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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Original Blessing by Danielle Shroyer; a book report

I’m going to try to keep this brief, because this book BLEW MY MIND and I want to quote the entire thing here. Every page (honestly) felt like a mic-drop, and I highlighted a major portion of it. I would highly recommend it to anyone who grew up religious in a Western Christian denomination with the concept of “original sin.”

Ms. Shroyer is making the argument that the entire Gospel message is not one of humanity’s depraved sin nature separating us from God, and requiring a bloody sacrifice in order to assuage God’s vicious anger against us in order to make things right. Instead, it’s the story of God who wants to be in a relationship with us so badly and is on our side so much that God became human to help us see how we can live into our true, blessed nature and live our life to the fullest, certain in the knowledge of our profound worth from God’s unconditional love.

Original sin is the concept (that only exists in the Western Church by the way, the Eastern orthodox branch never went down this path, nor is the concept seen in Judaism or Islam), that when Adam and Eve sinned, they changed human nature itself to be an inherently sinful, depraved resting state. That now all of humanity has a broken relationship with God, and are separated from God by our sin, and need Jesus’ death on the cross to restore our relationship to God. This idea did not arise until 500 yrs after Christianity was established, and isn’t mentioned in the two early creeds that most Christians still point at to clarify our beliefs (the Nicene Creed and the Apostle’s Creed).

It was interesting to go back and read the Genesis story and see what is actually said and not said (and I did read it again in my own Bible and didn’t just take her word for it). The fruit isn’t an apple. Satan is never mentioned in the story (only “the serpent”), the man and woman are never cursed (the serpent and the ground are), and never does God say that because of their sin, sin will now be passed down through birth to all generations. Immediately after doling out their consequences, God provided them with better clothing than they had made themselves, sticking to God’s end of the deal to always be on our side, even when we screw up.

In the story, when God made mankind, God called Creation “so good, so very good,” and that blessing has never been taken away. We are created, both men and women, in God’s image and with God’s blessing. God desires to be in a relationship with us, and loves us at the maximum possible level before we ever do a thing.

I think of my own children, and of the love I felt for them while they were still just little chubby blobs of soft baby flesh. Before they could voluntarily move their own limbs, let alone speak or act or “do” anything to earn my love, I was maxed out. My heart threatens to burst with love from the simple fact of their existence. THAT is God’s love for us. God loves us as-is from day one and never takes that love away.

That doesn’t mean we get a free pass to just do whatever we want. God can be disappointed in us and love us at the same time, as any parent knows. We can chose to walk far, far away from God and commit evil acts that break God’s heart. God wants us to live our best lives, again, like a good parent. The book says, goodness is our origin, but it’s also a goal. We are free to grow in love and maturity from a safe, healthy place of already being loved, and not out of a fear of hell, or striving to earn love or approval.

The concept of original sin functioned as a nice cop out, a way to blame poor choices or evil and suffering. If we are all truly depraved, well then of course I screw up sometimes. It’s harder to own our choices, and admit that, as humans, sometimes we’re good and sometimes we’re bad. Yes, we have all sinned, but because we are all imperfect humans, not because we are flawed from birth. We don’t have a sin nature, simply a human nature.

People’s greatest motivation is to be seen, known, and loved. We are motivated by connection and community, not by punishment. When we rest in God’s blessing, knowing we are loved, we become motivated to do better with our lives. We realize more the interconnectedness of humanity, because if God loves me this much just for existing, that means God loves everyone else just as much. And how I treat my neighbor becomes much more important. So I practice being kind, loving, generous, forgiving, less judgmental, less anxious. The Bible pits life vs death way more than good vs evil. Christianity is about bringing life and fuller life to the world, and to ourselves. Death goes beyond physical death – separation from God (at our own doing), broken relationships, violence, injustice etc is all death of our humanity. Life is living into our goodness, our blessed nature and calling, is being the purest, truest version of ourselves.

She talked a lot about the question she often gets – without a sin nature or being separated from God by our sin, then why do we need Jesus? I love this quote:

“God doesn’t need to humiliate us before giving us grace just to ensure the grace is effective and appreciated…If we are told we have to feel bad before we can appreciate feeling loved, it isn’t love we’ve found.” BOOM.

Jesus is so much more than a ticket out of hell. Jesus lived a whole life and did and said a lot of things besides dying on the cross. Jesus’ life and actions show us how to live (humbly, modestly, selflessly), how to interact with our fellow humans (spoiler alert: love them ALL!), how to uproot the norms and challenge the establishments (religious, political, societal), and how to usher in God’s Kingdom to this world. God’s Kingdom, which cares nothing for human power, nothing for political influence, nothing for borders and hierarchies; which cares to make every human living on this planet know that they are seen, are known, are worthy and are loved beyond belief.

“[Jesus came] not to fix our sin problem, but to fix our blessing problem, which is that we are in the terrifying and tragic habit of forgetting we have one, and that it comes from a God who will do anything and everything to be with us.”

I highly recommend this book to practicing Christians, to former Christians who have been turned off by…well, there are a lot of reasons I could list that could have soured someone to Christianity. To anyone wondering why anyone would believe in this ancient book, these old stories and fables, this poor, middle eastern, brown-skinned, homeless refugee who has nothing in common with a white American (sorry to break it to you, but we’re the Romans if you didn’t know), check this book out. It might open your eyes and melt your heart with the Goodness of God’s love.

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.

Why my Christian faith compels me to vote Blue

“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” Ezekiel 16:49-50

I grew up thinking that Republicans were Christians, and deserved my vote across the board. As I’ve grown and learned about life and society and politics, my view has certainly changed. I now vote for issues over party, however my votes tend to always go Democrat. Although I’m hardly a poli-sci expert, I would like to explain why, as a practicing Christian, I vote the way I do.

#1 Care for the poor and needy

The Bible is ABUNDANTLY clear on how we, as a society, are supposed to handle the poor in our midst. As there are nearly 100 verses on caring for the poor in the Bible, I’ll spare you and just list a few:

  • “Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” – James 1:27 (The Message)
  • “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” – 1 John 3:17
  • “For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.” – Psalm 72:12-14

I could go on, but you get the point. While one could say that there are private services, and even churches, doing this work, I would argue that our society is too large and the need too great to rely on the selfless goodness of others. Using the government, which is already taking in taxes and providing far-reaching social programs, is practical.

As a Christian, I am told not to value money or store up personal wealth. The Bible is also ABUNDANTLY clear on that topic, with over 2,000 verses on money and possessions. So I am honestly OK with the thought of my money going toward keeping food on someone’s table, medical bills in check, etc etc. Democrats promote social programs and use public resources (taxes) for the greater good.

#2 Protecting the rights of all people

As a Christian, I believe that everyone is born a child of God, and that God loves that person with reckless abandon from day one, before they even open their eyes. Therefore, it makes me sad and angry to see the basic rights of children of God – when they identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, or queer – stripped away. Democrats do a far better job at protecting our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in the political sphere than the Republicans.

Romans 12:9-10 says “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” And John 13:34-35 instructs us, “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

The church has grossly failed the LGBTQ community as a whole, at least from my Evangelical background, and there’s a whole entire post I could write about that. Suffice it to say, to demonstrate my love for God’s children, LGBTQ included, I vote for equal rights.

We still live in a racialized society, with racism even more public and widespread in the era of Trump. People of color are more likely to face police brutality, are more likely to be profiled, more likely to suffer at the hands of systemic racism that is currently built into the fabric of this country. Democrats are more likely to be concerned with racial equality, and have far greater minority representation within the party. I vote because Black Lives Matter.

3# Environmental Protection and Regulation

As a Christian, I believe that we are called to be good stewards of the Earth. “Steward” feels like an old-fashioned word these days, but essentially God tasked us to care for and protect his Creation.

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” – Psalm 24:1

Billy Graham once said “of all people, Christians should be the most concerned for the environment.” However we see Republicans more concerned about protecting Big Industry and their bottom line than they are in looking after our planet. With the climate crisis upon us, I vote blue to protect this planet for my children.

#4 Valuing economic equality

Again, as a Christian, I have strong views on how we are to value money. The love of money is the root of all evil, according to the Bible. Not money itself, and I do believe that a person can be wealthy in a healthy, God-honoring way. But Democrats are more likely than Republicans to regulate Wall Street and to try to close the economic gap between the super wealthy and the lower class, thereby looking after the poor and the “least of these.”

#5 Pro life

  • Pro refugee lives
  • Pro immigrant lives
  • Pro black lives
  • Pro LGBTQ lives
  • Pro gender equality
  • Pro prisoner lives
  • Ending the school to prison pipeline
  • Stricter gun control measures to stop the epidemic of mass shootings
  • Anti death penalty
  • Anti abortion. However, I believe that making abortion illegal only makes it illegal, and hardly stops them from happening. I believe a better way to actually lower the amount of abortions happening is to focus on birth control, relevant sex-ed in school (states with abstinence only programs have higher teen pregnancies), and programs for low-income or single mothers.

All of this is to say why I, as a Christian, vote the way I do. I do not want to villianize Republicans or anyone who thinks differently than I do. Many of my close friends fall on the moderate-conservative end of the scale. My husband and I are friends with a woman who works in politics, sometimes at the national level, for Republicans. She is one of the most intelligent people I know, and I deeply respect her and her political views. People have different reasons for voting, or not voting, the way they do, and I don’t condemn anyone who doesn’t agree with me. I know politics are complicated, and the Democrats are hardly a shining, moral example of perfectly looking out for the downtrodden. I’m sure there are just as many corrupt Dems as there are Republicans. These are simply my main concerns, as an American Christian, and I think the Democratic platform as a whole aligns more closely with my Christian values.

God has a heart for justice, a love for ALL of God’s creation (whether they know and love God back or not), and the desire to bring us all into the best life possible. We live in a society where our vote and our actions and our words matter. While I do ultimately believe that God and goodness will preside over evil, it is still on us to actively work at bringing Heaven down to Earth.

As it says in the Psalms, “Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God. He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them – he remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.”

If I have offended you, or you strongly disagree with me, PLEASE speak up in the comments or message me personally if we are friends IRL. I don’t hold onto any of my opinions with an iron fist and I’m always up for (healthy) debate. I think we’re all trying to figure out this beautiful, joyful, messy life together and we’re doing our best, even when we reach different conclusions.

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