Anxious, much? (and trying to breathe past it)

I could feel it happening. The familiar tension in my shoulders. The quickened step. The terse directives to my daughter to put her shoes on and brush her teeth already. My stomach knotted and I reached instinctively for my coffee mug, searching for something familiar to help me breathe.

Just. Breathe. 

We were running late, and for as long as I can remember, running late has made me anxious. I’m sure this is rooted in some DNA pattern or life experience I know nothing about, but regardless, it’s true. And my sincere apologies to my loved ones who have suffered my sharp words if I’ve been with you while also about to be late for something. I know it’s not pretty. And please know this–I don’t care if you aren’t on time. My sister’s been showing up late for every day of her life and I love her madly and will take her in my life late or otherwise. I’m just worried about me.

So yea, me running late makes me anxious. So does money. And so does any general unknown–like not being sure where I stand with someone, or the possibility of heartbreak, or not having a clear idea of what I’m supposed to do in any given situation.

Otherwise? I’m totally chill (insert self-deprecating laughter). I don’t worry about colds or someone stealing something from my car or running out of gas or a thousand-and-one other ordinary things one might worry about. I mean, we’ve all got our baggage, right?

(Please understand I am not speaking about the kind of anxious that spins out of a mental illness of some sort–the anxiety born of generalized disorders or depression is a whole ‘nother ballgame, and I know and love people who struggle mightily against this monster. And I watch them fight against it and I want so much to make it stop…because I know they are so tired, some days, of trying to silence it’s effects on their brains and hearts.)

What I know in my own life, and see in the lives of others, is the every day anxious that happens when we come face-to-face with the very real truth that we are not, after all, in control. Of very much at all. Sometimes not even showing up to school on time makes the list.

We can do our best to make good decisions. We can work hard to point our feet in the right direction on any given day. We can read books and attend seminars and talk with friends about what kinds of choices we want to make and what kind of person we want to be. But control–of any absolute sort–is a complete illusion, and our insistence on trying to grasp at it feeds, I think, a sort of anxiety that is rooted in a very well-grounded fear.

Fear of catastrophe. Fear of not being able to provide for our children. Fear of losing someone we love. Fear of loneliness. Fear, most of all, of not being enough. 

Anxiety lies and bullies. I’m convinced of this. Whether situational or mild or not, it lies, and convinces us we do not have what we need to get through a particular moment or be in a relationship with a particular person or excel at a particular task. And so we reach for some imaginary control panel and try our best to reign in our lives so that they feel safer. More manageable. Less frightening. We go searching for security in things (always a disappointment) and we lose sight of what matters most and how it is that those things that matter most (like the scent of the very center of the top of my daughter’s curly head) are sometimes everything we need to get through.

Above all, the biggest lie anxiety tells us is that we cannot do it–whatever “it” is. We can’t survive the grief. We can’t excel at the new job. We can’t find a way past the anger. We can’t thrive past brokenness. We can’t…we can’t…we can’t….

And the thing is, we CAN. We absolutely one-hundred percent CAN.

It’s hard. Really, awfully, effing hard. But we CAN.

I was talking to a friend last night who told me that for the first time in a long time, he feels like his head is above water. Like many of us traversing the landscape of 40-something, he’s been through a divorce (and all the emotional and financial stress and feeling of failure that comes with it), and a job he wasn’t fulfilled in, and the every day drama of raising teenagers–the hard stuff of life. Rebuilding your life is serious and difficult business, and god, some days, you just want to give up. Wave a white flag and call a weak truce with what has undone you.

But you can’t. You have to keep going. Swimming up–because one day, eventually, your head breaks the surface and you can breathe again. Even if there is still hard work to do, you can breathe again.

Just. Breathe.

And this what I want focus on. The breathing. The taking a deep breath of gratitude for all that has gotten me this far. And trusting that something is at work to lead me/us into what’s next.

(I just really, really want to be on time when “what’s next” starts!) 

 

 

 

 

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If I were to get a tattoo…

…I mean, don’t worry. I’m not. No judgment, AT ALL, towards those of you who have gone that route, but I’m not a tattoo kinda girl. And somewhere around 39 1/2 years old I accepted that. See, that year, a friend wanted me to get a ginkgo leaf (because I love them so) tattooed on my ankle for my 40th birthday. I thought about. Pored over possible designs. Scoped out possible locations. But in the end…no dice. I just couldn’t do it.

But if I were…if I were to do it, I think it would not be a ginkgo leaf. Or a fleur-de-lis (which I also adore).  Or even my daughter’s initials (who I adore the most). It would simply be this: Romans 8:38-39.

Maybe even just 8:38-39 (except probably that would like some sort of odd ID number and cause a major stir!).

More than any other verse in the Bible that my whole existence has been founded upon, Romans 8:38-39 brings me strength. Gives me hope. Helps me put one front in front of the other. Reminds me I am loved, and, therefore, need to set about loving others. Tells me, in no uncertain terms that I am not alone. Not ever.

On our way home from church today, I asked my Curly Girl, “Hey kiddo, what’d you talk about in class today?” She’s in a class at church for 5th-8th graders–the Tweens of the church, they are, but they officially call themselves the Jesus Peeps. Which I think is hysterical and brilliant.

Anyway, I asked. And she said, “Well…we read about King David.”

After a pause, knowing that reading about King David could pretty much run the gamut, I asked, “Cool–what about him?”

“Well, we read about King David and Bathsheba.”

I paused. Swallowed. And then managed, “And…what did you think about King David and Bathsheba?” (If you’re fuzzy here, readers, King David and Bathsheba basically equals a soap opera of epic and disastrous proportions.)

“Well, Mommy, I read it aloud for the class and it is a REALLY weird and UNCOMFORTABLE story!”

(go ahead…laugh…I did!)

I pulled myself together, choked back my laughter and said, “Yep. It is.”

And then we talked. About how King David did some really awful, terrible things. And how he was really quite selfish and impulsive and impatient. But also about how he did some really good and important things. And somehow, despite the awful things, God was able to use King David for good. Somehow…past all the horrible choices, God was able to use him to further God’s work.

This is no small thing. In fact, it is maybe everything.

She noted that there were consequences for King David. I said she was right. “Always, honey, there are consequences. But no consequence can take away God’s love for you. In fact, nothing, no matter what, can take away God’s love for you. And that was true for King David, too.”

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39, NRSV)

She nodded. Said yes, she believed that. And I told her that I did, too.

I stake my life on it. 

In any painful moment of my life, Romans 8:38-39 has been present. Whether read by a loved voice or shared from a pulpit or lectern, or read to myself at night in desperate prayer, or pulled up from memory as a promise that the sun would indeed rise the next day…whatever the instance, whatever the situation, when my heart has been shattered, Romans 8:38-39 has helped me put it back together again, even if not quite the same as it was before.

I have run out words for how concerned and afraid I am in these days we are living.  I approach news and social media both with hesitation these days, literally fearful of what fresh hell might have emerged while I was away from the steady stream of information and opinion and clickbait.

And despite the goodness in my life, I know that it can all be gone in a heartbeat. Just like that. And many days, I wonder when the next shoe will drop and I’ll once again be plunged into heartache. Because this is what happens when you have known pain or grief or anger or loss. And we have all, in one way or another, known these things–and if not…well…we will.

But we have also been promised that such things are not to be faced alone. We have been promised by the very One who created us and gave us love that not a single second of our lives is to be lived without the Love that gave us life in the first place holding us close, pulling us near, surrounding us with mercy.

Nothing can separate us….

Look, I don’t know how it happens. And I know–believe me I know–that there are days when all feels lost and like nothing good will ever happen again and where we are is where we’ll always be. There are days…when not much seems to matter at all.

So y’all excuse me if I’ve gotten all church-y here…but I simply know no other way to traverse this life except to insist that 1) we are loved and 2) we are not alone and 3) there is hope.

This does not get us off the hook in speaking up when we need do. In helping those who need help. In living lives that help justice flourish and peace maybe become a possibility. No…not at all.

But it does fuel us for the journey. Help us forward when things are awful. At least…it does for me.

Because what I believe, out of my own experience, is that to each and all of us God has said, “I’ll keep you.” And nothing will ever be able to separate us from that. And given all the days when I have felt so very unworthy of such keeping, felt so far away from such love…well, I’ll take it. Because nothing can separate us…I am convinced. 

And more than anything I want for my daughter, I want her to be convinced, too. 

 

 

 

 

Courtroom #310

IMG_0604(NOTE: Grateful to the bartender at one of my favorite spots who lent me a pen so I could furiously get this down and to my Curly Girl, who is forever leaving scraps of sketched upon paper in the backseat of my car.)

None of us are there because we want to be. Except perhaps a mercenary or eager-to-prove herself lawyer or two.

My own lawyer sits right next to me, not apart from his client, as so many others do. His presence is as reassuring as his twenty years of friendship have been. That we are here together is testament to my stubborn belief that we all belong to one another in this life, and that our chosen family matters, too.

It’s mostly estates we hear brought before the judge–decisions to be made about a person’s physical effects and financial property, all that’s left of someone’s father or brother or mother or daughter or lover, as if the soul never mattered most after all. Probate court sounds so clinical–but what you’re really talking about is people’s legacies. And often that’s about, as we are there for, making the best decisions possible for the financial futures of children who have lost a parent or caregiver.

One case before ours got to me, tears pricking behind my eyes as I heard the judge ask, “Where is the father?” and the lawyer equivocated, “He’s…at-large,” only to have the mother, his client, chime in with the truth, “He’s on the run, sir. That’s what he means. He’s a fugitive.” And I think how grateful I am not to be saying that, even though my own presence in the room indicates that life hasn’t turned out like I’d planned either (Does it really, for any of us?). Such is the reality of imperfect dreams.

Smoke rises up from the jacket in front of me, and I shift, uncomfortably, at the smell, instinctively shrinking from it, as I wish I could from all the harsh reality around us.

It’s easy to judge. Easy to say, “How did she get there?” or “How did he let that happen?” as cases are presented, easy to want to say, “Oh, that’s not me…my story’s different,” but the truth is that the unexpected can happen to anyone and life can be brutal. In spades. And some of us are luckier than others.

A dark-skinned woman with gorgeous chocolate eyes taps me on the shoulder, whispering in broken English a question.

“Is this right room?” I think I hear her say and I nod, after checking with my lawyer to be sure. Truth is I hadn’t noticed what room we were in. Not until she asked. She is alone, a young son with her. And I am reminded that I am not alone; and, that even if I were, somehow, it would be okay. Because I am not in the room for me. I am here for my daughter, doing my best to shield her from the heartache she has too early and too painfully known.

For her I can do anything; and every day, including this one, I’m seeking space for her to learn a new hope, to dream new dreams. And this means I can stand tall as we approach the bench and say, with a truly grateful heart to a truly kind judge, “Thank you, sir,” as he affirms decisions and signs his support.

And then we exit–quietly, quickly, and it feels like maybe I can breathe again. Courtrooms are always hard. Because in them is often the worst and best of humanity nestled right up next to each other. And I breathe a prayer of thanksgiving for my own village and hope desperately for those still inside. That they’ve got someone in their corner. Someone or something to fight for. Some pure grace like my Curly Girl to remind them that yes, life is brutal. But oh my…it is also beautiful. And so very full of goodness.

We are all our very worst and very best. We are all vulnerable to brokenness. We are all made of the potential for good and evil both. Still, we are loved. Fiercely. No matter what. And this truth makes it possible to face what is worst about us and then strive towards what is best. I’ve no idea what it is about Courtroom #310 that helps me see this–but for the humility and grace of it both, I am, somehow, surprisingly, thankful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering the Future

The most painful state of being is remembering the future. (Soren Kierkegaard)

The words literally took my breath way. Popped out of the character’s mouth in the TV show I was watching, and knifed into my heart with such urgency that I tapped the screen’s “pause” icon and stopped, speaking the words aloud and letting them sort of settle into me.

The most painful state of being is remembering the future. 

And I immediately, that proverbial light bulb burning with sudden brilliance in my head, understood why it is that a treasured pastor of mine says “Julie, sometimes, the hardest thing there ever is to grieve is a dream.”

Because to remember the future is to realize that what we thought would be has not, in fact, been. Not at all. 

A dream lost. A dream destroyed.  A dream broken apart by forces seen and unseen. A dream of what could have been–what you’d hoped, planned and prayed for–shattered on the kitchen floor like a wine glass that has slipped through your fingers, the pieces flung far and wide and sometimes not to be really found or uncovered until we least expect it, when some tiny shard pricks at us until the ache feels fresh again. Like it was just yesterday that it all fell apart and you wondered how in the world the sun could ever have the tenacity to rise the next morning in the midst of all the darkness.

Broken dreams burrow inside our souls, taking up residency with the same insistency the dream did to begin with, when it was whole and happy and not some jacked up version of what we’d imagined for our lives. Whether it’s a lost relationship or lost innocence or a lost career or a loved one’s death or departure–these things knock us off our game, bruise our hearts beyond recognition, and leave us asking “What’s next?” with the desperation born of tremendous sorrow and gripping fear.

Broken dreams are capable of destroying us. This I know is true. And so to remember the future is to stare in the face that which could, if we let it, rip us apart. And this is terrifying.

And when a person is in the depths of grieving a broken dream, there is no telling her the very real truth that it will, one day, be okay again. That she will, in fact, survive. You can say these things. You can believe them with all your heart. And she might even want you to say them. But that does not mean she can believe them. Not yet, anyway.

Not quite yet.

I always say there is so much I don’t know. And that’s true. But I do know this: that it is possible for a broken dream, even as it pains you to the core of your being, to end up being the very thing that makes way for something new. Something previously unimagined. Something you’d long ago given up on. Something you never thought could be.

I know that it is possible to rise up from the shards scattered on the kitchen floor and claim space for a new dream to be made known…to be born.

I know, too, that the old dream, the one that has been left dashed against the hopes you once had, never to be made real after all, is one that you never quite let go of. You always will remember what might have been. You always will remember the future. And every time, it will cause your heart to twist…though if you’re very, very lucky, the twisting becomes less fierce, less tight, less painful as the years pass and you learn what it is to laugh again. Breathe again. Live again.

There is no erasing the things that have broken our dreams. There is only seeing what can be made of them, what might be salvaged from the wreckage and crafted into hope or joy or peace, such that we’re able to stand on both feet, proud of where we’ve been because it has made us who we are.

“The most painful state of being is remembering the future.” Kierkegaard’s mic drop if there ever was. But also a signal that not all is lost. That perhaps in the remembering we’ll also be reminded of what new things are now possible, what new promises might be made, and what new hopes might be able to pull us into whatever is out there, calling for us, beckoning us to please come home, to please find safe harbor in the midst of what has almost undone us and, then, finally, rest in the grace that has held us safe the whole way through, and that will go with us always.

Through whatever darkness may come. And into whatever light is waiting.

 

 

We are the World.

“We are the world, we are the children, we are the ones to make a better day, so let’s start giving…there’s a choice we’re making, we’re saving our own lives, it’s true we make a better day just you and me.”

I’ve been able to sing that chorus and the song it came from by heart since I was 10 years old and the original version came out–1985, US Aid for Africa, Willie Nelson and Lionel Richie and their peers all sharing a microphone. I was, then, the same age my daughter is now. And last Saturday, I watched, heart bursting, as she and 50 peers sang the 25th anniversary version featuring Wyclef Jean at a local street festival.

Along with the other parents in attendance, I’d just seen them rehearse it at their school, located a couple blocks down from the festival, their excellent vocal teacher doing her best to inspire them to the greatness she knows is in them. It took them about a third of a way through the song to really get into it, but man, when they did–it was full throttle, no holding back, sweet voices ready to tell the world, “We are the ones….” They sang with their entire bodies, swaying back and forth, some of them with eyes closed, smiles cracking their faces wide open and enough joy and hope in their notes to bring the mightiest of cynics to his or her knees.

By the time they were done, I was in tears. And as I tried to wipe those tears away discreetly, without drawing attention to myself, I realized, the dad next to me was in the same boat, him using the edge of his long-sleeved shirt to wipe away his own tears. Our eyes locked and I said, “Whoa.” He grinned through his tears and said, “Yea.” I told him that maybe my faith in humanity had been restored and he said “I wish we could just trust them to do it. And not get in their way. They are our future.”

And then two seats down in the rehearsal room, another mom and dad, her reaching for the Kleenex box on a nearby bookshelf which we then all passed around, the four of us struck with the truth our children had just sung and overwhelmed with the goodness of it. The four of us could not–in dress, in skin color, in general appearance–have been more different. But those differences mattered not one wit as we let the beauty of what our children had just done soak in.

This is the thing about music. Poetry. Film. Theater. Dance. It reminds us of that which is good, and bigger than whatever fresh new hell any given day has brought us. It reminds us that we were made for relationship…for love.

****

Music speaks across all boundaries, and I imagine the people attending that music festival in Las Vegas Sunday night knew just what I mean by that. My heartbreak over what happened at that festival, and how such things bring out both the worst and best of us as a nation, is, still, this morning, palpable, and I have no words to really describe the ache I feel over such horror.

But I also know this–on our way to drop the girl at school this morning, she and I were listening to our favorite local country radio station. And one of the morning DJ’s, she has a cousin who there in Vegas Sunday night, and she shared that her cousin has said this since surviving the horror (I’m paraphrasing, so won’t use quotes)–that as people ran, and as they helped each other out of harm’s way and tried to assist the injured, no one cared about the politics of whoever needed saving. No one paid attention to color, ethnicity, gender, religion or anything else. It was just people helping people, being everyday heroes, recognizing they were all in it together and had to survive together.

Why the absolute hell does it take tragedy and trauma for us to see how much we need each other? I will never understand this.

But I do know this–I care more about you as a human being than I do your politics. Or your religion. Or your skin color. Or anything else. I care more about YOU, as a human being, than I do your opinions. Even if I vehemently disagree with you and even if I speak out against what you believe. Even still–I care more about YOU.

Those parents and me, watching our kids sing, and overwhelmed with the beauty of it, did not care where any of us had come from that morning–we just knew we’d experienced something gorgeous and real together, and wanted to hold on to it. The truth is that none of us had ever spoken to each other–I don’t even know their names or which kid is theirs. But we cried together y’all. Do you know how vulnerable that is?

This is the kind of connection we were made for, as human beings, and the kind that we have to fight tooth and nail to hold on to in this particular day and time. Because with out it, we are entirely doomed.

I despise conflict. Mostly because I believe that the vast majority of conflict is really rooted in grief, and it’s much more effective to deal with the grief than it is the argument. And I believe that, these days, we are living in a grief-stricken nation. And it is no one person or party or president’s fault. What the root of all the grief is, I’ve no real clue, but I suspect the heart of it lies in our own isolation and fracturedness as human beings. Whatever walls we’ve constructed out of race or politics or religion have not only blocked us off from each other, they’ve blocked us off from ourselves and what it means to fully embrace the relationships with others that we were created for.

My daughter and her peers understand the need to love and support one another. They get it. They’ve no time for hate, they’re too busy doing life together. And in them is my very best hope, even in the midst of pain and chaos.

“We are the world,” they sang.

It would be in our best interest, and perhaps our great salvation, to join them in their singing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

on hope and fantasy

Severus Snape. Perhaps the most compassionate of them all.

There are, thankfully, a number of people in my life who understand my deep and abiding love for all things Harry Potter. One of them is my little friend Ethan. He’s 8, and we can geek out over HP stories with the best of them. Last week, Ethan used Legos to make Dumbledore, a Ministry of Magic member, the Elder wand, and a Gringotts goblin (I realize if you are not HP-familiar I may have just lost you, but hang with me).

And as he showed me all these new creations, so very excited to do so, I thought, “Sweet kid…I wish so much your life could always just be the goodness that is Harry Potter.”

Sort of like when my own darling Curly Girl said me this weekend, “Mommy, I want so much, next summer, to get my letter from Hogwarts and find out I am not a Muggle after all.” I’m pretty sure she isn’t kidding.

Here’s the thing about the world J.K. Rowling so brilliantly created: it’s what we all want. Belonging–no matter what house we get sorted into. Ride or die friendships. A common goal. The triumph, always, of good over evil. It’s real. It’s raw. And it speaks to the core of everything we long for as human beings. And it does so in a way that first and foremost reminds us that all is never lost. That love wins. Again and again and again.

***

Y’all, I am so, so tired. Deep in my bones tired, of the ways we continue to destroy one another as individuals, and ourselves as a community, in this country. Our internet age continues to mean misinformation, propagated hate and cruel attack. We’ve lost any collective sense of decency and respect and I have reached a point where scrolling through my social media feeds causes my stomach to roil. And it isn’t limited to one side or the other. Not by a longshot.

Compassion fatigue. It’s a thing–and I have it. There are so many things breaking my heart these days I can’t even get my head around what my response is supposed to be to it all. Whether it’s race or natural disaster or healthcare or what ever other fresh new hell pops up each morning…it’s all so damn angry and raw and reactionary. And again and again we’re seeing that power corrupts and money talks and division is the name of the game. Daily, we find new reasons to separate ourselves from each other in this country and we are killing ourselves. Slowly, but surely, we are losing any sense of what it means to be connected to and dependent upon one another’s wellbeing. And, as always happens when this is the reality, the least among us are bearing the worst of the burden.

It’s no wonder Harry Potter is again surging in popularity…and Wonder Woman has raked in more money at the box office than any super hero film in over a decade…and the Justice League movie is already garnering attention…and the countdown is on to the next Star Wars story.

Fantasy has become our hope, y’all.

(Sidenote: For those of us who are people of faith, this is, perhaps, even more telling. I’ll be the first to tell you that I think the Gospel is to be found in both Star Wars and Harry Potter, but what does it say that, more often than not, these stories are teaching our children more about unconditional love and true community than they often learn in their house of worship/prayer/faith?)

For my girl, for my precious niece and nephew, for my friend Ethan, for all their peers, I want a world much more like the one Hogwarts is in than the one they are currently becoming of age in. This is the simple truth. And that both terrifies me (because Hogwarts isn’t real in any empirical sense) and gives me hope (because there is Truth to be found in its existence, even if only in books and movies).

Sadly, it doesn’t look I’ll be headed to platform 9 3/4 any time soon. So, for now, and as has always been, my only sanity is found in individual relationship. Because this is where I see difference being made. Lives being changed. Hope being restored. One exhaustingly and frustratingly tiny baby step at a time.

That doesn’t mean not speaking up. That doesn’t mean not taking chances. That doesn’t mean not making it clear that I believe that we are all, no matter what, each of us, full and equal human beings, with the same loves and longings, the same rights due us, the same blood in our veins.

It does mean listening more. Reacting less. Trying to get at the heart of what divides us so. Using statements like, “All (these people) act in (this way)” far less. Because not all Democrats act/believe the same way. Nor do all Republicans. Nor do all Christians. Or Muslims. Or black people. Or white people. Or immigrants.

We have got to get this through our impossibly thick skulls. After all, any true Harry Potter fan will tell you, not even Severus Snape was who anyone thought he was; and, not even the Malfoys acted like the rest of Voldemort’s crew, even if that wasn’t obvious until the very end, when they realized all that was at stake. And for them, there was grace to be had.

Like there is for all of us. Even in the midst of all the rage and deceit and injustice…grace. And the belief I stake my life on–that goodness is more powerful than any word hate can speak, if we’d just pay enough attention to see it at work among us.

Y’all, we’re at a fork in the road. And, for me, it isn’t so much about choosing sides of history as it is working together to forge paths that will take us into a way that recognizes us all for the beautiful children of God that we are. And makes way for the kind of peace we say we dream about. Because I feel like if we could just start there–start with seeing God in one another, no matter how hard it might be, we’d be closer to truth and mercy and love.

Because, as Dumbledore would say, “Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”

That’s what I want. To aim together. And to do so with a heart wide open to what might be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At our worst/best.

I remember the morning after September 11th, when the full impact of what had happened was just beginning to be known, and folks were still reeling from the horror, I noticed something, and it was this–people were kinder. Gentler. More apt to speak softly and to extend help. I know this wasn’t true everywhere–I know in some places tempers raged and grief lashed out and fear struck in anger…but in my corner of the world in Lexington, Kentucky, there seemed to be an effort to be decent human beings. To recognize WE had been hurt, and that WE would only rise from the rubble of it all if we did so together.

Sort of like those 4 men in that Mexican bakery in Houston a couple weeks back–who, stranded in their place of employment went to work making bread for those who would survive Harvey’s wrath. In their time of need and danger they focused on others. Or that furniture store owner who said, “Y’all come,” to his fellow Houstonians in need of shelter, no matter who they were or what damage it would wreak on his merchandise.

Sort of like all of those–of every nation, religion, tribe and tongue–who have commandeered boats and made human chains in flood waters and activated social media networks to find the missing and made sacrificial gifts of time and money to help those who have needed it.

I cannot even imagine what it has been like in Houston. Or what it is like right now in the midst of Irma. And I knew no one who died in those twin towers or in that Pennsylvania field 16 years ago. But I know that my heart has raged in pain for all of it. Just as my heart raged after Charlottesville. I have wept for those directly affected, and prayed in my own perceived helplessness.

But my heart has also swelled with joy at the ways I’ve seen people rise from the wreckage and terror and into their very best efforts at being human.

I recently came across these words from Glennon Doyle, one of my favorite writers. She said, “When the shit hits the fan, the only damn thing that matters is people.”

Hashtag truth, y’all. We are so often at our very best when we have been through the absolute worst. Because when we’re in the midst of hell, it doesn’t seem to matter whose hand is reaching down to pull us out.

I’ve no idea what the science of this is, or if there even is such science, I just know it happens. And each time I am grateful, and wonder, too, why it takes such awful heartache for us to recognize the bits of God in one another, and why we can’t hold on to it, why, weeks and months later, we are back to our bickering and othering and being selfish and pointing fingers. We are capable of such hopeful and beautiful triumph in the midst of despair, and equally as capable of forgetting our common lot as human beings once the immediate crisis has passed. Such selective memory we have, you know?

Still, the moments of beauty, they give me hope. Because they are tiny glimpses into the grace that comes when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to one another that we’re able to say, “I see that you are so much more like me than I’ve ever known.”

Generally, vulnerability can be a beast. When I am feeling vulnerable, I’m generally prone to sharp words, quick tears, and then really fast emotional-wall building. I gather my fortress of defense mechanisms around me, shutting out anything gives me a sense of threat. Self-care perhaps, but also something that can make me miss out on really amazing possibilities, especially when it comes to relationships with other people.

I think this is true of us corporately, too. When we feel threatened, left out, or experience grief we do not understand, we shut down and shut out, and retreat into our own kind and our own ways and our own spaces. It’s easier that way, or so we think.

It’s only when, as Glennon says, the shit really hits the fan that we’re able to set aside all our futile armor and finally, joyfully, even if painfully, see that for the love of all that is Holy we are so very much alike one another. We’re all scared. Pained. Hurt. Grieved. And we were all made for beauty. For relationship. For love.

People are the only damn thing that matters, y’all. And I know this is terrifying, the trusting of ourselves to this truth. Our dearly held beliefs, our bank accounts, our material possessions, these things we cling to as if our entire self depends upon them for any worth at all, and it’s such a farce. Such an evil trick played upon our hearts. Without one another, without the shelter we offer each other in our finest moments, we fall apart. Completely. Utterly. With little chance of resurrection.

So maybe we could all just take a breath. Realize what a complete mess we’re for so many reasons and in so many ways in this country. And have the courage and heart to make a little space for grace to grow. For mercy to pour down on our angry and frightened lives with all the healing it can bring. For enough vulnerability on each of our parts to recognize the vulnerability in others, and so find a way towards strength together.

Hate is always going to riot. Evil is always going to try to sink its tenacious claws into our existence. But I still believe love is stronger. Grace is mightier. And that the human spirit, when clothed with both, is capable of triumphing over all that threatens to undo us.

May it be so.