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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. It 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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A Look Back

I celebrated my birthday this past weekend, a time which always makes me look back at the last year of my life thus far and get a bit introspective.

There were some big things that happened – the birth of my son, a scary experience after his birth with an emergency surgery and multiple blood transfusions for me. Friends had babies, my husband’s law practice continued to grow, my daughter started preschool.

My Christian faith has done a lot of growing and changing in the last year. I was raised with Christian parents, going to Sunday school, AWANAs and youth group since before I could remember. And I was always into it. I heard from the church that I was made by God, and loved by God, and I believed it. I felt loved and secure in that love which greatly shaped my identity. In my youth, my faith was very inwardly focused – with an emphasis on my daily devotional times, Bible reading and individual prayer life. I went to church and youth group where we worshipped and prayed together, but the real “meat and potatoes” of my faith was private. I was supposed to be witnessing to the lost, but always felt a bit awkward about that.

From my church culture, I absorbed a very exclusive Christianity. It was black and white on who was in and who was out. I honestly didn’t even think Catholics were “real Christians,” (which is hilarious, since the Catholic church preceded my Protestant denomination by… a bit). Going to a Catholic University and meeting friends and getting involved in the University Ministry department there blew the lid off that line of thinking. Also in college, I met my first (openly) gay friend, learned about worldwide events and tragedies like Darfur, and had my eyes opened to economic and racial inequalities. I started to see that my little daily quiet times reading the Bible were not where my faith was solely supposed to be focused.

Since then, my faith has shifted and changed a lot. It feels like a lot of that has solidified over this past year, but truly most it has been a long time coming. Since watching a documentary called “For the Bible Tells Me So,” while in college, my views on homosexuality have 180’d. I went from thinking that being gay was a sin and a forbidden lifestyle, to fully embracing LGBTQ people as wonderfully made Children of God, deserving of all dignity and freedom in life, love and marriage. I’ve come to learn about the plight of LGBTQ people in our country – the higher rates of suicide and murder, bullying, homelessness, and discrimination in the workplace. It’s heartbreaking to me, especially, to see the Church be known, more often than not, as a place of judgment and closed doors to this group of people.

My attitude toward the Bible has changed greatly over the years, but most especially this last year as I’ve read several books on the topic. Rob Bell’s “What Is the Bible?,” Pete Enns’s “How the Bible Actually Works,” and Rachel Held Evans’s “Inspired,” were eye-opening to me. Growing up, I used to think the Bible was to be taken literally, I believed in a 7-day Creation story (which meant a young earth, not billions of years old), that a worldwide flood truly happened with 2 of every animal on the planet shoved into one boat, etc etc. I plan to write a whole post on this topic, since I’ve learned so much and want to synthesize and process that more here, but suffice it to say that my views have changed.

I no longer believe that the Bible was ever intending to be a science book, or even an accurate history book. The Bible is a collection of 66 books with over 30 authors, some books completely full of poems, or apocalyptic literature (which is highly symbolic). The various writers of the Bible were all limited-brained human beings, like myself, who were having spiritual encounters with God and trying to make sense of God. You can see, plainly, within the Bible itself, that they are figuring it out, and stories change over time. There are stories told repeatedly in the Old Testament of the same event, with details changed, showing a progression of thought and ideas into the true character of God. The original telling was later believed to be wrong, to have come up short, and over the generations a clearer picture of God emerged (however blurry it continues to be).

So I don’t take the Bible literally, but I take it seriously. A lot of Christians make the Bible an idol, and questioning it will get you cut out of the prayer circle faster than you can say “God bless you.” I read it without putting pressure on it to be a “How to be a Christian Guidebook,” or a science book or perfectly told history book. I look at the bigger themes, the stuff that comes up often and repeatedly, like God’s heart for the poor, the foreigner, the downtrodden. I look at it as a collection of people experiencing God and trying to figure out the great mysteries of life and spirituality, but not landing on solid answers. Then I don’t find myself awkwardly defending God’s supposed orders to kill people all the time in the Old Testament, like wayward sons, people who worked on the Sabbath, and full blown genocides of entire people groups who were unfortunate to be in the Israelities’ way. I don’t see it as picking as choosing what to look at or believe, so much as I see it as interpreting what I’m reading through a new lens. I believe that we are tasked with reading the Bible using our discernment and with wisdom, engaging with and challenging the text.

More than anything, my faith perspective over the last year has shifted to be much more outwardly focused. My parents had our family volunteer at soup kitchens now and then, out of our Christian beliefs, and I volunteered in college for various non-profits. But the major focus of my faith was always still on myself and my personal, independent relationship with God. Over this last year especially, I’ve come to believe that my faith is not about me much at all. Of course I still have personal things to deal with, and I try to invite God into those situations with meditation and prayer. However, I’ve come to see God’s great big, wide open heart for all of humanity, and I’ve realized that I need to be concerned for all of humanity as well.

The Bible talks often of reconciling ALL of creation to God, of restoring all the nations, even the cosmos, to God’s original plan for creation, with everyone living in harmony with each other and with the natural world. So I need to care about global warming, pollution and problems like deforestation (like we’re seeing so tragically done in the Amazon currently). I need to care about people outside of my groups – outside of my economic group (caring both about the super rich and what they’re doing and about those in poverty), outside of my ethnic group (caring about Hispanic immigrants, Black and brown lives and ongoing racial injustice), outside of my country, outside of my sexual and gender identity’s group, outside of my religious group. I care about everyone and everything in the world, just like God. Because I am moved by God’s particular, personal and individual love for me, and God’s shocking mercy and grace which I don’t deserve, I am driven to seek out God’s will and God’s heart for all creation.

And yes, that’s exhausting, and yes, I won’t come close to solving a single one of those issues. But I work at it in whatever small ways I can, knowing that God is at work in this world through God’s people. The Christian faith is meant to have legs, and to be constantly on the lookout for ways to spread the Good News of Jesus: that all of humanity is incredibly loved by God from the moment of our creation, before we ever open our mouths, and that God is quick to mercy and forgiveness and longs to bring us into wholeness and a fuller life.

I am solidly in my mid-30s now, and by no means have figured out this whole thing called life. But I’ve learned to hold onto things loosely. Both my material possessions, remaining unattached to things so I’m never too upset if something gets stolen/lost/broken, and my intellectual and spiritual beliefs, so I’m not so rigidly stuck to an idea that new information coming along cannot be processed and considered. Thank God for growth, for counseling, for more educated people than myself who write books, for my church and friends who push and challenge me.

Here’s to the next year!

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Come on, now

Several times in the past month, while talking about my kids with relative strangers (patients at work, neighbors, etc), people have said something similiar to the following about parents who work full time:

“Why even bother to have kids if you aren’t going to raise them?”

It’s a sentiment I hear only coming from the older generations, my parents’ generation and older, who I assume were predominantly full time stay at home moms with full time working husbands. That was the cultural norm for a brief period of time. And although I am not a full time working parent myself (I do, however, work part time at 20 hrs/wk), I find that statement extremely ignorant, hurtful and annoying.

Ignorant because, in our generation, it’s very difficult for families to subsist on one income. There are career tracks that pay quite well and could afford a family to have only one working parent, but a lot of people work in jobs that would not pay the bills by themselves. Do the people making this comment really think that couples who are not financially capable of living off one of their incomes must forgo having children?

Ignorant again because it is not true that if children are in daycare five days/wk, then their parental influence becomes inconsequential. The NIH itself says that “a child’s family life has more influence on a child’s development through age four and a half than does a child’s experience in child care.” I looked up that quote because I remember reading another article in the past that made that same point, and wanted to confirm. Even if kids are in daycare full time, their parents are still the biggest influence in their life, at least at these young ages (once they’re in school and making friend groups, there are a lot more influences overall). So parents are still raising the kids and having a direct impact on them, no matter if they work or are at home full time.

Hurtful (obviously) because again, some families cannot afford to have a stay a home parent, and are forced to both work. People who must both work to support kids are just as likely to want children as the next couple. Come on.

Hurtful again, because even if a couple could afford one parent to stay home full or part time, perhaps both parents are invested in very rewarding and fulfilling careers that they spent a lot of time and resources to get into (advanced degrees etc) and don’t want to throw all that out the window. There are people who both want kids, and want to work. I myself am in this category. I am a physical therapist, I have a doctorate degree that took extra schooling to achieve, and I really love my job. I view it as a ministry, using my hands to bring healing into people’s lives, and I truly enjoy meeting new patients and fulfilling my extroverted chatty-bug all the time. I didn’t want to stop working all together when I had kids, and having kids was also very important to me. I am allowed to love my job and to love my kids at the same time.

The statement is annoying to me as well, because it assumes that staying at home when kids are really young is all parenting is about. What if someone isn’t that into babies but really wants children for the future teenagers they will become? I know parents who love the older stages of parenting more than the baby/toddler years. So maybe they need daycare to get them through the, VERY DEMANDING, early childhood years with a little extra help, and then will be super hands on and involved when the kids are a bit older. Come on.

Can we stop making stupid comments like this that judge other people’s lives when we know nothing about their situation? Come on, people. Let’s do better.

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Seriously?

I’ve been seeing a lot in my newsfeed about this John MacArthur video in which he denigrates Beth Moore. I’m not familiar with John MacArthur, but apparently the guy has been a pastor for 50 yrs. Beth Moore is another current spiritual leader who has written tons of books and devotionals over decades. I’m not that familiar with her either, honestly, but I know she’s had a lot of influence within Christianity in our times.

I watched the video and was so appalled. These men are acting like such pathetic children. They were putting her down, saying she’s narcissistic, to “go home” and that neither she nor any woman has Biblical permission to preach and teach. What utter bullshit. I cannot measure the patheticness I see on that stage in that moment. From the angle of the camera, the room is solely full of white men, and they are openly baiting, laughing at and mocking a fellow Christian leader? What the heck?

It’s so sad to watch people awkwardly, clumsily, and painfully fall from power. White men have long assumed full control of all spheres of life – the Church, politics, business, etc. And guess what? That was never ok. It was never ok to completely white-wash society. To put down, stomp on, climb over, take advantage of, rip off and generally use everyone else – women, minorities – in order to maintain a false sense of control. White men were never in control of the universe, but they certainly fought for it. White men were never in control of Christianity or any religion. They certainly believed they were, and certainly used their control to smoother any outside voices trying to speak up. Tragedy.

But the outside voices are finally getting in. We are finally getting closer to a picture of Heaven within the church when we have women lead and preach, when we have people of color and LGBTQ people adding their voices and their leadership to our midst. The Bible, as those men in the video are falsely pointing to for their supposed choke-hold on teaching and preaching, is abundantly clear that ALL NATIONS and ALL PEOPLES are in. There are countless references to the Kingdom of God extending to all people groups in both Old Testament and New. Jesus himself radically included women in his ministry, which in his time was even more counter-cultural than it would be today. Jesus’ financial backers were women, the first person chosen to spread the message of his return after death was a woman, the longest dialogue Jesus has within anyone in the whole Bible is the woman at the well, there are female disciples and apostles listed in the Scriptures. Entire books are written on this, Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey being one great example.

Part of me wants to pity sad, little men like John MacArthur, like our toddler Commander in Chief, who are so insecure and weak that they have to put down others to feel better about themselves. But they don’t deserve pity. They deserve a swift slap in the face and to grow up and mature a little. White men used to get away with a lot – stealing ideas without giving credit; more open doors and opportunities because of their white, male status and upbringing; grabbing and groping women in the workplace without repercussion. (Not to mention colonialism and the genocide of entire people groups.) The status quo was the norm, but it was never ok, and they are not getting away with it all so easily anymore.

Thank God for still being at work in this world. Thank God for giving folks the courage to speak up and defend themselves, to say “this is not ok.” Thank God for being on the side of the oppressed, the stomped on, the taken advantage of and the unseen. Thank God for seeing everyone as God’s beloved child and creation. When we can see ourselves as divinely created and loved, we lose the need to search for power and influence in order to feel important. We lose the impulse to put others down in order to lift ourselves up, because we know that the God of the Universe has already lifted us up as high as the Heavens, as high as the Kingdom of God. When we rest in the total and complete knowledge of our worth and value from the Creator of the Universe, petty human values like status, wealth and power lose their grip and we’re able to live our lives to the fullest without striving and hustling and clamoring to measure up to any human standards. When we rest in the absolute knowledge of our Beloved status, we are free to be 100% ourselves and to move forward with confidence in our lives. These old, white guys don’t get it, and they are missing out.

p.s. I am in no way saying that all white men are pathetic, evil or unhealthy. I personally know a lot of enlightened, mature, healthy and properly self-assured white men, including my own husband, my own father, and my own pastor. I am not putting down “white men” in general, just these sad, sorry types that we’re seeing in the news. The Trumps, the John MacArthurs, the Brett Kavanagh’s (of the past, maybe he has already grown since his college years). A lot of you white men out there are doing a great job at this joyful, messy thing called Life.

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Committed

We live in a non-committal era. Facebook invites are easily ignored or marked as “maybe.” Bowing out of a commitment at the last second via text is fairly common. In the swip-right, non-ending-options society we find ourselves in, digging in and staying committed is certainly optional.

Within friendships, it can be easy to let things fade when changing schedules, changing jobs, adding kids to the family or simply distance makes it hard to get together. And when all of these semi-valid reasons for not keeping in touch exist, it’s so easy to ease out of a relationship that has gotten tense. Tense because of changing life stages of one or both parties, tense from newly recognized differences in political or religious opinions, tense because of different expectations or values within the friendship. So we ghost. We get flakey, cancel on commitments, slowly stop responding to texts, and voila! Discomfort escaped.

But should escaping discomfort be our motivator in life? Should we be hiding from and avoiding conflict and tension at all costs? What is that doing to us as a whole? The more we shrug off people with differing opinions or values, the more homogeneous we all become. We start living in echo-chambers, having conversations with people who nod in agreement and validate everything we say without every challenging us to think deeper, more critically, more holistically. We join groups and read books and go to clubs where it’s more of the same.

How dangerous, I think, to surround ourselves with people who are just like ourselves. Humanity is not homogeneous. Mankind is made up of such astonishing variety – different cultures, different colors, different histories, different stories, different perspectives, different ideas, different ways of living out this life that we all share. That variety is truly “the spice of life.” Just as in cooking, a bland dish with very little flavor gets boring quickly and usually isn’t as nourishing. Different dishes with different spices, different meats, different produce keeps the mouth intrigued. Exposing ourselves to different people, ideas and cultures brings intrigue, interest, and health to our life.

The American Church is notoriously homogeneous. There’s a quote that basically says that Sunday mornings are the most segregated time in America. I would go further to say that, beyond racially, we are segregating more and more into spiritual and intellectual camps too. If a church has a musical style we don’t like, we leave. If the sermons are too long, too short, not “meaty” enough, not “seeker-friendly,” too shallow, we leave. Certainly if the content is something we aren’t on board with – too pro-LGBTQ for comfort, not inclusive enough, too Biblically literal, too open to Biblical interpretations (or the wrong one), we leave.

I get it. I think we do this, with relationships and our institutions, because we are all just trying to live this life the best we know how, and we’re seeking validation. No one knows if they are doing life right, but if I find a friend that thinks or does like I do, then that must mean we’re both onto something, that we’ve arrived at the correct way to live. If my church is sharing style or content that I am nodding away in agreement to, then it confirms my opinions.

It was so nice, in a way, the first 24 years of my life being in school. Thankfully, I was a good student, and getting those As felt so good. I had done well, I had performed and studied correctly, and got black and white feedback as to my correctness. How comforting. Being out of school, with no one officially watching my every move and judging and grading me, I think I seek that feedback still. I want to know that I’m living the right way. But the truth is, it is false to think that there is a singular, correct way to live. Even within relationships, even within church and our faith, there is endless variety. Slice out the specific example of current American Christianity from the bigger pie of current, worldwide Christianity, the even larger pie of Western Christianity historically since the split from the Orthodox branches, the bigger pie of Christianity since the beginning of it, from the even bigger pie of religious traditions worldwide across time. Even within that teeny-tiny slice of current, American Christianity, there is a wide variety of beliefs and cultures! That has to be ok! There’s no way that one small twig on one small branch of this massive tree has just arrived at Total, Complete, Ultimate TRUTH. We are ALL FIGURING IT OUT TOGETHER, all the time.

And exposure to variety, exposure to other voices, other viewpoints and opinions, other people and other cultures is critical to advancing humanity as a whole. For a LONG time, the top tiers of society in religion, politics, social structures have been way too monotone. White culture has dominated so much of the world via colonization and wiping out the vibrant and thriving cultures already present. White culture has been the only voice heard from the pulpit, the Oval Office, the school board, the C-suite. And that sucks. We’ve been missing out, as a society, from the lack of female voices, the lack of voices from people of color, the lack of voices of minority groups in the LGBTQ camp, the lack of voices from other religious backgrounds. Those voices are the spices to make our life more interesting, more nuanced, and frankly, more enjoyable.

I’ve been making a concerted effort to expose myself to more of these voices. I’ve been seeking out books written by people of color and LGBTQ authors, I follow accounts on Instagram and listen to podcasts from those same camps. And my life is richer for it. My opinions get challenged and that makes me do a little digging, and think more critically about things I just grew up absorbing passively. Sometimes I change my opinions, sometimes not, but I’m better off from the journey.

There’s also a richness that comes from staying committed in those relationships, at those jobs or clubs, at the churches that don’t echo back our thoughts 100%. There’s a richness that happens from sticking around and developing history, shared culture and experiences with a person or group. There’s something special about those friendships that have been through thick and thin, seen you at your best and worst, and have a lot of blackmail photos of you from school that is hard to start from scratch in a new, adult relationship. We are healthier and more whole when we are challenged, forced to get off auto-pilot and really think about our views, and even just to sit in disagreement with someone. We don’t have to agree with a person to be their friend. We are all allowed to be ourselves, with our own opinions and ways of living life, and it’s ok.

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I am Lovable

It feels slightly awkward to type that. I was debating between that and, “I like myself” for the title of today’s post. It feels awkward because, I think, as much as having good self-esteem is a desired and valued characteristic, it seems hard to voice my healthy self-esteem without coming across as vain or conceited.

I am in my mid-30s, a decade in which I was foretold to gain a healthy sense of identity and confidence. It certainly hasn’t always been here. In my teen years, I was a big fan of No Doubt, and the lyrics to Gwen Stefani’s “Staring Problem” hit home for me.

“Such a cute girl / I’m so jealous / I wish I looked exactly like her / What’s it like to have that body? / I’m gawking while I wonder”

I grew up wearing a back brace from age 9 to age 12. I had severe scoliosis that kept getting worse, and the doctors hoped that wearing that horrid, uncomfortable, hot and bulky brace for 23 hrs/day would stop my spine from continuing to curve. I wore it under my clothes, which looked weird and bulky and wore holes in my shirts from the screws poking out. I tried to own it and joked that I had abs of steel and convinced new kids at school to punch my stomach. I wore it under my softball jerseys and my cheerleader SWEATER (that only I had as all the other girls got to wear cute vests which didn’t work with the brace).

I even wore it over my bathing suit, which was a real treat. There was one time, while on vacation, that I was swimming in a pool and noticed people staring at me and my brace. I felt uncomfortable, as any little girl getting undesired attention would. But as I was swimming and trying to ignore the starers, another little girl entered the pool with her mom. This girl had a significant case of CP, and was really contorted, didn’t seem to be able to verbalize, and was swimming in floaties with her mom even though I remember thinking she looked older than me. And WOOSH, all those staring eyes jumped right to her. That day left a profound impression on me. I remember feeling grateful for my body, and for the relative health I had, and for my physical independence. (I realize that thinking, “wow, glad I’m not that girl” isn’t very kind or honoring to her, but I was 11 and that was my takeaway.)

Another pivotal shift in my self-esteem journey came during high school. By now I had had two major surgeries to correct my spine, and was out of the back brace. My surgeries fused my spine in several places, and stunted further growth in my torso. I was left with a disproportionately short torso and excess skin, which drove me nuts since there was no amount of crunches that could burn off skin tissue to give me the smooth, taut torso I dreamed of. During the summers of my high school career, I worked as a lifeguard at the local beach. If wearing a one-piece swimsuit every day in front of all your peers doesn’t make you get over yourself, nothing will. A lot of my fellow lifeguards also went to my high school, and one of them was a girl named Megan. Megan was the epitome of “hot girl,” a popular cheerleader who was dating an older “man” who wasn’t even in high school anymore! One day while working the same shift, I overheard her complaining to a friend about her figure. My actual thought was, “If even Megan doesn’t like her figure, then the rest of us are screwed!” And somehow, in that moment, I just got over it. I realized that maybe no one ever feels happy with how they look, there’s always someone else to compare to, and decided to give up the fight. I got over caring about my figure and that it didn’t look like the movie stars or even my fellow lifeguards. I again felt grateful for my body and all it allowed me to do, how active I could be and how healthy I was.

Out of school now and into my adult life, I dated a man who was very open about his past relationships. He had described some of them as “hot and heavy,” but lacking substance. I zeroed in on the hot and heavy part, without realizing that he was complaining about the lack of depth and was trying, clumsily, to tell me that I was the whole package. I had looks, chemistry, and something more profound. All I was hearing and was now freaking out about was if our chemistry was lacking and I wasn’t hot enough. This baggage came into our relationship for a long ride, even into our marriage.

In our first year of marriage, we got into an argument and I again was comparing myself and feeling like I didn’t measure up. In the midst of our fight, I ended up giving myself a pep talk. It came out of my mouth from another source – I think it was the voice of God trying to smack me upside the head from within my own head. I basically yelled at myself, explaining that the past girls were lacking, that only having physical attraction isn’t enough for a healthy relationship, that my husband chose me for the total package – my looks, my personality, my intellect, my interests, my humor, my career ambition, my vision for life. How lame would it have been if he only married me because I was the hottest girl he’d ever met? I finally realized that I was so much more than that. And again, it was like a switch got flipped, and I no longer cared about his ex’s. To the point that I can confidently say that I am not the hottest woman that my husband ever dated, and I am not at all bothered by that.

I now, over the accumulation of many instances in my life, have a healthy self-esteem. When people say they think I am beautiful, I believe them. When people say they like me as a person, or think I’m smart, or funny, or anything, I believe them. I don’t think I’m the greatest human to ever walk the planet; hardly. But I like myself. I like who I am and who I’m becoming. I’m still growing, learning, maturing, improving. There’s still work to do, and there probably always will be.

There’s a concept I’ve come across from reading various books, this idea of the lie of scarcity. It is a lie that there is only so much ______ to go around. Only so much talent to go around, only so much love to go around, only so much belonging to go around. Part of my old jealousy from comparing myself to others was because of this idea of scarcity. If someone complimented another girl in my presence: “Stacy is SO funny; Nadia is SO pretty; Whitney is the nicest person in the world;” I would sting because I thought that made me LESS funny, LESS pretty, LESS nice and likable. What a sad lie to believe. My not-quite 3 year old daughter thinks that if she loves something, I can’t also love it. If her favorite color is red, mine cannot be as well. It is infantile thinking, this idea of scarcity. Someone else being talented or successful or attractive has NO BEARING on my own success, my own talent, my own appearance. Let’s stop comparing ourselves, let’s rest on the idea that we are made uniquely with many pros and some cons, let’s believe people when they tell us that they love us. Let’s lavishly spread the compliments and love around, knowing that there is always enough.

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Cherish

My husband likes to do this thing where he picks a word to focus on for the entire year. Something as a goal, or a bad trait to shed, something to be intentional about as a mission throughout the year. I’ve picked it up and it’s a neat habit. A way to be a little more purposeful about growing in maturity.

For the last two years now, I’ve kept my word “cherish.” I am currently a physical therapist part-time, and I also stay at home three days a week with my two children. They are not quite 1 and not quite 3 yrs old. I am a raging extrovert, an enthusiast about life and adventures and experiencing all the things. I have FOMO like woah, so being a stay at home mom, even part time, is challenging for me. It’s hard not to want to rush things. “When they’re older, I’ll be able to take them on more adventures.” So my word cherish is an attempt to stay in the moment, to savor every bit of this cute baby time, to fully experience the sweetness of raising babies and toddlers and watching them become little human beings.

This past week I took a course for work on Mindfulness*. It was geared toward preventing provider burnout (did you know that doctors are more than 2x more likely than the rest of the population to commit suicide??), but honestly would have a been a helpful class for anyone in any profession (including and especially stay at home moms) to take.

Mindfulness is basically the concept of trying to stay present in the moment. Not dwelling on the past or projecting ahead into the future, worrying and obsessing about some problem or issue that hasn’t happened yet, but fully being in the moment of your actual life. Not distractedly scrolling on your phone instead of tuning in to what’s happening in front of your eyes. Not daydreaming or thinking of your response instead of totally focusing on who’s talking to you.

Research shows that mindfulness is beneficial to reduce stress, decrease symptoms of anxiety & depression, reduce chronic pain, boost our immune system, improve attention and concentration, improve relationships and interpersonal skills, stimulate creativity, increase resilience, help us overcome negative emotions and events, and increase feelings of gratitude, kindness and compassion.

Mindfulness isn’t the same as meditation, which most people think means sitting on a pillow with your legs crossed “Om”ing. Mindfulness can be practiced throughout the day, as you intentionally seek to stay in the moment. It means taking yourself off autopilot, noticing the sensations of your clothes as you fold the laundry, feeling the water hit your skin in the shower, noticing the beautiful blue color of the sky as it’s outlined by the bright green leaves of summer. It means keeping your senses engaged and trying to look at the world with more child-like eyes.

My kids are 100% in the moment at all times. I don’t think they have much of a sense of the future or past yet. My daughter remembers things from days, weeks, months ago, but doesn’t seem to dwell or obsessed over past events. And while she gets excited if I mention something that we’ll do in the future, she’s hardly worrying about what tomorrow will bring. Being home and cherishing my time with my kids is really a great place to practice mindfulness, as I try to engage with them in their 100% fully-present state. And when I’m good at it, I notice all these little details, sounds, and sensations that I would have skipped over. When I’m good at it, I really feel the gentle breezes on my face while we sit in the grass, really see the puffy white “elephant” in the clouds, really hear my son’s giggle while my daughter goofs around with him, really feel the softness of their smooth baby skin. I’m ready to catch their eye contact when they look up at me from their play, and reassure them with a quick smile.

I’m certainly not doing this perfectly. I still tune out when my husband starts talking about work, still scroll through my phone while my kids are awake and in front of me, still dwell on things that happened recently or have imaginary conversations (ok, arguments) in my head about politics. Practicing mindfulness, staying engaged and focused on the here and now, takes practice and will continue to be a lifelong goal of mine. Probably why I haven’t gotten a new word for the year yet. But truly, I gain nothing from these distracted thoughts running through my head. And how much joy do I gain when I pay attention and watch my kids learn and grow right in front of my eyes.

Here’s to paying attention, folks.

*Effective Mindfulness Interventions: Techniques to Improve Patient Outcomes & Personal Well-being with Clyde Boiston, PT, OCS, CMF.

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To my Daughter

You started your first day of pre-school last week, and I had a vision of you turning into a young woman. An overly dramatic reaction, I’m sure, but it felt like your first step away into becoming your own person. It has been such a delight to watch you growing up, to see your imagination explode and watch your personality come to life. It makes my heart swell with happiness to see the little person you are becoming.

Every day, I’m amazed by the things you say. I’m trying to keep a journal of all your cute, clever, and funny comments, but there are just too many now! For instance, today you were walking along the edge of an open drawer on our built-in, and I asked you to be careful. You replied: “I’m walking over to the wild side, Mom!” (I hate that you call me MOM, what happened to Mama??) I hope that you always feel confident using your voice, inserting your opinions into any conversation while knowing that your contribution to this world matters deeply. You will learn that listening is usually more powerful than talking, but I hope that you are comfortable speaking up and speaking out.

I love playing make believe with you. We have been astronauts in outer space, squids in the ocean, cheetahs and dinosaurs, switched roles between mommy and daughter and daddy and baby. Our house is full of caves, oceans, mountains, offices, and dance floors. I hope that your imagination continues to thrive and isn’t destroyed by the “real world.” I hope that you continue to come up with wild scenarios for us to make-believe that have no limitations from the laws of science, nature, gender or time.

I love that you are so into monsters, skeletons, bats and ghosts. You love dinosaurs, your construction book and watching neighborhood construction projects from your stroller. You love being outside and playing in the dirt. You love my make-up, nail polish, taking care of your baby dolls, being Mommy’s helper and loving on your baby brother (you were VERY excited to help me sweep this evening). You love swinging high and fast, spinning around in circles, and flying with Daddy. I love that one day you want to wear pretty, sparkly dresses and shoes, and the next day you’re rocking a dinosaur or Cubs shirt. I hope you never lose the ability to express yourself however you choose.

Physically, I hope you can express yourself however you please – whether being gentle and calm or wild and raucous. Fashionistcally, I hope you can express yourself however you please – wearing any color, style, trend or accessory that floats your boat. Emotionally, I hope you can express yourself however you please – smiling, crying, anger, courage, gentleness, the whole gamut. Mentally, I hope you can express yourself however you please – not shying away from acting smart or nerdy, not feeling bad when you don’t know something, maintaining mental curiosity and exploring any interesting topics that you stumble across. Spiritually, I hope you can express yourself however you please – whether in your Mom and Dad’s tradition or not, whether you connect best with God/Creator/Spirit through church, through nature, through music, through art, through reading or writing.

Today you told me that you don’t like mints any more (you are usually obsessed with Altoids and I use them to bribe you frequently). You said you changed your mind. I hope you know that you can ALWAYS change your mind about any variety of topics. You can change your thoughts and opinions based on new knowledge and information learned. You can change your mind on whether you are ok with what is happening at any moment in time. You can change your plans for the future. You can change your boundaries to make yourself and your relationships healthier.

I love to squeeze you tight and force cuddles upon you (I’m trying to start practicing giving you bodily autonomy, I promise!). I love staring at your profile from an inch away, memorizing the curves of your baby nose and lips, the orbs of your big, blue eyes, and the velvety roundness of your cheeks. I hope and pray that the world doesn’t wear you down. There are a lot of terrible, horrible, ugly things out there, sweet girl. Things that your sensitive heart will see and will want to break over. Things that will make you question the goodness of humanity and the sanity of God for making any of this happen. Know this: for every horrific, evil thing you learn about, there is a counterpart. Every human is capable of good and evil. All of us will make the right/good/healthy choice at times, that lead us and others into a better, fuller life. And all of us will choose evil at times – selfishness, self-centeredness, apathy and violence. Keep seeking the good. It’s out there, all the time. And it can be equally heart-breaking with its sweetness. Do your part to bring Heaven down to earth and to make this a better place for all of us. I’m so confident that you will.

I see you; I know you; I love you.

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The Hill

This summer I’ve been riding my bike to work for the most part. It’s a 3-mile trip, and it barely takes me longer to bike than it does to drive (it’s fun blowing past cars lined up at the stop signs). I rarely get the chance to work out these days with having two small kids at home, so it’s a nice opportunity for some exercise, and I get to feel like I’m being helpful for the environment. But every night before a work day, and even the morning of, I find myself starting to look for excuses. Is it supposed to rain today? Don’t I have errands to run I need the car for?

I’m looking for a way out of riding up this one hill. It is fairly steep, lasts for several blocks, and just sucks. I dread it every time, and nearly skip biking to work because of it. And yet, every morning that I make the decision to go ahead and ride, and I conquer the hill again, I feel such a sense of accomplishment! It feels great to have it behind me, and to have done something hard and succeeded. And then, of course, I get the prize of getting to fly DOWN the hill on the way home at the end of the day.

I think it is important that we do hard things in life for practice. Little, simple things like biking up a long hill when you could just drive instead. Because, at least for me, it seems like there’s a natural tendency to avoid discomfort, to look for the easy way out or the comfortable path in life. I am an Enneagram 7, so avoiding pain is pretty much my mojo. But there are important things that we need to deal with in life that are painful, difficult, or uncomfortable.

It is difficult to truly listen to someone else talk when all I want to do is break in with my own point or idea. It is difficult to be fully present in the moment with my little kids at all times. It is difficult to keep caring about social injustice when we see it ALL. THE. TIME. and it’s easier to turn a blind eye. It is difficult to consistently make the healthy choice with regards to food / drink / screen time. It’s difficult to confront that family member, friend, or coworker who says something racist, sexist, etc-ist. It’s difficult to keep taking the initiative and reaching out to friends who don’t always reciprocate. It is difficult to acknowledge that something I’ve believed all my life may be wrong, or at least missing the point. It is difficult to realize that that person I cannot stand or that group of people I find easy to write off contain some goodness and nuance.

Our character is like a muscle, and the more practice we get at doing the difficult thing, at sticking to something hard, at showing up when we want to go home and chill, the easier it does become. We create some muscle memory; we build some endurance. And then when the TRULY difficult thing comes around – caring for a sick family member, dealing with a scary diagnosis yourself, losing a job, struggling in a relationship – we’re a little bit stronger and more prepared.

Let’s conquer the hill, folks. Let’s keep doing hard things, knowing that we are better for it and, hopefully, that we are making the world better because of it.

On Walks

Surprise encounters with deer, turkey, bison and horses.

Smells of pine, pollen and manure.

The startle of finding clean-picked bones in the brush.

Sounds of birdcall, a few passing cars, fewer planes overhead.

The invigorating feel of the breeze, scattered raindrops, warm sunbeams.

The stimulation and inspiration of wisdom pouring through my earbuds.

The warmth of my blood coursing through muscle, the reverberating force of foot on pavement.

Writing on an old stone wall while neighbors pass by.

Taking the time to slow down,

and live.

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