Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Keep Me Where the Light Is

It’s the Most Wonderful darkest time of the year over here in New England, and we have a new baby which means that when the sun goes down the dance of “will he or wont he sleep tonight?” begins.

The other day as I was walking in the evening (alone for a few precious moments!) the afterglow of the setting sun painted the sky behind dark tree branches with highlights of gold. The words from that John Mayer song filled my head “keep me where the light is” and I thought about how dark this time of year feels and how hard it is to stay in the moments of Light.

Having a new baby is amazing, but also completely disorienting. One moment you feel on the top of the world, like you have figured everything out, and the next moment you are wondering why babies don't come with owners manuals. He started smiling a few weeks ago, and now he smiles at us on purpose and makes cooing sounds when he is happy. I put him under the Christmas tree the other day and it felt like magic… for a moment. A few minutes later he got upset, maybe he was cold or maybe he wanted someone to sit with him and keep him company or maybe he was hungry, but he started crying and quickly escalated to the level that we call “the fury of a thousand sons.”

Keep me where the light is.

It’s the season of Advent, which in the church means that we are looking toward the arrival of Christ. In the Western church we often light candles to commemorate this season. When I was growing up my family had a fake wreath with four candles around the outside and one candle in the middle, the Christ candle. At our church last week the pastor spoke about how God can do impossible things, even though it doesn’t feel that way. He spoke about how the Christmas story holds Hope for impossible things to happen, things like miracles and renewal of faith.
“Lord, I want to believe, help my unbelief.” I pray, echoing the words of a father who came to Jesus asking for an impossible miracle so many years ago.

Keep me where the light is.

In the Hospice world, the time around the Holidays is one of the busiest of the year. It’s a documented phenomenon that many people die in the time period between late November and early January. There are various explanations for this. It’s flu season. More people are spending time indoors and away from sunlight. Depression naturally increases. Loneliness is more acute on Holidays when family members physically absent or when they have withdrawn from you emotionally because you are terminally ill. Whatever the reason, this is the time of year when working in Hospice can feel extremely heavy, and for the last three years I felt that heaviness in my bones.  This year is a welcome reprieve, holding on to tangible evidence of new life and joy.

Keep me where the light is.

Today it was 40 something degrees and sunny so I went for a walk with the little baby babe in his carrier, both of us well bundled because of the wind. The sunlight was on my face and the baby was sleeping. When we got home he stayed asleep for a bit longer. I plugged the lights in for our tree, did some yoga and lit a candle and prayed, “Keep me where the light is- close to You- where perfect Love casts out all fear of the dark.”

Thursday, August 18, 2016

(Honest) Prayers of Intercession


- the action of intervening on behalf of another

Last week, before flying out to California, I was awake in the middle of the night, feeling my baby move inside my growing belly bump and crying into a pillow. My friend Megan had just been told that the doctors thought her baby boy had cancer.

This precious boy has eyes that light up when he smiles at you. He is the epitome of an almost three year old; he is learning to share, he loves being in any kind of water, and would watch episodes of Dinosaur King on repeat for hours if you let him.
Cancer. I can’t even process that word when it is attached to Lester, and now the diagnosis has been confirmed as Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

And so I pray, and in my prayers I invite other people to pray with me, but what those prayers look like might not be what you would expect.

What I think of as prayer has changed a lot over the past 7 years.

I used to think that prayer was saying or writing words to God, and oftentimes those words felt more like a carefully crafted script than a true and honest representation of what I felt in the moment. I have both the honor and the embarrassment of being able to look back at some of my old “prayer journals” from earlier years, in which my emotions were always carefully controlled and God’s goodness was never questioned.

As I have grown and changed there has been a lot less in life that I understand. Life and the grief that weighs so heavy have made it impossible to feel in control when I pray. So, instead, I just try to be real.

The week after my nieces died in 2014 my friend Lindsay’s dad went to the hospital for kidney stones and I remember texting her something like this;
 “My heart wants to pray for you and for healing for your dad, although I have to tell you that I’m not sure what I believe about healing right now- how it works and how to pray for it to happen- but I am praying for your dad anyways.”
Lindsay, because she loves me, got what I was saying. Prayer felt like the only way for me to join her in the emotions, burdens and fears of that moment, and praying for healing felt like Love.

There was a shift in how I prayed and how I thought about prayer after the girls died. Mostly, in that I no longer assumed that I knew what was going to happen. I felt a lot smaller when I prayed. I felt a lot less in control. I had to trust that there was more going on than I was aware of in each present moment. I had to sit with the idea that, if God really is redeeming the world, we won’t always understand how He is doing that huge and Holy work of redemption.

Now, when I look at the Bible for the prayers of people who were faithful to God, I am drawn to the passages that show people approaching prayer from a place of uncertainty. The mystery of how God was going to work things out was not clear to them.

We have been told a story of Jesus himself praying in the garden- wrestling with what is to come and saying, “If You could, would You take this cup of suffering from me, yet not my will but Yours be done!”

There is a lot less certainty and a lot more mystery in that phrase than I had ever considered before.

I have to add a caveat here and say that I know that there are many examples of specific prayers that were answered at specific times in the Bible. But, what I’m writing about today is that I used to think that I HAD to pray using the right words while feeling the right things for it to be considered “a prayer of faith” or for my prayers to be answered.  Now I wonder if I could pray and intercede for my family and friends like that phrase in the Psalms that says that, “all of Creation groans and waits.”

Maybe it is ok for me just to cry and ask for God's presence to come.

And so, my honest prayers of intercession for the past two weeks have been a lot like this. Megan, Lester, Chandler and Malcolm have always been in my heart. Everything reminds me of them. Everything.

In the shower I wonder- when was the last time that Megan got to wash her hair?
Lying in my bed, I picture Lester in his hospital bed, surrounded by dinosaur toys.
I see smiling, flappy-armed babies and it reminds me of Malcolm and his excitement when he sees his parents.
I drive past Duncan Donuts and think of Chandler because he was so excited for their cheap coffee a few weeks ago, before everything went crazy.

When our little boy moves inside of me, tears fill my eyes because Megan was the first person who I told that I was pregnant. My dear husband was in the middle of a long and emotional day at work, and I held a second positive test in my shaking hands. I called her to bawl into her ear, and she told me that everything was going to be ok.  

The constant reminders of them lead me to whisper words like these, “Lord be near.” “We need you.” “God, I just can’t imagine.” “Let the pain be controlled.” “Help them to rest when they lie down to sleep.” “Lord be near.”

My prayers in these moments are less asking for things to happen, and more of a raw and screaming need for God’s redemptive presence. My honest prayers of intercession have no prepared answers. My body, mind and heart are connected to the same thing- as I cry and think and ache. In these moments, I am full of Love even though I do not understand.

If you think you might be able to pray, maybe you would pray with me now. Maybe there are other people that you feel these same kinds of prayers for, who are desperately in need. Maybe you will whisper words, maybe just cry, or maybe just pause and feel connected for a moment.

Lord be near. Be with them now.  Bring healing and rest. Take away the pain. Lord be near.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Why I resemble Donald Trump’s taglines more than I would like to admit, and why that means that I will not be voting for him.

I’ve lived through a lot of change in the past year.

One year ago I moved to Massachusetts from California, nine months ago we got married, and in a little less than three months we are going to have a baby. Whew! Do you ever wish that you could press a pause button when you find yourself in the middle of a slow day and just take a break from the pace of life? I do, but this has not been that kind of year.

When I’m processing change, I usually get a little more introspective.

This is an example.

At the same time as I’ve had a year of change, full of highs and lows, we have had a year of crazy politicking and quite a few shenanigans.

And lets push the pause button here so that I can tell you- I do not consider this to be authoritative political commentary, it is a personal reflection. If you and I were having a face-to-face personal conversation about my feelings concerning the 2016 election, this is what I would hope to say to you.

It’s been very easy to sit back and look at all the crazy things coming out of the coverage of these elections, and feel shocked and superior. The retort that “If Trump wins, we are moving to Costa Rica” has been a hit at (some) dinner parties. But, as I honestly look at many of the phrases that have become anthems for the Trump campaign, I can see more parallels into my own actions and thinking than I would like to admit.

So, here, in no particular order or significance, are the ways that I find myself resembling a Trump tagline.

“Build a wall.”

When I feel threatened, or when I feel like someone is going to drain my precious emotional energy, I tend to wall myself off and shut down. I’m not talking about appropriate emotional boundaries, I’m talking about ignoring people or situations where there is a real and deep need because it feels inconvenient or scary to take action. And I usually have some good excuses for acting this way- I had a long day at work (and I’m a hospice nurse for goodness sakes- what more do you want from me?), I’m newly married, I’m pregnant, etc – these are easily reachable reasons for shutting down in favor of “me time.” I find that it is all too easy to insulate myself from feelings of compassion, justice and the impulse to do something to help others. As long as I can classify that person, idea, place or thing as a threat to my energy, mental wellbeing or existing relationships, I can build a wall like the best of them and stay in my comfortable and safe space.

“I know how to win.”

Ah shoot, this one gets me right in the gotchas. I don’t know whether it is coming from a large, competitive family, being born in America, or being a gymnast for so many years, but I LOVE winning. And when I win, I tend to act like I won because I deserved to win, not because of any other circumstance. This means that I’m not always the most gracious person to play fun games with, that I like to have a sense of superiority, and that it’s hard for me to tell my husband, “You are right and I was wrong.”

And finally.

“I’m the only one who can fix this.”

As a nurse and a professional people helper, I act like this is true ALL THE TIME. I work longer hours because I think I’m the person who should be there with patients and families rather than someone else who might approach the problem differently.  I sometimes insert myself into situations believing that I am the only one who can fix them, and it is hard for me to let go and feel powerless in the face of disease, loss and death.

The problem is that all of these responses in myself are connected to a deep sense of insecurity and fear. They are not responses that I want to use as my modus operandi, especially not as a Jesus person.

Instead of building a wall, Jesus modeled vulnerability. He gave Himself over to people who were trying to kill Him. This was a kind of raw, vulnerable and bleeding love. This was a Love without the walls that we build when we are afraid. I want to live a life that is willing to be poured out for people, not a life that sees people as a threat.

Rather than winning all the time, Jesus won by losing. His version of success was poverty, obedience and death. He deliberately aligned Himself with those who were not good enough to “make it” in society. In the process of giving up any attachment that He had to his own advancement, He brought healing and Hope to the people who had been outcast and forgotten. I want to let go of the idea of competition and winning so that I can show that same Hope to other people.

And finally, Jesus modeled working WITH people to change things, rather than being the only one who could fix it. He gathered a group of disciples around Him. He taught them to work as a team towards a common purpose and goal. And He kept talking about a weird thing called The Trinity, which basically took God’s presence out of the neat confines of a simple cult of personality and made it so that God could be understood as the God of Israel- Father, God incarnate in a person-Jesus, and God as a presence that endures and stays with us here on earth- Spirit. I don’t want to be the only person who can change and fix things. I want to prioritize working with other people in the process of redemption.  I want to know my own smallness and walk with humility.

So, although I have found many parallels in my thoughts and behaviors to many of these slogans, I don’t believe that they are the right way of being, and that is not what I want to work towards either personally or with any political influence that I may or may not have. As such, I won’t vote for Trump. It doesn’t fit how I am learning to be as a person.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Ashes and Dust

“You are dust and to dust you shall return, repent and believe in the gospel.”

Wednesday was my first time kneeling and receiving ashes on my forehead, and I felt an unexpected prickle of tears in my eyes to hear the words of the benediction spoken over me. I felt like staying there, knees to the floor, and letting some of the tears fall freely, but instead got up to make space for the next person who was coming forward to kneel down.

I am not given much to thinking about my personal sins and failings. I know that I have them, I just don’t usually give them the space and attention they deserve.

You see, I really like thinking that I am Right, and sometimes I am smacked in the face with the deeper repercussions of this mentality.

Last November, we were talking to my brother Michael on FaceTime and he asked what the biggest change had been since we got married. Without thinking I blurted out, “I don’t get to be right all the time!”

Michael had a long laugh when I said that. Upon reflection, I think that growing up as the only girl in my family meant that I got to think that I was Right more often then was good for me.

In my work, I have noticed that I don't always listen to the concerns of other people. I sometimes make up my mind ahead of time that I am Right in any given situation. I walk in to a family meeting, or a care-plan meeting, ready to perform a series of conversational gymnastics moves in order to convince everybody else that I know what I am talking about... And then I catch myself and realize that I need to get over my ego trip for a moment and just be quiet and listen.

Wanting to be Right also leads me to a deeper problem, it makes it hard for me to apologize. And in this Lenten season our church is encouraging all of us to look closely at places where The Church has hurt people and where we all need to ask for forgiveness.

It’s a series called Forgive Us, and each week our Sunday services (and other programs) will be focusing on an area where The Church has participated in systemic wrong or abuse against a group of people. Together as a church community, we will repent for our judgementalism, our racism, our sins against the LGBTQ community, our sins against women, our odd conflict with science, and our sins against those who do not share our faith.

This promises to be challenging, exciting and a little bit terrifying, just as it is every time I have had to say the vulnerable phrase “I was wrong and I am sorry.”

But I also feel a pull to share about this publicly. As someone who is not good at admitting wrong in front of others, and as someone who likes to have it all together, I think it will be good for me to own my part in the process.

If you care to come along, I will be attempting to write about the Forgive Us series weekly here. 

And if you identify as someone who has been hurt by The Church, then please know that I’m ready to listen. It sounds really silly to say that, but I don't think I've ever said it publicly before, so there you go... I may not have the right apology or answer for all that has happened to you, but I’m ready to say that I haven’t been Right, there’s only one person who can claim that position. I’m just trying to follow Him into This Love, which was raw and real and bleeding. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

(Some) Things Are Different Now

Well, so a few things have changed this summer. One, I had another birthday, and two, I moved across the country. You know, not that big of a deal.

I would love to tell you all about this in a much deeper and profound kind of way but I think that will have to wait for another day. Instead this will be a kind of show and tell.

I tried to write in my journal the day after my birthday and this is what happened…

For those who can't read indecipherable handwriting, that says "can't write date, sign of aging?" 

When I told Future Husband about this, he laughed and said, “But that happens to you all the time.” Which is true, I have some kind of dyslexia that causes my brain to substitute inappropriate numbers and words into writing and conversation when I’m tired. I think that’s a thing. We will just say that it’s a thing, ok?

Future Husband also laughed when I told him cheerily a day later, “Today I actually LIKE being older!”

I make my Future Husband laugh a lot, but no big deal. I am (sometimes) the funny one.

 A picture of me and Future Husband. He’s the tall good-looking one.

The second week that I was out here I came up with a mini-stand up routine about driving in Boston, which I like to call “Surprise! I learned life skills in Tijuana!”

This IS true. I learned how to be sick in the middle of the night in Tijuana, how to paint houses, how to dig ditches, and how to access my alternate “Fast and the Furious” personality and drive like a speed demon manifesting.

The streets in Boston take a major beating every year from all the snow, rain and ice and things, so they have a lot of character.  By “character” I mean that they have a lot of holes and surprising bumps and they are pretty hard on your shocks and suspension. Another delightful thing is that seemingly everyone feels the need to shout through car windows at other drivers just for driving on the same road. At first all of this yelling made me angry, because “Hey, I grew up in LA, and I am good at merging. Save your road rage for something that really matters!” But now I try to consider that these people might simply enjoy yelling and I try to let the waves of unnecessary frustration roll over me. It would be a very Zen experience if I was actually good at it, but I’m not.

Driving on the streets of Tijuana Boston is a loud and chaotic adrenaline rush, as you dodge pot holes, pedestrians, and hear voices raised in loud cries of indignation and despair. Instead of Federales demanding bribes, you may find that nearly every bridge demands a toll. You want 4 dollars for me to cross this bridge, really Boston, really?!?!?! I think my GPS is in collusion with the transportation authority because it always seems to take me by the most expensive "direct" route.

I’m working part time as a hospice nurse right now. Working as a hospice nurse in Massachusetts is basically the same as working as a hospice nurse in California, except for that I meet a lot of nurses named “Marie” and when things are not going the way they should be you are sure to hear about it. There is no polite “I’m fine” response in New England, which is actually something that I really appreciate. If someone is having a bad day, they will candidly tell you about it, no beating around the bush and no pretending.

Hospice nursing in Massachusetts comes with the same bodily fluids, family drama, and hilarious, soulful/tearful moments that it contained in California. But, during my first week on the job, I almost hit a porcupine that was crossing the road while I was enroute to a skilled nursing facility, and that was a completely new experience. Oh, and when they say that it is going to rain, it might actually RAIN, and you might need an umbrella. 

<- learned that last one the hard way.

Things are different now, because Massachusetts comes in all these amazing shades of green, and in the summertime The Green is a living force that has it’s own sound and smell.  This never ceases to amaze me.

 But most of all, things are different because now I’m doing everyday life with Future Husband, the tall good-looking one, and that has been the best, most crazy “Is this real life?” experience ever.

(I assume you have seen the now famous "David after dentist" viral video, but if you haven't then you should jump on that right now. Herego laugh a little bit) 

And while we are on the subject of memes and viral videos, I would like to tell you all, that with all these changes I sometimes revert back to my crying llama ways… You know the one, the angst filled llama that cries “mememememememe” all the time? 

As I grow older, I have become more and more aware that my default dysfunctional setting is selfishness and feeling sorry for myself, especially when I feel overwhelmed. But I’m working on it. Some things are different now, and other things are still a work in progress. Am I older and wiser? Maybe.