Sky Blue, Sky Black

12:30 AM— Thoughts with God as I lie down watching the moonlight shine through the window pane:

There is something about Your sky that’s vast and endless in intricate artistry. In the morning, a sunrise that wakes up our souls, every cell in our bodies, awakening the dawn of an unprecedented new day, like a foot of freshly fallen snow without a single footprint. In the late afternoon, a sun that ribbon dances in ruby reds and sapphire kissing the horizon. In the evening, a deepened blackish navy blue cascaded with darts of yellow starlight.

I cannot comprehend its infinite end and I literally feel myself pulled into your beauty, your craft, your handiwork. Like suction, I am drawn to this- fixated upon a changeable sky that in light or dark immediately ceases all selfish thoughts that run rampant throughout my brain throughout the day. It stills my worries and mollifies my aching fears. All falls silent when I look up to your sky- minus the low drone of cars off the highway in the distance. Something moves me closer to your heart, a magnetic pull. I can’t fight it. I suppose even if I were to look away, I would only long to look back at it, if but for the peace and stillness it arouses.

And when in the midst of my 9-5 labor rife with meetings and no windows, just tan and creme colored walls… When I grapple with the immediacy of a deadline… When I am all alone, scared and confused, on my hands and knees by candlelight begging you to help me find your hands in this darkness… I hear this voice that encourages, “Go outside and ponder the Pleiades.”Look up at the sky. Count the number of planes that go by just in these next few moments. And now think of all the people on board, some sleeping, some dreaming, some ready to hop aboard another plane, some ready to hop out of a plane, tandem… think about how I take care of my people from land and air, high and low, on the water in ships, everywhere-I make them grow, so surely, I must be able to take care of you too.

I think about every moment when I heard that voice, urging me to go outside and see sky blue or sky black, and how easily I push that voice away. For certainly, can’t you see, I have big grown up things to do, like tasks and responsibilities and dirty dishes to tend to? Oh, and yet this part of me hears that voice again, this time reaching my inner spirit, the Child of God within me, the part that longs for play and exploration and wonder.

I now know.

I know now that to miss out on these moments is foolish. I have nothing too important in my life to not tiptoe down the stairs and sit on the stone ledge of my front porch and regain strength, vision, and clarity with every twinkle of every star. I am a fool to think that I am too busy to take a moment to breathe in the cool evening air and look up. Just the simple shift in gaze—from scribbling away at some paper or glued to some task or to the laundry that needs to be folded— to looking away from that and now looking up— has brought my whole body, mind, spirit into a posture of gratitude and worship, yes. No songs or hymns or Bible. But my gaze becomes a wordless prayer, breathless, not even a whisper, as I worship you- everything about you has me falling in love with you again and again. 

And tomorrow I shall do the same. I am not too busy to soak in a widescreen shot of sky blue before I drive off for the day, fresh air mobilizing the oxygen in my blood. And maybe after this week is over, I shall lay in the fields, those favorite fields, or perhaps I’ll find a new one today, and lay on a bed of grass and clover, arms folded behind my neck, staring, lost in beauty, lost in peace, lost in nothing making sense and everything making sense at once, lost in transcendence.  And my hands will finger the blueberries I brought with me,  slowly plopping them into my mouth for sweet reprieve from hunger. Or maybe today my hands shall finger through manila, crisp pages telling of someone else’s story with you, Lord. Or maybe there will be nothing that my hands will do as I lay them, palm down, along my chest, feeling the solidarity of the thump-thump of my heartbeat. Sometimes there’s nothing to do under these skies but worship with peace and renewal and sabbath in our hearts. Perhaps that’s the point, after all, of this sky- that we can’t busy our hands with distracting to-do lists at the same time we look upward. Sometimes we can barely hold a conversation, because all of our eye contact is directed at these skies of blue, or orange, or red, or black with white-ish, yellow diamonds “up above the world so high.”

And maybe in all these moments, the point is simply to remind us that we don’t need to be somewhere else right now in order to be happy. We don’t need to be doing something different. No, I am re-discovering the portable happiness and joy and that comes from the serenity of the day or night sky, visible from anywhere in this world, if we just step away and step out for a few to notice it, to revel in it, to take it in with all of our senses, stepping out of our shallow microcosms and into the deepness of the bigger story You have for your creation. I shall make this habit of enjoying beauty, of learning how to pray with the stars and learn a new way of worship that speaks nothing in word, but utters the intimacy of one thousand choirs filled with sacred song, of one thousand communion cups raised high, until all have received their cup and their portion. Your sky is holy and sacred and if Church ever feels far away, I will look to these skies of blue and skies of black and know of the gift of your presence, my joy, my delight, my saving grace, my God…

CC 2012 MO

“I can feel you like a notion that I hope will never leave ’cause when I look to the sky something tells me you’re here with me and you make everything alright. And when I feel like I’m lost something tells me you’re here with me and I can always find my way when you are here,” -Train

Where is your favorite place to go to find peace, rest, and renewal?

The ‘Stay Away, Come Close’ Paradox and How it Looks Something Like Letting Love In.

I was in the front seat of my friend’s car earlier today, wrapped up in one of those conversations where you don’t realize that you’ve been sitting there, in the dark, car in park, for an hour, together contemplating all of the idiosyncrasies of life. We mused about our relationships and the “come close, stay faraway” phenomenon that some people find themselves regrettably emulating at some point in their lives. Maybe you know that I’m talking about. That dynamic where you’re close with someone, and long to be even closer. So you let them in. And it’s beautiful. But there’s a part of you that’s scared, so scared, so you send “step back” signals.
I think there’s this component of our humanness that desperately craves closeness, intimacy, to be known, loved, and accepted, and for everything to be alright— even amazing, like waving your hands in the air, screaming, hair blown back by velocity on amusement park rides— that crashes into the part of ourselves that fights pain, fights changes, fights hurt and loss and namely, wants to protect ourselves from everything and anything scary, unknown, and potentially pain-inducing.
Have you ever witnessed that “come close, stay faraway” factor?

Bruce Springsteen ponders it in “Secret Garden.”

She’ll lead you down a path
There’ll be tenderness in the air
She’ll let you come just far enough
So you know she’s really there
She’ll look at you and smile
And her eyes will say
She’s got a secret garden
Where everything you want
Where everything you need
Will always stay
A million miles away.

Similarly, Goo Goo Dolls begs for the soul of another to open the door of their heart with love in “Let Love In:”
You’re the only one I ever believed in
The answer that could never be found
The moment you decided to let love in
Now I’m banging on the door of an angel
The end of fear is where we begin
The moment we decided to let love in.

U2 seemed to have similar sentiments in their 1993 hit “Stay (Faraway, So Close).” Bono created the song for the movie “Faraway, So Close,” sharing that “the film was about angels who want to be human and who want to be on Earth. But to do so they have to become mortal. That was a great image to play with – the impossibility of wanting something like this, and then the cost of having it.”1 I mirror that with the “stay close, don’t get too close” theme of love costing something: crossing into the unknown and in doing so, facing your own vulnerability. And that’s a scary thing.

In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

I think we’re all a little bit scared of letting one another in. Into all those little cracks and crevices of our soul that are properly seated in the classroom, hands clasped, praying not be called upon. Don’t get me wrong, boundaries have merit. We can’t let everything, or everyone, into our souls. Some influences aren’t the ones we need to grow. Some things in this world will defile and break down our souls. Like a peephole on a door, it’s healthy to choose your influences and who you will surround yourself with.
I just wonder about the times in which we pushed something or someone out when we should have brought them in.
I wonder how many times we missed out on love- any love- agape, romantic, friendship- because we were too scared of having our heart opened, exposed, fully letting in the light of another.
I wonder how many conversations we’ve accumulated in which we settled for safe by responding to “how are you?” with trite replies of “good” when every part of us knows we’re not good. So we quickly progress to stale topics, like the weather, all the while depriving our souls of deepness and wonder and intimacy.
I wonder how many of us will reach some ripe old age with questions about our families left unanswered because we were too afraid to ask about the skeletons in our closets or the dirty laundry or the elephants in the room or the mess that feels too knotty until, in our bravest moments, we gather the courage to unknot the tangles to realize that when we put the pieces back together again, it can be even more beautiful than when we first started.

So our souls fight to trust Him/Her and we take a chance here, go for a risk there, holding God’s hand, perhaps, I wonder, content with splashing around in the baby pool because even with swimmies, we’re too scared to try the big pool and so we’re splashing and getting our toes wet, all the while hearing the joyful, playful shouts of friends or strangers dunking each other in the big pool, diving and doing handstands and checking out the ocean… and while every thing in our soul shouts, “you’re big enough,” “you’re brave enough,” “go play,” “go try,” “there’s room out there for you too,” we resist it and lament in our kiddie pools, smiling when the jets pour in just a little more water for our ankles to become wet.

What are we so afraid of? Of getting hurt? Of getting let down? Sometimes, for me at least, yes. But what makes me think my feeble “stop sign” hand is what will protect me from the precarious position of human life and emotion? I’m beginning, more and more, to think that every time I hold out my hand to guard, to protect, to control the outcome or not get hurt or not experience pain or change, or actively contribute to my growth moving from the known into the unknown, I have to start to wonder if I’m doing more harm than good. Do we want to look back on life and realize that all of our guarded moments never actually protected us at all? Can we accept that living with your heart on your sleeve may get you hurt, but it’s the only way to truly live, to truly feel, to truly heal, to truly “be real” with another human being?

I know we’ve tasted the opposite, too. You know that soul-to-soul connection with that friend, with that lover, with that mentor? Where it’s you and them and the two of you realize there’s so much more going on here than we can fathom. And that by opening ourselves up to the truth, our questions, the things we’ve been wondering, we are greeted not in word or whisper but by a taste of the soul,  as if our hearts are whispering to each other, “See, isn’t this beautiful?”

I had one of those connections the other day with my dad. We were biking and I was talking to him about stuff from childhood, asking questions I never thought to ask, and learning things I never knew about our family. This is the beautiful connection that happens when we cross over and enter into each other’s stories, but not the finished part, rather the unexpurgated story that’s raw and real and human.

I don’t know what all this letting love in and being vulnerable stuff looks like, and I’m tempted to cast this whole thing off as being overly emotional as I once again stay up too late, writing this, pondering life and spirituality and the rings upon rings of circled skin that compose my fingerprint. But I think we’re onto something. Onto something with the whole letting-love-in-thing… starting with letting God’s love in and as that takes a hold of our heart over and over again, like the daily tide washing over the shore, we’ll discover the beauty and the holy ground that’s only possible when we, too, recognize that
the only way to see again
                            is to let love in.

Have you ever found yourself in the “Stay Away, Come Close” phenomenon? What was that experience like? How do these experiences intertwine spiritually, emotionally, in our relationships, in our friendships?


“Unwrapping my Lollipop:” Musings on the Best and Worst “Christian Sex” Advice I’ve Received

“Your body is a wrapped lollipop. When you have sex with a man, he unwraps your lollipop and sucks on it. It may feel great at the time, but, unfortunately, when he’s done with you, all you have left for your next partner is a poorly wrapped, saliva-fouled sucker.”

I cringed behind the wheel, appalled at the quoted words I heard coming from my audio copy of “Half the Sky” as authors Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristoff discussed this statement uttered by Darren Washington, an abstinence educator, at the Eighth Annual Abstinence Clearinghouse Conference.

The sad things is, it wasn’t too far off many Christian messages I’ve received about sex.
But let’s go back to the beginning.
Growing up, we didn’t talk about sex in my family. Truth is, I kinda wish my parents did. Not in a lecturing way or in an embarrassing way incorporating stick figure drawings, but honest talk about human sexuality. When you give youth freedom and a framework for values that don’t demand or shame, youth, in my observations, are generally receptive to what you have to say. ((Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this, sorry. We can talk about this over Christmas dinner. Should make for lively conversation while we’re passing around the ham.)) According to the 2010 National Campaign report, eight in ten teens (80%) say that it would be much easier for teens to delay sexual activity and avoid teen pregnancy if they were able to have more open, honest conversations about these topics with their parents. Similarly, six in ten teens (62%) wish they were able to talk more openly about relationships with their parents.1

Moving away from the home realm and into public education, I remember first being presented with the birds and the bees in 6th grade health class. I didn’t quite understand it, but “The Miracle of Life” video in 9th grade biology class certainly helped clear up a few things. Then came my freshman year of college in which my Sexuality in a Diverse Society professor had the class write a list of as many words as we could think of for “penis” and “vagina.” One person from each group had to read their group’s list aloud to the class. There were lots of giggles and guffaws, plus a few phrases I never thought to associate with human genitalia, leaving me utterly baffled and slightly disturbed.
Sex ed’s debut can be traced back to the 1970s, when their was growing public concern about STDs, teen pregnancy, and increased access to birth control.2 Currently, 22 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education. 17 states and the District of Columbia require that information on contraception be provided. 37 states require that information on abstinence be provided, 26 of which require that abstinence be stressed, while 11 require that it be covered.Generally speaking, you can’t be a teen in America and not hear something about sex during the course of your education, but the content of what you hear may vary greatly depending on your state, locality, whether the school was public or private, or whether it had a religious affiliation.

Moving away from public education into the media, it can go without saying that sex messages are rampant. “Whistle,” a song apt to play on any pop station since it’s release in summer 2012, teaches youth how to perform a blowjob in one catchy tune. But let’s not be naïve here, sex has always been sung about, whether subtly or directly. Baby boomers, remember Peggy Lee’s 1958 hit “Fever” and Righteous Brothers’ “Ebb Tide” circa 1965? Oh, and let’s not forget about Marvin Gaye’s 1973 smash hit… well, you probably already know the title.4

Moving away from media and into religion, this is where I heard both the most appalling as well as the most beautiful messages about sex, some of which are quoted below. Too often, I fear the Church is silent and bashful about sex; one reason, I purport, that youth look to society and friends for answers to questions that they fear are not allowed to be talked about in religious settings, perhaps feeling embarrassed for even pondering such thoughts or questions.

Conversely, when the Church has spoken out about sex, many messages I heard have either been shaming or repressive. Specifically, shaming messages have concentrated upon condemnation of pre-marital sex, and in the process, have hurt and shamed young men and women who have regrets in this arena. Not a picture of the grace and forgiveness I believe Jesus wishes we could experience, and certainly not helping any of us to forgive one of the hardest people to forgive when it comes to something so personal: ourselves. Repressive teachings in the Evangelical culture are those often associated with women and sex. This includes messages ranging from giving your husband pleasure whenever he wants it because this is what he is entitled to as “your leader;” to “You’re a woman. You shouldn’t feel sexual until you’re married. Be pure and chaste.”

I think there’s a place away from both the over-sensualized music videos of Rihanna girating on youtube, and away from bashful “don’t have sex” conversations that discusses sex in a real, authentic way, unabashed in rich, non-shaming, gracious, and open discussion. Bona fide conversations, not lectures, that point to something to bigger than ourselves… our Creator. Herein describes some of those aforementioned messages and a more holistic alternative:

Worst Messages Received About “Christian Sex”:
“In the past, teenagers heard lessons or sermons with theologically suspect object lessons–involving simulated plane crashes, cupcakes with mangled frosting, boards with nail holes in them, roses with missing petals, and wads of chewed gum–meant to be analogies for sexual sin and its consequences.” -Linda Hoffman Kimball, Teaching Saintly Sex (great article on not-so-great teachings)

Give your husband sex whenever he wants it, even if it hurts you; menopause is no excuse. -Debi Pearl, Created to be his Helpmeet (see chapter 16)

Have long hair. -Athol Kay, Girl Game: Have Long Hair

It is your role to lead your wife into a fuller understanding of what Scripture teaches about your sexual relationship. -CJ Mahaney, Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Husband Needs to Know with a Word to Wives from Carolyn Mahaney

Homosexuality provides a particularly obvious example. Lesbianism typically presents a different picture from male homosexuality. Many lesbians were once actively, unambivalently heterosexual, whether promiscuous or faithfully married. They might have conceived, borne, and raised children without much questioning of their sexual identity. But over time the men in their lives proved disappointing, violent, drunken, uncomprehending, or unfaithful. Perhaps during the unhappiness of a slow marital disintegration, or while picking up the wreckage after a divorce, other women proved to be far more understanding and sympathetic friends. Emotional intimacy and communication opened a new door. Sexual repatterning as a lesbian came later. The life-reshaping “lusts of the flesh” were not initially sexual. Instead, cravings to be treated tenderly and sympathetically—to be known, understood, loved, and accepted—played first violin, and sex per se played viola. -David Powlison, Making All Things New: Restoring Pure Joy to the Sexually Broken (I would love to see the research that supports Powlison’s claim that “many lesbians were once heterosexuals unambivantly heterosexual but the men in their lives let them down”).

We women were designed by God to be helpers and to make men successful- Carolyn McCully, Sex and the Single Woman

We need to discover what makes us attractive to our husbands. What clothing, hairstyle, or makeup do they find most appealing? As always, the standard of “modesty and self-control” set forth in 1 Timothy 2:8-10 applies. And we should strive to care for our appearance—not only when we go out, but also at home where only our husbands see us. As my childhood pastor used to say, “If the barn needs painting, paint it!” Well, what color should that barn be painted? The answer is, whatever is attractive to our husbands! -Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Wife Needs to Know, Carolyn Mahaney (Maybe we can explore how to honor our husband’s/wife’s/girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s preferences regarding attraction, but what I wish I heard in each of these relationship talks is that first we need to discover what makes ourselves feel comfortable in our own skin. We need to have our sense of self before delving into the wishes, preferences, and requests of what others would like from us. That quality- being a person who possesses their own sense of self and identity- is damn sexy.)

When we choose to obey God and give our bodies to our husbands—even if we don’t feel like it—God will reward us with pleasure. -Carolyn Mahaney, Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God, pg. 118 ((I do not think women should be encouraged to “martyr” themselves with their vaginas for the sake of a man’s sexual promptings. I’m not saying to ignore your partner’s desires completely, as I think that would be selfish, but if women are to pleasure their husbands when they don’t feel like it, why aren’t men being told that they should pleasure their wives even when they have E.D. or aren’t “in the mood? (Yes, I believe that there are actually times when a man may not wish to have sex at that particular moment.))

Let her breasts satisfy thee at all times, and be thou ravished always with her love.-Proverbs 5:19 (I don’t think it’s a woman’s responsibility to let her boobs satisfy a man at all times–i.e. 24/7. For one, if you’re around each other 24/7/365, you’ll probably wish for some space away, even for an hour, at some point- which naturally includes boobs. Additionally, I think this puts so much value and emphasis on a woman’s breasts- is that fair? What if she has a mastectomy? Similarly, some men who have ED experience feelings of worthlessness, shame, and depression.When we put so much emphasis on particular parts of the body, we forget about the rest: the WHOLE person that you committed to loving “in sickness and in health,” which I think also includes “in arousal and non-arousal.”)

-You’re not married: Sex is bad. Sex is bad. Sex is bad. Sex is bad. Oh you’re married? Sex is good. Sex is good. Sex is good. (Is it wise to make grand-sweeping claims that sex is a “bad thing” that suddenly becomes “good? Can we better articulate this by proposing that there is a life stage in which sex can be maturely enjoyed physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and other life stages in which this would be premature?)

-Sex is solely for procreation. (This is where I disagree with the socially conservative sects of the Catholic Church. Sorry, but I think ya’ll are missing out.)

-The pages I ripped out of “Undressed” by Jason Illian (Apparently, I disagreed with them so strongly that I threw them away- specifically pages 105-108).

“Let me teach you something. Those who tell you that sex is intimate and sacred… they’re right. But please also know that you are God’s child, not an item to be assigned a value. Your sexuality can never make you worthless. It is your responsibility to respect and love the part of yourself that creates pleasure and life. Get to know yourself well enough to decide what’s right for your body. Always honor your boom-shaka, va-va-va-voom, and chicka-chicka-wow-wow, because this world is jam-packed with people who will try to tell you what those things are for. And if you lose your own voice amid the warnings, whining, and admonishments, you’ll lose the most important matter at hand: Your Creator gave you sexuality because He loves you. It’s a blessing. And it only belongs to you.” -Abigail Wurdeman, Sexual Responsibility

“Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires” -Song of Songs 2:7 (“Can’t Hurry Love” pops in my head every time I come across this verse.)

In response to Rob Bell’s five year old son asking his wife, Kristen, what “sexy” means: “Sexy is when it feels good to be in your own skin. Your own body feels right, it feels comfortable. Sexy is when you love being you.” -Rob Bell, Sex God, p. 46

“You are not alone. Whatever you struggle with, whatever you have questions about, you are not alone. It doesn’t matter how dark it is or how much shame or weakness or regret it involves, you are not alone.” -Rob Bell, Sex God, pg. 62

-The entire “Flame” video by Rob Bell

“Everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial.” -1 Corinthians 6:12 (Something to the tune of we have freedom here to be whoever, do whatever, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Also remember that every choice we make- not just our sexual decisions- has a consequence- either positive, negative, or a mix of both).

“Her desire for children doesn’t come from between her legs. It comes from her heart. She believes it’s possible God wanted to give His children a gift so grand, that He created the most intense bodily sensation.” -Susan Diamond, God’s Gift So Grand

If none of those messages hit home, may I offer another alternative? Gracious, comprehensive, and holistic dialogue to counter an all-too-often rote conversation about just waiting to have sex until marriage. This one’s particularly for all the girls out there— as many messages (such as the “lollipop” quote) are disproportionately directed at girls’ “purity:”

To all the high school (and middle school) girls out there— if you have a friend who is being pressured into having sex, do her a favor and help her listen to and discover that voice that’s inside of her, her very own, somewhere, potentially pleading to be heard among the sea of other voices trying to drown or dissuade her. In a joint-survey, Seventeen Magazine and The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy discovered that one in five teenage girls (22%) reported having sex because they were pressured to (not because they wanted to).6 Help a sister out and ask her to look deep inside and see what she really feels.

-If anyone tries to shame you or invoke fear about a sexual decision you have made in the past, remember that you are more than your past regrets and realize that the person sharing this is more concerned with displaying pompous power than being a source of grace and guidance in your life.

-Ask yourself some good questions. What does sex mean to you? What do you think is the purpose of sex? How do you believe you can honor yourself, your relationship(s), and God with your choices?

-Don’t be afraid to speak up when you hear something that seems incongruent with what your heart, soul, and faith tell you— Even if it is someone from the Church.

-Challenge yourself to define your view of love. This, to me, is the most beautiful thing I’ve read about love and wish to include it as a reading at my wedding one day (way down the road):

“I will love you like God, because of God, mighted by the power of God. I will stop expecting your love, demanding your love, trading for your love, gaming for your love. I will simply love. I am giving myself to you, and tomorrow I will do it again. I suppose the clock itself will wear thin its time before I am ended at this altar of dying and dying again. God risked Himself on me. I will risk myself on you. And together, we will learn to love, and perhaps then, and only then, understand this gravity that drew Him, unto us.”
-Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

And one final question to ponder… where does your affirmation come from? If you can’t find value, worth, and acceptance from within-the person made and loved by God,- it’s going to be even harder to find it when placed into the hands of someone else.

Feel free to comment below. Please note that any derogatory comments will be deleted.

What messages have you heard about sex? What resonated with you as wise and helpful and what was not?
Looking back, have your views about sex changed over the years?
Why do you think conversations or messages about sex are often “hush hush” or overtly hyper-sexualized? (I realize that sex is a personal and intimate thing to discuss, but on the whole, I believe it is being talked about anyway—- and often in extremes.)


Look at the Birds.

I went to bed Sunday night knowing I made a memory I won’t forget for a long time.

It was an unseasonably warm November day- the kind of day that begs you to stop everything and make enjoying the moments before you your most important priority. To stop tinkering around with to-do lists and errands, leaving this beauty unnoticed; but rather, to let your eyes become sponges, absorbing beauty, light and Sabbath.

So I drove up Route 1 to meet a dear friend at a Northern Baltimore State Park to study for the GREs in the late autumn fields. I parked my car as the afternoon sun began to cascade into its hues of dusk; its finest colors coming alive. I walked around the parking lot, noticing families in matching outfits huddled together on the hilly field, trying to get the dog and the baby and each of the kids to smile at precisely the same moment, posing for holiday picture greeting cards that will adorn fireplaces in cozy homes all winter long.

Shortly after, my friend pulled into the parking lot. She’s a real gem, an old soul, one of those people with such a sincere, special spirit who seemed to have entered my life right when I needed a friend like that the most. Time spent with these kinds of people is treasured. You know before you even arrive that their soul will touch yours and that no matter where life takes you, this person painted a stroke of love over a piece of your heart to help you enjoy the journey.

One of her favorite places, she ushered me by the park’s wooded trails off to the left, then up a winding uphill path hugged by tall trees in the distance as grasses blew gently in the evening zephyrs. We walked, leisurely, musing on life and love and choices. We soon found our way beside some hay bales, inviting us up for a climb like a small child to a grandmother’s lap. I hopped on top of one, struck with halcyon breaths of serenity replacing the tension I bury in my eyebrows and chest with something heavenly, refreshing, whisking away the toxins of this world with the infusion of something higher, more lovely.

My friend pointed upward, toward the resplendent pink and orange sky. A band of birds migrating southbound flip-flapped their wings in unison. We stopped talking. I stopped thinking. Stopped worrying. Completely transfixed by these birds, I imagined how hard they must be working. Are they tired yet? Where will they stop to sleep tonight? How do they even know when to call it a night? Do they sing when they got bored, like the Seven Dwarfs, whistling while they worked (or flew)? Does one of them start humming as they play “name that tune” until a whole choir of them compose an acapella rendition of “Rockin’ Robin?” When do they stop for water breaks? With this many of them, where do they all go when it rains? I sat there below, watching these birds in awe of the journey they make each waning fall. No Googlemaps. No GPS. Just them, together, collectively united for their annual pilgrimage to some place warm. I wondered where they’d drop off. “So, Bob,” I imagine one saying to the other, “will it be Tampa this year, or Pensacola?” Will they gather again for New Year’s Eve in Northern Florida, or perhaps Miami, where ‘the heat is on, all night on the beach ’til the break of dawn?’ I don’t know. It’s amazing to watch something go so far, do something so significant without a stroke of human aid or handling. They were created to be able to fly miles and miles, above homes and seaports and land.

What else can I do but marvel? I’m at peace with the world, with my uncertainties about where I’m going and how I’ll get there. I’m still. I can’t stop watching. They keep coming, like scenes stitched together in a movie, entering from the right of the screen to the left side, over and over again, thousands of them, not one left behind, not one left to fly alone. Perhaps this is why Jesus encourages us to “look at the birds” (Matthew 6:26). Because whatever it is we’re trying to fix or change or figure out will all be just fine. That you’ll actually get more studying done if you stop once in a while and gain perspective on how big this world is and how much goes on, day in day out, without the touch of a human hand. And so maybe Saturday, I’ll go back to this field and we can marvel all over again at those birds. Just hope they won’t poop on my textbooks.

Photo: MO 2012

20 Proverbial Gems Guiding My Twenties ((That Look a lot like Freedom and Open Spaces))

20. On learning to do crazy things with life:
       Love Life. Be Brave. Play Hard. (Found this etched on a necklace in Kohl’s once)

19. On learning to give myself permission to experience freedom:
                    There is life here in the wide open spaces.
          When you stop waiting for permission from anyone but God,
       You’d be surprised how many of us there are  here, waiting for you.”
     -Sarah Bessey, In Which There Are More of Us Than You Might Think

18. On questioning what I’ve been taught:
“Life in the tank made me think of how we are raised at home and in school. It made me think of being told that certain jobs are not acceptable and that certain jobs are out of reach, of being schooled to live a certain way, of being trained to think that only practical things are possible, of being warned over and over that life outside the tank of our values is risky and dangerous…
It makes me wonder now, in middle age, if being spontaneous and kind and curious are all parts of our natural ability to swim.
Each time I hesitate to do the unplanned or unexpected, or hesitate to reach and help another, or hesitate to inquire into something I know nothing about; each time I ignore the impulse to run in the rain or call you up just to say I love you—I wonder, am I turning on myself, swimming safely in the middle of the tub? -Mark Nepo, Life in the Tank
(I was at a yoga class in January and our yoga instructor read this to us at the end of class while in corpse pose. I started crying warm tears, right there, on my yoga mat in the middle of a gym in Baltimore City and looked up at the ceiling. I realized that I was currently living my life in a fish tank. I was rarely present each day, but in that moment, I was. And the present hurt and required some healing and changes to make. I was the only one keeping myself there, stuck. I had long dreamed of a life “outside the tank” but what I really wanted, I was too scared to seek, and knew that others wouldn’t approve of me and would disagree with my choices. That scared me. But tasting those tears, I knew, from a stillness deep inside that I was going to commit to doing those very things because indecision, people pleasing, and fear have robbed my life for far too long. I made a commitment to reclaim life-not existence or going through the motions- and get brave, one shaky new beginning at a time.)

17. On learning how to use my voice instead of quake in fear:
Stop holding your breath, hiding your gifts, ducking your head,
       dulling your roar, distracting your soul, stilling your hands, quieting your voice,
dulling your mind, satiating your hunger with the lesser things of this world.
       Stand up, shake the dust from your feet if you need to,
and look outside, it’s beautiful, isn’t it?
        There are a lot of us here, waiting for you, in the open air.”
        -Sarah Bessey, In Which You Are Loved and You Are Free

16. On trying something different:
“Someday, sometime, you will be sitting somewhere. A berm overlooking a pond in Vermont. The lip of the Grand Canyon at sunset. A seat on the subway. And something bad will have happened: You will have lost someone you loved, or failed at something at which you badly wanted to succeed. And sitting there, you will fall into the center of yourself. You will look for some core to sustain you. And if you have been perfect all your life and have managed to meet all the expectations of your family, your friends, your community, your society, chances are excellent that there will be a black hole where that core ought to be. I don’t want anyone I know to take that terrible chance. And the only way to avoid it is to listen to that small voice inside you
that tells you to make mischief, to have fun, to be contrarian,
to go another way…”
 -Anna Quindlen

15.  On Christian Unity:
“We finally meet one another not in our agreements or disagreements,
but at the foot of the cross,
where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ.” -Bishop Mark Hanson

14. On how to live with my heart on my sleeve in reckless abandon:
To love at all is to be vulnerable.
Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken.
 If you want to make sure of keeping it intact,
you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.
Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements;
lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.
But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken;
it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” -C.S. Lewis

13. On learning to love:
“I will love you like God, because of God, mighted by the power of God.
I will stop expecting your love, demanding you love, trading for your love, gaming for your love. I will simply love.

I am giving myself to you, and tomorrow I will do it again. I suppose the clock itself will wear thin its time before I am ended at this altar of dying and dying again.
God risked Himself on me. I will risk myself on you.
And together, we will learn to love, and perhaps then, and only then, understand this gravity that drew Him, unto us.”
-Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

12. On travel and exploration:
“And so my prayer is that your story will have involved some leaving and some coming home, some summer and some winter, some roses blooming out like children in a play. My hope is your story will be about changing, about getting something beautiful born inside of you about learning to love a woman or a man, about learning to love a child, about moving yourself around water, around mountains, around friends, about learning to love others more than we love ourselves, about learning oneness as a way of understanding God. We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting and the climax and the resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn’t it?
It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out.
I want to repeat one word for you:
Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn’t it? So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be.
And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don’t worry. Everything will still be here when you get back.
It is you who will have changed.
” -Donald Miller, “Through Painted Deserts”

11. On remembering that my faith journey is actually supposed to enjoyable:
“I was not experiencing the joy or contentment Scripture promises us in Christ.
I was unhappy, frustrated, overworked, and harried.
God had brought me into the Christian life with the offer,
My yoke is easy and my burden is light‘ (Matt. 11:30),
an invitation to a free and abundant life.
 -Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

10. On accepting change:
“Change is not a function of life’s cruelty, but instead, a function of God’s graciousness.
If you dig in and fight the changes, they will smash you to bits. They’ll hold you under, drag you across the rough sand, scare, and confuse you. But if you can find it within yourself, just for a moment, in the wildest of seasons, to trust in the goodness of God, who made it all, who holds it altogether, you will find yourself drawn along to an entirely new place and there is truly nothing sweeter. Unclean your fists. Unlock your knees and also the door to your heart. Take a deep breath and begin to let God do his work in you.” -Shauna Niequest, Learning How to Swim

9. On letting go of people pleasing:
“A good woman knows she cannot be all things to all people, and she may,
in fact, displease those who think she should just be nice.

She is not strident or petty or demanding,
but she does live according to conviction.
She knows the Jesus she follows was a revolutionary
who never tried to keep everyone happy,”
-Lynne Hybels, “Nice Girls Don’t Change the World”

8. On freedom from narrow Biblical teachings:
“They believe that they believe the right things and so they’re ‘saved,’ but it hasn’t delivered the full life that it was supposed to, and so they’re bitter. Deep down, they believe God has let them down. Which is often something they can’t share with those around them, because they are the leaders who are supposed to have it all together. And so they quietly suffer, thinking this is the good news. It is the gospel of the goats, and it is lethal.
God is not a slave driver. The good news is better than that.”
-Rob Bell, Love Wins

7. On letting go and holding on:
“True wisdom is knowing when to hold on and when to let go.” (I’m sure someone more well-known has said this, but it’s something that keeps mulling over in my mind. Life is a series of holding on and letting go. And sometimes we hold on for longer than is safe, than is wise. And sometimes we let go too soon, when all we really needed to do was to hang on a little tighter and fight a little harder.)

6. On learning that love and freedom cannot exist without each other:
Love gives freedom. (A theme of “Love Wins”: That’s how love works. It can’t be forced, manipulated, or coerced. It always leaves room for the other to decide. God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins.)

5.On creating a more equitable and just Christianity for both genders:
“It’s time for Christians to do what they say they believe when it comes to giving voice to those who have been silenced, and to empower the marginalized, even if that subjugated group makes up more than half of the world’s population. ” -Christian Piatt, On Rachel Held Evans and Why ‘Vagina Gate’ Matters

4. On taking risks and getting out of your comfort zone:
“Make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt... The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy.
But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning
and its incredible beauty.” ― Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

3. On making new friends (particularly ones who encourage freedom):
        “You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you.
                 You have to go to them sometimes.” -Winnie the Pooh

2. On being able to stop holding my breath in conversations about the Bible:
        “The Bible is meant to be a conversation starter, not a conversation ender,”
                              -Rachel Held Evans, “Asking Better Questions”

1. On recognizing that this is my year to experience full freedom and doing so
may cause others to disapprove of me
      Piss a few people off and sing freedom to the rest.” –Sarah Bessey, “Fearless”

In Which Love Looks Like Equality and Releasing Helium Balloons

MO 2012

MO 2012

November 6, 2012: All day an uncontrollable energy has pent up inside of me, wondering if tonight I would get to see, alongside a community of others, if Maryland would be the first state to show the world with our voice and our vote that we believe in equality for all human beings, not just some. I couldn’t shake the amazing piece of history that was being shaped today, right before our very eyes.

And I was thrilled to be able to spend it in community. I headed over to Baltimore SoundStage earlier this evening to attend Marylanders for Marriage Equality’s Election Night Watch Party. Although I began the night alone, I ended it in full embrace. I meandered in and made my way toward the bar, pretending to be interested in the free drinks. I struck up a conversation with a woman next to me who had “volunteer” written on her name tag. I asked her how she got involved with the campaign and she shared a bit about having family members who are gay. Then she asked about my story. Tears I didn’t know were inside of me leapt from my eyes, as if confident that they were safe here, welcomed here, understood here. I shared the impact of people I’ve gotten to know from the LGBTQ community, but namely that someone who’s touched my life had shared that they almost committed suicide as a result of the retaliation they suffered from being mocked for their sexuality. “How many more deaths or how much more bullying does it take in order for us to decide that we must pay attention to this and that this matters?” I asked my new-found friend.

I browsed the room. It was, dare I say, holy ground. Love was everywhere. Men and women who are gay, women and men who are straight, families with children came together and hugged and smiled and said hello to one another, even to the girl like me who felt like a pariah, out of place with no one to celebrate with. Instead of feeling socially inept, I was welcomed in with open arms by so many people. “Melissa,” one of them said. “We just want to collect you.” I laughed, smile spreading from one corner to another. “What do you mean?” “Come to our gatherings, come to our parties, come hang out us.” Come. What an invitation. What a word of inclusion. What a picture of love. I smiled. “You all are the people I’ve been waiting to meet!” I shared, sensing that my friendships were expanding with more diversity, acceptance and freedom.

The night continued to shine, all because of people who decided to come together. I was humbled to hear the stories of people and their journeys. A woman who identified as bisexual shared her experience of finding a Catholic faith community that fully supports her journey and the LGBT community at large. People who worked tirelessly for months of campaigning because this is what it took in order for two consenting men or women to be able to marry in our state. People who had to FIGHT just to begin their marriage. I imagine that love must mean an awful lot, because it cost something. I’m not sure if all straight people have experienced such an ardent love that was willing to face rejection of friends, family, society to walk down an isle; that was willing to stand in lines to rally in order to earn their marriage license; that was willing to sign petitions, pledge support, and advocate to government to earn their wedding rings; that had to wait for the majority of opinions of the entire state of Maryland to approve of their marriage just to be able to say a legally-recognized “I do.”  This kind of love costs something; but for the ones willing to pay the cost and fight the good fight, I’m sure they have tasted of a love that cannot be separated or severed after working so hard just to sign a piece of paper recognizing their union.

We continued to watch the election coverage vigilantly. The gap for question 6 was narrowing. It was always slighty ahead until a moment of a 50 50 split- 50% for, 50% against. I cringed. So did my new-found friends.

But a couple hours later, as Governor O’Malley, who signed marriage equality into law in Maryland on March 1, 2012, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake, and Union members of SEIU 1199, and staff from Marylanders for Marriage Equality got up on stage, a twinkle in my heart jittered in anticipation, as we heard for the first time: “Maryland is the first state in this country to vote in equality to all families!” Oh yes, we hooped and hollered and hugged and high-fived and kissed loved ones and embraced one another as we officially became one of three states in the nation to vote-in marriage equality that night, with Minnesota standing closely beside us as they voted down Amendment One, which would have altered the state’s constitution to define marriage solely been one woman and one man.

Silver, gold, and black balloons fell from the ceiling like New Year’s Eve confetti- a dawn of something new, unprecedented, and long-anticipated. The couple next to me hugging almost brought me to tears. A woman behind me who shared some of her story with me started crying. I started crying. And we hugged each other. Stephanie Rawlings Blake and Gov. O’Malley spoke with such passion as they expressed the progress we’ve made since 1996, when a house delegate official tried to push marriage equality through, but needed state police protection for a week due to receiving death threats. Yes what progress we’ve made. What progress we have left to make. But if for tonight, in that moment, it was worth it all to just stop right there and celebrate as Kool and the Gang took over the speaker system, bringing us all into dancing and echos of, “woo hoo!” [it’s a celebration.]

There is something beautiful when we preach and practice inclusion. No one gets left out. Everyone finds that there’s room at the table.

Yes, we were simply moving forward with the loving and the accepting. All I could think about was that this must be a fragment of what Heaven is like: where there is nothing you can do but shout, cheer, whistle, scream from the top of your lungs in enthusiasm because a group of people have been brought from exclusion to inclusion. From outsiders to insiders, together, inside a big circle of love. From the edges and the fringe to the spot out there in life that’s warm and free and insists, “Come on in! You belong! There is more than enough room for everyone!” And any movement to block that room and elbow someone out of the circle is a movement backwards, against love.

As Stephanie Rawlings Blake declared, “This is the civil rights issue of our time.” I fully believe that.

And I fully believe that in 50 years from now, I will never, ever forget this night. The untainted hope. The sense of victory in the fight. The sense of little old me finally having courage to voice my opinions, convictions and experiences, despite spending years feeling restrained by the noose around my neck that was silently choking my voice so that I couldn’t speak out without hearing “I’m wrong.”

I don’t care anymore about being “right” or “wrong” in others’ eyes. I think there’s a few who think I’ve jumped off the deep end. Truth is I have. See, I cliffjump occasionally and there’s this feeling you get as your feet leave rock and enter air and then water, a feeling of freedom. Of reckless abandon to trading in all the “approved-of” responses of what we’re ‘supposed’ to say for an enthusiastic “Amen!” to constant exploration and “yes!” to life meeting mess at the exact moment it collides with it’s counterpart, joy. Of “yes” to a life that is constantly being remade, evolved, as we grow stronger and wilder everyday into the full and abundant life that is out there, if you want it.

History is being made.

We are writing it in ballot check marks,
forming it with held hands, tight embraces,
coloring it with flags of every hue, 
speaking it into existence with our very hearts.
And one day as we gather around the table, recalling this story, I will hold the dry pages, crinkled up at the edges from old tears, smile, and tell you the story of a night in Maryland when danced underneath a clear sky, shouting, “We are family…”

Turning Chain Linked Fences into Open Fields

“loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
   set the oppressed free and break every yoke” ::isaiah 58::


“Proclaiming freedom to captives” and “where the spirit of God is, there is freedom” are beautiful gems strung together like pearls throughout the Bible. Here’s 68 more of those. I’m sure there’s more.

But what do you do when this very same belief, Church, Christian faith, doctrine, enslaves you?

What do you do when you’re told “you’re wrong?” When you cringe at the idea of voicing up a question, sharing your experience, or your opinion for fear of retaliation? What do you do when you aren’t accepted by some? What do you do when everything in your heart tells you one thing but your head is full of voices that drown you in disapproval?

What do you do then, when you discover yourself straight in the arms of God, away from those restraints and fears and arguing, as s/he places you in his loving arms beside still waters? What do you do after a good heart to heart talking-on-down from your maker proceed by an introduction to children of the same God, playing in a big open field, beckoning, inviting, waving you on in, urging, “come on in, there’s room for you!?”  When someone invites you to cartwheels, to running barefoot through this wide open field, heel against moist Earth and cushy, verdant grass? When someone sits beside you, blowing on wishies, talking about the Ancient of Days, and love and grace as they share their kite with you, untie the noose around your neck, and replace that choker of dogma with wings to fly? I know, they feel a little funny at first, right? But go on. Those wings are yours. And you can choose which direction you fly. Trust me, babe, these wings are made for you, by your Creator. He longs for you to give yourself permission to let your feet off the ground and take flight.

Suddenly each of you will have flown to a place. A place with this big, big table, with some grape juice and wine, some bread and some wafers, and you realize that everyone you’ve ever known and everyone you’ll ever know is gathered here, around this same table, and none of us are bickering or arguing or correcting or any of those other forms of speaking you can do with your mouths… just the kind of speaking that comes from our hearts, as we hold one another’s hands in reverence of the great big God who brought us all together. What do you do then, gathered around this love feast of saints and sinners, the “wrongs” next to the “rights,” brushing hands and elbows until surrender takes over and those hands are squeezing each other’s? Oh the downtrodden and weary suddenly finding their soul lifted as an inexplicable joviality takes over, cobwebs of depression and never-being-good-enough flinging and zinging up into the atmosphere, slowly dissipating into the cosmos, exploding into stars, bringing light to darkness, and beauty, too.

I don’t know what you do.

But worship the Holy.

And forget the rest.

And decide that this little bird’s gonna leave the cage, open up, and sing, along with all the other birds on trees, calling out to one another from Evergreen to Evergreen, and telephone wire, and, if you’re not ready to fly just yet, we’d still love to hear you, even from your nest.

We’ll celebrate all that’s bright and beautiful and good.

And try to live everyday in that field and around that table.

And create fields where it seems like there is only cracked pavement baking in the mid-afternoon sun, litter bunched around the chained fence.

And we’ll stock our fridges with bread and wine, ready to whip them out whenever we’re stuck in a moment that’s far strayed away from that meadow, those still waters, these gripped hands that are desperately ready to be open palms, clasping your hand, as you hold someone else’s, like dominoes mellifluously falling into sea billows of grace.

I’m ready for this.

I’ll head out to the grocery store now and make my way to those fields.
And though late autumn has settled in, I’ll bring nothing but a lightweight jacket, knowing my heart will grow warm from all of the love and the hugs and hands holding other hands.