Sacred, Pregnant Waiting

Originally published on the Emerging Voices blog, 12/8/2014. 

Advent. This time of year has always been somewhat sacred to me.

Despite the fact that I live in Minnesota, and I hate winter.

Despite the fact that Christmas in the United States is pretty much just a celebration of consumerism.

Despite the fact that I haven’t identified with Christianity for quite some time.

I think it’s the mystery of it all. The unknown, the waiting for something that hasn’t yet happened but is so palpable you can nearly taste it. This year, it is especially palpable for me as I have my own bundle of heartburn and kidney punches joy on his or her way.

It’s also especially palpable because there is so much unknown to hope for.

Even though I am no longer Christian, I still have a deep respect for the liturgical calendar. I get so frustrated when people celebrate Christmas early, especially when pastors preach Christmas messages before Christmas. This is a time of sacred waiting, and we could all learn a little something from that.

In the wake of the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner–and the countless others who have been murdered simply for daring to go out in public with dark skin–we have a lot to hope for.

We also have no promise that what we hope for will come to fruition.

Prior to becoming pregnant, I always thought of pregnancy, especially the last few weeks before delivery (the stage at which Jesus would, in theory, be during Advent), as a time of great excitement, hope, and joy. Now that I am pregnant, though only 19 weeks, I have found that there’s a lot less joy and a lot more paralyzing fear about all the things that could go wrong. There are no promises in pregnancy. Doctors can test for a million different abnormalities, and while normal results are reassuring, even waiting for those results is terrifying–let alone the fear one might experience with an abnormal result. Assuming the baby makes it to full term, and even though the likelihood of something going seriously, irreparably wrong during birth is very low in the Western world, there are still no guarantees about that child’s health or life in general.

And this is in 2014. Imagine what it must have been like for Mary, carrying what she believed to be some especially precious cargo.

As I sit and hope for a healthy baby, I can’t help but apply the same thought to our society’s construction of race. We have so much to hope for, but there are no guarantees. These tragedies, while absolutely awful in a way that I could never understand, could be the spark that starts a whole new revolution on how we approach race in the United States. And yes, there is a lot we can do as a whole, but individually, it feels like there’s a whole lot of waiting for something to happen, something we can almost taste, but have no certainty of. I’ve asked the question, “What the hell am I supposed to do?” so many times in the last few weeks. I know I need to be working towards change but there is little direction.

We can still hope. We can hope that change is coming, and we can do all we can to prepare for it, to usher it into existence. But will it happen? Will my child find him- or herself asking these same questions in twenty or thirty years? Will this be the revolution we’ve been waiting for throughout all of history?

I guess we’ll just wait and see.

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A Day in the Life.

***Trigger warning for anxiety, panic, health anxiety, OCD***

Somewhere, in the recesses of my brain, there are neurons that do not function properly. They reabsorb serotonin and norepinephrine instead of passing them on to the next neuron.

It seems like such a tiny thing. Yet, this has made my life an awful, wonderful mess.

I have generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder, several phobias (including agoraphobia), and other mental health challenges.

I am in the healing process, but like the best and worst of stories, I am eternally unfinished.

I have become pretty vocal about my mental health challenges as of late, and I have found some incredible people, some of whom were already in my life, who have shared their stories of their own challenges with me and have woven themselves together to form an amazing network of support.

But still, a lot of people don’t understand what it’s like. I get a lot of “just calm down”s, “stop worrying”s, “talk to God about it”s, and more completely baffling phrases that, while they may be well-intentioned, do much more harm than good.

If I could calm down or stop worrying, I would have by now. If the Divine could fix this, I think She would have by now.

I also get a lot of similarly well-intentioned people who have made the critical first step of realizing it’s not that simple, but still think they have the solution. These are not, usually, people who have similar challenges. So, I get unsolicited advice like “take some deep breaths,” “maybe you just need a break,” “try out this tea, it’s really soothing,” et cetera.

Again, thanks, but if it were that simple, I’d be better.

My challenges are likely to be with me for the rest of my life. There will be seasons of intense struggling and there will be seasons where the burden is lighter. I’m slowly but surely building my skills and tools and learning how to manage.

I think the biggest problem in how others relate to those of us with mental health challenges is that those who do not have these challenges don’t always understand how pervasive these challenges are in the life of one who is faced with them.

For that reason, I’ve decided to give you a glimpse into what an average day might look like for me, and specifically, how my challenges affect my daily life.

***DISCLAIMER: This is by no means universal. I am neither assuming that the day-to-day life of every person who deals with similar challenges will look like this, nor am I trying to advise anyone on what he or she should or should not be doing. This is one person’s story. If you want to know what others’ lives are like, you’ll have to ask them.***

8:00-8:30 a.m.: An alarm specifically designed to monitor my sleep and wake me up at the end of a sleep cycle sounds. I (hopefully) wake up and manage to stay awake for more than 30 seconds. I record my mood upon waking and log my heart rate, as well as any traumatic or anxiety-inducing dreams I may have had.

8:45 a.m.: My husband brings me a breakfast of high-protein, refined sugar-free, all-natural Greek yogurt and gluten-free granola and a cup of decaf coffee. I have to avoid sugar, caffeine, and gluten because they can negatively affect my body chemistry and make my anxiety worse. I also often have intense nausea as a side effect of my medication, so I have to be careful to pack in the protein when I can manage to eat it. I eat my breakfast in bed because I usually am too anxious to get up right away, and I need time to prepare myself.

9:00 a.m.: I take my morning medications for the day:

  • 10 mg Prozac–I’m in the process of tapering off of this and on to a new medication. Doctors have no way of knowing which medications will be effective and which will not for individual patients, so it is usually trial and error.
  • 150 mg Wellbutrin–This is the medication I’m tapering onto. It seems to be working okay thus far, but SSRIs and SNRIs have a long incubation period before they reach their maximum efficacy, so we won’t know for a few more weeks.
  • 10 mg Zyrtec–This is unrelated. I have allergies. 
  • 5000 IU vitamin D–My vit D levels are low. I don’t go outside much because I am terrified of leaving the safe confines of my apartment. I also have a lot of medical anxiety, so I try not to spend too much time in the sun much because I am terrified of getting skin cancer. Also, vit D helps in improving mood. 
  • B-complex vitamin–I’m sure this is good for me somehow. I’ve been told to take so many things that I don’t really remember why I’m taking this. I think it helps regulate metabolism and mood?
  • Vitamin A–I get really bad stress acne, and when one has an anxiety disorder, there is a lot of stress that goes with it. Vit A helps to keep my skin in check.
  • Calcium–My chiropractor started me on this as it will help to keep my muscles relaxed, thus helping keep a physical calm. 
  • Magnesium–I take this for the same reason as calcium. 
  • Women’s Daily Multivitamin–I take this because I am an adult who cares about her body. This is not directly related to my anxiety, though likely has some connection with my medical anxiety. 

9:05 a.m.: If I can manage it, I get out of bed and start to get ready for the day. I spend about half an hour putting on my mask for the day, perhaps trying to hide my social anxiety with makeup and hair dye. Or maybe I’m just vain.

9:35 a.m.: I sit down to check my mail (panic), Facebook (panic), the weather (panic), and whatever else needs checking. 

9:50 a.m.: I leave for work. I work on campus, so I walk up the hill, and I try to walk slowly so as to keep my heart rate down. Anxiety/panic attack #1 has usually occurred by this point.

10:00 a.m.: I begin working at job #1 in the Marketing and Communications Office. This is a great job for me as there are only four other people in the department, and while my projects are assigned by my boss, I work largely independently and can usually communicate with most people via email or gchat. 

12:00 p.m.: My shift for job #1 is done. By this point, I have likely consumed 1.5 L/6 cups of water. I have to keep hydrated in order to both keep my body chemistry relatively constant and because I am terrified of having to go into the hospital for dehydration. I did this once already, and while I had probably the best nurse ever, it was still traumatic and I’d rather not relive it.

12:05 p.m.: I walk across to the other side of the building and begin working at job #2. I manage Luther’s short-term housing. This involves making reservations, communicating with guests, assigning room turnovers to the custodial team, managing my hospitality team, processing payments, and preparing packets for guests. This is also a good job for me because it allows me to stay active and also work at my own pace. I can usually put my headphones in and listen to music, which means I largely do not have to speak with anyone.

1:30 p.m.: During an average week, I’m usually done with job #2 at this point. Sometimes it takes a bit longer. Once every two weeks, I head down to my therapist’s office for a 2:00 appointment.

1:40 p.m.: I get into my car and brace myself for driving at highway speeds around other cars. I am terrified of this. Especially the 35W-94 interchange. It is hell. Anxiety/panic attack #2 occurs.

1:55 p.m.: I arrive at my therapist’s office. I listen to some supposedly-calming-but-too-contrived plunky harp music mixed with whale sounds that’s always playing in the waiting area as I wait for my appointment.

2:00 p.m.: My therapist, Rachel, comes to collect me. Depending on the day and my current struggles, we might do talk therapy, EMDR, sandplay therapy, relaxation exercises, or any number of other things. I am lucky to have a therapist who is very attentive to my needs, works cooperatively with me, and is generally flexible and open-minded. I would highly recommend her. 

3:00 p.m.: I leave my therapist’s office, usually feeling more relaxed and positive. I fill my water bottle for the third time today and brave the traffic headed back home.

3:30 p.m.: I arrive at home and change into workout clothes so I can head up to the gym. I am blessed with a gym on-campus that has a whopping one-time rate of $10 for life. I spend 30 minutes on the elliptical, and often do a set of strength-training exercises as well. Exercise is one of the best anxiety-reducing measures in existence, not to mention it’s good for everyone and it’s completely natural. I complete my workout with a brief yoga session to relax and bring my mind and body into harmony. I have worked with Shelley at the Yoga Sanctuary to incorporate some poses and breathing exercises that are particularly helpful for those of us with anxiety. 

4:30 p.m.: I walk back home, shower, and eat a long-overdue lunch. I am terrified of cooking, so this is often a collection of snacks like veggies or chips and hummus, chips and salsa, olives, fruit, and/or cheese. I have low blood pressure to start, and one of my as-needed medications (Tenormin) lowers my blood pressure when I have panic attacks. I also drink a LOT of water. Thus, I often have to replenish my sodium levels post-workout.

4:45 p.m.: I settle into bed and rest. I often put on British panel shows or stand-up/sketch comedy shows because they help me to laugh and relax. I often fall asleep while watching these.

5:45 p.m.: My husband returns home from work. He snuggles in bed with me for a little while, both of us trying to connect and relax from the day. 

6:30-7:00 p.m.: We finally get around to making dinner. This is largely dependent upon what my body can stand to eat for that given day. Essentially, we eat a lot of things with quinoa in them.

8:00-10:00 p.m.: Because I am terrified of being out in public on my own, and of driving, and of dealing with money, this is when we usually run our errands. It’s much more peaceful at this time, though a lot of places are closed and we have to find ways around this. Anxiety/panic attack #3 occurs.

10:15 p.m.: We arrive back home. I wash my hands, feet, and face to remove the germs and bacteria I inevitably picked up while we were out. By this point, I have washed my hands over 20 times today, and my face and feet (on average) around five. 

10:30 p.m.: We settle in for the night. This is when I usually write, process, and try to unwind from the day. Sometimes, especially during the school year, this is when I get around to doing my homework.

11:30 p.m.: I take my nightly medication:

  • Two Benadryl tablets–My anxiety medication (and my anxiety in general) makes me quite an insomniac. My doctor thinks it would be unwise to add a prescription sleep aid into the cocktail of drugs I’m already ingesting, so I take the max dose of OTC medication. It doesn’t really work all that well.
  • .5 mg Klonopin (occasionally)–If my anxiety is really, really bad, I will take my “attack pills” (anxiolytic muscle-relaxers) to help ease me into sleep. Sometimes, these make me high. Occasionally, I have to take them during the day, and then things get really fun when I have to be a grown-up but I’m quite loopy. 

12:00 a.m.: My husband is fading quickly into sleep. I am jealous of his ease at this seemingly impossible task. Intense paranoia kicks in as the apartment is dark, weird noises are happening (as they do when you live in an apartment complex), and my primary defender is unconscious. I put on another panel/comedy show to distract myself and ease my mind.

1:00-2:00 a.m.: I finally get to sleep. For now.

4:30 a.m.: I wake up, drenched in sweat, heart pounding. I have nightmares most nights. I drink some water, cool myself off, and curl up on my husband’s chest to help me relax and feel safe. I maybe get back to sleep within an hour.

 

And the cycle continues.

Nearly every moment of my day is in some way shaped or affected by anxiety. It isn’t just occasional bouts of intense worry–it is my whole life. I have a lot of ways to go about managing it, but just like a garden, it needs constant attention or it will grow wild and take over. 

For those of you who don’t deal with these challenges, I hope this has helped provide some insight. Please try to be respectful and mindful of those who do face this every day. May you find understanding.

For those of you who have similar struggles, be encouraged. We can do this together. Even if we have to do it in the safe confines of our own homes, we can support one another. May you find peace.

For all of us, may we learn to see each other not as our triumphs and struggles, but as humans. We are better together.

 

Where Process and Mental Illness Meet

Hey all! Over this past J-Term, I took a course on Process Theology. As this is the parent field from which my future field–theopoetics–comes, I found it to be one of the most interesting and engaging courses I’ve ever taken, despite the 8:45 a.m. start time and the three and a half hour classes that met four times per week. As an assignment for it, I wrote a (short) sermon from a process perspective on mental illness and the church. This is that sermon.

Let us begin today with a brief exercise. I would like everyone to stand up (as you are able) and greet four people. There is no rule regarding who you need to greet; they need not be strangers or friends, people who look like you or do not, or nearby or across the room. Any four people will do.

You may have noticed some demographics of the four people you greeted. You may have considered their respective ages, genders, ethnic backgrounds, levels of physical ability, height, weight, eye color, hair color, and the list continues. We take in incredible amounts of information about a person just by seeing them, and interacting with them brings even more, such as noticing accents, levels of energy, or even signs of recent illness. We are bombarded with information in these interactions, and, for better or worse, we store that information in our brains as the characteristics of a given person.

One thing you probably did not notice, however, was if any of the people you greeted has a mental illness. There are signs, yes, but they are not often visible in such short interactions. Yet, the National Institute of Mental Health informs us that 26.2 percent of the population—roughly one in every four people—has a diagnosable mental illness.[1] That means, statistically speaking, one of the four people you greeted deals with the harsh realities of mental illness on a daily basis.

This is difficult news for most people, and rightly so. It is heart-wrenching to know that a quarter of the people we know and love struggle with their own minds, bodies, and the chemistry between them.

Why, though, should this be of particular concern to people of faith? Is there a reason that, as religious and/or spiritual people, we should care more about mental illness than a person who does not associate with religion or spirituality?

The simple answer is, yes. We do need to care more. We claim to be people of hope and thus have a responsibility to share that hope. The beautiful thing about hope, too, is that it is an unlimited resource. Like the flame of a candle that can be infinitely shared without any decrease in its original light, hope can spread without being sacrificed.

Some of you might be thinking, “Yes, I agree, but what do you mean by ‘hope?’” To you, I say, good question! Hope is a difficult concept to pin down, as, like other such concepts as love, happiness, success, and peace, it means different things to different people. Regardless, hope is an extremely powerful and meaningful word to those who struggle with mental illness.

Hope, for us, as people of faith, means this: we trust that God is active in our realm and is innately in relationship with all of creation—humanity included—without exception. We trust that the God in whom we believe does not make us suffer and desires that our lives be full of good things. We trust that this God does not stand back and let us suffer, but tries relentlessly to inject hope into our brokenness with each passing moment. We trust that this God is the Hope Divine.

Let us follow the proverbial rabbit trail for a moment and discuss the word “broken.” When we think of this word, many of us picture a shattered dish, or perhaps an electronic device that has lived out its functioning days. I would suggest that, when using this word in relationship to living beings, we think of it more as a broken bone. There is pain, suffering, and difficulty in such a situation, but there is also immense room for healing. The bone might never look quite the same again, as that past fracture has become part of its history and has left scars and memories in its wake, but it will become functional and whole again, with the proper help. In this way, people with mental illnesses can be said to be “broken”—in need of healing—but not terminally so. There is room for hope.

People with mental illnesses can often look at their lives as broken, shattered pieces that no amount of super glue will put back together. How could the hope of which we speak possibly enter in to this situation? It seems to be unfixable, and in many cases, there might be a lot of evidence pointing towards this, but it is not the case.

While a person with a mental illness is staring at the shards of his or her being scattered around him or her, the Hope Divine steps in and sees intrinsic beauty. The person sees something that was once whole, where the Hope Divine sees beautiful, intricate pieces that can make a new thing. The person wonders what happened to the lovely piece of pottery that once was, but the Hope Divine sees a mosaic waiting to happen, and while the person is consumed by the loss, the Hope Divine takes advantage of every moment as an opportunity to inject a new perspective into the story of that person’s life.

It is often difficult to pay attention to God’s aims, however. This is especially true for people whose internal narratives are so loud and overwhelming that hearing a story other than the one they know and believe to be true feels impossible. We have faith in a relentless God of reckless love and unabashed hope, and we trust that this God lives up to these expectations, but we do not claim to believe in God’s omnipotence or think that we have no role in doing God’s work. We are mediators of this hope and have the blessed opportunity and responsibility to speak this into the lives of others around us.

Remember too that people of faith are not exempt from this kind of suffering. According to the Pew Forum, roughly 54 percent of United States inhabitants attend religious gatherings regularly.[2] [3] When combined with the previously mentioned 26.2 percent of the population with diagnosable mental illnesses, basic statistics informs us that around 14 percent of people in this country are regularly attending religious services and have a diagnosable mental illness. This is not an “us and them” situation; this affects all of us without exception.

Therefore, this is not a “mission” or “evangelism.” We are not talking about something those of us in this building have and those outside it do not. This is, however, a way of living—we are called to live as people of hope. It is our responsibility to point to the intrinsic beauty in the broken pieces of our lives, whatever those pieces might be. We are to live as artists, creating mosaics with a zealous fervor that the attention of others might be drawn from the brokenness to the beauty being created from them. We point to the “something new” that hope inspires in a situation and try to show how the difficult and sometimes terrifying parts of our histories can tell a new story.

As we leave this place, let us be people of hope for those who are suffering, and speak new life into even the bleakest of situations. Amen.


[1] “NIMH: Statistics: Any Disorder Among Adults,” National Institute of Mental Health, accessed January 21, 2014, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/Statistics/1ANYDIS_ADULT.shtml.

[2] Information adapted from “Portrait and Demographics of United States Religious Affiliation,” Pew Research Religions & Public Life Project, accessed January 22, 2014, http://religions.pewforum.org/portraits.

[3] “Regularly” is here defined as attending religious gatherings at least once per month.

Dispossessed Peoples’ Day

Today, in the U.S., it’s Thanksgiving.

Though I’ve been celebrating it every year, I’m not this year.

I have finally reached a place in my life where I am comfortable saying, “No. I cannot celebrate the conquest of a land by people who had no right to it, and the destruction of the people who already lived and thrived there.”

The traditional story goes something like this: Pilgrims came over to North America, and were welcomed by friendly Indigenous Peoples, who taught them how to live off of the land and survive the winters. They celebrated by sharing a meal together.

Aww, isn’t that sweet? Too bad it’s 100% bullshit.

Though all the stories surrounding Thanksgiving are debated, it’s more likely that this feast celebrated one of two things: 1. the harvest (which, fine, sure, whatever) or 2. the massacre of over 700 Pequot people (I’m sorry, what?).

But the truth of that story does not change the fact that the colonists did dispossess waves upon waves of Indigenous Peoples, and most of us can locate ourselves on one side or the other–conqueror or conquered. I, personally, as a white person (though my particular heritage is asynchronous with the colonization of North America) bear some of the guilt for the ways in which I’ve benefited from this dispossession.

And I am not grateful for that. I do not celebrate my privilege. I do not celebrate others’ lack thereof.

“Okay, yes, the origins of this holiday are shady, but can’t you use it to be grateful for the good things in your life?”

No. For the same reason I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. I don’t only love my husband one day out of the year, so I don’t need a pointless holiday to commemorate that. I don’t need a holiday to be grateful–I’m learning to live a life of gratitude. If that’s all this holiday is about now, then I see no reason to celebrate it.

So, today, I’m mourning. I’m angry. I’m disheartened. I am hopeful that one day, things might be different. Maybe I’ll be able to teach my children about the terrible history that is the bedrock of the U.S., yet be able to say, “But it’s different now.” Maybe someday justice will happen and equality will be the norm. But since we’ve been screwing things up for over 500 years, I’m not counting the seconds.

The Words I Never Wanted To Hear.

I can’t remember the first time I heard someone tell me I was worthless. Though it was said in many different ways, sometimes without words at all, I heard it a lot growing up.

I can, however, remember the first time I said it to myself–the first time I believed it.

It seems so silly, now, to retell the story. It was a couple weeks into my freshman year of high school. There was a boy (there’s always a boy) who I had a crush on, who, for a while, at least, felt the same way. We never dated, nothing serious ever became of it. It was the awkward transition from middle school to high school, when most relationships lasted a month, at best, and no one could even make eye contact with the person they were supposedly “dating” during school dances.

He told me I wasn’t skinny enough to be with him.

And, while, today, I embrace the healthy curves, strong muscles, and 140 pounds of awesome I possess (well, most of the time, at least), I, at fourteen years old, was not so secure.

I remember, through sobs and tears, staring at myself in the bathroom mirror and saying, “You’re worthless.”

My whole life up to that point, and for far too long after, I had been led to believe that my worth was based on others’ approval  of me. Whether it was my grades, my friends, my chores, my scores in gymnastics, my career goals, anything, really, I had to do well in order to be loved.

The thing is, when you’re taught to believe this, it doesn’t matter how well you do, it will never be enough to really “earn” love.

That moment led to a downward spiral of self-hatred, constant anxiety, an eating disorder that always nagged me, perfectionism, and believing a whole host of lies others told me (and many I told myself).

I made it to a point where I wasn’t willing to accept praise of any kind, to acknowledge anything good about myself, because I didn’t want to (or perhaps couldn’t) believe that there was anything in me worth praising.

I also remember the first time someone told me, “You are good enough.”

It was my freshman/sophomore year of college (things get messed up when you don’t do four full years). I had just gotten in a massive fight with my father, about what, I don’t recall, and (again) there was a boy who, while much kinder than the previous boy, did not reciprocate the feelings I had towards him. I felt so alone and so unloved.

At the time, I was also a part of a prayer ministry on campus. We had an intercessory station outside of a vespers service, where I was pretending to have a handle on things. A dear friend of mine, who I had only known for a few weeks at that point, noticed that something was off and asked if she could pray for me.

Pray for me? No one had ever really prayed for me before. Though all I really wanted to do was keep everything bottled up inside, festering like the gallon of milk you forgot was in the back of the fridge, though I didn’t want to hear what she was about to say, something inside of me wouldn’t let me say no.

She didn’t know what was going on. She just prayed.

And I remember, she looked straight into my eyes, squinted a little bit, and said, “I need you to listen to me. I need you to trust me and believe me, because you’ve been lied to for far too long. You. Are. Good enough.”

I lost it. I just started sobbing. I had never been told that before. And, in that moment, I believed it.

I’ve clung to that since then. In the moments when I feel like all I ever do is screw things up, I repeat that over and over and over, like a worry stone in my mouth.

You. Are. Good enough.

We have this liturgy we say at the beginning of every gathering at my faith community. In it, we say the words, “We tell the story of promises made to those who were too old and too young, too broken and too far outside.” It always resonates with me. We are, without a doubt, the island of misfit toys. Most of us have been through a lot of things that often make us feel worthless.

But we are not.

And you, yes you, you are not worthless.

You, the weary, the depressed, the heavily medicated, the alcoholic, the drug addict, the adulterer, the thief, the single parent, the gay man or lesbian woman, the prostitute, the sex addict, the welfare recipient, the heavily indebted, the lonely, the hungry, the homeless, the heretic, the divorcee, the pregnant teen, the murderer, the whatever-you-are, are good enough.

If you’ve ever believed the lie that you are worthless, listen up.

YOU.

ARE.

GOOD ENOUGH.

Especially you.

Hope for my Little Ones.

Today, the Minnesota House of Representatives is voting on the Freedom to Marry bill. As I think about this, and how it affects me and my future, I felt compelled to write this letter to my future children about this historic day and marriage equality in general. Enjoy.

Dear Little Ones,

Today, the MN House of Representatives votes on the Freedom to Marry bill, which would make Minnesota the 12th state to make marriage equality a constitutional reality. I do not know yet what the outcome will be. I hope to God that by the time you read this, all couples can legally be married, regardless of their sex.

You’re probably wondering why I’m writing to you about this. There are a lot of reasons why marriage equality matters. I hope your Dad and I have educated you well on this. I hope we have taught you to see the beauty in every person. I hope we have shown you that love, and not sexual orientation, is what makes a family. I hope we have told you about our heroes in this fight, men and women, queer and straight, who faced discrimination and hatred simply for believing that all people deserve the right to marry.

Most of all, though, I am writing this to you because I want you to know that, no matter who you are or who you love, your Dad and I support you. If you choose to commit your life to someone, it is of no concern to me whether they are a man or a woman, or neither. All I care is that they are worthy. I care that they are honorable and kind, that they support you, that they see just how beautiful you are. I care that they love you as much as we do. If you find somebody like that, it doesn’t matter to me what their sex, race, age, or anything else is. I will support you and love them as my own. I promise.

Love, Momma

A Different Desert Story

Hi all. Again, sorry for having been gone for so long. This is another repurposing of an essay I wrote, and I thought it might be fitting here. Again, anything that seems out of place is probably a relic of the prompt. I’m happy to explain further or answer any questions as you find necessary. Enjoy.

It seems both aptly fitting and horribly out of place for me to write about the presence of God right now, while I am in the midst of searching and yearning for any taste of the presence of God in my own life. On the one hand, I feel so much more connected to the Israelites in this moment than I ever have before; on the other hand, I sense a good deal of cynicism and loathing in the way I think, and thus write, about God. It is a very interesting and perplexing dichotomy in which I find myself. Given the choice, I am not sure that I would write about the presence of God in this season; actually, I am quite convinced my choice would be to run fast and far from it. However, I somehow feel called deeper in, as though I have my own wandering in the desert to do. That, and the small matter of its necessity for a decent grade in this class, is why I will continue to search for the presence of God, both through this essay and throughout this season, despite the warnings of my better nature.

Truth be told, I have been writing about the Exodus for quite some time, but only just realized it minutes before I sat down to write this essay. I run a personal blog entitled “Wandering the Desert” in which I explore issues of theology, ecclesiology, and sociology. I initially titled it this way after two different stories, the first being the many times in which Jesus found himself in the desert (or wilderness, but “Wandering the Wilderness” sounds far too much like the name of a poorly written teen adventure novel), the second being that of the Desert Fathers and Mothers. These stories, and the framework for my blog, were always about leaving the world (or in my case, western Christianity) behind and exploring and growing in a place that, despite its threats, is somehow safer for this activity. I am beginning to think a third desert archetype needs to be incorporated, and is perhaps the most fitting of all in this season, namely, the Exodus story. I am not leaving “civilization” in strength, but in weakness; I am not boldly pursuing God, but waiting for God to find me and lead me through a place much too far from home.

I am aware that the prompt for this essay has instructed me to explore many different episodes of the presence of God, or, rather, to not limit this exploration to one episode. Rather than looking at many short episodes, however, I find it more compelling to look at the presence of God through the book of Exodus as a whole. Where might God be found in the wandering of the Israelites through the desert? How might God be present in their pain, anger, and hopelessness? Are they pursuing God, or is God leading them? Where does God show up when they cannot, and perhaps do not want to, see God?

It appears, at first glance, that this story is a triumphant one. God, in all God’s sovereignty and power, delivers the Israelites from the evil empire of the Egyptians. This would line up with Brueggemann’s first motif, that of deliverance. This reading has merit, yes, and certainly has its place, but it is (in my opinion) overused, and also not the lens through which I would like to view this story in this moment. Right now, this is not a triumphant story, but one of fear, of sadness, of desperation. God is found not with the mighty scepter of a king, leading the Israelites into glory, but with the comforting, outstretched arms of a mother consoling her child who has just woken up from a nightmare. The worst may be over, but the night still looms, and the morning seems to be a distant, even impossible, future. God makes Her presence known, comforts Her child, and leads this child through the darkness.

Perhaps, then, one ought to read this story as the establishment of the Israelites as God’s covenant people. God has joined with the Israelites and has made a covenant with them. Brueggemann highlights Exodus 6:7, “I will be your God and you shall be My people.”[1] The Israelites are a claimed people in relationship with a God. Again, this reading has much merit, but does not speak to me in the same way. Continuing with the earlier metaphor of mother and child, God’s action is not so much of establishing and reminding the Israelites of a relationship, but merely being present in the midst of incredible hopelessness. This story is not only about God saying to her child, “I am your Mother, and you are my child,” but more about simply being the arms that hold the Israelites as they wander aimlessly through the desert.

It would then appear that Brueggemann’s third motif—presence—would be the one with which I resonate most. However much I like the idea of God’s presence, I do not understand it or feel it in the Exodus story in the same way. Brueggemann notes the need for the Israelites’ holiness in order to experience the presence of God.[2] Again, this is not untrue, nor is it without its place, but I would read it differently. This perhaps stems from my belief that the Law was not divine in origin, but this is a different discussion for a different time. God breaks in to a world and to a people who need to be comforted and loved, to know that there is someone who is genuinely concerned with their well-being and desires to care for them. If I were a terrified child, I would not want my mother to remind me that she is my mother, but simply to hold and console me as I struggle to find hope.

So what then does this mean for us? How does the comforting and consoling presence of God impact 21st century western Christians who do not often find themselves wandering around in the desert, searching for basic necessities for survival?

Truth be told, I do not have a good answer to these questions. Perhaps, though, this can be a message about fear and hope. Perhaps we need to learn to be comfortable with tension, even to throw ourselves into it. Perhaps it is time for us to go deeper and broader, to allow ourselves to reckon with our hopelessness and fear, to wander our own deserts, and give God space to make God’s presence known, not only in joy and beauty, but in pain and suffering as well.

If God is only present in the light of the morning, I do not want a relationship with that God. Luckily for me, and for us, our God is present throughout the night. Now we must begin our own exodus, go out into the night, and let God find us there.


[1] Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament: Canon and Christian Imagination (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 65.

[2] Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 66.

God of the Open Door.

January is always a hard month for me.

I’m not sure why. It just always has been. There’s a number of different factors that play in to it, but none of them are enough on their own for me to actually despise the month. Yet, I do.

One day a couple weeks ago, though, instead of being angry for an entire month, I decided to try something different. I decided to pray. For hope, specifically. That’s all I wanted, all I needed to get me through the month. Hope.

The day after I did this, my husband came up to me and said that he’d been doing some math, and had come to the realization that we could save about $1500 over the next five months if we moved closer to where we work and go to school. We currently live in East St. Paul, and work in South Minneapolis, which means we spend about an hour total every day driving between cities–not from one destination to another, just the freeway driving between the two cities–if traffic is good. This equates to an unnecessary 300+ miles per week. Our ’96 Toyota Avalon gets about 20 mpg and we have a 15 gallon tank, so we’re wasting roughly an entire tank of gas every week. If we moved to Minneapolis, we would save essentially that much. Even if we broke our lease early and forfeited our security deposit, we’d still end up with something like $1000 or so saved by the time our lease would expire on its own (5/31). Furthermore, I hate the place we currently live, so I’ve been wanting to move out since day one. So, when he presented this to me, with the suggestion that we move, and quickly, I began to think that, perhaps, this was the answer to my prayer.

We asked our church community that night, both in person and on our community website, if anyone was looking for housemates or had a mother-in-law apartment to rent out, and got an email back the next day from a couple of friends who were looking to rent out their basement in exchange for childcare. We also checked Craigslist and found an amazing apartment that was twice the size of ours for $100 more per month, in the perfect location, and the building is a co-op. We posted our apartment on Craigslist and had a flood of people looking to sublease.

Hope continued to abound.

However, quickly, that hope gave way to anxiety. What if our friends’ basement didn’t work out? What if we didn’t get the apartment? What if none of the potential tenants’ applications were accepted? What if? What if? What if?

Depending on what I’m doing with my life, I have panic attacks somewhere between once or twice a month to nearly every day. This season has been more on the side of the latter.

So I kept praying. There was little else I could do.

But I found myself in a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, I wanted to pray that God would just make all of this happen–a bit foolish, I know, but to my credit, I wasn’t exactly rational in the moment–that we would find the perfect person to take our apartment, that our friends’ basement would be a great in-between place, that we would get this particular apartment. On the other hand, I couldn’t bring myself to pray this knowing that, should these prayers come to fruition, God would be taking away someone else’s free will in order to serve my desire.

I pondered this for a few days.

Finally, I came to the realization that I had missed a big chunk in the spectrum of prayer. I had created a dichotomy between praying for specific outcomes and not praying at all. That’s how I had been taught to pray, and those outcomes happening was how I was taught to judge a person’s holiness. If what they prayed for came true, God must be on their side.

Oh, how wrong this is.

Because the beautiful thing about God is that She is not the God of outcomes, but the God of the open door. She does not determine the future for us, but carves out new opportunities. Their fruition still requires certain responses from creation, responses creation has the free will to deny. She is ever the Creator, birthing new possibilities, new opportunities, new realities by the the second. She opens the doors; we, by our own volition, choose to go through certain ones, and to not go through others.

In some ways, my prayers changed. In other ways they were quite the same. I stopped praying for specifics, and instead asked for gracious hearts from my faith communities–for people willing to help, to search, to lend. I asked to be shown the doors that were already open–to have the living communities we want to be a part of put on my radar. I asked to be comforted, to be granted a spirit of patience (something I am truly in great need of).

Let hope abound. And oh, how it has. Because I no longer worry about specific outcomes. I trust that, as creation progresses, God is opening new doors, and leading us to those already in place, as we find our way by Her guidance.

I will leave you with this, a blessing we use at the Porch as a benediction, one we say as a community, to one another:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in faith so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” -Romans 15:13

When Hope Dwelled Among Us.

So, yesterday, Tony Jones began progGod round two. This time (in the spirit of Advent), it’s on the Incarnation. As a progressive and a theologian-in-training, I’m providing my thoughts. If you fit the same description, you should too.

I have to admit, I’ve never really heard a good theology of the Incarnation. The one that was most familiar to me in my time at my evangelical-Baptist college had something to do with Penal Substitutionary Atonement, but since I (and many progressives) don’t hold to that Atonement theory, that Incarnation theory doesn’t work well. So we need something else.

When I read the Incarnation story, and the story of Jesus in general, I find five main reasons for Jesus’ coming (versus a divine act from on high without physical presence):

  1. Jesus came to restore creation to even more than its former glory, beauty, and fullness. In this, Jesus breathed new life into a creation in turmoil, giving it a new beginning and a new hope. Jesus did not come to “fix a problem,” but to completely undo and renew the whole of creation. This was a cosmological shift in reality. Not backwards to some previous perfection, not forwards to a coming utopia, but an altogether different direction.
  2. Jesus came to bring hope to the broken. By coming and changing the formerly unchangeable, Jesus stands as a beacon of hope for all who are broken and suffering, to say that better things are coming. This is where the “firstfruits” metaphor becomes relevant: Jesus sets in motion the beginning of a new age of hope and blessing.
  3. Jesus came to fight for the oppressed and marginalized. Jesus stood on the side of the outcasts of society, the otherwise unloved, and turned the whole system around to put them on top. We hear this one quite often, so I don’t feel the need to expound on this one much, I will say this: read the Sermon on the Mount if you have any question that this is true.
  4. Jesus came to issue a “revolutionary threat” to systems that produce injustice. Jesus stood up to those in power and called them into a new order; by submitting in a revolutionary way to their injustice, Jesus exposed it for exactly what it was and threatened its livelihood.
  5. Jesus came to teach followers how to reflect the divine to the world, and vice versa. Jesus came as both physical and divine, perfectly mirroring each realm to the other, and called us to do likewise. As the divine in the midst of humans, Jesus made love and all its compatriots abound. As a human uniquely and wholly intertwined in the divine, Jesus brought the world into relationship with the Creator in a way not previously possible.

All of this requires a physical existence:

  1. At the dawn of creation (however you choose to view it), God had to intervene in a physical way by creating existent matter. Jesus, in bringing about not simply repair, but restoration, must likewise intervene physically. A new beginning requires a new creation, and a new creation requires intervention.
  2. Jesus comes and does physical acts–feedings, healings, et cetera–as a promise that a new day is dawning. Without the physical presence of Christ, this promise is empty. Jesus is, as a human, the light in the midst of great darkness. Verbal or, more deeply, spiritual promises from God mean nothing if reality stays the same. Jesus broke through the wall separating God and creation and wove the promises into reality–physical healing and spiritual freedom, et cetera.
  3. Jesus cannot become one with the oppressed and marginalized without becoming oppressed and marginalized. Empathy and solidarity are two very different postures. Without Jesus’ suffering, we would not be able to confidently claim that God is on our side. Instead, it would appear quite the opposite.
  4. Holy texts have been used since their penning to justify horrible things. A physical Jesus cannot, while still present, be twisted in such a way. The “Word incarnate” language is relevant in this, that Jesus is a self-sent decree from on high which cannot be mangled when it can respond, dialogue, and critique.
  5. God cannot adequately teach humanity how to have a relationship simultaneously with the divine and the world if Jesus had not first modeled this. God cannot call us to this level of responsibility without modeling it first. If we are to be doing as Jesus did, Jesus has to have done this at some point.

All of this can be fairly well summed up to say that Jesus, in coming as both human and divine, was hope embodied. Hope for a creation groaning for restoration, hope for the broken waiting for a light to shine in their darkness, hope for the oppressed and marginalized in desperate need of a revolution, hope for leaders who have lost concern for justice, hope for all, that in this moment, the divine is being woven into the earthly. Hope that there is a God who is love and who desires for that very love to abound. When Jesus came, incarnate, hope dwelled among us. And the world was never the same.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”