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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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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