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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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. 

 

 

 

 

 

Our only hope (she says, in her best Leia voice…).

You can’t tell what church they go to (or if they go at all). You can’t tell how much money they make or where (or if) they vacation every summer. You can’t tell what school they go to or where they shop or who their parents are. You can’t tell if they are first-generation Americans or not. You can’t tell who they voted for. You might be able to see shades of skin color, but even that is blurred. You can’t tell if they are gay or straight, married or divorced. You can’t tell any of that.

All you can see is the one thing they all have in common: water has destroyed much of what’s around them, many of them are in imminent danger, and life as they knew it before this past weekend has been changed drastically and forever. Because no matter who they are or where they’ve been, Harvey has come for them, and very little in their lives will ever be the same.

Natural disasters do not choose their victims. We are all vulnerable to them. And while some of us have greater resources, more contacts, better lots in life to survive and rebuild, the initial horror itself does not discriminate. The divisions we construct in our daily lives are irrelevant in the face of real-time, desperate need for survival.

It’s awful to just watch it happen (drop in the bucket awful, let’s be clear, compared to the hell of those living it)–I feel entirely helpless in the face of the news footage and the social media posts from the friends and colleagues I know in South Texas. Today, praying is all I know to do, even as that seems so futile. It’s gut-wrenching and terrifying, and I wish I could make it all stop.

And yet…and yet…I am struck by the beauty already emerging. The people helping people. The efforts to save and protect. The reaching out and pulling in and neighbor helping neighbor, even as the waters continue to rage. I am humbled to tears by the power of the human spirit at its best and brightest. THIS is the United States I love. THIS is the part of being human that makes the rest of our selfish ways worthwhile. THIS is what we were made for…to walk each other through this life as if we believed the truth that we are all in this together.

There’s no other way to do it and survive.

My heart is torn apart for this country right now. While Harvey rages, hate does too, and I don’t know how to stop it. While we claim to be one nation under God, we judge who and who isn’t God’s–the worst blasphemy of all, in my book, because as if any of us can truly grasp how it is that God works in the world. All I know is that God is love, and I hold on to this with all I’ve got these days. Because if God is love, there is no room for the way we are biting at one another in our own fear and anxiety and grief as a nation.

I read a story a long time ago that stuck with me–it’s main idea was that we can choose to be people that edify (build up) or we can choose to be people who destroy. I’ve been both, even if not consciously so, and what I want now, more than anything, is to be a person that consciously seeks to edify, to build up, the world around me. And what I want now, more than anything, for the United States, is the same–to be a nation that builds up, that edifies our own citizens and the world around us. This, it seems to me, is, in the midst of destruction and anger and division, our only hope.

If it helps, you’re more than welcome to imagine me saying that Stars Wars style…”You’re our only hope.”

Because you are. And so am I. And so are we together. All of us. Our only hope. And I don’t want to see us destroy ourselves. Too much has already been sacrificed. Too much hard fought and won. Too much on the line. And maybe if we each just said, “Ok, I can’t fix this mess we’re in, but I’m damn sure not going to make it worse,” that would be a step…albeit a baby step…in the right direction.

I don’t believe God causes tragedy and heartache. And I believe God cries with us when the worst things happen. But I also believe that in the midst of the most awful things, it’s possible for something good to be known. I have no idea how this works, I just believe it does–even if whatever that good is happens beyond our lifetime and in ways we never really see. And today, I am holding on to this thing I believe, and praying it will be made true in Harvey’s wake…and across our nation…in ways that will made very plain to all of us. Very soon.

Because my great hope is that on the other side of this helluva a time we’re in, there’s something new struggling to be born. And I think it’s up to us to make way for it. In ways big and small. We have to make the choice to set about edifying–our relationships, our families, our communities, our country.

Goodness emerges only when we are able to tap into the very heart of what it means to be human, discovering there the truth that when you strip away all the trappings, all the supposed status, all the hate and mistrust, all the things, there is room made for mercy to work her gentle grace among us, so that we might be reminded how we’re all so very much the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To our knees.

Rainy Monday morning. Favorite coffee shop. Vanilla latte splurge.

A beautiful weekend personally. A difficult one otherwise.

A broken heart at the things that are tearing us apart in these United States. My home. My country.

Charlottesville. 

I don’t want to add to the social media frenzy unless I can do so in a helpful way. Because fingers having been flying across keyboards and posting things helpful (and also not so much…) for 48 hours now. Such is life these days. The blessing and curse of the internets.

But good lord my heart hurts this morning. And I don’t know what to do but write it out. I didn’t have words yesterday. Or the day before. And I may not have the right ones today (if there even is such a thing). But these are the things at the forefront of my heart this morning…and I offer them to you out of heartache and anger and grief and, I’m praying for, a dose of humility as well, because there is so much I do not know, and so much I have not experienced.

  1. I’m angry. But that anger is rooted in grief and heartache. This is not what we were made for–this vicious hate and unending rage at one another. The people of color that I love are scared. So are those who love them best. And I am desperate for something to ease their fear. Desperate for the right words and actions to help them feel safe. Held. Loved. No matter what. I feel woefully insufficient in this regard, so much that all I could do yesterday was fold into a fierce hug a dear friend who is white, but who has a black son. I cannot know her pain. But how I wish I could stop it.
  2. I stood at the communion table at the church where I work yesterday morning. And invited people to it. And I did so making clear that the communion table (in my faith tradition) is not ours to define. It is God’s. And that means all are welcome. My voice caught…and I imagine that those listening thought my voice caught because I was imagining all the people who have been excluded from events or places or lives because of the color of their skin. But what I was actually thinking about were those men who held those torches and said those awful things and cast that awful fear and caused those three people to lose their lives in Charlottesville. Because the thing is? God loves them too. I cannot. But God does. And this is both tremendous challenge and tremendous grace. My hating them for their hate does not create space for love. And I grieve, deeply, for whatever causes them to hate so. I do not excuse it. I do not condone it. I outright condemn it. And in the same breath know that whatever pain they bear that causes such deep pain for others…this is heartache, too.
  3. This is simply a variation on a theme if you’ve read much at all of what I’ve written in the last year, but when we make white supremacy purely a partisan issue, it is not helpful. Over the last couple of days, folks from both sides of the aisle have condemned white supremacy, Neo-Nazism and the KKK specifically. This does not absolve those who did not offer such a condemnation. But it is an important reminder that we cannot judge every single person in an entire party, in a terribly broken and dysfunctional political system, by the silence and/or actions of some. Even when that “some” seems to be the majority and is highly visible. Republican does not equal racist. Democrat does not equal liberal fascist. Full stop.
  4. At the same time? It’s time to speak up. Make clear that hate is not to be tolerated. In our words, in our actions, in our lives. Every day. All the damn time. In whatever ways we can. Commit to loving harder.
  5. We’ve done this already, y’all. We fought a whole war over fascism and hate. The whole world participated and/or watched it unfold. And in my book, patriotism means that we honor those who fought that fight and do our damnedest to protect what they secured. We cannot simultaneously celebrate liberty and the Stars and Stripes while also propagating hatred of our neighbors and equal citizens.

The fact that I fear hitting the “publish” button on this blog is in itself indicative of how angry and divided we are as a nation. Because I know it will not be enough for some folks I love so much. But if there were ever a time for speaking our hearts, for sharing our fears and desires, for seeking a way forward, this is it. I want to be part of a solution. And I cannot live in anger and hate. Because as was once said, “Hate is too great a burden to bear.” I don’t even know how to stop it. Except by naming it. And sticking with love when and if at all possible. And standing in the brink of what hate creates and declaring, “No. We’re not having this. Not in these United States.”

When you have been brought to your knees in grief and pain, the grief and pain of others is easier to see. Even if you cannot entirely understand it. Charlottesville’s heartache is all of ours. And so I think my prayer for my country this morning is that we would, in fact, be brought to our knees for this time we find ourselves in. And from that vantage point, seek to understand how, together, we might restore hope.

Cease hate.

Embrace humility.

Seek peace.

 

 

Fear. Love. Prayer.

I’m fearing for my daughter’s future this morning.

With every breath. And not because she is in danger. Or even in crisis. Or even the target of any perceived threat. She’s fine. More than fine, really, even as she faces challenges beyond her years and that she should not have to face. My fear for her is not imminent. But it is no less real.

Because there are things I know that she does not.

She does not know that 1300 Kentuckians have died already this year of a opioid overdoses. She does not know that the United States and North Korea are engaged in what I can only describe as the most jacked up and most potentially devastating game of Chicken I’ve ever seen. She does not know that I sometimes stay awake at night worrying about the future of healthcare in our nation. For her and me both. She does not know that her social and emotional wellbeing are more at risk these next few years than they have ever been or ever will be in her life–because such is being a girl tween and then teen in this day and age. She does not know that tensions run fast and high and vicious in our community and in our country when it comes to race and ethnicity and every other way we can “other” a group of people…and I fear for how those tensions may explode for her and her peers in really scary ways. She does not know… She does not know… She does not know…

What she knows, even with the heartache she’s lived, is that the world is full of good people. And that it’s possible to face the unthinkable and survive. And that she is loved. And that there are safe places in the world for her to grow and learn. And that she will never, no matter what, be alone.

With all that I am I want these truths to hold for her. With all that I am I wish that every child knew these truths.

And yet, still, I fear for her. Because the world seems hot and angry and brutal right now. Not so much our small corner of it. But the world at large. The world she’s growing closer every day to being aware and a part of.

I fear for all our children, because we don’t seem to be doing a very good job of listening to them. Of putting them first. Of securing a safe and bright future for them. We’ve got our priorities all wrong as a larger community, and our children are the ones who will suffer most.

And I cannot fix it. I cannot wave my wand or push a button or flip a switch and make it all forthelovestopalready. I cannot. And this pains me every moment of every day. This morning it feels particularly heavy. Because this morning a whole lot feels at stake as I see and hear and read about what’s happening in the world and try to process what it might all mean.

I fear. For her. For all of us.

And in the face of it I know only two things to do: Love more (and harder). And pray.

DO NOT understand me to be saying that if we just love and pray everything will be okay. I’ll leave that to cheesy greeting cards and Facebook memes, thanks. Loving harder and praying more does not at all guarantee that everything will be okay. Not by a longshot.

But it’s all I know to do. And I can’t help but think that in doing it, in loving harder and praying more, I stand a better chance of being reminded of all that’s good in the world. Of being challenged to speak up for those who can’t, and speak out when it’s necessary. Of being inspired to work even harder to help…wherever help is needed. Because loving harder and praying more…they do not fix what is wrong with the world, but they do transform me. They transform how I enter into relationship and how I face conflict and how I handle difficulty.

And we’ve got no chance of a transformed world if we cannot first see the things in ourselves that need transforming.

And so as I pray fervently for peace, I pray to also be a peacemaker, especially because I know I can so often be the exact opposite. As I pray fervently for a way forward for our country, I pray to be a part of the solution. And as I pray for all the broken places–both globally and personally–I pray for the strength to be a healer.

And I pray for my daughter. And her friends and peers. That we might somehow find a way to leave them a better world than what we’ve currently given them. That we might somehow–by some beautiful miracle–understand that our profit, our gain, our power, our winning, our supposed greatness–none of it means a damn thing if we have not accounted first for our children’s wellbeing.

Because otherwise…I do not know what is to become of us.

And so somehow, some way…may it be so.

 

 

Something beautiful.

If you know me at all you’ve likely heard me mention my love affair with The Sound of Music. Captain Von Trapp is my dream man, y’all. From the get.

There’s lots I love about the film, but my favorite part, hands down, is the duet the Captain and Maria sing in the gazebo once they’ve found the strength to admit they love each other.

Perhaps I had a wicked childhood
Perhaps I had a miserable youth
But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past
There must have been a moment of truth…
…Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

And so they sing. Out of the heartbreak and fear they both have known. Out of the sadness they’ve each lived…this moment. This “something good,” that is their life together.

I thought of the Captain and Maria when a friend forwarded an email to me–from Love Does (which, if you aren’t clued into…get on it!). The email held this important reminder, “Like the anger of fire shapes the metal/Like the sorrows of a writer create poetry/Everything that is beautiful does not always start beautifully.” (Noor Unnahar)

Some things do, after all, begin just as beautifully as they become. But what I think is that very little true beauty, very little beauty that’s worth it, comes without some ugliness, some heartache, some downrightgodawfulpain along the way. And it’s more than an ugly ducking becoming a gorgeous swan. It’s more than a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. We know these stories. What we don’t know–or at least sometimes have to learn again–is that on the other side of darkness, light dwells. On the other side of hate, love wins.

It’s so hard to see when we’re in the thick of it. So hard to comprehend in the midst of the pain that somehow life might feel good again one day, that maybe all is not lost and there is still a chance at joy. At love. At belonging. Most days I have to talk myself into it. And that’s okay, talking ourselves into it. That’s part of putting one foot in front of the other. It’s pure grit sometimes and that’s all there is to it. Right?

Right.

But here’s the thing–we do not transform without having known pain. We do not become without having been through something significant. We do not grow without having to learn more about who we are–and that sometimes hurts like hell.

(Sidenote: For the love of all that is holy, do not hear me saying that God or whoever causes our pain in order to teach a lesson. That’s utter nonsense at the least and incredibly harmful at worst. No, in our sorrow God sits with us. Constant. Always. In the crap and desperation with us, pointing us towards the light until we’re ready to see it again.)

Because out of the ashes, new things are given life. And out of the despair, hope is born. And in the midst of the darkness, we search for light. This is what it is to be human. To have been so beautifully made. To triumph, as the human spirit so often does, in the midst of the most horrible things.

My heart breaks for so many people and so many things right now. Every day. And there is no way around it. But I also believe with all I am that we only know what it means to be wholehearted once we’ve been fully broken apart. And once we know, once we see what is possible, that’s where beauty is. That’s where epic songs are written and gorgeous stories are shared and twisted, angry metal becomes something lovely to behold.

I can’t quantify it for you. I can’t tell you when or how. And the truth is, so much of what matters most in life can’t be fully measured or known or described. But I know it’s true. And today, knowing that there’s so much pain in the world, and in so many of your lives, my hope is you, too, will know it’s true. Deep in your bones. Something good is possible. Something beautiful can still be made. In spite of–and perhaps, even, because of, in ways we might not ever understand–what has been.

 

 

 

 

 

 

pain, untransformed.

“Pain that is not transformed is transmitted/transferred.” (Richard Rohr)

I came across these words of Richard Rohr’s on a friend’s Facebook page this morning. They struck me. In that “full-stop-catch-your-breath” kind of way.

See, yesterday, I saw my dentist. He’s great, my dentist, but going to see him is not my favorite thing (thanks to a childhood dentist who was, well…not so great), so it had been longer than it should have since my last visit. Thankfully, he does not judge. And simply said, “Let’s go ahead and get some X-rays just to be sure all is well.” So we did, and mostly, all is well. No decay. No disease. And that root canal from a couple years back looks fine. I was feeling pretty great about it all until he said, “But Julie…did you know you are grinding your teeth?”

Now, the truth is…yes, I suspected I was grinding my teeth in my sleep. A sore jaw and neck being the biggest indicators of that. But I mean, I didn’t know. You know, for sure (she says, sheepishly). But it’s hard to argue with X-rays showing the wear on my teeth. So we talked about keeping eye on it, and he said it wasn’t so bad quite yet and blah, blah, blah and maybe next time around we’d see if I needed a mouthpiece, etc.

But what I’m thinking about now is what Mr. Rohr said about pain. About how if it doesn’t get transformed it transfers. About how our physical bodies feel, and how our minds/hearts feel, are so often connected. And so it isn’t  hard for me to imagine that maybe…just maybe…that teeth grinding is really me working things out in my sleep. Things like stress. Things like grief. Things like adjusting to significant change.

You know. Things. All the things.

It reminds me of something Glennon Doyle says, “When I feel someone has been unkind, I know that all that just happened is they felt the hot loneliness, but they didn’t know how to be still with it. So they just treat it like a hot potato and pass it to the next person. But pain is not a hot potato. Pain is a traveling professor. And it just goes and knocks on everyone’s door and the smartest people I know are the people who say, ‘Come in and just don’t leave until you’ve taught me what I need to know.'”

Read that again (trust me…read it again).

The smartest people are the ones who let the pain do its work, instead of passing it off to another person in anger or cruelty or harsh words or betrayal or selfish behavior.

God, I’ve been guilty of just passing it on before. Of simply reacting out of my own heartache and misery instead of bravely letting it all do its work so that I might become a better version of myself. And every time…every time…I have eventually regretted that choice.

The truth is that we all bear such deep sorrow. Such hidden hurts. Because this is what it is to be human. Even the most fortunate among us know (or eventually will know) what it is to have the life knocked out of us temporarily and so have to make the difficult choice of whether to emerge victorious from that which has broken us or just…survive.

But passing that sorrow on to others, flexing our pain by transferring it to someone else–gah. This is not the way towards healing.

Nor is letting it fester inside. A wound that just won’t heal and so spreads its heat and toxicity everywhere, throughout us, making the whole of us feel as if nothing will ever be okay again. Or, you know, at least just grinding our teeth down to stubs.

We have to let it do its work. We have to let it drag us down to the dark places so that we can find our way towards light again. We have to let it transform us…from what we were, into what we can be on the other side of it all. And it’s damn hard work, this transformation. Mostly because our plans, our dreams, our images of what who we wanted to be and what we wanted for our lives get dashed along the way.

And y’all, there is very little more painful than the loss of a dream. Than the loss of what we wanted played against what has actually happened. It is so, so hard to let go of what we’d hoped for in our lives. What we’d planned on.

And the pain of that loss…it either destroys or transforms. It either eats us alive or makes us whole again. And some days, the line between destruction and transformation is a very thin one indeed. And sometimes, staying on the transformation side of that line is due to equal parts grit and grace, neither of which requires much strategy or planning ahead.

In the long run, I suspect that our pain’s transformation requires the very uncomfortable work of being vulnerable to it long enough for the pain to lose its power. When we’re vulnerable, when we offer ourselves towards one another and to the Universe with all that’s ugly and torn in us, and ask to be loved anyway…that’s when mercy shows up. And does the slow work of helping us out of the pain and into life again.

Not having transferred that which has hurt us…but having been transformed by it, after all.

 

 

 

 

 

from allthingsclipart.com

WARNING: If you have not seen Wonder Woman, but plan to soon, maybe don’t read this. Or do read it and just consider yourself spoiler alerted. If you have not seen Wonder Woman, and don’t plan to, DO read this. It might change your mind.

I’ve seen it twice now. And started to write about it at least 10 times now. Every time, my thoughts have flooded my fingers faster than I could type, and I have had to back away–not ready. Not focused enough in my thoughts to communicate them effectively. Because there so much to say. So. Much.

Look, the critics, the experts (and some not), the thinkers–they’ve all written about it. And I don’t know that I have anything new or somehow provocatively insightful to say, I just know if I don’t say something, I’ll regret it…because 2017’s Wonder Woman is hands down my new favorite movie. And Diana Prince my new favorite hero. And here’s why:

  1. Because there are times when this life we live feels like a No Man’s Land. After loss or heartbreak or death, our lives can feel like desolate plains of existence. No map. No rules. No sure way through. And it’s tempting to give up. Or to at least focus on the path of least resistance in an effort to simply keep breathing. And the moment when Diana makes the decision to march across that No Man’s Land, bullets or no, bombs or not, destruction be damned, is the most powerful visual I’ve ever seen of what it means to just keep going. To just keep going. No matter what. Through literal hell and into raging battlefield. To just keep going. Because you have to. It’s the only way forward. The only way into something good.
  2. Because sometimes it takes a has-been marksman who can spin a Scottish tune, a Middle Eastern goofball who wants to be an actor, a brave and strong Native American who has lost his homeland, and a slightly nutty but surprisingly smart and willing secretary to round out an earnestly brave soldier and his superhero love in getting the job done. Which is to say–we’ve all got our gifts. Our place in the story. The Story. And we all matter. Help often comes from the most unlikely of places and far be it from us to judge whether a person is capable of being a hero in any given moment. One of the most achingly beautiful parts of the movie for me was hearing Charlie sing again, playing the piano as he did, after they’d saved that sweet French village. All the heartache and horror in his life had been suspended, just for that moment, so he could really live again. Only he could have filled that particular role in Steve Trevor’s gang with such bittersweet heart and tender courage.
  3. (Paraphrasing Steve and Diana) Because very little in this life is about what any of us deserve. Most often it’s about what we believe should be possible for all of us. Because  the best things we know in this life–grace, mercy, love–these things are not about deserve at all. Thanks be–because I’ll tell you right now I wouldn’t always deserve any of it. None of us would. These things are simply and beautifully gifts that the goodness to be found in this life can offer us. And extending them wherever we can, without stopping to think about who or doesn’t deserve them is maybe the best way we can live into really being human.
  4. Because yep…we’re dark. Capable of such selfishness and hurt and wrongdoing. But that’s not all we are. We are so much more. So. Much. More. Diana Prince sees this about humanity in the selfless and full-hearted sacrifice Steve makes, and her ability to see how his actions are what define humanity–not a raging war–is maybe the bravest thing she does. It takes a heroic heart to find beauty when all around you pain and death are evident. But Steve…he is all love…all grace…and in him she’s able to see such healing and powerful hope for the world. And then she’s able to fully take her place in the story. Fully embrace who she is. Completely step into her destiny as Hippolyta’s daughter and do the work she’d come to do.
  5. Because rising above the things that tear us apart takes enormous courage. But we’re built for that kind of courage. We’re wired to be more than our suffering. And as Charlie and Sameer and Etta and The Chief join Diana on Armistice Day, to find their Steve among the wall of heros, they do so standing tall. Bound together irrevocably. More, together, than each of them, even a superhero, could ever be on their own. Having triumphed over tragedy and pain to come full circle into the grace that binds together those who have known heartache and survived.

More than anything, I found in Wonder Woman a challenge to be real. To be vulnerable. To be brave. To rise above the horrible things and give our lives to beauty. To care for one another. To stand up for those who need it and not back down in the face of hate and anger, no matter how loud or fiery or insistent those things are. Because in the end, as is always true and has been since the beginning of time: Love wins. And so the battle is always worth fighting.

Or, as Diana Prince says:

I used to want to save the world. To end war and bring peace to mankind. But then, I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. And I learned that inside every one of them, there will always be both. A choice each must make for themselves. Something no hero will ever defeat. And now I know, that only love can truly save the world. So I stay, I fight, and I give, for the world I know can be.

 

The lowest common denominator.

It’s the only math concept I’ve ever taken to heart, the only one that’s ever made me think, “Ok…maybe…maybe…this math thing is about more than just numbers.” It’s the lowest common denominator, aka, “LCD.”

I detest fractions, just looking at an equation using them makes me twitch, and the only time I ever pay any attention to them is when I’m baking (because, dang, then they matter!).

But I get the idea of a lowest common denominator. 

And what I know is this: When we assume the LCD–whether in math, or relationships, or our civic life, we are settling. For the very least that is possible.

And maybe sometimes this is necessary. Because truthfully, there are folks in this world that cause me to repeat, “She is a human being, too. He is a child of God, too,” over and over so that I won’t be taken over by anger or sadness and then strike out in ways I’ll regret. (And I’m confident I exact the same response in at least a few others.) Sometimes that’s all we can muster. So be it.

But when the LCD becomes our go-to MO, our first response to any given difficulty or challenge in our life together, we’ve got a problem. We’re all capable of cruelty. Of assumption. Of bias that judges and excludes. We’re all capable of hurting others, and we don’t get through life without doing so. But when that becomes our preferred way of operating in the world…well, we might as well give up.

The idea of lowest common denominator ought to be a positive thing, in that it ought to make us think, “Ok, if we can agree on NOTHING else, we can agree on this one thing….” Instead, I fear the LCD we all share has become the capacity for making disagreement personal. The tendency to make a theological or political or philosophical difference in thought cause for personal attack (and most often such an attack has nothing to do with issue at hand). Making fun of and/or mocking someone’s appearance or ethnicity or education level or background…it’s all communal sport these days and I swear to all that is holy I believe it is making us less of the people we were meant to be.

And it isn’t really what we’re after. At our core, we all want to belong. We all want to be safe. We all want to have enough. But we live in a world where far too often exclusion reigns supreme and money talks. And so there those who begin and end every day believing “I do not matter,” and they do so with hungry bellies and feeling decidedly not safe.

If we want to be great again as a people, it’s going to require a level of compassion that is difficult to rise to…but that is also what we’re wired for.

Yep. I said it. And I believe it. That human beings are first and foremost wired for compassion, for relationship–and it’s only when we insist on fighting against this wiring out of fear or misery or heartache or loneliness or all the other things in this life that assail us that things go wrong.

God, I wish I knew how to fix it. The right words to say. The right actions to take–in our own messed-up lives and in the world.

I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect the answers lie in the example we set for our children. We’re failing miserably at the whole “good example” thing as a nation right now, even as there are amazing parents and caregivers and teachers everywhere doing it well, modeling compassion, practicing forgiveness, nurturing respect and kindness. But collectively? Ouch. Not so much.

And y’all? If we want a life–locally, nationally, globally–that lives into the best of what it means to be human–where no one is left out and everyone has a chance at wholeness–then we’d better set about the task of being for our children what we want the world to be for them. I don’t care how we teach it–use math if that’s your thing–but how we exist in relationship to each other makes all the difference. And we have got to figure it out.

Because so much more is possible. There’s so much beyond the lowest common denominator. And if we could get that–and then find a way towards it as a people…. Holy wow…. The possibilities become endless…infinite…beautiful.