A Lost Year

I was talking with a friend this week about case counts rising and it’s-anybody’s-guess vaccine timelines and the very real spectre that anything resembling “normal life” is many, many months (dare I say a year?) away and he sighed and said “yep, looks like 2020 is just going to be a lost year.”

A lost year.

That phrase stuck in my throat like swallowing a too-large piece of ice – I understand where he’s coming from but I just can’t accept that.  I don’t believe there is such a thing as a “lost” year.  A year that looks radically different than any of us thought?  Absolutely.  A year of pain and loss and grief, a year of dreams and plans and hopes deferred, of anxiety and uncertainty and fear for the future? Yes, yes and yes.

The thing is, no matter how hard and bizarre and exhausting and endless (don’t we all feel like we’ve lived 10 lifetimes since March??) this year is still a year of our lives, just as much as the “normal” ones are.

This year is still a year that’s going to make up the collection of memories of our lives.  (I’d wager it’s going to make up a disproportionate share of memories, actually.)  None of us know how many years we’re getting on this earth, but it’s certain that at the end of 2020 we’ll all have one fewer – so I refuse to chalk this year up as an “L” and plan to get back to the drawing board in 2021.

Life is too short and precious for that.

2020 has been….well there aren’t enough adjectives.  Bizarre, heartbreaking, scary, hopeful, heartbreaking all over again, a wake up call, unifying, divisive, isolating, community-building, simple, complex, freakin’ HARD.  My brilliant friend Liz’s catchphrase of this year puts it succinctly and well “2020 – Wow.”  

If I had a magic wand I’d change a hell of a lot of things about this year – but the truth is we’re still here. I’m still here. There is still breath in my lungs and I got out of bed this morning and even though I suck at remembering it 99.9% of the time that is a miracle worth celebrating in and of itself, even as I struggle to make sense of the suffering of the world and my own mixed bag of feelings.

I’ve been re-reading The Bright Hour, Nina Riggs hauntingly beautiful memoir about living with terminal cancer, and it’s reminding me of some of the most simple things to be grateful for.  The breath in my lungs, the warmth of the sun on my face, the ability to look at the faces of the people I love – even if it has to be on a screen or 6 feet away.  The breadth and depth of these blessings is something I always swear I won’t take for granted and I always, humanly, do.

I keep thinking of my life this year as a Christmas tree – it started off chock full of so many bright shiny objects – happy hours and dinners and social events and vacations.  Then all of a sudden ever shiny glittery thing was stripped away, which was painful and some of them I miss dearly.  But I’m starting to recognize the beauty of this bare, unadorned tree.  Because I get to choose now – mindfully, carefully, with great love and intentionality – what I add back on, what I place back in this one precious life.

Yesterday was the 4th of July and instead of BBQs and parties and fireworks (which is fine bc TBH my patriotism is flagging just a weee bit this year), I drove around the South Bay visiting my best friends and my mom.  Chrissy and I have been fast friends since we were 13 years old and we sat on her driveway catching up for so long that my mom called her to make sure I was ok (talk about a middle school throwback)).  I left with a full heart and I realized afterwards I don’t remember the last time we did that – just sat and talked, the two of us.  It kind of took my breath away –  the simplicity and the beauty of that.

I saw my mom and gave her a pandemic-friendly hug (following these guidelines in case anyone else misses hugging their loved ones) and was stuck at what a gift it is to hug my mom.  How many perfunctory hello and goodbye hugs have I given her without really being present and appreciating them? As someone who has lost a parent you’d think I’d have an A+ in savoring time with your loved ones but nope, I’m human and too often I forget that tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us – so this day, this hug, this moment is a gift.

I spent the rest of the night sitting on another friend-since-forever’s porch, jumping every time rogue fireworks went off (that we could hear but not see, so there wasn’t even any payoff), laughing at her cat, eating pie and talking about life with all its joys and all it’s heartbreaks.

I drove home with a full heart from quality time with the people I love, not even missing seeing fireworks even though I love them.  Then the whole drive home on 101, there were fireworks everywhere – brilliant sparks lighting up the sky, with families and strangers gathered on overpasses to gaze upwards. As I drove I knew I would never forget 4th of July 2020 – hardly a car on the road, a burst of light and color against the darkness of the night.  The stubbornness of hope, of joy and celebration even in the darkest of times.

Is 2020 the year I imagined it’d be? Um that would be a helllll no, not in a million trillion years.  But I know it’s one I’ll never forget – and I don’t want it to be memorable just for the suffering and the loss.

I want it to be memorable because for the first time in a long time I had no choice but to slow down and be still, to go deep and not wide in my life. To strip aways so many shiny things and be left with all that really matters.

I keep thinking about 2020 Christmas cards – what do I want mine to say? (If I sent one which I don’t but hey maybe this is the year – nothing but time after all :)).   I won’t have any trips or big life changes or glamorous news to share but I hope what I’ll be able to say is this.

I spent 2020 sitting in Chrissy’s driveway, watching Teddy play peek-a-boo with a tennis racket while Luke and Sadie rode their bikes and I tried to process how these babies I held in the hospital when they were born were full grown human beings.

I spent 2020 going on walks and drinking wine and eating ice cream with Stephanie, walking by Caleb’s school to say good morning and basking in Benjamino’s sweet smile.

I spent 2020 meeting Baby Girl Fraser, watching Calvin knock it out of the park as a big brother and marveling over the miracle of answered prayers and the hope of new life.  

I spent 2020 paying attention to my mind, body and spirit, and nourishing them with what they need – whether that’s a run or sea salt chocolate caramels or staring at the ocean.   

I spent 2020 being kind to myself and the people around me, extending an extra measure of compassion inward and outward.  

I spent 2020 paying attention and responding to the ways I can steward my privilege, my resources and my time to put more justice and love into this broken and beautiful world.

2020 – what a year.

2020 – Wow.

Broken

All week I’ve been looking forward to the long run I had planned for yesterday – Good Friday – expecting fewer people to be out and about since it was a weekday.

I woefully miscalculated, and found myself tense and anxious as I tried to dodge runners, walkers, bikers and oncoming traffic through Golden Gate Park. When I finally reached Ocean Beach, ready to take advantage of the wide open space of empty parking lots to run wild and free, my right knee gave way with sharp pain. All the start/stop of the previous 3.5 miles had aggravated my inflamed IT band and I couldn’t go on.  I stopped in the middle of an abandoned parking lot next to Ocean Beach rubbing my knee and started to cry.

I cried because I was frustrated, that something I love and brings me joy wasn’t working. I cried from fear that I would get injured and wouldn’t be able to run or walk  – the only things keeping me sane and tamping down my anxiety these days. I cried because I was exhausted from a fitful sleep the night before – and all the nights before that since shelter in place started –  as I woke up every 3 hours to try to place a grocery delivery order and my sleep was interrupted by intense dreams of trying to find my family and we kept missing each other (no one needs a PhD in psychology to interpret that one).  I cried because in that moment I felt the full weight of the brokenness – in my life and in the world – crashing down on me.

As I stared at the ocean and watched a smattering of masked people walk their dogs and avoid each other, all I could think was “everything is so broken”

The cornerstones of my life – joyful, free runs to the ocean, scooping up baby Benjamin and kissing his chubby cheeks, hugging my friends, happy hour, my morning walk to the office – the rhythms and patterns that gave shape to my life “before” are broken.

I stared at the water and thought about NYC, a place I lived for five years that profoundly shaped who I am and is still home to some people I love with all my heart, and is so broken right now.  Every article I read about overcrowded hospitals and every image I see of Central Park transformed into a field hospital – New York is breaking my heart. Broken.

I thought about all the hopes and dreams and plans – the weddings and graduations and anniversaries and family vacations – that aren’t happening anymore now.

Broken.

I thought about the doctors and nurses and staff on the front lines who are used to practicing medicine in a country where – for the most part  – there are enough supplies for themselves and their patients. I thought about the mental and physical and emotional toll of suddenly confronting a broken system, and being forced to make choices no healer should ever have to make. About the constant fear of infecting themselves and their families.

Broken.

I thought about the families grieving the loss of a parent or child or sibling or grandparent or friend or neighbor, at the intensely personal loss of a loved one in the midst of this global pandemic, of trying to grieve when you can’t gather for a memorial service or experience the comfort of hugs and casseroles and flowers from your community.

Broken.

I thought about the people who are sick – men and women, young and old, rich and poor – feeling physically terrible and likely terrified as their bodies fight an illness that is unlike anything they’ve experienced before, at home fearful of infecting loved ones or in hospitals where their families can’t visit them.

Broken.

I stared at the ocean and I felt that weight and I thought about how the most helpful framing to me these past weeks has been the language of grief (Brene Brown’s podcast episode on this is also extraordinary).

Our world is in mourning – we are mourning the loss of “normal,” of the rhythms of our everyday lives that I know I took for granted.  We are mourning the loss of the things we counted on – seeing our loved ones, going to work, leaving our homes without fear. We are mourning the loss of our collective innocence in some ways – of a way of life we thought we could count on.  Nothing feels certain anymore.

When my dad died and I was trying to make sense of the thousands of things I was feeling, a framework that helped me so much was this – “We grieve because we lost something good.”

We live in a society that is largely ill at ease with grief.  Tears and pain make us uncomfortable – we try to shoo away the untidy, messy, raw edges of pain, put on smiling faces and say “I’m doing fine, how are you?”

But honest grieving honors the preciousness of the things we lost.

The hugs and normalcy and celebrations and health and peace of our lives that have been lost in this pandemic – they are so good and so worthy of the honor of grieving them. I’m not going to try to minimize their worth by pretending their loss doesn’t bring us to our knees with grief.

And.

And.

And yesterday, as I was feeling the weight of the loss and the pain and the brokeness I was also staring at the wild and fierce and constant roast of the vast Pacific ocean. I as staring at the waves crashing against the rocks and seagulls flying overhead and white foamy delicate layers of seawater lapping at the shore and through the blur of my tears and heaviness of my heart I thought “God, this is beautiful.”

Our world is so broken – it’s always been broken, and this pandemic is a magnifying glass on that brokenness.  On injustice and frail health and how we stack rank the value of human life depending on race and class and socioeconomic status. 

Profoundly broken.

Our world is so beautiful  – it’s always been beautiful, and this pandemic is a magnifying glass on that beauty.  On love and new life and natural wonder and human connection, as people tap into the depths of their creativity and passion, as I lock eyes and exchange smiles with strangers on the street, as Spring blooms and every ray of sun and flower bud feels like a balm to our souls. 

Profoundly beautiful.

Yesterday was Good Friday, a day in the Christian tradition when we honor Christ’s death on the cross. What a paradox, to call a day when we remember death and despair “good.”  To live in that in-between space, believing that hope is coming, joy is coming, resurrection life is coming,

The cornerstone of my faith is that the brokenness is real, the pain is real, the grief and mourning and loss and heartbreak – they are all so, so real. But hope is real-er.

So tomorrow as I celebrate Easter without the rituals of gathering together at church and warm hugs and a family meal around a table together,  I’m going to feel the weight of what is broken, and grieve what is lost because it is good.  And I’m going to feel the warmth of the sun and connect by phone with the people I love and savor the taste of the blackberry cinnamon rolls I’m still planning to make, because some traditions are stronger than pandemics. (And I still have yeast  and flour at my house which is a true Easter miracle). And I’m going to celebrate because there is still so much that is good.

I’m going to let my laughter mingle with my tears, honor the weight of the grief and find solace in the hope that sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

Happy Easter, dear friends.

Loving your Neighbor

I grew up in the Christian tradition and we talk a lot about the idea of “loving your neighbor.”  If you are Jewish or Buddhist or Muslim or not religiously affiliated I know we all have a similar idea, just with different words.

It’s this idea that we are – to use another Judeo-Christian phrase – are our brothers (and sisters) keepers, that we have some responsibility to one another as members of the same human family. 

We have that responsibility to our immediate circles, yes – to our parents and children and siblings and cousins, those related by blood. Also to our chosen family, the dear friends we love and have built deep relationships with. We also have a responsibility to our communities – to the people we don’t know intimately but live in our neighborhoods and cities and towns.  And zooming out further – to the whole human family. Glennon Doyle has this great saying – “There is no such thing as other people’s children” – and that is so true.  There is no such thing as someone else’s friend or grandpa or elderly neighbor. We belong to each other. We are all connected in undeniable ways.

Well this sure seems like a poignant time to be reminded of that.  

To be reminded that we are literally dependent on one another for survival – that I as an individual need the doctors and nurses to keep providing healthcare and the grocery store shelf stockers and clerks to keep stocking and selling me groceries.  I need the garbage collectors to keep rattling down my street collecting my trash to keep us healthy and keep society going. I’ve never been more aware of our interdependence and reliance on each other than in this surreal moment we’re all navigating together – it’s beautiful and terrifying.

There are so many thoughts swirling around my head about this time we’re living in – one is that this is in many ways a test of our individual and collective moral compass.  Will we as individuals make sacrifices – of choices, freedom, weddings, graduations, long-planned family vacations – for the good of people we may never meet?

In The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver (a fantastic book if anyone is making a #quarantinereads list) she retells a Native American folktale about the difference between Heaven and Hell. 

In Hell, there is a circle of people sitting packed closely together (clearly in a pre #socialdistancing era), so tightly they can barely move their arms. There is a large pot of stew in the middle of the circle, and everyone is starving – they have long spoons to reach the stew, but they can’t move their arms enough to get the spoons back to feed themselves.  They are starving and they can’t eat, tortured for all eternity.

In Heaven, there is the same tightly packed circle, the same stew, the same awkward wooden spoons.  And yet. And yet in this circle everyone uses their spoon to feed the person across from them. Everyone is feeding each other – and being fed by one another – and no one is starving. It’s not torture, it’s a feast – a community celebration.

I was talking to a dear friend the other night (yay for Quarantine FaceTime dates!) who lost her mom to cancer when she was 16.  She was telling me about a conversation with another friend who also lost a parent at a young age, and his perspective on social distancing is that he knows what it’s like to lose someone you love in a way you have no control over, so he was on board the social distancing train from the start.

I hadn’t made that connection, but yep, that is true.  When you know what it’s like to lose someone you love – to cancer or a heart attack or a car crash – and someone tells you “hey there is actually something you can do to help minimize the likelihood that another human being will experience such a devastating loss” – sign me up.  

I want to acknowledge that the losses are real – there is an entire cohort of young adults who aren’t going to get to experience their high school or college graduation. There are couples who have planned and saved for their weddings who aren’t going to have them. There are people who were about to make a career change or embark on the trip of a lifetime or buy a house or try to get pregnant and now life is so uncertain – it feels like our collective hopes and dreams and futures and plans are on pause.  

The day to day is hard too – I am an extrovert who loves to hug, I’m not loving this situation. I get it, I really do.

That’s the thing, though, about love – real love requires sacrifice.  Think of every great love story – the love between a couple, the love of a parent for their child, the love of two lifelong friends.  True love – the kind that taps into our deepest hopes and dreams as human beings, into our souls and hearts and spirits – is the kind that lays down its life for one another.

We are in a unique moment.  I can’t protect my 70 year old mom or my pregnant cousin or my precious asthmatic five year old nephew or my immunocompromised friends on my own. But you can. And it is my joy and my honor to get to help protect the people you love.

The most loving, sacrificial, heroic thing we can all do right now is to stay home, stay safe (#washthosehands!), stay vigilant and recognize now more than ever that we belong to each other. It is terrifying, yes, and holy freaking crap it is beautiful.

This weekend I have big plans for some quality FaceTime dates with friends I haven’t connected with in way too long, a long 6-feet-apart run to the Ocean and to whip up a #quarantinecake. I’ve got a homemade Funfetti cake planned, because if ever there were a time to celebrate the sweet gift of life, it’s now.

Stay safe, friends. Grateful for you all.

To Sift

The origin of the word “crisis” is the Greek word krisis meaning to separate or to sift.  When I hear the word sift I think, of course, of sifting flour to bake something carb-y and delicious – a loaf of crusty bread, a birthday cake, warm biscuits topped with butter and honey.

I think of a mound of silky flour nestled in a sieve, and the tap tap tap of the palm of my hand against the smooth metal rim, watching a shower of smooth white particles land in the mixing bowl, leaving the odd lumps behind.

Sifting separates the fine flour and the lumps that are left behind.  It helps you see the difference between the two in a way you couldnt when it was all mixed together in the flour sack.  Sifting makes it easier to separate what you want to keep from what you want to discard.

A crisis, I’m finding, does the same thing.

My sifting started two weeks ago at work, when the response to coronavirus made its way to my work and team. I was suddenly plunged into what I can only describe as a vortex  – necessitating quick decisions and action, day and time be damned.

It was a crisis and all the normal rules and parameters of “work life balance” went out the window – I was on 7pm Saturday and 7Am sunday phone calls, checking email for updates at 2am. And I wasn’t bitter – this wasn’t a work emergency – aka “my boss needs this preso done by the end of day” – this was an emergency emergency, a whole different category. 

I was looking at agendas from pre-Coronavirus meetings and was struck by how silly it all seemed “Aww I used to be worried about creating that presentation, how adorable!” #perspective indeed.

The sifting started to hit even closer to home a week ago, when I started making tough decisions about what parts of my life I would have to change – like working from home (which I do not enjoy – I miss my work buddies and the routine of an office) and cancelling a long-awaited trip to Hawaii for a family wedding.  That sifting was hard and painful.

There was some good sifting too, though.  Things that were worrying me a few weeks ago – how’s this date going to go? when am I going to do my taxes? – seem adorably quaint now. “Aww, how cute that I was worried about my taxes!” #perspective

You know that “What would you do?” question that you pose on a long road trip or to get to know someone better on a date – “If the world was ending in 24 hours, what would you do?” I feel like we’re all living that to some degree right now, and here’s what I’m finding myself doing:

  • Talking to my mom on the phone every day, sometimes twice a day.  Even if I just have a few minutes before I need to start working or go to sleep, hearing my mom’s voice helps me stay anchored to the fact that the world isn’t actually ending.  
  • Texting/calling all my friends to tell them I love them and see how they are doing.  I literally went through my contacts list alphabetically yesterday – because my brain is fried from work – to make sure I didn’t miss anyone. If you’re reading this and I missed you, I’m sorry #friedbrain and I love you lots. Text me! 🙂
  • Prioritizing caring for myself – with sleep and exercise and deep breaths – because I know if I don’t put on my own oxygen mask first I can’t help anyone else

When I was 22 my dad died suddenly of a heart attack, so I’m no stranger to the reality that “tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us” – but even though I say it often, it’s easy to get swept up in the day to day and forget how precious and precarious life is. The blessing embedded in crisis is it sweeps away the noise of daily life and leaves us with the heart of what matters – the people we love and caring for each other.

Here’s the truth I have to keep reminding myself of and grounding myself in – this too shall pass.  

Is it serious? YES. 

Do we need to take extreme measures like social distancing, cancelling events and vacations and dramatically altering our way of life in ways that just kind of suck (I’m an extrovert who loves hugs, I get it people!!) – YES. 

Are we all going to be trapped in our homes under mandatory quarantine until 2032? NO.  

This is not forever, this is a tough and scary and surreal and difficult season  – but it is a season. Season’s change, they ebb and flow, sometimes so slowly and imperceptibly that it feels like it will last forever – but they don’t.

When I lived in NYC, there was one year when winter lasted 6 months – it was freezing and dreary and depressing and I literally thought I would never see the sun again.

And yet.

And yet so slowly that I almost didn’t notice it, the ice began to thaw and the snow began to melt.  And one day I looked up and I saw the sun starting to peek through the clouds. And before I knew it, one day I was outside in the park with no coat, shoulders unhunched, feeling the sweet warmth of the sun on my upturned face. Spring always comes.

So in this hard season of fear and crisis, I am doing a few things.  

I’m trying to remember to take deep breaths and treat those around me – and myself – with extra patience and grace. We are all under a lot of stress and anxiety, and we’re all doing the best we can.  There has never been a time when we need to be more kind and patient and gentle with one another.

I’m staying connected (yay for technology!) to the people I love and telling them how much they mean to me, and making sure we’re caring for each other.

I’m loving my neighbors – literal and global – by following all the recommendations about social distancing and hygiene  – even though it’s not fun and requires self-sacrifice and inconvenience – to do my part to reduce how quickly this virus spreads.  

I’m praying with my whole heart for the heroic healthcare workers who are on the front lines, for people in positions of power (the CDC, WHO, every global governmental body) to have sharp minds and soft hearts as they make decisions, and for everyone who is living with fear and anxiety to experience peace and hope.

And I’ll probably do some baking too.

Nothing to Fear

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about fear.  

The things I’m afraid of in my own life that are deeply personal (what if the people I love get hurt? What if I wake up at 85 with deep regrets about my life? What if I never get to be a mom?)  and the macro fears swirling around in our broken and beautiful world. The coronavirus and upcoming election are rising to the top, but the “standard” fears are still with us – the poverty, homelessness, refugee displacement, racism, violence.

So much pain, so much fear.

Last week was Ash Wednesday, and our church has a beautiful tradition of setting out planter boxes of dirt for congregants to interact with during the service.  The best part is the kids who are really living their best lives being told that playing in dirt is sanctioned at church. There was a bowl of acorns next to the planters, meant to represent something we needed to bury in the dirt this season of Lent, to make way for new life (I know, there are some very creative people in my church – I love it.)  As I knelt before a planter box, joyful kiddos being hushed by parents on either side of me, I let the damp earth fall from my fingers and thought about Lent.

In years past I’ve given up different things for Lent – social media, online dating – and I have experienced the value of changing my default routine and making space for a different way of thinking and being, making more space for reflection and connection with God.

This year though I’ve been reflecting on how my default personality is to be a rule follower #enneaagramoneinthehouse  I start to think that the path to salvation is paved with to-do lists and a strict flossing regimen. Rules are my crutch, a place where instead of turning to God for help and peace in the midst of my fear, I turn to my own ability to tow the line to protect myself and feel safe.

So, adding another rule or regulation for Lent isn’t going to deepen my spiritual practice this season.  I was thinking about this as I played in the dirt and I pondered what – if anything – I should give up for Lent. The word sprang to mind immediately – fear. I reached for an acorn, thinking I would “bury my fear,” that I should double down on self discipline and force myself to not be afraid (I know, I see the flaws in this plan too).  I stopped though, and the phrase that sprang to mind next was “What if there is nothing to fear?

Is there pain in this world?  Hell yes. Is there loss, tragedy, unspeakable grief and suffering? Alas yes. I’m not saying there is no pain, no loss.

And yet.

And yet if I truly believe the gospel, then the worst has already happened – Christ conquered death, and we have life and hope through him. If I believe the things I say I believe, then the reality, the truest truth, is that there is nothing to fear.

God has me and the people I love and this whole broken, hurting world cradled gently in His hands of love. I can be human, I can feel fear and grief and anxiety and loss – I can feel those things but the reality is that there is no “worse case scenario” that is beyond God’s reach.

As I knelt before the Lenten dirt, I dropped the acorn back in the bowl and instead scooped up a handful of earth and let it slip slowly through my fingers, thinking about the circle of life –  “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” I thought about my dad, and how losing him suddenly was the most painful experience of my life – and yet the bottom didn’t drop out of my life.  12 years later, his love in my life continues, our family continues, the love he poured into me is still here. There is pain, yes, but there is also so much beauty and so much love.

As I went back to my seat we sang the closing hymn – it was a song by Audrey Assad called “Nothing to Fear.” I started laughing out loud – I love when God loses all subtlety and really hammers a point home. Got it, God, message received. 

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you

And the depths of the river shall not overwhelm

When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned

I am the Lord, I am the Lord

And there is nothing to fear, nothing to fear

There is nothing to fear, nothing to fear

For I am with you always

Ooh, ooh

In the depths of your sorrow, I wept beside you

When you walked through the shadow, I drew you near

And yesterday, today, tomorrow, always the same

I am the Lord, I am the Lord

And there is nothing to fear, nothing to fear

There is nothing to fear, nothing to fear

For I am with you always

The next morning I opened my bible to my favorite passage, 1 John 4:7 and I noticed a verse I had never noticed before.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God…No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us….There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…”

There is a scene in the Harry Potter books when the students are fighting a boggart, a shape-shifter which morphs into the thing each student is most afraid of.  In Harry’s case it becomes a dementor, a creature which feeds on fear and unhappiness and sucks the joy out of its victims. When Dumbledore realizes this is the thing Harry is most afraid of he smiles at him and says, “Well Harry this shows that the thing you fear most…is fear. Wise indeed!”

Fear can bring out the worst in humanity – or it can bring out the best. One of my favorite #wordnerd gems from a book I read once was learning that the word “crisis” comes from the Greek word meaning “to sift” – as in it forces everything that doesn’t matter to fall away. I have experienced that in spades this week – I’ve never been more grateful for my coworkers who are dropping everything to jump into action and support each other.  I’ve seen the very best come out in people and it’s beautiful to watch.

So, my plan in this season – of Lent, of Coronavirus anxiety, of election uncertainty – is to fight fear with love.  I was sucked into a Coronavirus-preparedness work vortex this week that will likely continue for awhile and I’m trying to root and ground myself in the same question – how do I love well today? How do I love this person in front of me, how do I respond to the fear and anxiety not with more fear and anxiety, but with love? 

Fear can’t survive where love flourishes.

There is nothing to fear.

Resolutions

I love a new year. I love a new year like I love starting a new blank journal, the pages pristine and untouched, just waiting for new words and ideas and thoughts and experiences to fill them.

I love the promise of a new year, the feeling of a new start, a blank slate, the excitement of the unknown, that sense that anything can happen, because the future is stretching out tantalizingly before us.

It’s that same feeling you get when that new movie you’ve been waiting months to see flashes the opening credits on the big screen. That feeling as your plane takes off at the start of the vacation you’ve been planning for a year.  It’s the promise of the future, the unknown, the anticipation of what’s to come.

It’s been years since I’ve made New Year’s resolutions – I think at some point the countless articles about how they don’t work created a cultural tipping point and they went out of fashion.  In previous years I’ve tried choosing words that I want to represent the New Year or setting new year’s “intentions” rather than resolutions.

I’m realizing, though, that at the root of every resolution or intention is the belief that I’m not already enough just as I am, and that something needs to change in my life to make me ok.

Not fit enough, not financially stable enough, not thin enough, not successful enough, not interesting enough, not spiritual enough, not holy enough.  The belief that who I am on December 31st is somehow not ok and I need to knuckle down and work harder. I need to exercise more, eat less, work harder, date more, save more money, pray more – and the list goes on – to be enough, to be ok.

This year  – this decade – I refuse to let that be my story.  I refuse to sign off on the script that I’m not good enough, to join in the “hustle for worthiness” as Brené Brown calls it.

So this year instead of making dozens of resolutions that are about self-improvement and then setting myself up to feel a shame tidal wave when I inevitably don’t keep them, I’m simply resolving to be two things this year: Brave and Kind.

I’m resolving to be brave with my choices. To choose the scary thing when it’s what I want deep down.  To choose the risk that may not work out because the alternative is staying stuck, and life is too short and precious and wildly gorgeous for that. Also what if it does work out?  How tragic to never try. There are about a million clichés about how nothing worth having every came from a comfort zone, and I want to live into that truth this year.

I’m resolving to be brave with my words.  To match my insides to my outsides, to tell the truth and be authentic and honest instead of smoothing over the reality of who I am in the million ways society has taught me to smile away the rough and uncomfortable edges. I want to speak plainly and honestly and lovingly, to trust that the people who love me can handle the truth and the people who can’t sit with my authentic self probably aren’t my people, and that’s ok.  I resolve to be messy and human and imperfect because in my experience that gives other people permission to be their own messy, imperfect, beautiful selves, and that is the birthplace of true connection and life and love.

I’m resolving to be kind. To others, yes, absolutely, but perhaps even more importantly to myself.  Like so many of us, I am my own harshest critic, and sometimes when I catch the words I say to myself about myself I wince.  I recently went for a run and my first thought when I was done was “not fast enough.” That breaks my heart. I want my self-talk to be what I would say to a friend or one of my Girls on the Run girls. “Wow, you ran 6 miles, that is an amazing accomplishment! I’m so proud of you for doing something so hard and sticking with it.  What a gift that you are healthy and your lungs and heart and legs all work and you are physically able to run – so many people can’t run and they would love the opportunity. Way to celebrate the precious gift of health!”

I’ve gotten better at recognizing and stopping the toxic self-talk over the years (#thankstherapy!) but it’s still my default tape too often, and I’m really, really over it.  Think of the mental space I could free up if stopped beating myself up – a Marie Kondo for the mind!

I’ve also noticed that the more kind and compassionate I am with myself, the more kind and compassionate I’m able to be with other people.  When I’m holding myself to a razor thin margin of error, I’m so terrified of slipping off the tightrope that there’s not much room for me to extend grace to others to be human and make mistakes, too.

Judgement – of self and others- is narrow, tight, confining.  Grace is expansive, open, all-encompassing, light. I want a life marked by more grace, more compassion, more patience – with myself just as much as with others.

Everything I want to be and everything I want to experience this year – this decade – flows from those two big ideas: Bravery and Kindness.

Those feel like resolutions worth keeping.

A Life that’s Good

Lately I’ve been rewatching the show Nashville [super soap opera drama, super addictive, makes me seriously consider buying rhinestone-studded cowboy boots] and there’s a song the characters sing that I’ve added to my “All the Feels” Spotify playlist – it’s called A Life that’s Good.

Sittin’ here tonight

By the fire light

It reminds me I already have 

More than I should

I don’t need fame

No one to know my name

At the end of the day, Lord I pray 

I have a life that’s good

Two arms around me

Heaven to ground me

And a family that always calls me home

Four wheels to get there

Enough love to share

And a sweet, sweet, sweet song

At the end of the day

Lord I pray

I have a life that’s good

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes up a good life – about family –  the kind you choose and the kind you’re lucky enough to be given.

A month ago, I spent a weekend away at the beach with three of my dearest friends.  There was literally one weekend all summer when we were all free – between work and kids and family commitments, finding time is always a challenge.  By some scheduling miracle we found 48 overlapping hours, and we spent it camped out at a family beach house, leaving our chairs only to refill our coffee cups or toast another slice of Greenlee’s cinnamon bread.  We talked about everything under the sun, and I walked away from that weekend with a full heart, thinking about how deeply grateful I am for these women – for the memories and history we share and for the gift of doing life with them year after year, through all the good, bad, challenging, unknown, weird and wonderful.

A few weeks ago I spent a heart-filling few days back in NYC, walking down memory lane [literally and figuratively] with friends I did so much life with in my twenties.  It was a gift to walk by my old apartment and the restaurant where Liz had her birthday dinner and the grocery store I used to shop at and reflect on all that’s happened in my life since I left New York.  It was a gift to be reunited with Liz and Lori and HQ and stay up way past my bedtime laughing and reminiscing and eating the best acai bowls and ice cream and arepas New York has to offer. It was a profound gift to hold Anna’s 6 month old twins and have giggly conversations with 3-year-old Sean and catch up with Anna’s husband – aka my birthday twin – and marvel at the life that has unfolded over the past decade since we were just trying to survive grad school together.

Last week my Auntie Helen passed away at the age of 92, and my family is gathering in Hawaii next week to celebrate her life and the legacy of love and family she left behind.  When I think about her the words that spring to mind are “unconditional love” – she loved all of us so whole-heartedly and so well. When I would see her, she would smile big and grab my hands tight – her grip strength belying her tiny frame [4’10 and maybe 90 pounds sopping wet] and say my name with such delight and such love.  When we hugged goodbye she would say “you take care now” with an intensity and fervor- not a polite nicety, but stern marching orders, born of love.

I’m turning 34 tomorrow, and feeling reflective, as I always do on my birthdays.  I’m thinking about time, and how it really does pass more quickly the older you get.  I’m thinking about life, and what matters most – the people you love who love you right back.

I’m thinking about how relationships – with family by blood or friends who are like family – take time and intentionality – they don’t just happen.  I’m thinking about how I want to spend the next 365 days of my life going deep not wide – spending more time with the precious people that I’m lucky enough to call my loved ones.  I’m thinking about how I want to do the hard work of speaking the truth in love, asking for forgiveness when I mess up, repairing bonds that are broken and strengthening the ones that are solid.

I’m thinking about a phrase my parents and I used with each, a running family joke –  “I love you and I like you.” I think that perfectly expresses the nature of family, of all close relationships – of course you love them, but liking them – not everyone is so lucky, and it takes time and work sometimes to get back to that place.

I’m thinking about how time is the most precious resource any of us have, and I want to spend mine wisely – investing in the relationships that make up a life – that make a life that’s good.

Run Girl Run

Tomorrow morning I’m running my first marathon #excited #terrified #mostlyexcited.  I started running in middle school, and did cross country and track in high school. I joked that running was a way to put my height to good use [long stride] that didn’t involve a ball and hence hand-eye coordination.  I kept running recreationally through college and beyond, sometimes loving it and sometimes hating it, sometimes with an attitude of joy and gratitude for what my body could do, sometimes to punish myself for “overindulging” on cookies or pizza, my caloric penance for my sins.

I have yet to talk to a woman who doesn’t struggle in some way to make peace with her body, to figure out how to resist the siren call of a society that says our worth is in the smallness of our pants size and the flat planes of our bellies.  It’s taken me many years to make peace with mine, and while I don’t think I’ll ever be 100% ok [and that’s ok] I feel more comfortable in my own skin as an almost-34 year old than I ever did a decade ago, and for that I’m grateful.

Running has played a huge role in that, especially over the last year.  Last fall I coached Girls on the Run, and I found that trying to teach pre-teen girls to view exercise not as a way to burn calories but as a celebration of the amazing things their bodies could do was deeply cathartic for me.  Celebrating with them how strong their bodies are and the joy of exercise changed my own self-talk and I found the words I spoke to them seeping into my own subconscious on my runs. “You are so strong! I’m so proud of you! You are amazing! Look at what your body can do!”  Super cheesy, yep – also super cathartic and healing for a Type-A perfectionist whose usual self talk is emotionally beating myself up. “You only ran 5 miles?? You should have run at least 6! You ran a 9 minute pace? You should be at 8:30” There’s a cheesy quote about self-talk, about how if you wouldn’t say it to your best friend you shouldn’t say it to yourself, and I’ve found that deeply helpful.  

I’ve always loved running, and run a few half marathons, but said for years that I’d never run a full marathon – I’d heard from friends that it made them get burned out from training and hate running, and I didn’t want that to happen.  I want to run for life, not for a medal, so I decided it wasn’t for me. Then last spring my friend Amanda ran the Big Sur marathon, and a group of us went to cheer her on at the finish line. Watching folks cross the marathon finish line was unexpectedly emotional.  There was a couple in their 70s who crossed the finish line [running, not walking!] holding hands and grinning ear to ear #relationshipgoals. There was a mid-40s woman whose two young daughters were cheering at the finish line, holding a sign that said “Good job Mommy!” #allthefeels.  There were ordinary people of all shapes and sizes and ages doing something really freakin’ hard, and people they loved cheering them on.  I felt my eyes fill with tears and I thought “Oh crap, I think I have to do this now.”

So I signed up for the SF Marathon, excited for the chance to run across the Golden Gate bridge and along the ocean and generally enjoy this beautiful city I feel so thankful to call home.  Training was fun at first – it was novel to follow a workout plan [I usually just run as much as I feel like that day] and then about a month ago I hit a wall and was totally burned out on training.  I was tired of staying in on Friday nights – and skipping a glass of wine – so I could get up for long Saturday runs. I was tired of half my weekend being consumed by running and recovery. I was tired of pushing myself so hard in training runs, doing lap after lap at Kezar stadium surrounded by high school cross country team boys loping effortlessly by me [ah, to be young!].  I was tired of having to plan my vacations around when I could run and stressing over not getting enough mileage in. I was over it and I was grumpy. I asked my mom to pray that I would have “a renewed perspective” on training and be thankful that I could run at all.

The moral of the story here is be careful what you pray for.

Last week I came down with what I thought was a bad cold – which turned into a bad case of bronchitis and me not leaving my house for four days, so sick I could barely walk two blocks. Instead of doing the taper runs I had so diligently planned, I was laying in my bed watching old Friends episodes and freaking out that I wasn’t going to be able to run.  I looked up if I could defer my entry to next year [I couldn’t] and my eyes filled with tears as I thought about not being able to run the race after 5 months of training. I went to the doctor and I’ve never been so happy to be given drugs! glorious drugs! in my life. I’m lucky that I’m normally pretty healthy, so not being able to breathe properly for a week was a humbling experience.  It made me think deeply about what a gift good health is – that the point of running a marathon isn’t a sub-4 hour time, the point is that it’s a miracle that our bodies can physically move that distance.

The day after I got my drugs-glorious-drugs, I went for my first tentative run post-illness. I was nervous, but I ended up running 6 miles and feeling pretty good. Considering that 72 hours prior I barely had enough energy to do my laundry, this felt pretty miraculous,  As I crested the hill of Land’s End, the same hill I run up every Saturday – and usually take for granted – my eyes filled with tears of gratitude. For health, for access to great medical care [which I know not everyone has], for the resiliency of our bodies. I thought about my dad, who died of a heart attack almost 11 years ago now, and of how precious and precarious life is.  I thought about how proud he’d be to watch me cross the marathon finish line, how much I wish he was here, and how life is such a precious gift.


So, I’m no longer fretting about my mile splits or finish time.  I’m going into tomorrow deeply grateful for the gift of health, and for the opportunity to do something I love in a place I love, surrounded by people I love cheering me on.  I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to do something hard, because life is hard, but we can do hard things.  I’m deeply grateful for the pain, because the pain means we are alive, and it makes the joy – and the post-run ice cream – all the sweeter. 

Passing the Peace

One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to find a local church and attend Sunday service.  It’s really helpful to be reminded that church – and God – is bigger and more layered than just my church (love it though I do).  Going to church in different cities, especially outside the US, is like adding different shades and textures and layers of color to the picture I’m painting of God, of community, of the body of Christ.  It’s good for me to remember that my church’s way of doing things is just that – one way. My Sunday morning experience at City Church San Francisco is one tiny dot in the mosaic of the body of Christ – a beautiful dot, heavily pigmented with the color and laughter and tears and prayers of the hundreds of people who I am deeply thankful to do life and community and church with – but one dot nonetheless.  

I was researching churches to visit while in London (no small task- there are loads!) and came across an Anglican church called Saint James. Their mission statement caught my eye “We seek to be an inclusive, welcoming and adventurous Christian community, honouring God and one another  – and we’re keen to change the world, starting with ourselves.”  Um, can I get a freaking AMEN!?!? Also, you had me at “keen” #BritishChurchGoals.

Thanks to some London tube adventures, I was running 15 minutes late and was tempted to just skip it, embarrassed to walk into a new church late.  But I reminded myself that I’m working on accepting that I can’t do everything perfectly, and that I don’t want to miss out on experiences because I can’t do them perfectly.  

So I snuck in 15 minutes late and was greeted warmly by a smiling, white-haired British lady at the door and slipped into a wooden pew just as the priest began his sermon. He had the congregation laughing two minutes in, his dry British humor, infused with warmth, highlighting what it means to be human, to yearn for love and connection, to try to be the person you do desperately want to be and to fail, and to be met with God’s love and grace in the process.

I admit I’m biased to put extra weight behind anything someone with a British accent says, but he was so sincere and winsome with his words, it felt like hearing Truth with a capital T – the dulcet tones of his accent were really just the icing on the cake [clotted cream on the scone??]

After the sermon came the part of a church service I most dread when I’m new – communion. Every church does it differently, and I always get hit with a serious case of #communionanxiety that I’m going to do it wrong.  Do I take the bread and wine right away, or wait until everyone has been served and take it all together back at our seats? Do I dip the wafer into the chalice of wine, or take a sip directly from the cup? [and try not to think about how in no other circumstance would I drink out of the same cup as 100+ people #germaphobenightmare]. We took it in the round, forming a semi-circle at the altar so we could see one another, and it was beautiful.

I’ve heard Brené Brown say that she goes to church for two reasons – to receive communion and to pass the peace with people she would never invite to a dinner party.  I think that is so beautiful. During the passing of the peace, as I shook hands with total strangers all around me, I knew nothing about their political beliefs or personalities, their socio-economic status or their secrets.  I didn’t know if I’d love chatting with them over coffee after the service or be counting down the seconds until I could exit the conversation. My opinion of them – and theirs of me – was wholly irrelevant. It was a holy moment to say aloud to a stranger “Peace be with you” and mean it, to bless them not because I like them or they tell funny jokes or we have some sort of shared history but simply because, as a person made in the image of God, they are beloved and worthy of that blessing.  

At the end of the service, the priest invited us to lay a hand on the shoulder of the person next to us as we received the Benediction, and my eyes filled with tears as I placed my hand on a stranger’s shoulder and felt the weight of a stranger’s hand on mine, a physical manifestation of our connectedness to each other, as the Body of Christ, yes, but also as the human family.  We belong to each other.

This morning I was back home at City Church, and I passed the peace with a room full of people I know and love, and I was deeply grateful for that sense of community and belonging.  I served wine at communion, and I spoke aloud to strangers and friends the same sentence “The blood of Christ, shed for you.” It was deeply meaningful to speak the same truth aloud to folks I’ve never met before and some of my dearest friends, to children and their parents and grandparents, to folks from all sorts of different backgrounds, carrying all sorts of different stories. To be reminded yet again that the same truth connects us all – we are all loved, we are all worthy, and we belong to each other.

In His Hands


A few weeks ago, I had the joyful experience of getting to babysit my friend’s precious two year old, Caleb.  After discussing where Mama was and explaining the concept of college [which is surprisingly hard to do!], before bedtime I asked him what songs he wanted to sing.  We went through some greatest hits – Wheels on the Bus, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star – and the last song he chose was an oldie but a goodie that I remember from my own Sunday School days.

He’s got the whole world in His hands

He’s got you and me brother, in His hands

He’s got you and me sister, in His hands,

He’s got the whole world in His hands

Caleb and I were sitting cross-legged on the floor as we sang, his toddler knees pressed against mine, as he enthusiastically enacted the hand motions that go along with the song, smiling at me with delight as his pure baby voice joined with mine.

He’s got the whooooooole world in His hands

As I watched his face, full of delight and concentration as he raised his carefully cupped hands upward with the music, I felt my eyes feels with tears.

Amen, Caleb, Amen.

If I’ve accumulated one ounce of wisdom in my 33 years of life, it’s this – life is freakin’ hard, friends. This season has been one of endings to things that have been deep blessings, and letting them go is hard.  Stepping from the known of what has been good into the unknown of the future is scary. The chasm between what I do deeply want my life to look and feel and sound like and the realities feel hard and sad and overwhelming sometimes.

Layered on top of what’s happening in my own life, I read the news about mass shootings and abortion bans, or visit a civil rights museum or have a conversation with someone who works with refugees and I feel the wind knocked out of me with the injustice of the world, of how cruel we are to each other.

We all cope with the brokeness and uncertainty of the world in different ways, and my default setting is control and hustle.  I just want a plan, a checklist, 12 steps to take to find true love and my dream job and solve every social justice issue while I’m at it.  I get into fix-it mode and I start to buy into the lie that if I just try hard enough, control enough, clench my fists tight enough, I can hold onto the good and avoid the bad.

Life constantly, mercifully, sometimes harshly, reminds me of how profoundly delusional that is.  I’m like the toddler on a bike thinking I’m propelling myself forward all by myself when it’s really the parent holding the handle behind me making the whole thing go.

So.

My constant reminder to myself lately – something I literally do when I’m feeling overwhelmed – has been to go from clenched fists to open palms.  To go from a posture of trying to hold tightly to what is good from a place of fear and striving and wanting to maintain the illusion of control, to a posture of letting go, holding circumstances and people and relationships loosley and with love. A posture of being open to receive the good, good things God has for me, because He loves me. A posture of trusting in that love rather than my own checklist.

As I watched Caleb raise his tiny open hands, I was reminded of the exhortations sprinkled throughout the bible to be like little children – free from the layers of coping and striving and theological gymnastics we grown-ups are so adept at.  The reminder to simply trust, with open palms.

I just completed a 9 month intensive theological Fellowship course where we dug so deep into theology my brain hurt, and still the most profound lesson I’ve learned about God lately came from a two year old.  I love that. I love that with all my heart.

He’s got my career in His hands

He’s got my friends and family in His hands

He’s got my hopes and dreams in His hands

He’s got my deepest, darkest fears in His hands

He’s got my joy in His hands

He’s got my past and my future in His hands

He’s got the scared women and the abortion providers and the protestors in His hands
He’s got the oppressors and the oppressed in His hands

He’s got the world leaders and the homeless people on my street in His hands

He’s got the whole world in His hands

I was talking with a friend the other day about how often we get sucked into the false thinking of the world around us, especially in the Bay Area – that we can control outcomes if we just find the exact right thing to do or say or achieve, for ourselves and for the people we love.

The truth – the glorious and grounding truth – is that we don’t control outcomes.  Our job is to love God and love our neighbors, full stop. Our job is in the inputs, and God controls the outputs.

I’m trying to lean into that truth, and unclench my fists – to let go of the fear, and to receive the love.

Thanks for the reminder Caleb  – xoxoAuntieMary