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#availablehope

He was 7 years old. Sitting at his kitchen table on a late spring evening, playing on his iPad and eating cake. Everything about it could have been my own daughter, sitting at our own table, playing on her Kindle, having a snack.

Only outside the window of his house, a fight had broken out. Guns were pulled. And a bullet from one of those guns smashed through his kitchen window and hit him. In the head. And a while later, he was pronounced dead at our local children’s hospital. The most skilled and compassionate of doctors unable to save him.

***

They were kids. Young and full of life and ready to sing and dance the night away at a pop star’s concert. Just like me 20, 25, or 30 years ago, at New Kids on the Block, or the Eagles, or Aerosmith–all concerts I attended in my youth with the same spirit of celebration and excitement.

Kids. Bopping along to the music one minute, lives torn apart and destroyed the next by a suicide bomber. Just like that. Destruction, at the hands of a special kind of hate and evil that does not hesitate to snuff out the lives and shatter the dreams of the most innocent among us.

***

Kids. Just kids. Snatched from their lives, their kitchen tables, their families, by the anger and hate brewing in someone else, anger and hate that has nothing do with our children and everything to do with the world that seems to have literally gone mad.

“Shot through the heart,” a local cartoonist labeled his drawing about the 7 year old. It was of a fleur-de-lis, our city’s symbol, a smoking hole at its center. How true the words ring…because when our children are dying, we are, in fact, handing our very souls over to the very worst of humanity.

When our children are dying–and they are ALL our children–we fail, miserably and decisively, at being human. When our children are dying, we’ve lost such sight of what it means to have been created first and foremost in love, that I cannot begin to imagine how we’ll ever remember.

I know. I know… A lot of you want to talk about gun control (or not). A lot of you want to talk about religious extremism and its destructive grip on our world. A lot of you want to point fingers. And cast blame. And I get it. We want to find some reason, some understandable process or instance that led to that 7 year old being shot less than 10 miles from my house and those children being killed at a concert in England. Because such tragedy has to have something that caused it, right? Something that led to it. That someone else is responsible for. That we did not contribute to. Because the alternative is too awful to name–that such heartbreaking shit simply happens, and we live in a world that has become so focused on greed and hate and defining “the other,” that we’re now sacrificing our children to the madness.

Please, for the love of all that is holy, before we inevitably politicize these unbelievably horrible events, and debate and scream at each other over who’s right and who’s wrong in finding a solution to such terror, could we all just take a damn breath and grieve? Let our hearts fall apart and our tears flow and feel the complete awfulness of it all? Can we step into the aisle, reach across the road, attempt to slide into the shoes of someone else’s pain, and simply acknowledge the searing heartache of children being murdered?

I cannot believe it was in God’s plan for a 7 year old to be gunned down while eating cake. I cannot believe it was God’s plan for those kids dancing to Ariana Grande to be blown to bits in the blink of an eye. And I cannot pretend it doesn’t matter. I cannot hold it at a distance and keep it from breaking my own heart over and over.

Because it does matter. And there is no doubt that in all of this, evil is at work. Hate is in control. And anger has take the main stage. And from where I sit, no one’s heart is breaking more than the heart of the God who I believe, with every fiber of my being, created us in love, to love one another. Unconditionally. No strings attached.

How we’ve shot that plan of loving one another all to hell these days….

It feels so completely hopeless. All of it. Even to my doggedly determined hopeful heart.

Except…

…in between that 7 year old being shot, and that concert in Manchester being blown up, I attended the 4th grade awards ceremony at my daughter’s school. And I watched as my daughter and her peers received awards both academic and social–there was a “leadership” award, and a “kindness” award, and a “helper” award, and an award for contributing to good class discussion. And these kids, they just lit up when their names were called and they were recognized for the complete goodness they’ve each contributed to their school community. A lump rose in my throat on more than one occasion. Because good lord, y’all–these kids, they were on fire for one another and the school they love.

One kid sat in the back. And I won’t even pretend to know his story, but I know that he looked kind of alone. And there weren’t any parents or grandparents or other trusted adults with him for the ceremony.

Except one–the school’s assistant principal, who is hands down one of the finest men I have ever known. And he sat with this kid through the whole thing. And stood and clapped for him when the kid received an award. And talked to him and was present with him. Just this one kid. And I thought to myself, “Whatever is happening there–it matters. Whatever story is unfolding–this moment may just make all the difference in that kid’s life.”

Y’all, I am holding on to the joy of that awards ceremony, the image of the assistant principal and that kid with all I’ve got this week. Because something about that 45 minutes at my daughter’s school reminded me that all is not lost. Not by a longshot. Not when there are children like those kids still committed to caring for one another and their community, because it’s being modeled for them by a group of adults who want the leave the world better than they found it.

Hope is sometimes adamantly searching for the tiniest bit of light in a time that seems so very dark and holding on to it. With all we’ve got. Insistently. Even irrationally. And even if it seems that the glimmer cannot possibly continue to glow in the face of the darkness.

This week, in the midst of heartache, my tiny glimmer is holding fast at Lincoln Elementary Performing Arts School–where some of the finest kids I know are learning what it means to stand in opposition to hate and anger and breed kindness and love instead. And my deep and fervent hope for all of us is that we’ll let such children lead us out of the world we find ourselves in and into the world that is meant to be.

 

Time out.

If you spend much time with me at all, you know that I can find a Friends (yes, the sitcom) reference in just about any conversation. At least once a week, sometimes once a day, I hear myself saying, “It’s like that Friends episode where Rachel/Monica/Phoebe/Ross/Chandler/Joey goes and….” Pick a character, finish the sentence, Friends fans, you get my drift.

Right now, it’s like Phoebe in that Friends episode where Monica and Rachel get in a heated argument that becomes an all-out fight and just as they’ve landed on the floor, slapping at each other in fury, Phoebe reaches down and grabs an ear on each of them…and pulls up. “Ow! Ow! Ow!” Rachel and Monica scream at Phoebe, their reason for attacking each other forgotten in their common need to stop the pain Phoebe has caused.

Essentially Phoebe called a time out. And she was wicked efficient about it. And by doing so, she got Rachel and Monica to stop pounding on each other long enough to see how completely ridiculous they were being.

What Phoebe did? This is what I want to do to the entire United States right now. Grab an ear, pull each of us up from the muck of political fighting and Make. It. Stop. If there were ever a corporate need for a time out, this is it.

We continue our war with one another to our own detriment as a nation. I’ve seen some ugly and awful things in my life, but I still just drop my jaw in disbelief at the things we assume/speak/believe about our fellow Americans. Especially–dear lord especially–on the social medias. It’s sick how technology gives us enough of a mask to write or say whatever we want about another person or another political party or another way of thinking. And at the rate we are going, nobody wins.

Did you get that? Nobody. Wins. We are imploding, and we have only ourselves and our own collective fear and anxiety to blame.

My greatest fear is the general contempt we seem to feel for each other. Contempt is dangerous, y’all. It is devoid of any compassion, bereft of any sense of mercy or understanding. Contempt renders us incapable of empathy and unable to see past our own belief systems. Contempt negates listening or understanding of any kind, and it is the dominant MO as far as I can see when it comes to politics in this country. And it has to stop.

There’s a whole lot about our current administration that makes me angry and uncomfortable. And there’s a whole lot about our nation right now that makes me the same. But let’s not pretend that every president’s been perfect, or made all the right decisions. I mean, y’all, our healthcare debacle is terrifying–but we didn’t get here overnight. Not even in the last 100 days. No–it’s taken us a good long while to become a nation that listens more to our wallets than our hearts.

And yet, in healthcare and everything else,  we continue to point our fingers and act as if it’s all a game that must be won, instead of a really serious and frightening indictment of what the land of the free and the home of the brave has become. Meanwhile, families struggle to make ends meet and young people are overdosing on heroin, and parents are wondering how to safely raise their children in the shadow of the internet, and even fulltime work doesn’t guarantee you’ll be able to afford food or healthcare or transportation. And this has all been true for decades.

Y’all, we are so much better than this. We are Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler. We are Ruby Bridges and Rosa Parks. We are Abraham Lincoln. We are Sally Ride. We are Martin Luther King, Jr. We are elementary aged girls learning code, and young men and women serving as doctors and aid workers in foreign lands. We are marathon runners helping a fellow runner to the finish line. We are the first responders to 9-11  who risked their lives to save the lives of those immediately affected. And we are those who opened their lives and communities to those who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. We are not perfect. And we fail all the time. But at our best, we are all these people, all these situations and more.

We are a million different ways of being and yet all able to be those things because we live in these United States. I love this country and her people, and that we cannot find a way to be as a nation that lifts each of us up, without question and without fail, breaks my heart.

If we continue to act with such blatant contempt; if we continue to wage our battles with snark as our first weapon; if we continue to demonize anyone who doesn’t belong to our tribe or party or community, we will fall. And with us will come crashing down all that we hold dear, all that we’ve fought for in the first place.

It’s hard has hell out there these days. I know this. But I also believe we’re better than this. And my most fervent prayer and desperate hope these days is that we will rise to the occasion of what it truly means to be a citizen of the United States before it’s too late.

Time out, y’all. Take a breath, and let’s make some decisions about who we really want to be, both as individuals and as a nation. Because there are plays left in the game. But from where I sit, and likely from where you do, too, the clock is ticking.

We don’t have all day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

That which is holy.

photo credit: Jerry McBroom

Had I not looked up at just that moment, I’d have missed it. I was balancing a full cup of latte, keys, and a shoulder bag moving from car to office, and just at the right moment, I glanced skyward, and saw it. A gorgeous and giant heron, moving so swiftly and gracefully across the morning sky of a bustling city. It looked not of this world–wild and free and completely separate from the traffic and noise and pace below it. It was enough to stop me in my tracks, a smile curving across my face. It was lovely, this bird.

I’m moving slow this week. Not at all fast enough for what my calendar tells me must be done, attended to or managed. It’s been busy. Too busy. And life has felt heavy. And even though that busyness is the result of a really full life, and that heaviness the result of people I care about a great deal, it’s also exhausting. And I miss things when life gets like this. Important things, like giant herons floating across the sky.

It’s no secret the world we live in, and especially these (theoretically) United States are in the midst of angry, chaotic, bizarre times. People are angry. People need jobs. People seek equality. People want to feel safe. People fear the future on myriad fronts. We’re collectively afraid. Isolated. Distrustful. All of this sometimes keeps me awake at night, because I can’t see a way out. I mean, short of sending the entire continental USA to their rooms for a nap, and then forcing everyone to have milk and cookies and a lesson about sharing and using our words, I just can’t see past our current state of affairs. Even as I believe there has to be a better way. Even as I believe we were made for more than this. Even as I believe that this not what God called any of us to be. Even as I hope–fiercely and determinedly–for something new and good on the other side of this present reality.

And I think what eats at me most these days is that it’s hard to see the sacred–we’re missing the holy moments. The glimpses of grace. The thin places of our existence that tell us there is something more…something more whole…something merciful in this life.

We’re so caught up in the pain and chaos and division and fear that we’re missing the great herons dashing across the sky. We’re missing the giggles of our children. We’re missing taking the time to tell the one(s) we love that we do, in fact, love them. We’re missing the sacredness of making love to the one we love most…of cooking a meal with friends and family, slowly, with conversation as the best spice and laughter as the most holy of seasonings…of waking up early and padding out to the back porch, coffee in hand, to watch the world come awake again. And we’re missing the real pain of each other’s hearts, the real moments we could connect in, the real issues that plague us as a nation and world, because we’re too busy fighting.

Let me be clear: I know that there are things worth fighting for these days; I know we all have opinions, and we hold them close; I know that when you’re hungry it’s hard to notice the joy of moonrise and the miracle of sunrise. I. Know. I get it. It’s a brutal world, even as it holds such complete beauty. And in the midst of it all, lives are shattered, destroyed, torn apart, every day. I. Know. And it breaks my heart over and over and over again.

And also…

On Saturday night I watched my daughter serve communion to two dear friends that she calls brothers. Chosen siblings in this life she has been handed. Between the three of them there has been more heartache, more pain, than any child should ever have to face. But oh! how they love each other. How they make each other smile. How they care for each other’s hearts. And as I watched my child offer to them what she knows as an expression of unconditional love and abundant grace, all I could think is, “This. This is life. This is love. This is grace.”

This was hope, that moment, and I remembered again what it means to really live…to know that past all that threatens to undo us is the goodness of what it means to really love another, to really hold on to each other when everything seems to be falling apart, to really know the holiness of this life.

That which is holy–no matter how you define holy or what faith tradition you come from–is, I believe, what saves us. That which is holy, and cannot be planned for, contained, measured or quantified…this is what makes the brutal worth fighting through to the beauty.

That which is holy…this is what triumphs over everything else. And, if we’ll let it, can lead us into hope.

Tale as Old as Time…. (C’mon, sing it with me!)

We’d been waiting for the new live-action version of Beauty and Beast to finally premiere since way back in the fall. And once my girl discovered Emma Watson plays Belle, the wait got even harder, because, well…Hermione! (And if her mama had known it was the oh-so-good Dan Stevens as the Beast…!!!)

Anyhoo, finally, the big weekend came. And, honestly, I was cautious. I’d read a couple bad reviews, and I figured it maybe would not be that big of a deal and so I kind of downplayed it. So much so that I did not order tickets ahead of time. A decision I regretted immediately on Saturday morning as I sat scanning Fandango for two empty seats together in any theater within a 15-mile radius. Apparently all of Jefferson County had the same plans as Curly Girl and me.

The big Disney animated Beauty and the Beast came out when I was in high school. My girlfriends and I loved it, and I sang, “…tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme,” in my car and in the shower and all the live long day for a year after. “There’s something sweet, and almost kind,” too. So, reviews aside, and downplay in effect, I was still looking forward to reliving the memories with my girl in tow.

But let me just say—I was in no way, shape, or form prepared for how much I loved this new version. I mean y’all…seriously…it had my attention from the get, and the only thing that broke me from the spell of my own tears during the last 20 minutes was the sound of CG sniffling, gasping, eyes wide, on the edge of her seat, emotion pouring out of her sweet face. We held hands the last of the way through the movie and man-oh-man did we clap along with everybody else at the closing credits.

Here’s why we gasped. Why we cried. Why we laughed aloud. Why we stood and clapped….

  • In bringing this movie from animation to real-life (even if CGI-assisted), the story went from a happysingsong fairy tale to a deep and redemptive exploration of what it means to be human—and what it can look like to find joy in the midst of sorrow and despair. In this version, we learn more about the Beast, and why he is as he is; and we learn more about Belle, and why her relationship with her father is so important, so life-giving, so central for them both. In essence, we learn the story of two people whose entire lives have been shaped by the too-early and tragic deaths of their mothers. For Belle, the result was constant nurture from her father to compensate for what had been lost. For the Beast, the result was the kind of twisted heartache that leads a person down dark and dangerous paths of existence. This is the stuff of life, y’all—how we deal with what gets handed to us, even if through no fault of our own.
  • Mrs. Potts, and her Chip, Lumiere and Cogsworth—oh they just killed me! Their love for their prince was evident from the very beginning, even as they faced the seemingly inevitable truth that they were doomed. Their care for one another, their hilarity, their attention to Belle, their willingness to sacrifice their futures as the Beast let Belle go… They knew they could not control this part of the story. They simply had to live into what would be with as much grace and guts as they could muster.
  • And then there was Gaston—who went from somewhat comical over-testeroned brute in the first one to a truly evil, manipulative predator in this live-action version. I wanted to throat-punch him. The depth of his need to get, to control, to conquer was so much more evident, and it was terrifying to watch how easily he preyed on the fears of the villagers to get what he wanted. How easily he preyed on their fears to get what he wanted….
  • And above all—it was a glorious reminder of the very real truth that love wins. Love. Wins. Always. Albeit not as obviously and in as timely a fashion as it did in this movie…but still…Love. Wins. Always.

I think, in the end, my great love for this new version of such an already-lovely tale, is that it is, just as the song sings it to be—a tale as old as time. It’s stories like this one that grab our attention, because they cut to the heart of all that’s both beautiful and painful in this life. Just when we think all is lost…just when we cannot stand what we’ve become…just when it seems we are, in fact, doomed by both our own heartache and pain and the evil dealings of others…just when….

And then…hope. Joy. Something new. And unlike anything we ever knew before or thought possible.

Gah. I get it. I know. I know what you more critical readers are saying: People are hungry, Julie. People are dying. Whole nations are succumbing to poverty and disease and war. And our nation..well…we’re not exactly on our best behavior these days.

I know. And no Disney movie is going to change that. I get it. And my heart breaks every damn day over it all.

But you know what else I know? That the human spirit, is, at its best and most valiant, indefatigable. Entirely. And that when we rise to the occasion of what it means to be fully human and fully alive, we find ourselves capable of such tremendous love. And that in that love is more redemptive grace, the sort that works on our hearts and changes us for the good, than we ever thought possible.

During a particularly dark time in my life, a friend and colleague said to me, “Julie, I pray you whole.” Not, “I pray for this thing or that thing,” or even for a specific outcome, but, “I pray you whole.”

What Belle and the Beast and their story reminded me is that we are all so very broken, all so very vulnerable what with the baggage, and life experience, and sore spots in our souls that we lug around. And this just is. It cannot be stopped. Because life happens.

But beauty happens, too. Love happens, too. And when those things are made real in our lives, or when we sacrifice so that they can be real in the lives of others, wholeness is made possible.

Wholeness is made possible.

And sometimes, it just takes a really good story to remind us that this true.

Bourbon Lessons

Barrels of goodness. Buffalo Trace Distillery.

I spent a lovely and unseasonably sunny and warm afternoon last week visiting the Buffalo Trace Distillery with my dad. Father-daughter bonding at its finest, I call it.

I’d done the basic tour before—and it was good. But this particular day, we wound up snagging a couple of open spots on the Hard Hat Tour. No actual hard hats required, but lots of stair climbing, a willingness to stick your finger in various stages of fermenting mash, taste still-aging vodka right out of the palm of your hand, and pay attention to the most fabulous tour guide I’ve ever had anywhere—Freddie, a third-generation employee of Buffalo Trace and a connoisseur on not only bourbon, but, it seemed to me, life in general.

The tour ended as such tours do, all of us lined up at a bar with various products to taste. Freddie’s a master at setting the scene, encouraging folks to try new things, and making the whole experience welcoming and down-to-earth. He didn’t even flinch when I spilled a glass of water all over the shiny hardwood floors of the bar area, just grabbed a bar towel and grinned, and assured me it was no crisis. Granted, he’s paid to keep the customers happy, I get this. But Freddie went the extra mile, for sure.

Especially as he brought out a bottle of Eagle Rare (a personal favorite of mine) and said you know, some people like this straight. Some people like it on the rocks. And then he said…sometimes, you even get someone who asks if they can have it mixed with some diet Coke.

Pause. As we all laughed, and acted exactly as he expected us to—as if such a thing was travesty.

Now truthfully, bourbon and coke gags me. I love the flavor, the sipping, the warmth of the whiskey too much to dilute it. And I’m probably more snobby than I ought to be about this. So what Freddie said next, it was uncomfortably convicting.

Ah see, he said, you all cringed, see that? See how you got all offended at the thought of such a pairing? You know what that says? It says you care more about your bourbon than you do the feelings and comfort level of the person who is asking to have it mixed.

You care more about the bourbon than their feelings.

This has stuck with me for the days since that tour. Under my skin. Bouncing around my thoughts. Because bourbon or no, we do this to one another all the time. We choose to care about a person’s preferences and convictions more than we do the actual person (or their feelings).

Am I right?

We care about who a person’s team is more than the person (especially during March in Kentucky…). We care about where a person shops (Um, Wal-Mart? No. Whole Foods.) We care about where a person goes to church (or doesn’t) and let that knowledge color our opinion first thing. We care about skin color. About gender identity. About mistakes and failure and challenges.

And sweet baby Jesus, we care about a person’s vote, their politics, more than we often care about the actual person. Every day, in this country, right now, we let that be what defines a person to us.

We define people by all these things. Even though no person is ever just these things.

Y’all—I’m not excusing the really bad stuff. Not at all. And I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for our convictions to be expressed. And I believe in knowing who you are and what your belief system is and then living that out. And I sure as hell believe in fighting for love and justice and freedom.

But lord have mercy we are hard on each other. So full of judgment and assumption. So prone to “us v. them.” And this is so not what we were made for.

None of us is perfect. And we are all so very different—by such lovely and graceful design. But we’re all riddled with transgressions and fears and deep grief and broken dreams. And we carry with us the baggage of our lives in ways seen and unseen. This alone should give us pause when we assume know everything there is to know about another.

Given all this, who the hell cares how a person enjoys her whiskey? What matters most is who she’s drinking that whiskey with, and the conversation enjoyed with it. And the memories left long after the bottle is empty.

Replace whiskey with coffee and the story’s the same. Grace is expressed and connection made whether it’s the old guys sipping their free small cup at the local McDonald’s or the 40-something moms taking a break at Starbucks before carpool. The beverage does not matter so much as the experience, the willingness to live life together. The desire to see past the ways we’ve painted one another into a box and into another’s heart. We all want to be heard. We all want to belong. We all want to believe that there’s hope. And that this life we’re living…it’s worth it.

Maybe take a chance on someone this week. Maybe look around with eyes more open to another’s life, ears more open to their story, a heart more willing to understand your neighbor…your family member…your coworker…your (fill in the blank).

I’ll even…(gulp)…let you mix your Eagle Rare if you show up at my house. I mean, it’d probably make Freddie proud.

 

 

from the IV therapy suite, February 2nd

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IV infustion #2. That’s just saline going into my arm right now…I should have gotten the iron shot…it’s all dark and brown and kinda creepy.

She wears a burgundy scarf, tied tightly around her bare head. I cannot even hazard a guess at her age…she could be anywhere between 50 and 80, so much has the disease ravaged her body. She bundles up in multiple layers, and asks for a warm blanket, too. And she’s so very pale. And yet…she flips open that iPad like it’s her job and talks about FaceTiming with her granddaughter and swipes her finger across the screen with the same ease as my daughter. She’s a cancer patient, and from the looks of it, she’s right in the throes of the worst cancer can mete out.

I’ve seen her twice now. She gets chemo in the same IV therapy suite where I’ve been doing iron infusions for the last two weeks. I sit there for 90 minutes while saline and then iron are pushed into my bloodstream. It doesn’t hurt. But I get very groggy and very cold because they dose you with Benadryl and Pepcid as precautions. Iron itches terribly going in. And it wreaks havoc on your stomach. The Benadryl comes in pill form (which knocks me out) and the Pepcid in ice-cold liquid form–straight into your IV. Ever felt cold liquid being pushed into your veins? It’s not cool. Not at all.

I’m fine. Just really anemic. And the hope is that these infusions have done their work and I’ll be on my way and no longer constantly exhausted and always dead-of-winter pale. I’m good. Others in the IV therapy suite are not.

Like the couple sitting two chairs down. He wore a Korean War veteran cap and also an oxygen machine. She was there for chemo, and the tenderness with which he looked at her, the care that he displayed as she dealt with the meds, the way he held her hand…it just about killed me, y’all. She was so frail. And he was tender towards her.

And then there was the Baby Boomer guy–there to get his IV port flushed, and as he left the suite he called out, “See you soon,” to the nurses, like it’s a way of life for him. And I guess maybe it is.

And all I could think, as I sat there, fighting sleep from the Benadryl, freezing from the Pepcid, and with iron dripping slowly into my bloodstream, all I could think was that the world was so crazy outside, so unstable, so angry and loud, and yet here, in this IV therapy suite, people were fighting for their lives. Rage on, dark world, but here in this space, people are caring for one another like their lives depend on it…because their lives do. 

God I wish we could extend the same care and concern to and for one another across our country…across the world.How I wish we could see past the bullshit labels and the assumptions and the stereotypes and see the holy bits that exist in each of us. How done I am with how we hate and discriminate and judge and divide when those are the very last things we were created for. It’s all so wrong. So completely and totally against what it means to be human. And we do it anyway. To our own detriment.

Maybe if we realize our lives depended on it…because they do…we’d act differently. Maybe if we realized what all is at stake. Maybe if we were able to truly see that your blood is no different than mine and by that fact alone we are in this together. Maybe….

I don’t know. But I know that today I was reminded of our very basic and essential and same humanity in a very powerful and humbling way. Only being in that suite for an iron transfusion didn’t make me special.Lucky, perhaps, but not special. We were all in the moment together, beeping machines and tethered to IV poles and asking for ginger ale and fighting fatigue, all of it. Together.

I feel like that burgundy-scarf clad woman may not be on this earth for long. So I’m grateful I saw her. That we made eye contact and smiled. That we acknowledged each other’s humanity.

Because really…this is what we were made for. Life together. First and always. And what a total shift it would be if we chose to actually live that truth. 

The Value of a Life

I have opinions. Strong ones. And I often share them. Sometimes with a side of snark.

But these days, I’m really trying curb that. At least publicly. And this blog post, it’s been stewing for days in my head. And I’ve tried to think about what I really want to say. And how I really want to say it. Especially because, as of late, the internet, it seems to bring out the absolute worst in us. No one’s political or any-other opinion has ever been changed solely because of a Facebook post or a tweet, no matter how well those posts and tweets are crafted. It’s noisy out there in cyberspace—edgy and cruel, even, at times—and I don’t want to add to the noise.

Still…I have some things to say. And I just want to ask this of you—hear me out. All the way to the end. And if you want be in conversation after, I’ll offer you the same courtesy. Deal? Here goes.

I believe these things to be true:

  1. That there is a God. And that God is first, and always, a loving God.
  2. I believe that same God created life. I could care less how it happened—7 days or a big bang or whatever. It makes no difference to me. I believe that same always loving God created life.
  3. Because of #1 and #2, I believe that life—all life—is sacred and of infinite value—worthy. No matter what. (Did you get that? Worthy. No matter what.)

Because of these three things I believe, these five current (and much talked about) realities break my heart into a thousand pieces:

  1. Hungry children.
  2. Violence, discrimination and/or abuse of any kind.
  3. Capital punishment.
  4. Abortion.
  5. The international refugee crisis.

(How many of you have already focused on #4 and are trying to pinpoint what I will say next?)

These five things, they break my heart because we have made very human, very painful, very vulnerable, very awful, very spiritual things nothing more than political issues. We’ve made people’s lives pure pawns in our political games. And I am sick to death of it.

Human life is not political. Full stop.

Hungry children break my heart because there is, across the globe, enough food for all of us. But we squirrel it away or make access difficult or refuse to find ways to get it to hungry people because of this business or that lobby or who will or won’t gain something from it. It’s such bullshit.

Violence, discrimination and/or abuse of any kind break my heart because I believe with all that I am that we were made for love. And when that having been made for love gets twisted into the horrors of war and gangs and rape and domestic abuse, we fail, miserably, at being human. Hurt people hurt others. And so the cycle goes.

Capital punishment breaks my heart because it means that somewhere, somehow, multiple lives have been ruined. Destroyed. Broken.

Abortion breaks my heart because it is, almost always, despite what many will try to tell you, the result of fierce desperation. I know folks who have had abortions. And NONE of them used it as “birth control.” In every case it was a painful, gut-wrenching, life-changing decision. And it was also a decision made because a caring woman believed she was making the best decision she could with the resources and information she had. My own journey to motherhood included years of fertility treatments—and so it’s hard for me, really hard, to think about a pregnancy being terminated…still…every time I’ve known about an abortion, it has been, as I have said, a decision made with utter heartbreak. I refuse to judge.

(As a site note to this—it also breaks my heart that adoption is so costly, so difficult for families, such a damned racket in some places. Adoption is one of the bravest and most compassionate things a person can do and we ought to be making it more accessible, more possible, for the families longing to love a child.)

The international refugee crisis breaks my heart because how in the name of all that is holy do we get off not helping people who are simply trying to survive? Who are running from war, from poverty, from oppression and just want a safe place to breathe and raise their families? Who are we not to lend a hand?

All this having been said, at the end of the day, these current realities I’ve named break my heart because at the root of all of them is this basic question: How do we value human life? Or, even, do we at all?

If you want to make a strong anti-abortion stance, by all means, do so. But then also help new mothers who need it. Also make a commitment to helping to care for those babies—through foster or adoption or outreach programs—that come into the world without the privilege or resources or support that you did. And make sure those babies and their mommas have health care.

If you want to rail about capital punishment—for or against—do it. But for the love of God, don’t make it about a political party. It’s life at stake—life, y’all. And any time a life is taken, it’s because others have been taken, too, and it is never, ever, as simple as we’d like to make it.

If you want to feed hungry children, please, in addition to making donations to your local food pantry, think about how you can part of a global solution. It makes no sense that millions of pounds of food go to waste in the United States while in our very own neighborhoods and sitting next to our very own children at school, there are those who simply do not have enough to eat.

If you want to do something, anything, about how we physically harm each other in this world, learn about sex-trafficking, learn to notice signs of domestic abuse, refuse to condone violence, and actively seek peace whenever possible.

(Again, a side note: I also believe war is sometimes necessary. And I give my full support to anyone who will fight when it is necessary to do so. Even as it breaks my heart.)

If you want to be a person who values life, you have to value all of it. Even the ones you don’t like or are afraid of. Even the ones that have hurt you. Even the ones that have gotten twisted and ugly and hateful. Those lives, the ones ending in utter heartache in desolation, they break God’s heart, too.

My point is this: At the end of the day, all these things we thrust to the political stage and fight over, they are questions about the value of human life. And these days, what seems to be residing in our hearts is the value of some lives over other lives. And this is simply not okay. On any front.

Call me wishy-washy. Accuse me of wanting to have it both ways. Whatever. But the truth is that we live in a very grey and complicated world. And our only salvation lies in navigating it together. In holding on to one another when things get particularly rough. In holding fast to compassion and respect. In listening as best we can. In stopping hate at every turn and loving, first, whenever possible.

There’s so much pain—in our personal lives, in our communal lives, in our world–when will we choose to be people who value life, so much that we seek to assuage one another’s pain instead of adding to it?

This isn’t politics. It’s valuing life. And we get to make the call on if we value it or not. And my guess is, if we do—if we choose to value human life as something sacred and of infinite worth—it would be a total game changer on every front.

Including Washington, DC., but most of all, in our own lives and communities.