Friday, December 16, 2011

Thomas Kincade Would Not Approve.

The most magical, mystical, and maniacal season is upon us. Christmas. Love it or hate it, it is here and there is no escaping it. I kind of want to, though.

Things that really move me during this season? Divine Love. Twinkling lights. Hope. Birth. Giving. Frosty windshields, and Santa Speedo Runs. Cuddling by the Christmas tree. Gingerbread houses. The feeling of being warmed from the inside out, of feeling full...full of life, contentment, celebration, and love. Babies and toddlers in winter clothes with pacifiers and rosebud cheeks. Rudolph noses. Surprises. Electric blankets. My friends in my home, drinking wine and dreaming up adventures. Egg nog. Trader Joe's Peppermint Sandwich Cookies. Elf. Creating new traditions. A kitchen filled with laughter and happiness.

Things that really annoy me? Traffic. Pressure. Mild depression. The expectation to give beyond our means coupled with the intense personal desire to do so. Extra work. Distraction. Exhaustion. Artificial cheer. People being mean to store clerks and retail staff. Impatience, both my own and others'. Feeling like I am not enough, and I will never be able to give enough. The Christmas Retail Machine. Fruitcake. Sugar EVERYWHERE. Christmas episodes on TV. Santa Baby and Christmas Shoes. Thomas Kincade Christmas scenes.

As a kid, I always felt a keen mix of joy and discontentment during this season. As an adult, I still feel that way. No resolution here, just a conscious admission of what is. I find myself wanting a wonderful Christmas experience and then simultaneously wanting to check out and medicate with technology or food or general busyness because it just seems like SO MUCH EFFORT to pull it off every year. And every year I decide that it's not going to be hectic and stressful, that I will give what I can give and I will be okay with that, even if it's a disappointment to others. And every year I beat myself up for not sticking to my resolution. This year is no different. I want to disconnect. I want to give too much. I want everything to be blissful and picture perfect. I want it all to stop.

This year, I'm throwing out the traditions that I don't like or agree with, or that just don't fit. I'm letting myself off the hook for gift giving, and not going to feel guilty because we are kinda broke right now and can't help it. I'm not going to put Christmas on a credit card, or sell something I love just to appease my guilt over NOT giving.

I'm choosing to connect to what this season is about for me: Celebrating new Life. A tremendous gift given in the most humble of ways and the most unlikely situation. Love without condition or expectation of return. Family. A husband who loves me and who I genuinely enjoy doing life with. My family who grounds me, pushes me, and calls me daughter, sister, aunt, and friend. Unexpected gifts of memory-making and moments we will never touch again, but become golden in the passing of time. My health. Our home. Gratitude for what I have in this moment, instead of being hyper-aware of the stuff I don't have that I want, or the discontentment with the stuff I have that I no longer want.

I'm setting fire to the silly Thomas Kincade Christmas Village in my head, and building a new village full of the people I love, the God who is Love. This is real life. This is what I can give.

It is enough.

I am enough.

We have enough.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ache and Love

Before there was Lance, before there was Portland, before there was Germany or Mexico or my love of science and medicine, there was the Honor Academy. My first adventure outside of the relatively safe life I had known for 19 years, deep in the backwoods of East Texas. I met some of the most amazing and genuine people there, people who still make up a major part of my life 10+ years later. I had some really fun adventures and happy times. I also had some harrowing and devastating experiences there as well, ones which still impact me in my 30's. Good and bad...both are true, and neither is diminished by the presence of the other.

I was involved with a group in my late teens and early 20's called Teen Mania based in Garden Valley, Texas. The Honor Academy is their full-time internship program. This weekend, MSNBC is airing a documentary on it called "Mind Over Mania", which follows a group of former interns as they participate in spiritual abuse recovery workshop with trained counselors. I will be driving home from Seattle when it airs Sunday night, but I fully intend to catch it on HULU next week.

The controversy with Teen Mania is multi-faceted and polarizing. I won't go into it can google it and read for yourselves if you are so inclined. Right now, though, I just ache for my friends.

I ache for my friends who were spiritually abused in the name of Jesus.

I ache for my friends who were emotionally abused for the sake of the Great Commission.

I ache for my friends who were physically abused as a means to be made Disciples of Christ.

I ache for my friends who unknowingly carried out those abuses with the best of intentions and the purest of hearts as a misguided attempt to create and uphold impossibly high standards for the Kingdom of God.

I ache for my friends who are hurting still, 10 years later, and unpicking the tangled web of God's promises, man's demands, and the booming voice of self-hatred. I've been there. I've been the abused, and I've been the abuser. It is unspeakable misery. It is the road to recovery.

Regardless of what Teen Mania is or isn't, there are things I want my friends to know:

Love does not adhere to labels.
Love makes room for everyone and honors all experiences.
Love is patient, it does not require you to shut up and move on, figure it out, or become something or someone else.
Love asks you to learn it's highest lesson: Love without condition.
Love never abandons or dismisses anybody, no matter what.
Love listens with compassion and vulnerability.
Love holds everything, all the time, and does not demand anything or anyone to change.
Love does not take sides.
Love requires nothing from anyone, not even participation or agreement.
Love creates paths to forgiveness and reconciliation.
Love never stops loving, even in the face of terror, defensiveness, pride, abuse, or manipulation.
Love possesses bravery, chaos, the ability to be wrong, and a willingness to stay in it even when it's uncomfortable.
Love speaks for those who cannot (yet) speak for themselves.
Love does not minimize those who hurt, nor villainizes those who have done the hurting.
Love makes no demands, only promises.
Love offers and receives truth without judgment.
Love is all you need.
Love loves.
Love is.

For anyone who wonders where I stand on Teen Mania, church, Jesus, life, family, politics, and anything else I can possibly value and abuse, this is it. Ultimately, I stand for Love. I don't do it perfectly, and at times I care more about justice and being "right" and fair than pursuing a path of unconditional love.

For those friends who have been hurt, who have done the hurting, who live in denial of the hurt, or just hurt all the time, I love you.

(Note: A few of the love declarations were borrowed from various sources such as The Beatles, the Bible, my husband, and Jim Spivey.)

Monday, October 10, 2011


Guess what I should be doing right now?


Guess what I'm actually doing?

Anything but unpacking.

I'm overwhelmed at times about how much STUFF we have. It feels endless. And yet, it all fit neatly into a truck and was easily transported across the country. Lance and I would have made terrible pioneers. We would have needed a whole wagon just for his music, and another for my kitchen gadgets. Gone are the days when my life fit into a tiny Toyota station wagon or two suitcases. It started slowly. A lamp here, a bed there. A kitchen table and chairs. Calphalon cookware for Christmas one year, an antique wardrobe the next. Then I married a man with more stuff, and then it just multiplied from there. Like rabbits. Or hipsters. Is this how every episode of Hoarders starts out? I hope not.

The last four months have been spent in tiny guestrooms on futons, both of which were graciously provided by generous friends. They let us use their stuff while we left ours in an anonymous storage unit so we could save a little money, and figure out how to navigate leaving one life and transitioning to another life. The crazy thing is, we didn't miss our stuff. Not a bit. Okay...I missed my pans, and Lance missed his music, but that's it. Just our two wagon's worth. But living in one room for 150 days gave us both some valuable lessons. Here are a few.

Lesson #1
It is impossible to stay angry at your spouse for long when you occupy 200 sq ft. It's just way too uncomfortable. There is also NO ESCAPE. No refuge in the far corners of your roomy 500 sq ft apartment, or sleeping on the couch. The only option is to swallow your pride and work it out. The futon is just too small for egos and the need to be right.

Lesson #2
Everything in your immediate grasp becomes an obstacle or necessity. That pan I thought I just couldn't live without for four months? Space waster. That toiletries bag that seemed kind of bulky and unwieldy? Can't live without it. 37 articles of clothing that must be hung up? Silliness. Same goes for the four cases of limited edition St. Arnold's Divine brew. (Sorry, babe.) Netflix streaming video on the laptop before bed? Marriage-saver.

Lesson #3
Friends who let you stay with them for two months at a time are superheros and deserve their own place in heaven for putting up with you, your stuff, and your transient lifestyle.

Lesson #4
Everything and everyone will get on your nerves, even if you posses the patience and fortitude of the Dalai Lama. Some people might call this character building, I call it inevitable, so just stay with it and learn something about yourself.

We really do love our new apartment. It's beautiful and bright and homey. It feels enormous to us. We have quadrupled our living space. For the first time in our marriage, we have a second bedroom. We have enough storage to fake being minimalists, (and hopefully forfeit our spot on Hoarders). We can each have our space to study, play, organize, and rest. I hope we always remember how big this space is, how our stuff ultimately doesn't make our lives better or more fulfilling, and that we can always choose something else even if it seems impossible given our circumstance. And if all else fails, we know we can live in one room and be happy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Bridge

I have a thing for this bridge. I have loved it for years.

Let me introduce you to the St. John's Bridge. It spans the width of the Willamette river and connects the most northern parts of east and west Portland. I fell in love with the beautiful green upper arches made to look like a cathedral as you drive over the river. On a clear day you can see Mt. St. Helen with it's top blown off, Mt. Hood levitating in the east, and a distant-but-distinct Mt. Jefferson as you cross. I also fell in love with Cathedral Park which lines the east side of the river where one foot of the bridge is planted. What I really fell for, though, is the trestle made to look like gothic-y cathedral archways when you stand in the park and look straight through the legs of the bridge. The designers didn't just make the top of the bridge beautiful, they made the underbelly of it a sculptural work of art, too. It's impossible to see how the columns and peaks line up so perfectly unless you are underneath the bridge. It's a hidden, concrete piece of modern art.

Did you ever hear the old parable of the three men and the rocks? I feel like the last 5 years have been spent building a sacred space, but mostly it's felt like I've been moving a lot of rocks. Many times I've lost sight of what I'm doing, where I'm going, what I'm building, what my work is for. The schlepping and scraping and breaking has been tedious and wearying. But when I look at St. John's bridge, I am instantly connected to my life's work, my love work, and the sacred space I am building for myself and my family. I am reminded that the view from the bridge can be breathtaking and beautiful, but the hidden joists and trestles keeps it firmly intact...the mysterious, unsung, and gracefully engineered piece of artwork that I cannot see unless I am willing to look underneath the surface.

I took this picture last summer when moving here was a lovely and terrifying dream that I really hoped would come true. It did. (I know, I'm just as surprised as you are.) And it has been both lovely and terrifying and a million other in-between feelings. But right now, I mostly feel lucky. Jobs, housing, has all worked out. We have a small but precious community of life-long friends who ground us, decent jobs to sustain us, enough money to pay for my schooling as I go, and a cute tiny apartment near the west waterfront on the south side of Portland with our own little garden plot and fruit trees. Years of dreaming, planning, hoping, saving, stressing and angsting...and we're here.

This is me. Building my cathedral. Creating a space for love to grow.