Good Friday

I ducked out of work for a few hours midday yesterday to attend my church’s Good Friday service.  On my way there I thought about how funny it was that I was playing hooky from work…to go to church.  That may go down in the books as the most wholesome rule-breaking ever.

When I got to the service the sun was shining and there were so many friends I wanted to chat with, but as I entered the sanctuary the lights were dimmed to one notch above pitch black, I could barely see where my friends were sitting, and I was confronted with large signs asking me to turn off my phone and maintain silence.  I was honestly a bit irritated – I was in a happy, buoyant mood and being forced into a somber milieu wasn’t my idea of a good time. I was playing hooky from work after all- shouldn’t this be fun!?!? Where were the mimosas?

As I entered the sanctuary and sat in the quiet dark for a few minutes, though, what I felt was a profound sense of relief.  Relief in the midst of a workday marked by staring at a computer screen and having conversations and being productive it felt like sweet relief to pause, breathe and just be.  To not have any responsibilities to be cheerful and professional an “on.”  The longer I sat in the dark, the more I felt connected to myself and to the truth simmering just below the surface – even on a day when the sun is shining and I’m in a jolly mood, there is plenty in this world to grieve.

I reflected on my week and the conversations I had – about a friend’s dad who is on hospice care, about another friend’s job situation that is oppressive and toxic, about the endless news cycle reminding us of the brokenness of the world.  I was reminded of the truth that even on the sunniest of spring Fridays, there is still so much darkness.

Now I recognize that sounds like a major bummer, but hear me out.  The entire point of Good Friday is that even though we know Easter is coming – even though we know that resurrection and hope and life triumphing over death is on it’s way – it is still important and worthwhile to sit in the dark and mourn.

I thought about all the seasons of darkness I’ve seen play out in the lives of people I love.  The death of a beloved parent. The pain of a marriage coming apart. The unspeakable anguish of losing of a child.  I thought about all of those stories written in the dark night of the soul. The tears, the anguish, the anger, the sense of all hope being lost.

And then I thought about the light.  I thought about the joy of the birth of a child after years of infertility.  I thought about the true love that restored faith in marriage. I thought about the new lives being born into a family that has experienced so much loss.

And I realized something.  You can’t fully appreciate the beauty of the light until you’ve sat in the dark.  There is a depth to the joy, the gratitude, the feeling of the sun sinking deep into your very bones that’s only possible when you’ve spent some time sitting in the dark.  

I felt deeply grateful in that moment for the ritual of Good Friday, for the built in rhythm of a day not to pretend to be somber when life is going great, but to reconnect with the truth that the brokeness and sadness of this world is always there, even on the sunniest of days.

And yet.

And yet that darkness and brokenness isn’t the end of the story.  “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” John 1:5.  

I’ve spent the year in a fellowship program reading about and debating every possible theological issue, which has been rich and good, but I deeply appreciate the way the days leading up to Easter recenter my faith on what matters most, what I hold as the truest truth, which is simply this:

Our world is so broken.  Systems are broken, institutions are broken [the church very much included], governments are broken, communities and families and our individual hearts are so so broken.  This world is – to use a super erudite theological term – a hot freakin’ mess. And yet the hope of Easter is that the brokeness doesn’t get the final word. The hope of Easter is that the light shines in the darkness, God has defeated death and Love wins.  Love always wins.

So this Easter weekend I am going to spend some time sitting in the darkness – letting myself feel the weight of the pain and grief and injustice and sorrow that mark the human experience – so that I can more fully experience the light, with a heart of gratitude for the God who has defeated the dark.

All the Single Ladies

I just returned from a wonderful, heart-filling weekend in Portland celebrating a dear friend’s wedding and having a blast reuniting with friends I hadn’t seen in ages. As I got into my Lyft at the airport on Friday, the driver and I were making friendly chit chat and he asked what brought me to Portland.

“I’m here to celebrate my friend’s wedding!” I replied joyfully.  

His response was full of incredulity and stopped me in my tracks.

“You’re here for a wedding…by yourself? No husband, no boyfriend?”

Now there are a lot of ways to interpret what he said, but all of them lead me to the same emotional place  – which is white hot freakin’ rage.

First of all, don’t ask a woman who is riding alone in your car if she has a husband or boyfriend. I immediately felt unsafe  [was he hitting on me? was this conversation about to take a turn that was going to leave me feeling uncomfortable – like so many of my conversations with “nice” seeking men sadly tend to do?].  Even if he wasn’t hitting on me – and I didn’t get that vibe – what the actual f**k dude? Is it 1950? Is it seriously that shocking that a woman would go to a wedding without a romantic partner? I am 100% confident that if I was a man going to a wedding by myself he wouldn’t have said a thing.  Also, do I need a male chaperone? Are you seriously defining me by my proximity to a man? Again, what the actual f**k?

I have been told [mostly be men] that a comment like that is a compliment – that what the Lyft driver was trying to say was “I can’t believe someone as great as you is single!” Even if that was his intent, I’m calling bullshit on that because the underlying assumption is still that my worth and value is tied to a man “choosing” me as romantic partner.

I’m extra sensitive to this implication because the cultural messaging runs deep that a woman’s worth is tied to her relationship status, and to be single is synonymous with being unwanted, unloved, unworthy.  I know so many kick-ass women who have stayed in relationships with extremely meh men out of fear that nothing better will come along.  Out of a screwed up belief that it’s better to be coupled and unhappy than single and to write your own destiny. I have also been that woman, wondering if it’s better to stay in a relationship that’s just ok to escape what culture has taught me is a fate worse than death for women – singleness.

I was angry at his sexist remark, and also angry because it was yet another instance where I was reminded that I could be “put in my place” so damn quickly.  As in, reminded that I am female and that somehow carries this potential for an emotional smackdown to hit me out of nowhere at any moment, as I try to simply live in the world.  Like a few weekends ago as I was enjoying a rare 75 degree day in SF, walking home from church in a sundress, blissing out to the feel of the sun’s warm rays on my bare legs and shoulders. In a 30 second span, two different men hollered at me  – one from his car “Hey Baby” and another from the street “Hey Beautiful.” My enjoyment of the day changed instantly to fear, rudely awakened from my blissful enjoyment of the sunshine, and on high alert to make sure the words didn’t turn into anything more threatening.  I was happy, and then I was afraid – because I dared to want to feel the warmth of the sun on my skin. I also felt shame and self-doubt, like it was my fault – because I knew that when I put on that dress that morning there was a high probability that street harassment would happen. I knew the tradeoff for enjoying the warmth of the sun’s rays on my bare legs was emotional exposure – and that breaks my heart.  Because I guarantee that no man who was strolling the sidewalk in his shorts and polo shirt that day had that thought or fear. And that makes me angry. And sad. And deeply exhausted. And then I think about how much privilege I have as a white, straight, cisgender, upper-middle-class woman and how bad it is even with all of that privilege and try to imagine how bad it must be for anyone who doesn’t have all of the protective armor of that privilege – and I get even more angry. And sad. And exhausted. #allthefeelings.

Back to the singleness thing – to be clear, I’m not single because I’m anti-marriage or anti-relationship [though I 1000%  – not a typo, literally one thousand percent – support any woman who doesn’t choose to be partnered or married. You do you, friends #allthesingleladies. I’m single because I haven’t yet found someone I want to build a life with, based on shared purposes and values – and I’m not willing to buy into the lie that I am a less valuable human because I don’t have a plus one.


At my friend’s wedding ceremony this weekend, my eyes filled with happy tears – not because she was getting married, but because she was marrying a wonderful man whom she loves and who treats her so well.   I was happy not because she has checked some life box that is required for women, not because she is now partnered and that makes her intrinsically more valuable or worthy.  No, I was happy because she had clearly found someone she loves with all her heart and who loves her right back – and together they were committing to build a life together based on shared values of love of family and friends, kindness, deep faith and a heart for others.  I was happy because I was in the presence of true love – and that is always something worth celebrating.

So, I hope that I too find a wonderful man, someone I love who loves me right back, someone who wants a true partnership and to build a life together that is about much more than just saving each other from singleness. I pray that I get to experience that depth of love and joy, and deep peace from knowing that I am making a decision to enter a relationship based not on fear, but on love.

I pray that day comes, but until it does I’m going to keep flying to friend’s weddings solo and busting a move on the dance floor and sharing in their joy. I’m going to to keep wearing whatever I damn well please and soaking up the sun’s rays and be filled with gratitude for sunshine and this beautiful world. I’m going to keep living this one precious life I have to the full, and thanking God for all the love that’s already in it.

Loved not Liked

I spent the day at a breathtakingly powerful seminar and workshop on racial justice. Ben McBride is a pastor and activist who spoke about his experience moving into the “kill zone” in Oakland with his wife and three children, his work training the Oakland Police Department on implicit racial bias, and joining thousands of protestors in the streets of Ferguson MO in 2014 to protest the killing of Michael Brown.

At one point Ben flashed the biblical story of Moses and the burning bush on the screen, drawing a parallel to the modern day “burning bushes” alerting us of the crisis of racism and the brutalities committed against black bodies every day in America. He spoke about how Moses was hesitant to leave the comfort and stability of his life under Pharaoh behind to follow God, and Ben challenged us with this question “What is your Pharaoh?”

Folks around the room shared their answers, and they ranged from “I feel inadequate to know how to help” to “I feel ignorant that I didn’t even realize how bad the problem was.”

My answer was immediate, and shocked me in how absurd and lame it seemed in the face of what we were talking about.

What’s my Pharaoh?

I want to be liked.

The biggest barrier to me speaking out against injustice and the killing of unarmed black men and the relentless ways “whiteness” [meaning the social construct that some humans are inherently more valuable than others] has done and is doing, the irreparable damage to the bodies, minds, souls and spirits of our brothers and sisters who are not white – I want people to like me.  I want people to like me and I’m afraid that if I speak out or challenge them they will feel less than warm and fuzzy feelings towards me. I’m afraid if I call them out they’ll be defensive or resistant or angry, that they’ll turn the tables on me and lash out in anger.

I voiced this out loud in a smaller group with a sense of deep embarassment at how absurd it sounded and a kind and wise friend shook her head and said with great compassion – it’s not stupid.

I know what she meant.  She meant that she knows it goes much, much deeper than “wanting to be liked.”

For me, the combination of my personality [people-focused, prioritizing relationships, type-A, perfectionistic] and growing up female in a world – particularly the church – where being sweet and agreeable was the height of femininity and acceptance, means that I equate being likable with being loved.  I was taught that not rocking the boat or making waves was what was expected of me, and if I wanted to be accepted and loved by my community [and someday loved by a man who would want to marry me] I need to stay sweet and small and agreeable. I needed to liked by everyone.

What saved me was my parents, particularly my dad who always made it clear he saw me as a person first and a girl second – meaning I could do anything I set my mind to, gender norms be damned.  That helped, but it wasn’t enough to undo all the other messages – church, culture, the media – that told me if I wasn’t likable I would never be loved.

So when something came along that threatened my likability, I felt gripped by fear – because if my lovability hinged on my likability, I damn well better figure out how to make sure every person I met  – regardless of whether or not their opinion was worth caring about – liked me.

This led to me minimizing or ignoring the racist or sexist or homophobic comments I heard made about other people. This led to me accepting unkind comments and behaviors from guys I dated because I didn’t want to challenge them and risk their ire.  This led to three decades of selectively smoothing away other people’s rough edges so I didn’t have to call them out when they were not being decent humans and risk the unthinkable – being disliked.

Here’s the thing though – I started the realize at some point that when I did that, when I stifled myself from speaking out, I was failing miserably at “loving my neighbor as myself. ” I was caring more about my own emotional equilibrium than another person’s good.  The good of the person who needed to be called out and told that their comment/behavior was not ok, and the good of the persons/people who would be hurt if that behavior continued. Today, as I watched old black and white footage of men and women being pulled from lunch counter stools in the segregated south, as I watched modern-day footage of the police firing rubber bullets and tear gas on the peaceful protestors of Ferguson, as I listened to Ben share stories of being called the N-word and receiving death threats before he preached at a church, I realized the cost of my fear, of putting my comfort ahead of the lives of my brothers and sisters.

And here’s the real kicker – that deep fear I have, of being unliked?  It’s all based on a lie. I do not need to be likable in order to be loved.  My belovedness, my value, my worth? It’s a done deal. I am deeply loved for the truest truth of who I am by the God who created me.  I am deeply loved for the most brave, fierce, truth-telling, boat-rocking, waves-making version of myself by close friends and family who love me enough to hear my pushback and truth-telling – just like I love them enough to hold theirs.

I am deeply loved just as my black brothers and sisters are deeply loved – and because I know that, I can use my voice to testify to the truth of their belovedness in a world that tries it’s damndest to convince us all otherwise.

And at the end of the day, if I speak the Truth in love and someone doesn’t like me for it? Well then I don’t think their approval was really worth having in the first place.

So I’m walking forward in newfound freedom  – freedom from the shackles of needing to be liked, so I can roll up my sleeves and do the hard and beautiful work of Love.


Lent

This year for Lent I’m giving up online dating.

This is not to be confused with giving up dating, which gives me bad PTSD flashbacks to my college years at the height of the Evangelical purity movement when I was surrounded by friends who “gave up dating for Lent so they could focus on God” – with the assumption/motivation that God would bless them with a husband at the end of the process.

To be clear, I think that’s deeply unhealthy, not to mention totally illogical – it shows an odd belief that you can somehow manipulate God into giving you what you want by convincing him you don’t really want the thing you actually want?   It’s like playing hard to get with an Omnipotent being which seems theologically – and just plain logically -flawed.

Anyways, I digress – back to why I’m giving up online dating.

I’ve been in a Fellowship program this year which has been indescribably rich and deep and beautiful, and last week we were talking about what Lenten practices we could adopt, individually and as a group.  Simultaneously, we’ve been talking about sexual ethics and relationships, and replacing the worn out and often oppressive Christian “rules” with asking questions like “does this get me closer or further away to the life of flourishing, peace, justice and love God wants for me?”

As I thought this week about what to give up, I opened my online dating apps and realized that my emotional response when I do is anxiety, sadness and fear  – not exactly the feelings of peace and flourishing I want in my life.

I’ve often said that online dating feels like living out that adage “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” – and yet I keep coming back to to siren call of that glowing screen. I keep coming back because I’m afraid of what will happen if I stop striving – if I stop trying so damn hard to make the things I want in life happen by sheer force of will.

Also as part of this Fellowship program, we’ve been diving deep into the Enneagram, and as a Type 2Wing 1, online dating fuels my screwed up belief that I need to “achieve” a relationship – and then feeling like a failure when all my effort doesn’t yield the results I want.

All the swiping and texting and bad, bad dates [for the love of sweet Baby Jesus so many bad dates] and ghosting and just general, exhausting unpleasantness of the process of online dating is making me sad and cynical and discouraged and angry –  it’s taking me further away from the life of peace and joy and contentment that I so deeply crave in my soul.

I’m also realizing that when I’m feeling lonely or sad I scroll through dating profiles because it gives me the illusion of control – that if I just work hard enough and talk to enough people and go on enough (mostly really bad) dates, the hustle will pay off and I will “earn” the love I’m looking for.  I get choked up as I write that, because I feel like Christianity/common sense 101 is that true love isn’t earned, it is freely given.

Last night I had dinner with one of my dearest friends and we curled up on the couch afterwards to talk as I snuggled her 6 month baby against my chest. He looked into my eyes and smiled then fell asleep in my arms and I felt overwhelmed in that moment by my deep love for this tiny human who has done diddly squat to earn it.  He doesn’t hold down a job or ask me how my day was- but I love him for simply existing.

The Bible is chock full of metaphors of God being our loving parent, and I think this is why. His love isn’t earned on the basis of our hustle or our worthiness, it’s freely given. He loves the CEO with the same abandon that he loves the homeless person begging on the street.  Saint and sinner, people who “have it all together” and people who are falling apart. There is nothing we can do or fail to do that removes one drop of His love.

So, I’m going to do something this Lent that is totally counter intuitive to me – I’m going to stop trying so hard to “earn” love.  I’m going to acknowledge the truth that I am already deeply loved – by God, by friends, by family – just as I am, and rest in that truth.


I’m going to acknowledge the fact that I don’t have control, and pry my grubby fingers off my life and my future and my potential meet cutes for a little while. I’m going to quit the swiping cold turkey, and I’m going to use all the extra time I’m getting back to go on long runs to the ocean and bake for my friends and snuggle some more of those sweet, sweet babies.

Happy Lent!

We Can Do Hard Things

A few years ago a friend recommended the book Carry on Warrior by Glennon Melton. She (my friend and Glennon) were both moms of young kids, and I remember her telling me that the author’s take on motherhood had her laughing out loud.

I like to laugh and I like kids, so I bought a copy, and what I found between it’s pages was so much more than I ever expected. If you haven’t read it, it’s Glennon’s story of losing herself to alcoholism, bulimia and drugs and coming back to life and wholeness when she finds herself unexpectedly pregnant with her son. It’s a story about love and faith, unending second chances, grace and the power of honesty. Most of all it’s about the magic that happens when you are honest and vulnerable about how not together your life is and invite others to be their authentic, messy and beloved selves.

Glennon and Brene Brown are my #allthefeels power duo – full of sage wisdom and nuggets of truth and quotable quotes about how to live a vulnerable, messy, “brutiful” [that’s “brutal” + “beautiful”] life.

One of those wisdom nuggets [not to be confused with chicken McNuggets – wisdom nuggets contain ingredients I can pronounce and are not completely disgusting] is “We Can Do Hard Things.”

One of my coworkers has a “We Can Do Hard Things” sign propped up in their cubicle – every time I walk by it I feel a zing of truth in my soul. Pause, breathe, reset – we can do hard things.

This phrase has been cropping up a lot in my life lately, and is taking on a new depth of meaning. It started a few months ago when I was coaching Girls on the Run.

We were on week 3 of not being able to go outside due to the fires, and I was struggling with how to entertain 12 energizer bunny 8 year olds inside. We were talking about their upcoming 5k race, and many of the girls expressed fear “That is SO far! I can’t run that far! I’m going to die!!” God bless 8 year olds and their flair for the dramatic.

My gut reaction was to assure them “No no it won’t be too hard! It’s only 3 miles, it’s just running, there’s no reason to be scared.” But then I realized two things – one, 3 miles is a lot when you 8-year old sized legs [it’s a lot of running for many grown-ups as well] and two, it didn’t matter if I thought it was hard or not, they did – their fear was real. Their fear was real, so it was worth paying attention to.

I looked at those little faces and I channeled my inner Glennon and I decided some radical truth telling was in order. “Girls, listen, here’s the truth – yes, it might be hard to run that race. But I believe that every single one of you can do it. You know why? You can do hard things. And to prove it, we are going to bear crawl up and down this hallway – because I want us to remember just because something is hard doesn’t mean we can’t do it” So I send those girls up and down the school hallway on a bear crawling relay race. The cheered each other on as they slipped and slid across the floor. Some stopped halfway through and restarted with cheers from their teammates. At the end I looked at them and said “Ok, who thought that was easy?” No hands. “Who did it anyways?” All the hands.

We can do hard things.

My 33-year old fears look slightly different than the fears of those 8 year olds, but the core beliefs are the same.

The reason I don’t want to do hard things isn’t because I’m lazy – it’s because I’m afraid.

I’m afraid of pain – of the literal pain of running up a steep hill, my lungs straining against my chest, but more deeply the pain of rejection or disappointment or failure.

I’m afraid of trying and failing, and what that will say about who I am and my worth in this world.

Another Glennon/Brene [Glenne? Brenonon?] power phrase is that quote “Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s being afraid and doing it anyways.”

I love that.

There are so many hard things in life – some are obvious and we get lots of credit for doing them. Getting an advanced degree. Public speaking. Giving birth. And then there are smaller, quieter things that are no less hard, and we rarely get recognition for them.

Working to repair a broken relationship. Asking for forgiveness. Choosing hope when circumstances point toward despair. Listening – truly listening – to the story and pain of someone who is different than us, who has experienced this world and life differently because of the color of their skin or who they love. Changing your mind. Choosing love over hate, forgiveness over righteous indignation, hope over cynicism. Loving another person with full awareness of their flaws and foibles – holding them all with love.

The older I get, the more keenly aware I am of how brutiful – brutal and beautiful – life is, and the less interested I am in trying to smooth away the rough edges with an “It’s not that bad, look on the bright side!” minimizing. Instead my rallying cry lately, to myself and to the people I love dearly, has been an acknowledgement that yes, that strained relationship, that tenuous job situation, the pain of that unfulfilled dream, navigating that messy family dynamic – that is damn freaking hard.

That is hard and We Can Do Hard Things.

Present

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions anymore, for a few reasons.  

One, when I recognize something in my life that I want to change, I’m way too impatient to wait until Jan 1 to change it.  Two, the last thing my personality type needs is to set more unrealistic goals for myself that I fail to achieve, then feel guilty for failing at – I do quite enough of that to myself the other 364 days a year, thank you very much. Three, I love the sense of freedom and possibility that the New Year brings, the sense of the unknown and that anything can happen- I don’t want to spoil that whimsical, magical feeling by trying to wrestle the future to the ground and control it on my own terms [again, I do that on my own just fine, thanks.]

A few years ago I read a blog post that talked about re-claiming the whole New Year’s Resolutions nonsense and instead setting New Year’s “Intentions,” picking a word or two that you want to focus on in the coming year, that are meaningful to you.  This resonated with me, so I’ve been doing that the last few years.

My words for 2018 were Learn, Love and Risk – and as I reflect on the past year and all that’s happened, turns out those words actually describe 2018 pretty well.  I learned a lot – at work, in relationships, in new experiences. And I tried – as I always do – to love the people around me well.  I found new depths of love for the people closest to me, and found some new people to love – new babies, new friends, my Girls on the Run girls.  I took some risks stepping out of my comfort zone, challenging my own ways of thinking about the parameters I’ve set up for my life. I broke my own rules, and I learned in fresh ways what love and grace actually mean.  I screwed up and asked for forgiveness. I pushed the boundaries of my faith, and learned that God is more than big enough to hold all sorts of questions and doubts, ambiguity and unanswered prayers, in His arms of love.

As I think about the words I want to define 2019, the one that keeps coming up is Present. I want 2019 to be a year where I am fully present to my life.  I worry as a recreational sport [I thought about going pro, but I want to maintain my amateur status so I can compete in the 2020 worry olympics].  Because my default mental mode is worry, I spend about 60% of my time going through potential future disaster scenarios – “What’s going to happen in that meeting tomorrow? What if I don’t have time to go to the grocery store today and I don’t have enough kale, what am I going to have for lunch tomorrow?  What if I get injured and I can’t run and then I get stressed and out of shape and it takes me months to recover? What if something happens to my mom?” If being inside my head sounds freaking exhausting, you’re not wrong. Oh, I also spend another ~20% of my time thinking about what’s already happened in the past and worrying about that, so that only leaves about 20% of my time to actually experience my life in real time – which is pretty lame.

So, my word for 2019 is present – I just want to be present to my life.  I want to experience things in real time, to fully experience the moments of  joy and sorrow and boredom and hilarity and sweetness and awkwardness and the mundane that actually come my way in day to day life. It sounds so simple, but it’s actually really hard – for me, and based on my conversations with friends, probably hard for a lot of us.

I had an experience recently that gave me a taste of what it’s like to be fully present.  It was Christmas Eve, and my mom and I were at the candlelight service at my church. I looked around the room and it felt like a Sunday morning – except it was a Monday night and everyone was dressed up.  The kiddos were in their Christmas dresses and hair bows and cozy Christmas sweaters. One sweet baby was in red and white striped candy cane footie pajamas and a matching beanie – my heart could barely handle it.  At the end of the service, they turned off all the lights and our pastors lit a candle, and passed it down the aisle. We sang “Silent Night” as friends and strangers leaned close to each other, hands cupped around the candle and passed it down the aisle, lighting the room.  As we sang the last chorus a cappella, I looked around the room and took in the scene – faces aglow in warm candlelight, the children momentarily hushed and mesmerized by the magic of their glowing candle. As I sang, for the first time I really paid attention, and I savored every syllable-  I could feel the roundness of the “mmm” at the end of “all is calm” and the crispness of the “t” in “all is bright.” I could taste the words. I was fully present in that moment – not worrying about the future or dwelling in the past, and it felt really great, like I was fully experiencing my life.  I’m realizing as I type this it kind of sounds like I was stoned “Duuuuude, I could taste the music.” I wasn’t, but I’m realizing this may be why some people take mind-altering drugs. For me, the sober alternative of fully experiencing my real life is radical enough – plus, no side effects 🙂

I’m subscribed to get these daily emails based on my Enneagram Type [2 wing 1, holla!], and today’s made me laugh out loud when I read it, as I always do when God loses His subtle and hammers a point home.  “This New Year’s Eve you can lay the groundwork for continued growth without making any resolutions except one—to let go of the past, connect with yourself, to Wake Up, and be Present.”

Be present – got it.

As the calendar year turns to 2019, I have no resolutions expect one – to be present.  And I already know how it’s going to go. I’m going to try – and fail. And probably forget for awhile.  And then try again. But I’m going to give myself grace when I fail, and keep trying. Because it’s hard to retrain your brain to think differently – worry is a well-worn groove in my mind, and being present is the road less travelled, unchartered territory.  But I also know that the very best things in life are hard, and it’s more than worth it. Besides, as I told my Girls on the Run girls over and over this Fall, if there’s one thing I know for sure it’s this – we can do hard things.


Happy New Year!

A Little Magic

I saw Mary Poppins Returns the other day, and I found myself tearing up unexpectedly several times throughout the film.  It wasn’t just basking in the glow of Lin-Manuel Miranda..well, existing, or the beautiful cinematography or the sweetness of the kiddos sitting around me, excited faces lit by the warm glow of the movie screen.

No, it was the realization that my life has been decidedly short of magic lately, and the reminder that believing in magical, impossible things -like dancing penguins and nannies that fly – is really, really good for the soul.

There is a sharp contrast in the film between the open-hearted wonder and readiness to believe of the children, and the responsible, black and white, closed off minds and hearts of the adults.

Watching the film made me realize how disconnected I’ve become lately from that sense of wonder – that wide open, heart open sense that anything and everything can happen.  That joy-readiness.

As I reflect on 2018, I realize how heavy this year has been.  In the concentric circles of life, the “out there” news cycle has been punishing, brutal, unrelenting.  Mass shootings, migrant families torn apart, new sexual harassment and assault stories breaking constantly, the Kavanaugh hearings, the California wildfires – it has been a steady stream of injustice and pain and human suffering filling up my social media feed and inbox and quite literally the air I breathe.

In my immediate circles, people I dearly love are watching their children battle cancer, longing for children and not knowing if they can get pregnant, navigating divorce and broken relationships, losing their jobs and their health and their faith.

It’s no wonder, I suppose, that I’d lost sight of wonder, of joy, of childlike awe.  The cares and worries and pain of the world have been so loud this year, so in your face, 24/7 blaring, that there was no room for hope’s still, small voice to be made out in the crowd.

As this year winds down, I’m slowing down, too, and turning down the volume on some of the 24/7 despair, so I can hear hope’s still, small voice.  I’m calibrating and resetting my mind and heart so I can tune in more crisply to the sound of hope, cutting through the static of despair.

I’m realizing that the hope and joy has always been there – in the faces of the kiddos I love, in the smell of the ocean or a freshly cut Christmas tree, in the taste of warm mulled wine and the sounds of the laughter of my best friends.  I just need to slow down, open my eyes and pay better attention, lest I lose the things that make life possible, even in the darkest of times.

That joy, that wonder, that awe, is the only thing that keeps me going in the midst of the darkness and grief of the world.  Because that grief is real, and to pretend it’s not is to to a disservice to the real pain of real people who are worth caring for and embracing in their time of need.

The pain is real but the joy is real too.  The wonder, the awe, the laughter, the magic of the season.  Hope is just as real as the pain, and as we approach 2019 I want to open my heart to both, no matter what the year may bring.

The God who Brings the Rain

I woke up early this morning, as the first rays of pre-dawn light were just beginning to touch the sky, grabbed my giant mug o’ coffee and settled in front of my bedroom window like I do every morning.  I looked outside and saw movement near one of the street lights, a faint shimmer in the pale morning light. I blinked to make sure I wasn’t imagining things and hurried to the window to get a closer look.  I squealed gleefully and grabbed my phone to text my mom, giddy as a kid on Christmas morning – “It’s raining!!!!!!”

I have never been more deeply thankful for rain.  As much as I’m ashamed to admit this [as a native Californian living in a state that’s been in a severe drought for the past several years] I usually view rain as an annoyance, preventing me from doing what I want to do – go for a long run, sit on an outdoor patio for brunch, have a frizz-free hair day.  Today I don’t feel one ounce of annoyance – all I feel is deep, deep gratitude and the poignant reminder of how dependent I am on God’s goodness and provision.

I’m in a fellowship program this year and one of the books we’re reading is on ecofeminism [a word I had never heard of before and still don’t feel 100% confident I fully grasp] written by a Catholic nun in Brazil.  One of the themes she talks about is how a connection to the earth, to the environment, is essential for an authentic connection to God, and I think she’s right.

Most days my life feels about as removed from the rhythms of the natural earth as you can get.  I live in the heart of Silicon Valley and I work at a tech company where my days are spent typing emails and talking to people over screens.  When I need to get from one place to another I use an app on my phone to summon a car to pick me up and drop me off. When I’m hungry I go to a grocery store where every food I could ever want is neatly arranged in rows, and the only challenging labor I have to engage in to get fed is figure out which line at Whole Foods is shorter.

I know agricultural life is far from idyllic, and I don’t want to mythologize or romanticize life on a farm, but I do often think that it might be easier to stay connected to God if my daily life were full of reminders of my dependence on Him for my very survival.  If my life and livelihood depended on forces beyond my control, and I was forced every day to go to God in prayer to ask Him to bring the rain – I think my faith might look radically different.

I love my life and I would be useless on a farm, but the danger with my modern way of living is that I too easily fall into the delusion of self-sufficiency.  Because the truth is that my very life is dependent on God, but that dependency is hidden behind so many layers of modernity that I have to work hard to see it.  I am so many degrees removed from the rain that is necessary to make the organic carrot grow that by the time I put it in my shopping basket at Whole Foods I can too easily buy into the lie that I am feeding myself, and I don’t need anyone’s help – a farmer or God’s – to make my life run.

But the truth – the glorious and grounding truth – is that I am utterly dependent on God for the very breath in my lungs, the beat of my heart, the ability to bend my legs and get out of bed in the morning.  I am dependent on God for the provision of my job, the neurons firing in my brain that enable me to stare at those screens and type those emails, the blessing of people who support and champion me in that work.  I am utterly dependent on God for every good and perfect gift in my life, and when I am reminded and reconnected to that truth I am so, so grateful.

This morning as I saw the rain fall I felt wonder and awe and deep deep gratitude – bringing a clear, clean respite from the smoke filled air and providing help and relief to the firefighters battling the fires.  I imagined people all over Northern California turning their weary faces to the sky and feeling the refreshment of that rain, a baptism of hope and a new start, breathing new life.

Have you ever noticed the trope in romantic comedies that the climactic final kiss tends to happen in a downpour?  I wonder if part of the reason is that rain is actually a really good metaphor for that head over heels, swept off your feet, crazy-in-love kind of love – a force that you can’t stop or control, that is so much bigger and more beautiful than our human understanding can grasp, an awe-producing miracle.

So today I am thanking the God who brings the rain, and asking Him to continue to pour out His blessings of fresh starts, new beginnings and abundant grace, hope and love into all of our lives.

A Thanksgiving Feast

I’ve never been so grateful for the upcoming holiday season.  

It has been a heavy, heavy past few months – mass shootings, sexual harassment, wildfires that have wrought devastation.  There is a literal cloud of dark smoke hanging over San Francisco as I type this, and there is a somber hush on the streets, every other person wearing a mask to keep out the smoke, trading sad and serious glances when our eyes meet above our masks.   It feels apocalyptic and deeply sad, scary and surreal.

My soul is weary, and I know I’m not the only one.  My manager and I were talking yesterday about how dark and heavy this season has been, how it seems like the hits just keep coming, and she shared this quote a friend had sent her:

Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world.

All things break.  And all things can be mended.

Not with time, as they say, but with intention.

So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.

The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.

L.R. Knost

I am so ready for the holiday season, not as a form of escapism, a shiny, twinkly light distraction from the pain of the world, but rather as an opportunity to reconnect to the hope and light that is still there no matter how dark [literally and figuratively] the world may seem.

I am craving the light of the holiday season – the joy and awe and wonder, the reminder that magic and miracles still exist, and that they tend to pop up in the most unlikely times and places. I’m craving the reminder that a poor baby born in a manager to an oppressed people can change the world.  I’m craving the reminders that God is constantly at work in this broken world of ours, bringing beauty from ashes, light from darkness.

As I look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving with my extended family next week, I am craving a giant hug from my 2 and ½ and 4 year old cousins more than I’m craving pie [and that’s really saying something because #ohmeohmyIlovepie].

I am craving family news and meeting my cousin’s fiancee and hearing every detail of their wedding plans.  I am craving togetherness and family and seeing four generations gathered together in one room. I am craving the taste of traditional Hawaiian style sweet potatoes with coconut syrup, the same recipe my mom’s mom made every year for their Thanksgiving table. I’m craving the taste of sparkling apple cider, something I only drink at Thanksgiving and then wonder why I don’t drink it more often because it is freaking delicious.

I’m craving unstructured time, afternoon that bleeds into evening, lunch that becomes dinner, eating until we all declare that we can’t possibly eat another bite and then finding ourselves picking at leftovers as we clean up, somehow finding room for one more bite of stuffing, one more tiny sliver of pie.

I’m craving uninterrupted time to talk with my cousins about their lives – about how work is really going and plans for the future and their most recent vacation. 

I’m craving time to build lego towers and play ice hockey with four year old Calvin, and hear all the sweet and profound and precocious things he has to say.

I’m craving time to play peek-a-boo with 2 and a ½ year old Audrey until I coax a shy smile out of her, trying to decipher her toddler lingo and figure out what “Banoo” and “Hoobae’ mean [your guess is as good as mine].

I’m craving time to be and not do, to be fully present with nowhere else to go and nothing else to do, no responsibility or emails or laundry, just being present and soaking in the priceless and precious gift of the people I love.

I’m craving the sounds of laughter and children’s voices, ukulele music and pans clattering on the stove.  I’m craving the sound of champagne corks popping as we toast to family and the many, many blessings in our lives.

I’m craving the warm clasp of my family’s hands in mine as we bow our heads in prayer, and thank God for the gift of being together and lift up the families who are spending Thanksgiving without their homes.

I’m craving a connecting and reconnecting to the most essential truth – that perfect love drives out fear, that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it, and that I believe in a good, good God who is at work in this world making all things new.

Hope

The last two weeks have been…heavy.

I’ve been struggling to find the right word or phrase that is large enough to hold the breadth of news events and personal experiences that have filled the last 14 days and that word fits best.  There is a physical weight to the pain and grief and injustice and suffering and shake-your-fist-at-heaven feeling that has marked the world lately.

Last week I was reading an article on my commute to work about how in the wake of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, many Rabbis are having conversations with the children in their congregations about hate, a new reality for many youth who have come of age in 21st century America, and my heart broke in two.  I was in tears walking off Muni into work – and I walked into another heartbreaking news story that hit too close to home.

The news about Google executives being accused of sexual misconduct has felt simultaneously not at all surprising and like a deep betrayal.  People in power abusing it is in many ways the oldest story in the book, but it feels like a fresh wound when it’s happening in the place you’ve lived so much of your life, the birthplace of dear friendships and personal growth and magical memories.  It cuts fresh when you gather together in protest in a plaza with hundreds of your co-workers with a sense of the surrealness of the moment and wonder “how did we get here?” It cuts fresh when you hear story after story of pain and wrongdoing and the gross miscarriage of justice and see the woman next to you holding a sign that says “I reported, he got promoted.”  That feels like a punch in the gut. Seeing the anger and hearing the pain feels…heavy.

On Sunday my church hosted a guest speaker, Candice Czubernat, who runs an organization called the Christian Closet.  Listening to her stories of how the church has hurt her and her wife and their two darling children, the weight of that pain, felt heavy and brought tears.

And yet.

And yet the last two weeks haven not been nothing but a 24-7 marathon of pain.

There have been moments of profound beauty and life and joy in the darkness.

As Candice Czubernant spoke at my church she shared stories of pain and hurt, yes, but she also shared stories of hope. She talked about churches that have hurt her but also about churches that have embraced her. She spoke of friends and family members that have loved her and her family well.  She spoke with grace and love about ways we can be better allies to the LGBTQ+ community, concrete examples of ways to lay down our own privilege and stand with our brothers and sisters against the lies of systems of oppression that tell them they are anything other than the beloved children of God.  She has every right to be angry at the injustice of the world, but she spoke with such grace and such hope, and her words were a gift.

Last week I stopped by to see one of my dear friends and [as I always do] seized the opportunity to snuggle her 3 month old close.  He locked eyes with me and smiled [if I could figure out a way to bottle the feeling of a baby smiling at you, I could retire now.] I marveled at his chubby cheeks and traced a finger across his perfect button nose and I felt some of the heaviness lift, in the face of such precious new life.

I spent last Saturday in a room with a group of kind, thoughtful, engaged people from wildly different backgrounds and we talked about faith and the bible and truth and beauty and reimagining how we view God and the world and ourselves.  I sat outside in the warm sunshine [in November!!] and in a conference room and in a beer garden and I had conversation after encouraging conversation about reckoning with our own privilege and loving our neighbors well and my heart filled up with hope and community.

On Tuesday I sat with my church community group and listened to the director of City Hope talk about his heart and vision for loving and serving our neighbors in the Tenderloin with authenticity and compassion, humor and strength. As I listened to his words I felt the heaviness lift and I was reminded of what beauty is already happening in the midst of brokenness, hidden in plain sight.

Last night I showed up at my usual Thursday volunteering gig and a gaggle of 8 year old girls ran toward me, asking indignantly why I hadn’t been at practice on Tuesday, and throwing their arms around my waist. I told them I had missed them and found that I deeply meant it.  We couldn’t run outside because of the poor air quality from the fires so we played tag on a deserted classroom floor and I had them bear crawl across the hallway, to remind them that they could do hard things. They laughed and collapsed and were their usual lovably wild cacophony of energy and I felt a little more of the heaviness lift, even more space open up in my chest.

The question I have been asking the past two weeks – aloud in the communities I’m part of and in my own mind and heart – is this: what does it look like to have hope in this season?  I don’t want to drown in the despair of the news cycle, but I also don’t want to brush aside or minimize the reality of the pain and injustice and suffering happening all around me.

I want to sit with the heaviness because the pain is real and worth wrestling with.  I want to sit with the pain and discomfort of the Jewish community, the LGBTQ+ community, the survivors of sexual harassment and assault, the men, women and children living on the streets of the Tenderloin, because their pain is my pain.  We are all the beloved children of God, and I want my heart to beat and to break with theirs.

I want to sit in the darkness with them, to feel the full weight of the pain and the brokenness.

And then I want to stand up.

I want to stand up and look up and ask the God of all hope to fill me with love and compassion and the wisdom to know how to move forward.  I want to ask God to open my eyes to where He is at work bringing about hope and change and shining His light in the darkness, and join in that holy and messy and profoundly beautiful work.

I already have some ideas of where to look.

I think He’s at work at my job, in the conversations I’m having with colleagues and friends and leaders about doing the work to repair broken systems, to bring about justice and do the right thing and truly “not be evil” and love each other well.

I think He’s at work at City Hope, in goofy movies and karaoke night and popping popcorn and serving with love and building relationships with people who have wildly different life experiences than I have, and letting that be a source of shared learning, love and laughter.

I think He’s at work in the most mundane aspects of my daily life, giving me opportunities to, as Brennan Manning says “give life and not drain it” to my family and friends and roommates and Lyft driver and the check out guy at Whole Foods.

I think He’s at work in this big, beautiful and broken world in a million small, beautiful ways, pinpricks of light in the darkness, illuminating a hopeful, beautiful way forward.

So I am taking a deep breath today, and opening my palms and asking God to lift some of the heaviness so the light can get in.  I’m asking Him to open my eyes to the places of brokenness and beauty and to open my heart to know what it looks like to love with strength and mercy, kindness and courage, faith and hope.