities, and enjoy your life!

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A lot of the information on pain in here came from the Explain Pain course I took through NOI. Lorimer Moseley is the one doing a lot of amazing research.

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Thin Places

We sang a new song at church yesterday, called Another In The Fire (by Hillsong UNITED), and it really caught my attention. There was a lyric: “there was another in the fire, standing next to me.”

The lyrics are alluding to an old story from the book of Daniel, about three men living in exile in a foreign land under a foreign ruler. They pissed the king off and he threw them into a furnace as punishment; only they didn’t die, and in fact the king saw four men (he only threw in three) walking around in the fire. They were saved by an angel and came out of the fire with not even a singed hair on their heads.

There’s another ancient story in the Bible, this one in the book of Genesis, about a guy named Jacob who had just done something really awful and sneaky and was running away from home to save his life. He ends up sleeping in the desert, and dreams of a ladder coming down from Heaven with angels going up and down it. He woke up and said, “God is in this place – truly. And I didn’t even know it!”

In the story of the burning bush, Moses realized that he was walking on holy ground (and it’s no different or more special than any other ground anywhere else in creation). When Jesus dies, the veil separating the part of the Jewish temple that was supposed to keep all but the most holy priests out rips clean in two. Over and over again, we see stories in the Bible of God pulling back the curtain and trying to get us to see that God is right there with us, and has been all along. I’m only familiar with Christian history, and would be curious if there are similar stories in other religions, of God/Allah/whoever trying to reach through and help us little humans see that we are part of Creation, part of God’s being everywhere, all the time.

One of the most radical things Jesus said, and that we still have such a hard time grasping, is that “the kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:21). The kingdom of God, the backwards rule of the rich being poor, the poor being lifted up, the last being first and the first being last, the leaders acting like servants and absolutely no one being taken advantage of or stepped on: it’s here. The earth, all of Creation, is saturated with God already. Yes, our actual planet is super messed up, and people can act evil and there is a lot of brokenness and ugliness, and yet, God is here holding out a hand to us.

I think sometimes we act like everything is such a big mystery. And sure, there are a lot of mysterious things out there in the universe, things as yet undiscovered or not understood by science and our human brains. But when it comes to God, I think we’ve put up more barriers ourselves, making all kinds of rules and religions, trying to police who is “in” and who is “out,” when God has been screaming from the edges, the rafters, the margins the whole time, yelling “I’M RIGHT HERE!!”

The God I’ve come to know and (albeit, limitedly) understand, wants us to be in a relationship together. God isn’t trying to hide or be sneaky or make it a big scavenger hunt or riddle to solve. God desires for us to know and love our Creator, and to live with a full awareness of who God is, and therefore who we are (that is, wonderfully and lovingly made by God the Creator, full of worth and dignity simply by belonging to the human race).

If we could grasp that God is really here all around us, if the Kingdom of God is truly present on this earth, wouldn’t that change things up? Wouldn’t that make us stop caring so much about labels, gay/straight, citizen/foreigner, Republican/Democrat, Christian/other, etc etc as we realize that we are all humans and all already part of this Kingdom of God? If we’re already part of God’s kingdom, already loved by our Creator, wouldn’t that allow us to rest and stop striving, to stop trying so hard to convince ourselves that we’re doing it right and therefore prove that other people are wrong? Wouldn’t it help us see others through God’s loving eyes and want to help them, no matter what? Even if they didn’t “deserve” it, that maybe they are the people hurting and in need the most? Wouldn’t it help us see through the thin veneer that earthly power holds, that money or political influence are really laughable in the face of the entire universe?

I think if we could wear a pair of Luna Lovegood’s Spectrespecs (hardcore nerd reference), they would show the world teeming with God-particles everywhere we look. And if we dare, we need simply to extend a hand, to reach out and be united with our Creator. Whatever country you’re from, whatever religion you’re from, whatever color you are or gender or sexuality, God’s waiting to grasp your hand and to walk alongside your life with you.

And once you’ve done that, as I’ve tried, you’ll find that you can’t look at the rest of the world the same way anymore. You’ll see everyone as a child of God, deserving of God’s love and attention, and of human dignity. Your heart will start to bleed as you notice all the injustice, all the hurt, all the damage we’re doing to each other, and you’ll want to help. You may end up caring about people who look way different than you, or who speak a different language or identify in ways you cannot even understand. You may find that God has cracked your heart wide open, so much that it can feel nearly impossible to live in this still-so-imperfect world, but that, thank God, God is also surrounding you in a God-sized bear hug and is holding you up, lending you some superhuman God-strength to keep on living and loving through the awareness and through the pain.

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Shaking It Up

This will be my third week seeing patients at my new job, after transitioning from the one-and-only job I had out of college and where I had been employed for the last 9.5 yrs. While the move has been overwhelmingly positive, and I am super grateful and glad to be there with some truly great people, I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been hard.

Change is hard. I assume it’s common in many professions to get into a rut, and I had been working at the same place for nearly a decade. I regularly take continuing education and try to push myself to keep learning and growing as a physical therapist, but a rut I was in. That has become evident as I’ve started at a new place. My new coworkers do things differently than I do, the clinic operates much differently than the clinic I came from. I feel like Phoebe from The Magic School Bus constantly saying “at my old school,” only it’s “at my old job.” (Forgive the cartoon reference, I have small children)

It was really hard, in that environment, not to get totally insecure. Since all the therapists at my current job were hired as new grads and trained up in a specific treatment style (one that I am not familiar with), I certainly felt like the odd man out. It’s been hard not to question my way of doing things, and wonder if I’m doing it all wrong. Of course, logically, I know that I have been successful in my treatments and I’ve had countless satisfied customers who have sung my praises. But I was feeling the old, familiar pangs of insecurity.

The good news is that change becomes easier over time. As I’ve stuck around, I’ve gotten more comfortable with their system and software, and have been getting more comfortable and familiar with all the staff. Comparing back to when I was first hired out of school, I’ve found myself feeling at home and comfortable in my personality WAY faster this time around. My initial flustered mindset has settled and I’ve regained my confidence with treating patients. I was almost brought to tears when the super sweet admin gal came up at the end of last week, put both her hands on my arms, and sincerely thanked me for working so hard that week, knowing it had been tough. I know that I am in a good and special place.

And now, I can say from a place of calm, that I am excited about the challenges that come with working at a new place will offer me. It will be good and healthy to get pushed out of my comfort zone. I need to be shaken up a bit after a decade of rut-forming. My new coworkers have their own exercises they like, treatment strategies and progressions they go through, and I can learn from them. And they from me. But now I’m looking forward to picking up some new skills and mixing it up.

Working in the medical profession, things are always changing. New research is coming out, new theories are being tested. I so appreciate that my current company strongly values education and strives to keep everyone operating at a high level in a systematic way. There is a great network of support.

When I got laid off, one phrase people liked to use for comfort was, “maybe it’ll work out for the best!” And while I don’t think that’s wrong to say, I chafed at it. It certainly would have been “best” to stay where I was, at least from a financial/benefits/numbers perspective. My blog post about “The Hill,” and biking to work, yeah that’s in the past now. I’ve got a longer commute, am away from my kids more on my work days, and lost out on a pretty sweet gig. But I am excited about where I am. I’m excited about the growth, the opportunities, and the challenges ahead. I will be helping to build this clinic’s vestibular program from scratch, which is daunting but fun.

And who knows where this will lead me. But it’s looking like someplace great.

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PC Culture

“Gah, this PC culture!” said with an eye roll. I’ve heard it from patients, the media, my own father (love you, Dad!). It’s said as a complaint. “How annoying, this PC culture policing how I talk.”

I read about an encounter just this morning: an attorney was going through security at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport when a TSA agent grabbed her braids, cracked them like a whip, and said “Giddyup!” When Mrs. Houska protested, the agent said, “Well it was just in fun, I’m sorry, your hair is lovely.” Lighten up, don’t be so sensitive, here’s a compliment to make you feel better.

Not only is Mrs. Houska a grown woman, who should have full authority over who gets to touch her body, and certainly in such a demeaning manner, but she also happens to be Native. In her culture, her braids are sacred to her, part of her spirit.

Being politically correct, in my mind, is another way of saying being considerate. Being considerate to other people and respecting their dignity and humanity. It may seem like people are being overly sensitive when they complain about something seemingly simple and innocent. Like the TSA agent who thought she was acting in good fun. But she wasn’t friends with Mrs. Houska, they didn’t have a level of intimacy that allowed for getting into her personal bubble, and she didn’t know anything about her culture. I think PC offenses often stem from misunderstandings created from our white dominant culture.

It’s hard to see how you are being offensive when you’re part of the dominant culture. America has been ruled by white people since before its official beginning. Believing in their “manifest destiny,” that they were entitled to this land because of God’s will, the Puritans and founding Americans justified wiping out the native people already thriving here, as well as enslaving hundreds of thousands of human beings from Africa and getting rich off their backs. It is a tragic piece of our history, and in order to live with doing that to millions of people, white people had to believe that people of color were literally less than human. Those beliefs got deeply entrenched into our American culture.

And even if people know better now, and realize that skin color makes us no different from each other than eye color, and if we admit that no one color or type of person is inherently any better than another, the fact remains that America has still been largely dominated by white culture. Aside from the large and powerful ways that white culture has dominated (we only recently got an even remotely diverse Congress, 44/45 presidents have been white, CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies are mostly white, etc etc), white culture dominates in simple details as well. Think of “flesh colored” Band-Aids – who’s flesh color are they exactly? Certainly not Lupita Nyong’o’s.

So when someone tells us that something we’ve said is offensive to them, maybe we can’t see why. That’s ok, at first. It’s truly hard to see what you’re blinded to, if you’ve lived as a white person in White America for your whole life. But we need to believe people at their word, and to learn from them. Especially if they are a person of color or from a minority culture. We may not understand their offense and anger, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real or deserved.

As a Christian, I believe that all people are created in the Image of God. Not only are we all created equally, but also that God deeply loves every person God’s ever created, and desires to live in harmony with them. I believe that it is my Christian duty to love all of God’s creation, and that includes learning from people who are different than I am. Growing up white in a white society means that I need to do extra leg work to learn about the minority experience. I’ve tried doing this by reading books written by people of color, following accounts on social media by LGBTQ folks, following the #blacklivesmatter movement, listening to podcasts on race and the racial experience in America. There are tons of resources out there to learn from.*

And it’s been eye-opening. It can get easy, as I learn about the minority experience both historically and currently in America, to feel guilty. I feel awful that “my people” did this. That we dehumanized so many people, tried to make less of them, to oppress and rule them, to silence their voices. There are horrific stories about the atrocities done in the name of white supremacy. And while I have never personally lynched anyone, I do need to acknowledge that the culture I belong to has been the source of the problem. White people literally created race (do a little research on that one), and are responsible for racism in our society. And until we can humbly admit that, and acknowledge the hurt done to people of color by the hands of white people, then true progress cannot be made.

These posts get a life of their own as I type them sometimes, and it’s fitting that this one went racial on Martin Luther King, Jr Day. His work is not done. Yes, black people have more legal rights now than ever before, but we are still not on a level playing field. Let’s be good listeners and learners, white people, and do the hard work of personal growth to help with moving the needle forward. As Dr. King said, “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

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*In case you’re interested, here are some of the books/podcasts/people I’ve learned from:

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs. When They Call You a Terrorist by Asha Bandele and Patrisse Khan-Cullors. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins. Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue. I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown. Reading Between the Lies: Black History by Dick Gregory. Raising White Kids by Jennifer Harvey. Naturally Tan by Tan France. The Gospel in Color by Curtis A. Woods and Jarvis J. Williams. Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie.

Podcasts between Jen Hatmaker and Lisa Sharon Harper, Lecray, Latasha Morrison, Austin Channing Brown. The Smartest Person in the Room podcast series on Race. The Next Question online show by Austin Channing Brown. The Be the Bridge Facebook group.

Instragram Hashtag “blacklivesmatter” and “BlackHistoryMonth” (links to all sorts of posts about black history, the black experience). Instagram accounts by Laverne Cox, Jeff Chu, Black History 365, World Relief Spokane, Latasha Morrison.

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Breath Out

2019 was not my favorite year. I was very excited thinking about 2020 coming up, and then I got laid off at the end of November. We’re now looking at the tightest budget our marriage has ever faced, with paying for daycare and making less at my new job. 2020 took on a grim hue.

Every year, I have my “one word” that I use to bring a level of intention and focus to the year. My husband started doing this before we met, and I love the habit. As I was trapped in the house today, in the 18*F temps and blowing snow, my two young kids being very sweet and very demanding, I happened to glance out the window and catch my neighbor snow-blowing his driveway. I didn’t actually see my neighbor, but I saw the high, white plume of snow shoot up above his hedges and catch the wind. The visual instantly reminded me of seeing Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park. I’ve had the privilege of visiting that park several times in my life.

This year, we won’t be taking any vacations. I don’t get any paid time off anymore, and my husband is self-employed without any paid time off to speak of either. With tightening up the shoestrings, it’s going to be a very home-bound year. As I was remembering past trips and beautiful places I’ve been (like Yellowstone), I realized that my word this year needs to be Content.

It’s simply not going to be a very exciting year. Lots of work, raising very small humans, and enjoying the simple things is going to be my jam. So I will strive to be content. I will savor the look of the sky-high flying snow and remember the joy of exploding geisers. I will go snow-shoeing up our local mountain in a few weeks and think of hiking along glaciers in Montana and Canada. I will get to our cousin’s lake cabin this summer and remember the beautiful beaches of Australia and Fiji that I’ve been so privileged to visit, and be content with both those memories and of the current view I’m still privied to see.

I am an adventure-seeker, a travel-lover, an adrenaline-junkie. Sitting tight and staying close to home is not my preferred mode of operation. So Content will be my intention and my goal. A friend was encouraging my husband and I recently, reminding us of past decisions we’ve made that allow us to feel safe even in these tighter conditions we’re currently experiencing. And I was reminded that there are always seasons to life. There are very normal seasons of joy, and of suffering. Of surplus, and of deficiency. Of blessings, and of want. Of striving, and of rest. Of energy, and of stillness. So I will plan to embrace this – undoubtedly temporary – season of stillness and frugalness, knowing that the tides are always turning.

Going into 2020, whatever your hopes and dreams, or desperate longings, are, I encourage you to look around and find beauty right in front of your eyes. Beauty, love, and joy are always there if we look for them. We are free to choose joy, even in moments of suffering. And truly, if there ever was a secret to happiness, it’s choosing to be content with what we have and to seek the glorious in the ordinary.

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A Love Letter to Australia

My heart has been breaking for Australia this past week, as news of the worsening fires has taken over my feed. There are hundreds of bushfires going on throughout the country, killing so much stock and wildlife, killing people, destroying homes and communities. I saw a video last night of some firemen on the front lines as the wind shifted and brought the fire roaring towards them at a ferocious intensity, overtaking their truck, and I started bawling.

I lived in Australia for 5 months during my sophomore year in college, attending Monash University outside Melbourne. The whole experience was so life-changing for me that I got my one-and-only tattoo to commemorate it. I met people who became lifelong friends, I got to see much of the country and experience some of the unique beauty it has to offer, and I got to know the culture and the people in a way that endeared them to my heart forever.

I will never forget some of my first experiences within weeks of landing in Oz. I had traveled from Chicago via LAX, and commiserated with a fellow traveler while going through the intensely jerky security staff at LAX International. He ended up being an Australian on my flight, heading home after a gap year in America. The feeling of traveling as far across the planet as I possibly could have without starting back, knowing absolutely no one, and then landing and hearing my name called out at the baggage carousel in an Australian accent from a new friend was the most comforting, lovely feeling I’d ever had. He ended up being so nice, inviting me to visit to his family’s home, check out his suburb, and genuinely wanting to show me the Australian way of life.

In my first week on campus, I befriended the other study abroad students, as classes hadn’t started and the local Australians weren’t yet on campus. I ended up taking the train to downtown Melbourne with four new friends, all of us in Oz for the first time, and myself the only native English speaker. We had a great day exploring an outdoor art market and eating the most delicious Vietnamese food I’d ever tasted (maybe the first Vietnamese food I’d ever tasted?). When the time came to head back to campus, none of us could remember which train to take to get back. Unprompted, a local noticed us looking lost and offered to help us find our way. I found the Australians to be extremely hospitable and kind.

I was fortunate enough to travel during my semester there (blowing through my entire life savings from babysitting money and high school jobs…worth it!). I got to see the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, to go canoeing down the Murray River (for school! “Experiencing the Australian Landscapes” class! ha!), to go bushwalking and camping in the Grampians National Park, to learn how to surf in Byron Bay, to go on a sailing trip in the Whitsunday Islands, to snorkel and SCUBA the Great Barrier Reef, to walk over the Sydney Harbour Bridge and to see a show in the Sydney Opera house.

My bushwalking trip was a tad foolish, or I could say recklessly naive, looking back, as my new friend Monique and I (a fellow exchange student from Germany) had joined the campus hiking club which operated like a loosely organized message board. Two Australian guys wanted to go camping one weekend, and we wrote them to join. We got in the back of a car with two total strangers, let them drive us for hours out to the middle of nowhere to a spot along the Howqa River, and hiked out to camp overnight at a remote location far from anyone or anything. But they were total gentleman who probably thought we were nuts but treated us with nothing but respect and privacy.

I befriended a lot of the local Australians from my dorm throughout the semester, and got to visit the home of one friend whose family was super kind and hospitable. Another friend invited me to join his family to watch some of the Commonwealth Games (like the Olympics for the British Commonwealth) as they had an extra ticket, and I was treated like a member of the family. Overall, I found the Australians to be extremely friendly, easygoing and likable, and always down for a good time. They take having fun and partying to an almost religious level. While I didn’t get quite as close on a soul-level with my Australian friends, as they were slower to really open up and kept things a bit more superficial, I sure had a lot of fun with them. The camaraderie and group dynamics made our dorm feel like a huge, raucous family.

I took an anthropology class over there on Australian culture, and learned a lot about their checkered past. They were no saintly nation (originally a penal colony and settled by convicts from the UK), taking land from the native inhabitants much like we did in America. The Stolen Generations describes the horrific time when the Australian government, acting as legal guardians for all aboriginal people, ripped children away from their families for decades, from 1905-1970 or so. The Prime Minister finally apologized in 2008, an example we could benefit from in our own country where we did something very similar to our native children, sending them to boarding schools far from their families and forbidding them to practice their culture or speak their language.

Australia is a big, beautiful, unique, nearly empty, dangerous, imperfect, glorious country. It is on fire right now, and it looks like that’s the new norm. With climate change and the rising temps, droughts and dry landscape, these current fires are expected to last for months more. Who knows what the damage will be, and if recovery is even possible. The ecologists estimate that over half a BILLION of the wild animals in one state (NSW) alone, the tourist-loved kangaroos and koalas among the others, have died. I wish I had a positive note to end this on, but I don’t know if there is one. We can pray for Australia, pray for rain, send money for supplies and rebuilding, but it appears that these tragedies are going to continue. Humans are resilient fighters, and will hopefully adapt to climate change with the least amount of causalities possible as it continues to affect our planet.

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Looking for the Good

There was a time that my brain looked no further than 2010. I was the Class of 2010 for my physical therapy program, and having been in school for my whole life, the end of my formal schooling felt like a big END. My mind could get as far as graduation, and then a big, white blank spot appeared.

It has now been a full decade since the end of my school years. In 2010, I completed my last rotation for PT school in Phoenix, Arizona, hiking the desert and avoiding getting bitten by rattle snakes in my off time. I graduated with my Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from Marquette University. Quite randomly, I moved out to Spokane, Washington, with two friends from school. Later in 2010, I met my would-be husband. We married in 2012. After one year of newlywedness and several honeymoons, we had many different roommates for various periods of time. We had a roommate from Kenya who was interning at our church live with us for a summer. We met a new couple friend, also through our church, that we bonded with over boardgames and nerd-dom and semi-spontaneously ended up rooming with for a year, along with another friend of theirs who hopped into the Henn House for several months. Then my best friend and her husband moved in while house hunting, and we added another couple who was in between school/internships/stages for the infamous “Triple Double.”

In 2015, I had a pre-molar pregnancy, D&C, and dealt with the bitter disappointment of thinking that we had conceived when, really, we hadn’t. We assuaged some of the disappointment from that by planning a trip to Europe, which doubled as a babymoon since we were, thankfully!, able to conceive again relatively quickly. 2016 brought our sweet girl into the world, and the pattern of my life will not be the same for a long time. I went to down part time at work, and 2018 saw the birth of our son! 2019, as I’ve mentioned in this blog, was a rough one for many loved ones around us, and ourselves included with me losing my first and only professional job.

As a whole, the last decade has definitely felt like my entering adulthood years. Obviously, getting out of school, living completely on my own for the first time, and getting married and starting a family is pretty grown-up business. I’ve enjoyed getting into my 30s. I feel like I’ve earned a little maturity and wisdom, as only life, suffering and deep joys can bring. I’ve seen some truths come to light, such as realizing that there’s no such thing as black and white for anything. Politics, religion, relationships: everything is nuanced and context-dependent. To try to boil things down into simple opposites, right and wrong, good and evil, etc, is naive and limiting, and misses out on the deeper realities. I’ve embraced the gray-zones with wide arms more recently, and haven’t been put off by unanswerable questions or serious doubts. I’ve come to question A LOT of what I grew up believing. Two-decades-ago-me would think that today-me is a heretic, I am sure. And that’s ok. I was who I was then, doing the best with what I had and knew. And I’ve grown.

Looking ahead into the next decade feels predictable, maybe? Having kids now puts us on a certain trajectory as far as routine, starting school, the school-year schedule etc. At the end of the next decade, my kids will be 13 and 11. Teenagers! I’ve got a full decade to appreciate and soak up their cute, little kiddiness before they turn into hormonal narcissists. My husband and I plan to adopt some more kids into the family, likely when our first two are a bit older, but probably within this next decade. That’ll be an intimidating, exciting, scary bridge to cross when the time comes. Professionally, I’ll be starting a new job next week, and I’m looking forward to see where that takes me. I’ve become a bit specialized in a certain treatment area, so it’ll be fun to pursue that more going forward.

Spiritually, philosophically, emotionally, I am excited to keep learning and stretching and growing. I have SO MANY BOOKS to read! I can only hope that I will continue to expand my mind, to be exposed to new thoughts and ideas and keep processing them out loud with my friends and husband. I hope that I will continue to grow in love that knows no bounds, that keeps building the table longer and longer and keeps inviting everyone over for the party. I hope I will keep confronting my hidden judgments, stereotypes and blind spots that I can break open and confront. I hope I stay humble and never think that I’ve got it all figured out (I do struggle with pride, so that is a temptation of mine to think that I’ve gotten it Right). I hope to maintain our dearest friends and relationships, and possibly start some new ones, especially as our kids start bringing people into our fold on their own.

Despite how nasty this last year felt, despite how ugly and divided things can seem in the US politically and socially, despite the very real ongoing racism and xenophobia and homophobia, despite the loathing I feel for our current Commander in Chief, I do look ahead hopefully. People have always thought things were getting worse and everything was going to explode at all times and eras. I’m reading a book right now on the Pilgrims, and they left England because they thought the country was so corrupt and evil and would be taken over by the dreaded Catholics, they literally had no hope left in their homeland. And yet here we all are. Life goes on. And however ugly things can and will be at times, there are always pockets of joy and happiness. We can choose joy, in fact, even in the bad times.

So I will expect and look for the Good going into the roaring 20s. It’s out there, waiting for us. Let’s look forward optimistically, expectantly, and excitedly, and will it into existence!

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Birthing

The last Sunday of Advent focuses on birthing. There’s the literal sense of Mary birthing Jesus into the world, and the spiritual sense of the Divine entering into Life, joining with all of creation.

Richard Rohr talks about Jesus’ birth being the second incarnation, that Christ first entered the world through creation. The Bible says that Christ is in all. Jesus, more than simply the human man, is Christ, is God, and is the Word that was in the beginning, before anything else existed.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this, that Christ is in all. It sounds so “new agey” to me, and yet the Bible is full of passages that discuss this. “The kingdom of God is within you.” I’ve felt a bit like a faulty lighter recently, sparking and flickering and almost catching flame. I keep getting these tiny glimpses of connectedness.

Yesterday, I was doing yoga at a beautiful cathedral, staring up at the colorful glass that was glowing with the early sunset while I was in down dog. At the end, the instructor had everyone Om together three times. The first Om felt a bit forced, unnatural. But as I sank into the moment and went with it fully, in the second Om, I could feel my lungs vibrating on the same frequency as everyone in the room. The same frequency echoing through the universe from the big bang that started it all. Us all. A glimpse.

Christianity speaks about being “born again.” That phrase has gotten a bit used and abused, become a token prayer to get someone a ticket out of hell. It’s such a sad, limited and limiting short-sightedness to look at Jesus’ life that way. His birth as a messy, hungry little baby, coming into the world at an inopportune time, into a occupied land. His three decades on this Earth, living and loving and serving, totally upending the religious status quo of his culture, the political status quo, interpersonal status quos. And ultimately, his death, giving up his life out of deep, deep love for all creation, for all people. Not simply as a ticket out of hell, not because we are all so deprived and sinful and have pissed God off and need Jesus to step in between as savior. But “because God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son.”

I get born again every time I read a good book. I got born again at yoga yesterday. I get born again after profound conversations with my friends and husband. I get born again when I live fully in the moment with my children, seeing the absolute love, trust, and awe in their eyes as they encounter the world by my side. I am constantly getting born again, constantly growing and changing and shedding my old flesh for new. It’s so gross to know that we literally shed our skin cells and are essentially a new person every 100 days. But seriously, life is constantly on the move.

Birth is messy, painful, inconvenient, dangerous, and hard. I pushed my daughter out for over two hours; it was fricken hard. I battle-cried my son out in three fell swoops, but then I hemorrhaged and needed emergency surgery and multiple blood transfusions. Physical birth may be easier than emotional, mental, and spiritual rebirth. It hurts to realize that you need to grow, that you are incomplete or not fully informed and need to radically adjust your worldview. Giving birth is tough work, but always worth the payoff.

I will keep pondering this idea of connectedness, of Christ in ALL, of the kingdom of God being within me. Within you. Within nature, within Muslims and Jews and Hindus. Within immigrants and politicians and stock brokers. Within environmental lobbyists and oil industry CEOs. Within Peace corps volunteers and NFL players. Within kind hearted nurses and insurance companies. My birth is continual, sometimes messy, sometimes painful, occasionally full of an otherworldly bliss that saturates it all.

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Acceptance

Keeping up with the Advent theme using the Carmelite nun’s approach (that I heard about from Sarah Bessey), this week’s value is Acceptance.

I have never been a fan of the odd years, and 2019 was no exception. I felt surrounded by a lot of suffering this year, which partly drove me to start writing this blog. I needed a place to process everything going on, both in my personal life and in the world around me.

As I’ve witnessed the suffering of my family, friends, and community at large this year, I’ve wondered about the best way to handle it. How can we deal with suffering in a healthy way? Because it is here and it isn’t going anywhere. People like to think that “the world is going to Hell in a hand-basket” in every era. Every generation thinks the next generation is messed up and broken (how easy to point out the flaws of others), when realistically, the world has been messed up since day two. The world used to be a much more violent, tribal, cruel place than it is today. Supposedly, we are living in the safest time Earth has ever seen ( https://www.ijpr.org/post/world-actually-safer-ever-and-heres-data-prove#stream/0 ), but it certainly doesn’t feel like that when you watch the news and see the 385+ reports of mass shootings in America from this year alone.

Suffering is all around us, whether in society at large or within our own, personal lives. Poor health, broken relationships, loss of jobs, death of loved ones, chronic pain. So how do we deal with it?

One thing that has been helpful for me is a kind of acceptance. Instead of thinking “woe is me” and wondering why bad things happen to good people, it has been freeing for me to realize that suffering is simply here. It is woven into the fabric of the earth, and wishing it away won’t do any good. Bad things happen to good and bad people, as do good things. An attitude of acceptance at least gets me off the hook of wondering “why me” or trying to analyze what went wrong. Suffering simply is, and it’s here to stay.

This is not to say that I won’t try to improve my lot or work for the betterment of society. I am appalled at some of the very present evils I see. I won’t be the one to cure cancer or kill white supremacy once and for all, but I can do my small part. I can use my awareness of societal ills (racism, income inequality, misogyny, environmental threats etc ) and try to educate others, to speak up to my representatives, and vote my concerns into office. I can use my daily life to honor the dignity of each human life I meet, whether that’s my neighbors, my patients, or the homeless person on the street corner. I can raise my kids to be activists and allies and to stand up for the rights of others.

Acceptance can feel like a passive, weak reaction. To see a problem and sit down and take it. When really, I think acceptance is actually setting us up for a strong, healthy response and reaction. When we’re not distracted with our misery and wallowing in the “why me” suffering loop, when we’ve accepted that something tragic has happened to us simply because that is life, then we are free to move toward health. We are free to take a big picture approach and see our whole life as full of both joy and suffering. Acceptance lets us sit in our grief, acknowlege it in a healthy way, process it all the way through, and then move on again.

In the Advent story, Mary is held up to showcase this value of Acceptance, as she humbly accepted her calling to be the Mother of the Son of God. This was a bold, brave, radical act. She was knowingly taking on the derision of others, the vicious gossip (not even married but pregnant?), the scorn of her community, the unimaginable weight of being an actual mother to a human baby that is God incarnate?? Mary was likely around 13 years old when she was engaged to be married (the norm for that time and culture). I CANNOT EVEN fathom being mature enough to handle motherhood, let alone of this special variety, at that age. Yet she accepted her calling and rose to the occasion, and stood by her son until his death, probably the most difficult torture any parent could face. Mary accepted that her life was not going to be normal or easy, and she tackled it head on.

We can all take comfort from Mary’s words as she rejoiced in God joining humanity as one of us:

“His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him. He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts. He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold.”

God is on the side of the oppressed, the powerless, the hungry and the poor. God cares about people who are suffering. God cares about the victims of tyrants, about the girls in sex-trafficking, about the immigrants in cages at our border, about the victims of income inequality who are worried about their next meal. God cares about families affected by the Muslim ban, the transgender ban, the discriminated against, about cultural minority groups who are profiled and whose stories go unnoticed. God’s mercy flows in wave after wave, which is good news to us all.

Accept that suffering is very much here. It is a piece of this world as it is, this side of the Kingdom of God. And take comfort knowing that God came to be with us, and is working through us to bring God’s Kingdom, “where the last shall be first and the first last,” here to Earth.

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Waiting on the Move

I subscribe to Sarah Bessey’s weekly emails (so worth it!), and right now she’s doing an Advent series as we approach Christmas. She just wrote a post on the theme of Waiting. The traditional Advent values to celebrate in the four Sundays leading up to Christmas are Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. Sarah found out that the Carmelite nuns have their own version, and focus on Waiting, Accepting, Journeying, and Birthing instead.

I like this approach to Advent a lot. It can be hard for me to not get cynical sometimes, and the values of hope, peace, joy and love are so crucial but also so seemingly missing from our world a lot of the time. It’s hard for me to feel hopeful when I am so acutely aware of all the suffering going on day to day at personal and global levels. It’s certainly hard to feel peace when there is still so much conflict in my own country and around the world. I feel fairly peaceful in my own, personal life, but I don’t believe that I’m made to live in a bubble. So the knowledge of suffering of others is enough to disrupt my peace.

I can really identify with the idea of Waiting. I believe in a good and holy Universe, one created with a divine purpose. I believe that we are all made in the image of God, are made with purpose, value, and love, and that everyone is capable of both good and evil. I believe that the Creator of the Universe desires each of us to be in union with all of creation, to live in harmony with each other and with nature. And while I do not feel at peace that any of that is happening currently, I feel the longing and waiting for how it should be.

Waiting can be healthy or unhealthy, like so many things. Healthy waiting to me seems active. I am waiting to find my next job, but I’m not simply sitting at home wishing for a job to call me. I’m sending out resumes and interviewing and actively seeking it out.

I’m waiting for a kinder world, where people realize that we are all nuanced, we all have a story, and we are mostly all trying our best. I’m waiting for a world in which people root each other on, believe the best in each other, and give each other a leg up where they can, as opposed to being so insecure and weak that they look to put down and humiliate anyone they can in order to feel better about themselves. My waiting is active, as I try to practice kindness myself. As I intentionally look for people to help, with my resources, money and/or time. As I support and cheer on someone else’s success without thinking it takes away from my own. As I strive to be understanding and considerate when someone disappoints or frustrates me, knowing that I do not know their whole story. As I wait, I hope to assist in bringing about the world I’m waiting for.

The hardest thing for me is to wait when I know that there is no guarantee of the outcome I want. I do not believe in a “prosperity gospel,” which got popular in the 1950s. I do not think that there is a certain number of prayers, or people praying, or days of fasting, or money given to the church, or any formula, to make God act like a genie. So, while I am really, really praying for better health for people in my family, I know that they may never get the outcome we want. That’s just life. While I’m praying to find a job that I will enjoy and that will support my family and the work/life balance I want, I know that just may not happen.

Waiting for something you know is going to happen can be hard enough. Waiting for an unknown, an uncertain outcome, that’s where faith really comes in. Not faith that I will ultimately get what I want or that things will work out the way I’m hoping, but faith that I will be ok, no matter what happens. Faith that God is present with me in my suffering and my success, and that my life can be joyful and fulfilling even if it doesn’t turn out as planned. Faith that I will be strong enough to withstand the worst outcome. Or faith that I will keep maturing and growing and maybe realize that what I was waiting for is unnecessary or off track.

There is a lot to wait for in this world. Waiting for the next phase of life, to meet your spouse, to get pregnant, for the kids to start sleeping through the night, for the next stage. Waiting for a promotion or a better job. Waiting to have enough money to afford that big trip, house, or to afford anything. Waiting to feel healthy, self-assured, mentally and physically strong. Waiting for that relationship to improve. Waiting to get brave enough to truly be yourself, out in the world. A lot of that waiting can be active. WE are our best bet at bringing about the fate we seek. And as for the rest, “give it to God.”

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Full of Thanks

How wonderful to have a dedicated season to feeling grateful. Gratitude has the power to transform us. Science is showing more and more benefits to be reaped from intentional gratitude. So, cliche as it is the week of Thanksgiving, here’s a fraction of the things that I am grateful for:

This blog. It has been inspiring and exciting and invigorating for me to publish something and put it out in the world (most) weeks. I write this for me, but hearing from others how some of my rambling thoughts have helped them is a cherry on top.

My husband. I hit the jackpot and got so much more than I even knew to ask for. My husband is an egalitarian feminist, a supporter of human rights, a passionate champion of the little guy, an intellectual overthinker who keeps me on my toes. My parents have a traditional division of labor (Dad took care of the cars, yard, shoveling etc, Mom cooked and cleaned and kept the house running), so to watch my husband do it all is so amazing to me. We both try to do 100% of the work around the house, and to show each other appreciation for it. He makes me feel so loved that it gets annoying. He’s such a good father to our kids, getting up in the middle of the night, giving them their bottles, changing their diapers, dealing with potty training and temper tantrums, “flying” them around the house, building EPIC forts. I’m so reassured knowing that they are being raised by such a studly example of what a man/husband/father can be.

My children. We got lucky twice, to conceive easily and have healthy babies. Even luckier to get babies of sweet, happy dispositions who have made this all pretty easy. I joked to my friend that my son is my “sweet angelic cherub baby” and I’m not really kidding.

My parents. It’s been really fun to enter adulthood and become friends with my parents. I’m grateful for their parenting example, as they did much that my husband and I are seeking to repeat. I’m grateful for their unconditional love and support, for never putting me in a box, and for being such a solid bedrock for me to grow on. I’m grateful that they’ve allowed me to grow and find my own way, without reigning me in or resenting me for wandering from some of their schools of though. We are able to stay loving and close, even within religious and political differences.

My curiosity. I am always reading, always listening to podcasts, always learning and I’m so grateful for the ability to grow. I’m grateful to have a curious mind that is able to seek out, integrate and absorb new ideas, and to then try to improve my life with those concepts.

The Pacific Northwest. My chosen place to settle as an adult is so beautiful. I have started camping, hiking and snowshoeing my way around this beautiful country, and there is a lot more to see. I’m so excited spend the future taking my kids camping and exploring all over the region.

My job. Yes, the actual job that just last week gave notice they are laying me off. Despite that little hiccup, they have been a good place to work, to get my feet wet in my first job out of school, and to grow. I had access to more than enough funds to take continuing education, and was able to fly around and take some really interesting classes all over the West. I had coworkers I’ve truly enjoyed working with and learning from. I was left on my own to treat patients as I saw fit and never once felt pressured to bill more or do anything unethical. I’ve gotten better and better contracts each renewal, gotten more pay, more vacation time, separate sick time. I was supported in my maternity leaves and had support and no guilt to take time away from patients to pump for as long as I wanted (could). So yes, I am thankful for this job (may it rest in peace, lol).

My career. Wherever I work, I am so grateful to be a physical therapist. I get to meet thousands of people a year, to get to know them on a fairly intimate level, and to use my hands and my brain to improve their lives. I’ve had patients become friends, I’ve had patients open up some of the deepest parts of their lives to me, I’ve had patients that were sad to meet their goals and get discharged because they wanted to continue. I’ve had plenty of frustrating, boring and flat out rude patients too, but by and large they’ve been great. I’m so grateful to be able to meet and connect with so many people. I’m grateful to have an understanding of the human body that allows me to fix people’s pain, or to improve their function. I’m grateful to have a job that it interesting – always a new person to meet, a new problem to tackle, with pretty decent variety to keep things interesting.

My church. I am really beyond grateful for New Community, my local church. My faith journey has been a steady but curvy road with questions, doubts, and explorations. I am in a very different place, spiritually and religiously, than I was as a child, certainly, and even as a young adult. I’ve been learning a lot about God, the world, the Bible, humanity, etc etc, and I’m so grateful to have a church that encourages questions, encourages doubt, encourages digging deeper and taking another look at things we’ve grown up assuming, questioning “cultural Christianity” and asking instead, “What does it truly mean to love God, to follow God and to work for the Kingdom of Heaven?” I’m still on the journey, and I’m grateful to have a church that I trust to keep walking with me on that path.

My friends! How did that not come up yet. I have been ridiculously blessed with amazing friends all my life. I still keep in touch with two friends that I’ve known since I was a baby, with my two best friends from the junior high and high school years, and with several friends from undergrad and my Physical Therapy program. I’ve made some pretty fantastic new, adult friends since moving to Spokane. My friends have supported me through so much in such tangible, loving ways. We all need a tribe, and I’ve got a great one.

My body. I’m thankful for this little 5′ 1 – 3/4″ body of mine. She’s been through 3 years of 23hrs/day back brace wearing (the worst!), two major spinal surgeries, three pregnancies – one molar and ending in an emergency D&C, and another ending in a healthy birth but hemorrhage situation also involving emergency surgery and blood transfusions. She’s brought two healthy babies into the world and supported them with breastmilk for 5 solid months. She’s hiked up the Continental Divide, walked across glaciers, white water rafted, kayaked down the Murray River, sky-dived in Fiji, ran the longest distance she will ever run (7.5miles) for Bloomsday, and SCUBA dived on the Great Barrier Reef. She continues to allow me to live my life as I desire.

For failure and suffering. Just as the short, dark days of winter make spring that much more exciting and summer that much sweeter, suffering makes our joys richer. Suffering has brought me clarity, maturity, growth and a deep, deep appreciate for life. It’s hard to truly “live every day as if it’s your last,” but suffering can highlight our priorities and show us how we really want to live.

I could go on. I’m grateful for laughter, grateful for books, for authors, for poets (I just signed up to get a poem a day in my inbox and it’s opening up a whole new world for me!). I’m grateful for cuddles, for strangers who smile back, for random acts of kindness (thank you whoever paid for my coffee at Dutch Bros!). I’m grateful for a sweet, supportive in-law family. I’m grateful for blue skies, for broody dark skies, for the colorful leaves of fall and the beauty of springtime. I’m grateful that my state is supposed to start staying in Daylight savings time soon (wahoo!). I’m grateful for wool socks, for sundresses, for wine, for craft beer (yes, I’m a beer snob), and for cheese (duh). I’m grateful for my daughter’s imagination, for comedians, and for do-gooders. I’m grateful for paid vacation time.

I’m so grateful, knowing full well that all of this is not the norm. At every level, none of this is guaranteed. The majority of humans, I believe, do not have it this well. That humbles me, and makes me want all of us to do better, and deepens my gratitude.

I am grateful for this joyful, messy life.

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Oh-Blah-Dee

“Life goes on, brah / la-la how the life goes on.” The words to that Beatles song have been stuck in my head for days now. I got laid off from my job last week, unexpectedly and shockingly.

I had worked for over 9 years at that job. It was, in fact, my first job out of grad school. It was a great experience, and I really enjoyed what I did. I had nothing but GLOWING performance reviews and praise-filled patient satisfaction reports. So to get kicked to the curb was insulting, surprising and upsetting.

One of the most frustrating parts was that everyone involved got to pass the buck. It wasn’t my director’s fault since the decision was made over her head. It wasn’t even my CEO’s fault since they had brought in an outside consulting firm and that’s who made the decision (nevermind the concept of fighting for a dedicated, loyal, excellent employee and ignoring their suggestion). But you know what, sadly, I get it. It’s the way of the world. Businesses don’t seem to care about their actual human employees anymore, at least not at big corporations like the one I worked at. When the budget gets tight, employees are data and get punched into a formula to improve the bottom line. Nothing personal. (hmmph)

The whole process got me thinking more about suffering and grief. There’s such a tendency to want to offer condolences and empty platitudes to attempt to comfort the grieving. I do it myself when something bad happens to someone I care about. I start looking for the silver lining, saying things like “maybe it’s for the best;” “When a door closes, a window opens somewhere else;” “Trust in God and He will provide.”

However, I don’t remember there being a verse about job security in the Bible. Or even that everything will work out for the best if you simply trust in God. Yes, trusting God may bring peace and comfort, knowing that whatever happens, God is on your side. Yes, there are people in the Bible who got rewarded with success (at least, that’s how the authors interpreted the situation at the time). But there are also a lot of faithful Christians who get the shaft every day. Who get fired, who get sick, who lose a loved one. And it doesn’t work out. I might very well end up finding a new job with worse hours, certainly with less PTO, and worse pay (I had it pretty good where I had been).

I think the best comfort we can reasonably expect is that God is present in our suffering with us. That God has lived a full life on this earth, full of suffering in the person of Jesus, and so God really and truly knows our pain. Jesus was homeless, misjudged, misunderstood, abandoned by those he loved, and, um, brutally killed by the establishment for questioning the status quo. Jesus never got rewarded on this earth with a steady job, a big mansion or a powerful position. God doesn’t promise good endings, but God cares about us and loves us and will sit alongside us in our suffering.

And that is a great comfort. Knowing that the force behind the entire Universe cares about me, personally, and grieves with me in my grief, is beyond moving. Knowing that I am deeply loved and valued, with or without a secure job, with or without material success or even successful relationships, is the bedrock of my identity. And nothing circumstantial can change that. So, it will “all work out,” because no matter what, I am loved, I have value, and I am living a life abundant.

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Second hand Joy

One of the top 20 joyous moments of my life was hearing Thrift Shop by Macklemore on the radio for the first time. I could hardly believe that someone was rapping about thrift stores, about the lie of materialism and celebrating its rejection. And it was oh-so-catchy!  

“They be like “Oh that Gucci, that’s hella tight!”
I’m like “Yo, that’s fifty dollars for a t-shirt!”
Limited edition, let’s do some simple addition
Fifty dollars for a t-shirt, that’s just some ignorant b*!ch sh*t
I call that getting-swindled-and-pimped sh*t
I call that getting tricked by a business”

We have gotten tricked by business. Not only by the idea that a t-shirt made by Gucci or a purse by Coach is any better or more valuable by any other t-shirt or purse, but also by the idea that our possessions speak to our value as a person.

I have always been a bit of a rebel without a cause. I very purposely never crushed on the popular guys in high school (they had enough attention as it was). I purposely never wanted or valued popularity. From what I could see, the popular kids were all envious and jealous of each other, and just as neurotic and self-conscious as the rest of us. Why agonize over joining their ranks? I had a LOT of fun with my little band of weirdo friends, doing as we pleased. I remember having moments of self-consciousness, wondering if I should try to shop at Abercrombie & Fitch, worrying that most of my clothes came from Kohl’s. But even then, I saw through the thin veneer of selling popularity (and self-worth) by way of name brand clothing.

As I got older and more aware of the global impact of being an American, I learned about where most of our clothes came from and who was making them. It was very difficult to find a clothing store that didn’t get in trouble at some point for using sweat shop labor. So many big name clothing manufacturers had shipped their factories overseas, avoiding our American laws on child labor, paid leave, and general decency like 8 hr work days and safe working conditions in buildings that were built to code. I found it so challenging, in fact, to find a single store who didn’t use brands of clothing made via sweatshops, that the only way I could feel comfortably ethical buying clothes was to get them second hand. Sometime around 2015 or so, I vowed to only buy clothes without benefiting companies who had taken advantage of cheap labor and mistreated their employees, and to do so meant I only bought used clothes. At least then, even if the clothes were still made in a sweatshop, I was not profiting the company who made them. (I’m also quite frugal, and paying $3 for a perfectly good shirt felt way better than spending $15+ for the same shirt)

[In that time, I did discover that H&M made a commitment to ensuring all of their factories paid a living wage within a certain number of years (a time frame, I believe, that has happened by now). So I will shop there, knowing they are paying their clothing manufacturers a livable wage. I also will buy “new” at stores like TJ Maxx or Ross, since those clothes come from other manufacturers and I’m not profiting the people who originally had them made.]

I just saw today that Jane Fonda (love her!) committed to never buying a new piece of clothing for the rest of her life. She was inspired by Greta Thunberg and her ideas of consumerism (how cool is that, by the way, for an 81 y/o to let herself by inspired to change her life by a 16 y/o). Ethical manufacturing aside, there are environmental reasons to stop supporting the clothing industry.

The second part of the lie of materialism, even bigger than the lie that one brand of clothing (purse, shoe, watch etc) is really worth more than another because of its name recognition, is the idea that our material possessions give us value or worth.

Part of the American dream seems to have gotten defined by materialism, by “keeping up with the Jones’s.” Success = nice car, big house, nice clothes, fancy STUFF.

I reject that. I firmly reject the idea that a big, fancy house will make me a better person. I reject that owning a lot of name brand purses will make me cool. How about being cool because I am brave and bold enough to live out my individuality, doing whatever makes me happy and brings me joy? How about being cool by trying new things and ideas and activities and not caring what anyone thinks about it? How about measuring success by the amount of late nights up with friends, the volume of deep belly laughs, the number of hugs and kisses given by my children, the number of risks taken and adventures experienced?

Lastly, I find the whole deal to smack so strongly of first world Americanism, and being even remotely globally aware would make one question the amount of stuff we all tend to accumulate in our homes. I’ve traveled the world a bit, and seen families living in dirt floor huts in Fiji and Belize, hanging their few clothes from the rudimentary rafters, keeping their few “kitchen” supplies stacked by the fire, leaving their one pair of shoes by the door. Aside from perhaps lacking in basic education and health care, these people were by and large happy. Having more possessions does not make a person happier or more content – you can see that in one episode of Hoarders. Materialism is a misguided attempt to fill a need that things were never meant to fill – namely our value and worth as human beings. Or even our vanity, our boredom, our desire for influence.

Let’s adopt some of Macklemore’s swagger about rocking some used clothes, and stop looking to our stuff to define us. Life is about so much more than can be bought in a store: ie, relationships, adventures, discovery and love. Let’s go have some fun in our second-hand threads and leave consumerism in the past.

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