40 Days of Sustainability: An Environmental Justice Lenten Practice

Yesterday I wrote about my love for Lent, but not of murder on a cross. I believe these 40 days of spiritual reflection can greatly draw us closer to our Maker.

IMG_1458For the past three years, I’ve especially found meaning in this spiritual season by choosing to take IMG_1468up a practice. Last year, I found myself in tears and laughter commuting by bicycle, taking cold showers, and putting coins in the “Suck it up or Shut up” jar each time I caught myself complaining. I kept up with the cycling, take cooler (but not cold) showers, and occasionally throw some coins in the jar, hoping to build up my wellspring of “sucking it up.” The year before that, I got in the habit of taking Sabbath walks. And in 2011, I went vegetarian for forty days. While I didn’t sustain the practice that particular year, I began doing so in 2014, grateful for the connection I feel to the Earth and creatures living in it.

This year, I hope to experience this same kind of Heaven-on-Earth connection and invite you to join me or take up your own spiritual practice. I chose the theme of sustainable living because, as Jack Kerouac once said,

“The closer you get to real matter, rock, air, fire, and wood, boy, the more spiritual the world is.”

Copyright: MO 2013

Copyright: MO 2013
Boulder, CO

I’m breaking up the next 40 days into sets of ten. The first set are ten things to do just once over the next 40 days:

Do once:
1) Stop credit card offers by going to www.optoutprescreen.com
2) Buy a house plant. Indoor air is commonly 2-5 times more polluted than outside air. Plants help alleviate this by manufacturing fresh oxygen and removing carbon dioxide.*
3) Recycle old plastic cards that I no longer need (used gift cards, expired health insurance cards, etc.)
4) Call facilities when I see a leaky faucet at work. (Being that I work in an old building, it’s bound to happen at least once over the next 40 days).
5) Recycle my old pairs of eye glasses.
6) Compost components of feminine hygiene products when that “time of the month comes.” (Ok, TMI, I know, but it’s interesting to see how much waste can come from this bodily function). Don’t worry; it’s just going in my backyard.
7) Buy a reuseable mesh bag for produce, as to not need to use the produce plastic bags at the store.
8) Get off mailing and telemarketing lists by registering online at www.dmaconsumers.org/consumerassistance.html and www.donotcall.gov
9) Conduct a free step-by-step personalized Go Green plan.
10) Save foam I come across and take it to recycling at 2840 Sisson St.

The remainder are things to do once per day, three times through, for a total of 30 practices:

Do three times through:
1) Turn off modem at night. Only turn back on when I need it.
2). Go to the farmer’s market to get all my produce for the week instead of buying copious amounts of frozen fruits and veggies, which albeit last a while, causing me to take less trips to the grocery store, but are packaged in materials that will produce waste.
3) Pick up a piece of litter I encounter. BONUS for taking home any recyclable litter.
4) Call a company/non-profit that I don’t patronize and ask to be taken off their mailing list. ESPECIALLY GEICO! I will never fall for your snarky gecko, no matter how much mail you send!
5) Turn my office overhead light off on sunny afternoons. BONUS for going the whole day with natural light from my window.
6) Read a chapter of one of the many books I have on sustainable living, beginning with: The Zero Waste Lifestyle by Amy Korst and The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.
7) Take a navy shower to use water for 2 minutes or less while bathing.
8) Unplug anything in my room outlets before leaving the house in the morning.
9) Make a list of every chemical I come across in my food as well as hygiene and cleaning products for that particular day. Use this to drive home a conviction to choose natural cleaning and hygiene products as well as eat whole, fresh foods.
10) When I drive, make sure to drive 55 MPH on the highway instead of 65 to improve gas mileage between 10-15% and don’t speed on residential roads.

Looking forward to sharing this Lenten season with you.

Portland, OR Copyright: MO 2013

Portland, OR
Copyright: MO 2013

COMMENT BELOW:
Do you choose to observe Lent? Why/why not?
How will you observe this Lenten season if you decide to do so?

*Renee Loux, Easy Green Living, pg. 71

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Finding My Voice (and a little pep talk for the young girls out there)

keep the earth below my feetI had a professor in college who taught us about the “principle of leaving and entering,” i.e. one cannot move forward to the next [life stage, opportunity, job, city, destination, you fill in the blank] without making peace with what you’re leaving behind [be it college, your hometown, you get the idea]. At the time, I was dreaming about volunteering abroad after college, and ready to leave behind the America I knew. But what I didn’t realize at 22 is that the next stage of life would be just as much about putting things behind as it would be about pursuing new things.
A couple years after college, I burnt out.
I. simply. Couldn’t. keep. Up.
I lost myself and become bitter and cynical towards much of what I saw around me.
It wasn’t until 2011 that I realized just how many voices of the past were still lingering in my head, like flies in desperate need of a fly swatter. Voices of a spiritual community that said women were to be submissive, to “let their husbands lead.” Churches that said males were to be “pastor, provider, and protector” of his wife. Voices that said being a female pastor was a sin. Voices that made sure everybody knew what Christianity stood against, but left the world puzzled as to what we actually stood for. Voices that tried to rescue souls from hell, while ignoring the literal hells and Gehennas in the world going on right now. Sexual slavery. HIV/AIDS. Extreme poverty. Orphans without homes. Should I keep going?

In 2012, I began a journey towards freedom- freedom of religion, of dogma, of other people’s demands, of paved paradises- into a personal journey of development and enrichment. It’s looked like lots of open spaces, lots of gathering ’round the table over wine and sweets and savories, lots of finding and losing myself on bicycles. In this freedom, it’s as though God took me by the hand to lovingly, but firmly, (because the lesson was too important to miss out on) teach me that the thing about the past is just that. It’s in the past. It cannot hurt you again. It cannot continue to hurt you or frustrate you unless you let those voices zap your energy from the present moment.
For far too long, this woman’s listened to voices of the past that were squelching life, joy, zest for the moment. Alas, I looked myself in the mirror, a good ol’ stare yourself down, straight-up-talk, with a little bit o’ lovin’, and a lot of bit of firmness. I looked in the mirror, and noticed a cynic. Ugh. I hate that word. To me, it’s synonymous with a passive, complaining, do-nothing-to-change-anything kind of persona. So I asked God to silence those voices, the ones that were slowly, painfully, hauntingly taking away my joy, my peace, my resolve, and silence them one and for all, to free me from the people and places and noises that were no longer helping me become the person I want to become. I asked God to change me from cynicism into activism. Hurt into compassion. Bitter to better.

Somewhere in the process, I learned that I don’t need to fight anymore.. not against those voices, at least. A little whisper breathed into my heart,
You’ve been freed.
Let your load feel lighter, your burdens from heavy rocks to little pieces of shiny yellow sand.
Put the boxing gloves down.
Breathe.
You no longer have to defend, nor strive, nor try to make yourself understood.”

I thought it would feel easier. But then I realized that that’s not quite the way it works. The moment you stand for something, there is something you are implicitly standing against. The more and more you become the person you want to be, the voice that isn’t God’s will try to steer you off course. When you become YOU, not someone else’s version of you, you will disappoint people. But let me tell you something, you will become the person you were made to be. The more you will realize that the very people still standing beside you are there because they really do love you, they really do care, and they really do desire God’s peace and love and blessings upon you, not out of pity, nor spite, but out of a selfless kind of love that has found its way through the broken chains of redemption, giving voice and beauty to the very fact that you and I are both humans, composed of flesh and blood, and you and I have both been created in the womb.
I am freed now from what’s been zapping precious energy, and I can’t wait to learn, and love, and do, and grow, and experience with this new found freedom what God can finally place in my life in the thoughts and corners and crevices of my heart that were once holding onto hurt, bitterness, and a seemingly endless desire to be understood. I am free. I can only imagine what will go in those pockets of my heart now. I can love without mountains of expectations or fears of being hurt.
I can express bona fide joy—my smiles will no longer be a veil, hiding a voice that’s afraid of being mistaken as impolite, too afraid to speak up.
I can operate out of a place that points to the horizon and feel alive in my soul, and my bones, and my eyes; to live the story, full and raw, not dependent upon things be one way or another, but ever confident that this risk of living a better story is so much better than living in the choking weight of others’ voices that try to drown out the one true voice of who you want to become.

Go point to your horizon.

MOVE.
You don’t have time to respond to your critics.
You simply don’t have time.
Be you, the REAL you, ALL of you… that’s what the world needs.
Go seek.
Go ask.
Because what I hope that the girls of new generations come  to realize is this: that if ever there was a time for women to rise up and unite, the time is now. Oh yes, I’m thankful for my sisters who gave me the ability to vote. For women who went to college and challenged typical professions. But there is so much work we still must do.

Advocate.
Preach.
Lobby.
Dream. Louder.

May you listen to that one constant in your heart.
May you give voice and flow to all that longs to leap inside of you.
May your songs be peace, may your dance be love, and may your love bring freedom.

Because you have a voice that’s no one else’s.
We’re ready to hear it.

Toilet Paper on Our Shoes (and other thoughts on brokenness and healing)

I keep running into these moments, like a giant rock that I continually trip over. Maybe you know those moments. When it’s just you, alone somewhere with your thoughts. Perhaps it’s nighttime and you’re driving back home and it’s just you, the car, a bumpy road, and God. And the light that was once green has now transcended from yellow to red. So you’re sitting there stuck at the red light, going nowhere, and it’s just you, these thoughts, the feel of the steering wheel, and this ominous presence in your car with you, speaking through the windshield, or next to you, or through a crack in the window, oh, I don’t know. And you can’t run, you can’t hide anywhere; you’re exposed. Your running and distracting and avoiding and fearing are called out. You can’t resort back to your usual mechanisms of escape because it’s just you, stopped at the red light of sameness or change.
It’s as if you have no other choice but to face the music of your life soundtrack. And it’s a CD mix you’ve never heard before, so you don’t know which songs are the fast tracks, and which ones are melancholy. And as the next track begins playing, you realize the music is a sad and somber tune and all you wish is for the next song to be of joy and merriment because life is short, damn it, and shouldn’t we be living in carpe diem every moment? So you try and focus on the things that make you happy and get you thinking “it’s all good,” “it won’t be so bad,” and you minimize that it’s about to get hard. But then this snowball from the past comes flying in your face and all you can feel is its wet sting as it slides down your face and into your coat, slowly melting frozen snowflakes onto your chest like butter on toast. Trying to tell you that spring will never come until you deal with whatever it is you have to deal with. Oh sure. Things change. The next day you’ll wake up and you won’t be alone again and you can go back to distracting yourself with friends and people and tasks and to-do lists. Spring will come anyway, because seasons change and evolve. But the degree to which we fully enjoy each of these things, unfettered, comes from our willingness to throw away the toilet paper dragging from our shoes. Maybe you’re in such a hurry that you don’t even notice the paper trail from your soles, which the whole world can see bright as day. And maybe, just maybe, there might be one tender-hearted person who pulls you aside, alone, privately, safely, waking you up to the toilet paper on your shoe, without embarrassing you or belittling you either. Because we all have had toilet paper on our shoes before and we all have monsters in our closets that sometimes like to reappear. I mean, it’s not about the toilet paper. It’s those conversation that say, “Hey, I’ve noticed something about you.” And someone asks you if you’re really happy and you just let out a confused cry. And that’s ok. That’s enough for that moment.

Inside each of us lies an innate longing for everything to be ok. And anything we can latch onto to show us that things are going to look up, get better, be ok… we cling to, perhaps for comfort, perhaps as futile attempts to block out change. To hold on when we should really let go. Sometimes I just want more than a verse that states, “but I’ve given you a future and hope.” I need more than that. I need to see, oh how I want to see. Oh how I want more assurance. Because everything inside of me screams, begs, demands for everything to be ok. And the longer I can’t see how it’s all going to be ok if I make this decision, or if that happpens, or if this occurs, the more I pine for assurance, signs, and control. Because everything seems so out of my control sometimes and quite frankly God,  sometimes it seems like you’re up there doing nothing.

And so some days, we find ourselves in Churches or other places of worship. I wonder sometimes, for every service I went to at that megachurch back in college, or at that Bible study event filled with a bunch of people smiling, talking about praying, and Evangelizing, and all that joy-in-the-Lord-is-our-strength stuff… was just a show. A bunch of BS. A bunch of people, but certainly not all, who were too afraid to speak of the monsters in their closets, the toilet paper on their shoes. A bunch of people who walk around “happy,” but deep down feel far from the abundant life to which we’re invited. A secretly empty population walking around just hoping to emulate a veneer of “the good Christian.” No. That would be a tragedy. My, my I don’t think we were ever created for the pretending and the “everything’s fine,” and the pity-filled, “Oh I’ll pray for you-s.” We were never meant to, perhaps, smile at every single worship service. What we were made for is community, authentic community. We were invited in, promised with, the opportunity to be a part of a community that says we’ll share our bread and our cup and your tears and my tears and together, we’ll taste something so rich and beautiful, we won’t understand why we ever used to settle for less– the excessive smiling and covering up of pain and doubt.

I know I can be a cynic, but I do know that not everyone of these circles are pretentious. And maybe all those people I saw were joyful and happy in the Lord. Maybe every single one of them was. Maybe.

I just wish I had more influences in my life then like I do now where we sit down at lunch and cry in front of each other. And talk about what depression meds we’ve been on. Where we admit that we too aren’t so sure about the messages we’ve been reiterated about hell or gender or any of those things that Jesus doesn’t really talk a whole lot about. And then where we get really excited and creative about all the ways in which we can find new ways to love, which Jesus talks a whole lot about. More people who go to counseling too and we laugh about how crazy we can be. More one on one conversations in which the two of us admit that we actually have no idea where we’re going with life right now or where this journey is taking us. More people who knew that Jesus could be worshipped on top of a hay bale as you and a friend live out his words to “learn from the birds” as they migrate Southbound, in strength and beauty, letting out a few drops of poo too. Lucky them; they don’t have to worry about the toilet paper-shoe part.

I’m grateful for all of the people in my life who’ve shed away their false layers, remaining open and transparent, as if secretly giving me permission to drop by guard and do the same. I’m grateful for these moments of brokenness in which God stops me, has my complete attention because I’m now shivering and crying alone in my room. “Why do you cause such tears to fall from my eyes and why this pain in my heart!?” I implore You. Though hard to recognize in the moment, I know it’s possible to choose to perceive these tears as a gift. I know Your words to be true when you hold my hand and whisper back, “Because I love you. And there is something good to come from this mess, but you won’t be able to see it yet.”  Some pains are just a part of this world; events that God never intended, but will warmly hold your hand and cry with you, yes, that’s His/Her hands embracing you. There are those other pains that grow- the consequences of our own actions or in-actions- and God looks you in the eye, puts a hand on your shoulder and says, “My child. Is this the only way you’ll slow down? Is this the only way I can gain your full attention before you hurt yourself even more?” And S/He swoops and breathes hope into our breaking hearts that things won’t always be this way. I just can’t expect to see these moments disappear if I don’t start dealing with the broken pieces I’ve tried to hide under my bed, or under my seat, or in my private thought life that no one but God can access. It’s as if S/he enters in, and takes you by the hand, and says, “Well go on now!” Cry. Mourn. Confess. Forgive. Heal. But refuse to sucumb to the notion that you’ll never get through this,” whatever the “this” happens to be at that moment.

Brokenness is a powerful tool for change. Even though as a kid in middle school youth group, I would sing, “Brokenness, brokenness is what I long for,” I would never ask for it to happen to me, willingly. But every time it does, I am always amazed at how God uses it to reveal something new about who S/He is, who I am, and where I still harbor my insecurities. God uses it to show us we’re stronger than we think we are if we would just face whatever it is that won’t stop pestering and festering.

And so tonight my candlelight is still burning. And I’m still feeling a bit of that brokenness and confusion about where and when this mess will intersect with beauty, but I do know this: I am not as alone as I initially felt I was. We have a God that will keep us from the lie we’re alone in those times of brokenness and healing. There is a God who can create something good out of something so hard, or ugly, or untimely, or even as trivial and embarrassing as toilet paper on our shoes.

IMG_1820

The shallow cracks within my soul.

There’s a path I sometimes walk
That doesn’t create wonder and gratitude nor beauty or intimacy
But that walks in the “in-between.”

That’s too afraid of change or the possibility of things turning out worse
So I don’t take full steps to make it better.

The part of me that trades in originality and audacity and brightness
For dullness and sameness.
And makes me feel like a let down
To the 18 year old girl inside of me
Who once woke up with an airbag in her face
Car slammed in a telephone pole
Calling 911
Vowing to never ever take the preciousness of life for granted ever again.

Who pushes off booking a Southbound flight
To roll down hills with my cousin
Who feels like a little sister
All because I’m scared of what will happen
If I don’t make the next dollar
And have to live off savings for a while.

There’s a part of me that doesn’t say the words I want to say
Because I’m scared to be different
And so I choke behind the voices that tell me to be quiet
Just to “fit in.”

There’s a part of me that wants to run the opposite direction of anything religious
And get pissed off at God
Or rebel against every Christian teaching
To spite the dogma of heavy nooses I’ve experienced in Evangelicism.

And sometimes,
I’m glad I do this.

Because in the defiance
I find space to stop hearing the words that hurts me.
And get to ask every unadulterated question I’ve ever wanted to ask.

But most of the time, I know I go home
To my room
And my candlelight
And it’s just me
And God
And I get scared of death
Or need hope
Utterly.
Within my soul
Every part of me in tune with my need for God
And I’m ashamed that I would ever turn my back on him/her
When the last thing God would do
Is turn his/her back on me.

So the words of the most subversive person I know
Whispers in my ear,
“Come with me
And I will show you the unforced rhythms of grace…”

There’s a part of my soul that dies a little when I think about how much time I spend
Ruminating on how much I dislike my job
But don’t know how to make my dreams reality
So I become like many Americans
And get a temporary high on Friday nights
That crashes 48 hours later
With the Sunday evening blues.

There’s a part of me that’s too afraid to take a chance on my dreams
Because they aren’t “academic” enough
Or important enough
Or impressive enough.
And that’s when I remember
I’m feeding into the trap
That certain careers are more important than others
When all we really need to do
Is find that makes us come alive
And go do that
And let everyone else
Chase success and notoriety
In a job they hate but think “looks good.”

There’s a part of me
That wishes I were the opposite gender
Because I hate the fact that mine
Makes me less muscular, less tall
And is laiden with propriety
And tells me to change my last name
And have kids
That I don’t really want to have.
At least not biologically.

There’s a part of me
That’s hurt by every ignorant statement
Mouthed by Evangelicals
Or conservative white or black men
Spewing out their desire for pompous power
By telling women how they should live (the “sanctity” of life) and die (don’t you care go into combat, after all, you’d make the military have to change the way it does things to become more gender equitable and that’s really inconvenient).

I realize how much I want to become sarcastic
And yell in anger
And let men see
A women get angry
Instead of passive, taciturn, and “nice.”

And sometimes I’m glad I do this.

But most of the time,
I think about Jesus.
And how hard it is to love the way he talks about loving.
Especially when it comes to loving those crazy (insert the opposite political party with which you affiliate).
And so I make a fool of myself
Missing out on an opportunity to develop my character
By instead choosing anger and resentment
Instead of something more courageous
Like love.

I walk these icy paths of the cracks within my soul
And confess my wasted moments
And ask God to redeem them
To start afresh in the morning
And ask for just a little more time in solitude
Here in the light
In open spaces
Where the sound of stillness
And the beat of my heart
And the wind on my face
All remind me to come alive
And be contraire
And get out of my head, my self, my biases
And get lost in the dreams and stories of each beating heart around me.

And together we’ll solidify the cracks
Until they become steady ground
Connecting hearts
And minds
And dreamers.

We’ll glance up to the endless sky
And find ourselves and lose ourselves
In these cracks and crevices
Of darkness
And of light.
046

How I Spent The Holidays, 2012 Edition. ((aka Sex Ed with my Parents at Christmas Dinner, Sending a Message in a Bottle, and Creating Other Memories I Will Never, Ever Forget.))

The past ten days or so have been a total blur. I’m exhausted, elated, haven’t showered in three days, and for the life of me, can’t seem to remember what day it is and I’d have it no other way.

Something beautiful happened these holidays. Some of it, out of the ordinary. The rest of it, just simple moments treasured a little bit tighter and with a little more gratitude.

There was eating large handfuls of cookie dough, not worrying at all about the possibility of salmonella or the fact that we hadn’t eaten one vegetable that day.
There was a visit to The Peace House,where I was once again reminded that peace truly does exist in this world and all we need to do is create it. 

There was the pilgrimage to my parents house via Route 1 in which I sang along with Cat Stevens to “Peace Train” at the top of my lungs while simultaneously taking pictures of open fields and farms with one hand while driving with the other.

I watched Paul Simon’s “Under African Skies” Graceland documentary with my dad as we mused in gratitude at music’s ability to bring together two disparate cultures, calling attention to peace, friendship, and unity in the midst of apartheid’s evil. We sang along to the fast high-pitched choirs of The Gaza Sisters chanting, “I know what I know; I’ll sing what I said…”

I took long walks with old friends.

I talked on the phone for an hour with a dear friend about our goals for 2013 and dreamed something bigger.

I taught my 28 year old sister with Down Syndrome how to use a plunger after someone in the family—-no one will fess up as to who— clogged the toilet. “Smells like poop!” my sister observed. “Yes, but not for long!” I reminded, shoving the plunger deeper into the toilet.

I got yelled at by my dad and sister for still being asleep at 9:30 AM Christmas morning. When I didn’t then promptly rise out of bed one minute after the yelling ended, my sister came in my room, turned on all the lights and jumped on my bed. And I deserved it.

I signed up for my first half Ironman in Boulder, Colorado, August 4, 2013 and went on my first training run: a cold, slow, 2.5 miles spent envisioning months of grit-your-teeth workouts with surges of endorphins, reminding me I am alive and have breath and a body.

I asked my parents “inappropriate” questions during Christmas dinner. “What was sex ed like for you when you were in high school?” After some confused looks from my aunt and mom’s faces, I realize the more appropriate question would have been, “Did you have sex ed?” to which I would learn, “No.” My brother blurted out that the only thing he remembers from high school health class was that his health teacher showed “a 70 year old man’s dong” and was told that, “at this man’s age, his thing will still work. But hers— her’s won’t.” I haven’t heard my mom laugh that hard in years.

My family and I watched The Christmas Story on Broadway the next day, thanks to my dad. My sister ate a foot-long hot dog, to which a 10 year old girl wandering around the restaurant pointed, and exclaimed, “That’s a big hot dog!!”

I spoke out about my feelings of seeing skimpy Aerie model’s plastered on illuminated billboards in Times Square, posing in nothing but a bra and underwear and indignantly stated that this contributes to the continued portrayal of women in hyper-sexualized, objectified, imagery.  I vowed to call it out when I see it and to not look the other way when the world represents my gender with stereotypes that do nothing but perpetuate the association of women as sexual objects instead of strong, competent people, imbued to make part of my life mission be to encourage women to celebrate the alternatives of these messages to discover the unlimited possibilities of who they can be with their lives, minds, and souls. (For more on this topic, see “Why it Matters Whether A Toy is Thin and Sexy or Not.”)

I sipped peppermint mocha with a mentor and walked away inspired, grateful, ready to make changes, and considered myself lucky to have such an influence in my life.

I biked down 34th St., Baltimore’s premier street for the best Christmas lights in town, with 500 people on bicycles during December’s Baltimore Bike Party. Stuck behind cars full of kids sticking their heads out windows, oooh-ing and aaaah-ing over Christmas lights, I sang along with some bikers who played “Tiny Dancer” from the back of their pimped-out bicycle. “Blue jean baby, LA lady…” we sang, gazing upward at white Christmas lights strung across the street, connecting neighbor to neighbor (and apparently biker to biker).

I went to the BBP’s dance party afterwards at the Pratt St. Ale House and made new friends. I celebrated a recent friend’s invitation to a “small group for people who are sick of small groups,” as she described a group of friends who are reading a Quaker book right now and finding ways to grow in their faith outside of organized religion. I almost got teary eyed. These are some of the very people I’ve been waiting to meet. I just didn’t know how to find them.

I ate lots of chocolate, especially at unusual times, like breakfast, without feeling one hint of guilt.

I had multiple sleepovers with soul-to-soul conversations, staying up entirely way too late every single night and I didn’t care.

I came up with three book ideas and glanced heaven-ward, asking God for just one to come out of my mind and onto matte paper.

I went on a New Year’s Eve late afternoon hike with my boyfriend and chiseled out pieces of ice encrusted on the water bank’s edges. We smashed them against the frozen stream, each time shouting out a regret of the past year or a promise to ourselves for the new year. “I’ll find a new job I love!” I exclaimed, smashing ice against ice. “This is for every time I people-pleased this year!” Smash. “This is for having a sense of humor next year!” It was free therapy, like whack-a-mole at the board walk, or popping mailing bubblewrap, only slightly more aggressive and freeing.

We said, “Why not?” to stopping by a small group of people gathered in front of the War Memorial on our way home. We dashed to the steps, where about 25 people gathered for an inter-faith prayer vigil to honor the lives of the city’s 216 homicide victims this year. Muslim and Christian pastors offered prayers and together, reading aloud the names and ages of each victim. The names of several one-month-olds were called and each time this happened, the woman next to me and I both gasped. We put our arms around each other tightly for the remainder of the vigil while tears rolled down my cheeks and snot dripped onto my scarf from my frozen nose. When the names were finished being read, tealight candles forming the number “216” were lit and Brian and I thanked the people who spoke, especially Michael, the Muslim man who used his words to express the need for people of differing faiths to come together in the name of peace and our God of Love to work together to end violence. He gave me his email address. Looking Brian and I in the eye, he sincerely invited us to sit down over coffee. I can’t wait to email him and get to know someone who worships Allah, the same God, I believe, that I worship, just with a different name. We walked back to the car, moved, calmed, and in awe of the beauty that still exists in the midst of darkness.

Moving into the latter part of the night, we gathered together eating meatballs and cookies and lots of guacamole around a table of six friends. My friend Rajni and I brought up the topic of our 2013 bucklist. “Bucketlist?” our friend Sam asked. “Yeah. It’s like a list of things that we want to do with our life, only we’re going to do them by December 31, 2013.” “But bucketlist implies you’re going to die at the end of the next year. Is that what you really want to call it?” “Ok, so not a bucketlist.” “An…. action list?” Yes. An action list. So we went around the table, each sharing tokens of our newly-created 2013 Action Lists. “Visit an Indian reservation,” Rajni shared. “Develop my sense of humor and stop taking life so seriously,” I offered. “Run a 3 hour marathon,” Sam declared. “Grow an urban vegetable garden,” Brian stated. We toasted to each of these dreams, played “2012” one last time while still in the same year, and left the house for New Year’s Eve fireworks at the harbor.
We ooh-ed and aaahh-ed over each burst and slow fizzle of dissipating firework in the cold nighttime sky, celebrating each and every one until the last firework of the grand finale. “Encore, encore!” We pleaded. Shrugging it off, we decided our night had only just begun. The six of us rolled, somersaulted, and crab-walked down Federal Hill Park until we were so dizzy that we fell down when we stood up. We walked along the harbor promenade and finished off a bottle of wine on the dock, deciding to send a message in the bottle off into the cold harbor waters. So we each wrote a token of kindness, like “live love,” and “This is your sign! Follow your dreams!” while singing The Police’s “Message in Bottle” and signed it: January 1st, 2013 Baltimore, MD and video-recorded the ceremonious toss of the bottle into the harbor. We walked away from the pier while one member of our group (I’ll protect their anonymity) peed on The Ritz Carlton. The Ritz-Carlton residences at the inner harbor are lavish condominium homes to the rich. Very rich. I applauded this person for his work, deeming it a big, “f*ck you” you to the rich. I realize we should love all people. I swear I try. But I just wonder where these people, with their Ferraris in the garage and high rise condo overlooking the harbor, were, when those 216 homicides took place this year and if they ever bothered to listen to the story of someone who knows the reality of life on the streets.

Proceeding onward, we walked right into the send-off a wedding. People in dresses and tuxes lined in a row with sparklers pointed in the air cheered on a bride and groom hopping into an old-school black carriage-like car. We stood near the line in our jeans and winter coats cheering on the bride and groom, as if we fit right in and had been at the wedding the whole time, whooping and hollering and celebrating along with a bunch of strangers at the dawn of a new year.

We meandered closer toward our destination, as if to hope that walking slower would make time slow down too, and stopped at the sand volleyball courts, where we made sand castles and wrote “love” in the sand with fingers in mittens. Sean, arguably the most social of the group, asked a guy dosing off in a parked truck to come out and take our picture. So we jumped in the air and the camera flashed and we said a big “thank you” and “happy new year” to a kind, tired stranger, desperately trying to prevent the final grains of sand from slipping to the bottom of this night’s hourglass.

As we headed back home, Brian hopped on my shoulders unexpectedly for a piggy back ride, and a group of young women cheered us on saying, “You go woman. I know, that’s right.” I couldn’t help but smile (and pray my knees would hold up just another block longer) and wish for the night to slow down. We spent the rest of our stroll linked arm-in-arm as a group, protesting adulthood, swearing it off entirely, proudly proclaiming we’ll live forever young. We wished every single passer-by on the street a “Happy New Year!” and it’s as though for one night, the entire world was civil and kind, like amiable old friends.

Rajni slept over and we stayed up chatting until sometime after 3:30 AM, excited about life, pondering adulthood, and how to live out our dreams and nullify normalcy and regularity, trading it in instead for life and vibrancy and contraire adventures. I climbed into bed and whispered into the atmosphere a “thank you” to God, bidding him/her goodnight, grateful for every stupid, beautiful, outrageously alive memory newly stamped in my mind and fell fast asleep.

I share these memories because I don’t want to forget them—the constant laughter, the friendship. I share them to etch every detail into a place I can come back to so that I can remind myself one day of what 25 felt like. I’m sure you have those memories too. Those times in life where you didn’t have a camera to capture every laugh, or a piece of paper to jot down every funny quote someone said that night, but still, you remember these moments. And I wonder what it would look like if we shared these memories to each other, to the world. And how much more beautiful this place would be. And how you would inspire me. And perhaps I would inspire you. And together, each human would inspire every other human. I wonder what would happen if instead of feeling pressure to adhere to societal definitions of “success,” we created our own anti-conformity and raised our hands in the air or sang or danced or cartwheeled or rolled down hills and rejected all that we’ve been taught for instead, what we feel, what makes us truly come alive, what makes us experience the beauty and wonder of life in all of its fullness. Because it’s possible. It’s happening already. We’ve only just begun. 

January First.

1/1/13.

Let’s see each other 12/31/13 and share deep belly laughs or shed a few bittersweet tears together as we talk about where this year has taken us and how we traded in fear for fearlessness.

Yes.
I can’t wait to see what we do with the year.

Because there’s 364 days left. And it’s all uncharted…

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Therapy is not a Four Letter Word

It’s been 2 years since my first visit back to my counselor’s office. And, thanks largely in part to health insurance, it’s the best $15 billing statement I ever receive.

I remember the first friend I told my “dirty secret” to. “So I’m going back to counseling…” (crickets.) “Good for you!” (awkward smile). I remember telling them how scared I was to tell my boyfriend. I thought if he knew, he might think he was dating a psycho and want out. I thought if he didn’t know, I wasn’t being honest and transparent. You’d think I was trying to tell him I had herpes or hemorrhoids or something painful like that. Anyway, I told him (over the phone, too scared to do so in person at the time) and, lo and behold, we’re still together. He’s either ok with dating a “crazy” person or perhaps he’s “crazy” too. Or maybe he’s just human, and recognizes that this is my way of dealing with my own depravity.

I’ve learned a lot during my sessions since that first drive up 695 East, one chilly evening in October 2010, praying, hands gripped to the steering wheel, repeating mantras of, “I’m not crazy.” “This is money well spent.” “You’re doing the right thing.”

I learned that I’m still “crazy.” Just not in the ways I once thought.

I learned that I’m not as bad, as powerless, or as “wrong” as I used to think, and, in the same breath, that I’m more self-centered, self-focused and controlling than I ever realized. Maybe that’s the beauty of grace. We don’t ever maintain an accurate perspective of ourself for more than a minute or two before we’re either beating ourselves down or puffing ourselves up. And God comes in and shows us who we really are, and that, no matter which side of the self esteem see-saw we’re currently teetering on, S/He really does love us and will never give up on us.

I learned to laugh at silly Christians and the stupid things some say and learned that I’m a silly Christian too and need to watch my mouth. I can be stupid too. Even more stupid when I don’t fess up afterwards.

I cried. And the first time I cried in that office, it was painful and I felt like I had to hide my face behind my tear-and-snot sodden tissue, but really the tissue was translucent and crumpled and wouldn’t hide me anyway, nor my tears, so I might as well just show both of them, unadulterated, and experience God’s love through the smile of a patient, gracious LCSW-C with an excellent sense of humor, reminding me that I’m on my way to healing and growth and wholeness.

I learned to be open and vulnerable and real and learned to stop telling people that I’m “meeting with my mentor” when in actuality I’m about to have a 50 minute couch session with a counselor. I’ve been humbled and amazed at many of the responses to that statement (with the occasional awkward moment where the person fidgets and wonders how to respond in which case we usually just switch topics altogether). Such responses have opened doorways for people to share experiences ranging from “well, gee, I’ve been thinking about that too. Where do you go?” to, “You too? No way!!!” Instant connection.

I learned that the past will carry you into the present by default unless you do something about it. It doesn’t just go away. Nor do I want it to. Because growing up has been an incredible joy for me, with some really painful moments in between that have been used to grow and strengthen me. I don’t need to forget about such moments and pretend they never happened. I just don’t need to let them paralyze me.

I learned to recognize and not run from my feelings and how to eschew the voices of certain Christian spheres that re-iterated week in and week out during my college years that “faith is not a feeling.” They’re right. It’s not a “feeling,” per se. But feelings are Biblical. God experiences grief (Genesis 6:7), anger (Deut. 1:37), joy (Zephaniah 3:17), and love (Jer. 31:3). We know from the shortest verse in the Bible that “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Just open up the book of Psalms- from the lament of Psalm 13:— “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” —to the zeal of Psalm 92: “You make me glad by your deeds, Lord;  I sing for joy at what your hands have done!!!”  You can call it “Biblical Bipolar” if you want, or better yet, maybe it’s just an accurate reflection of what it’s like to be a spiritual being on this side of Heaven.

I’ve filled journals with phrases like “guilt,” “shame,” “enabling,” “adapting to change,” “choices” and other things ‘therapy’. I’ve written “God, fix me, God help me, God change me, tell me what to do (NOW!), thank you,” prayers. I scribbled to-do lists (to go along with my type A, ADHD, task oriented personality) that could be summed up in six words: “do more, be more, be better.”

I’ve mapped out Thought Records, made my own “searching and fearless moral inventory” of myself, annoyed people I care about by asking them questions like, “So how do you feel about that?” and, “Where along your childhood might you have picked up this message?” Then I annoyed myself with Bible verses, taping them to my wall or writing them over and over again in my journal until they practically would bleed from my head, quoting them with my eyes shut, shouting in the dark, “Do not be anxious about anything!!!” “Take every thought captive to Christ!!!” “Cast your cares upon Him, for He cares for you!” Oh sure, these verses are beautiful and encouraging; I won’t minimize that. But they’re not a panacea, nor are they a replacement for doing the dirty work of staring your junk in the face, your past, present, and future, dealing with your feelings, your struggles, anxieties, worries, and fears. And, if you’re cowardly like I used to be, such verses can be used to hide behind (memorizing scripture earns brownie points with Christians, after all) instead of womaning or manning up and forcing yourself to grow up in your faith and grow in maturity, break, be broken, be remade, be renewed, be made whole.

It’s been a journey. Who knows. I might be in it for another two years. I don’t care. Bring it.

Because I’m tasting a life in which depression is fading fast and anxiety is slowly lifting, much like the kite I flew on my 25th birthday back in March. It was the first time I touched a kite in 10 years and felt like I couldn’t quite remember how to make it fly, but sure enough, with barefoot feet firmly planted on the green grass, I gazed upward, amazed as this piece of plastic wiggled upward into the sky, suddenly dancing in the early spring wind. I feel changed, from the inside out. I’m whole…ish. And that’s ok for now. I’m growing. It’s messy. It’s beautiful. It’s the best investment I’ve ever made on myself. And I owe it to God, health insurance, SafeHarbor Christian Counseling, the patience and grace of friends and family who support and encourage me during my most anxious days…

but most of all, I owe it to the “dirty word” therapy.

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Did you know?
-Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18% of U.S. population).*
-An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.**
-Approximately 40 million American adults ages 18 and older, or about 18.1 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have an anxiety disorder.**

None of us are as “crazy” as we think we are. If you’re struggling with an area of your life, feel stuck in your personal growth, question faith and life and existentialism or wonder if life is just some big joke, kick yourself in the…. rear… and come join us. You might find us on couches, in offices, or in support groups, but come on in. There’s room for you. The table is big, the couches are soft, and the judgments are gone. All that’s left is love, love and more love. And some growth. And talking about feelings. But I think you knew that was part of the package anyway. 🙂

To find a therapist in your area: http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/

If you are interested in faith-based counseling (beyond paying someone good money to say “just pray more”) and you live in the Mid Atlantic Area, I highly recommend Safe Harbor Christian Counseling (don’t worry, they don’t even know I’m writing this.) http://www.safeharbor1.com/

If you don’t want to have anything to do with therapy, but are hurting, in pain, struggling, or depressed, just do one important thing: talk to someone. Life’s too big for anyone of us to handle by our lonesome. Reach up, reach out, and don’t stop reaching until you’ve got the hand of someone you know you can lean on.

*Source: http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics **Source: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml

Ways in Which to Make Myself Look Back on my Twenties and say I Lived it Well.

Accept that change is inevitable. Develop the skills and capacity to see God’s hand in whatever change is occurring. Even good change must be grieved. Learn to put your love for the water to use by rolling with the waves of life. Swim with the wave and let it move you, rather than fighting it only to get crashed down.

Go to Colorado. Make sure to visit family; let those feet experience the trails of the Rockies. Breathe in a peaceful, deep breath of fresh air, and when you do, gaze skyward and say “thanks” to God for every fugacious moment of your life.

Advance your career towards things you’re more passionate about.

Keep writing.

Do small things frequently with great love.

Compete in a half ironman.

Go back to Africa. (Before you’re thirty. You can go after too if you’d like.)

Participate in a flash mob.

Find some more friends who share a similar theology/worldview. Make friends with more people who don’t know what their spiritual beliefs are. Enjoy learning so much from them.

Say words of affirmation to others more frequently.

Rehearse love, God’s love, in your mind instead of worries.

Grow a tomato plant.

Simplify your faith. Let go of the constraining voices from certain faith community’s teachings that are eating up your energy.

Travel.
Travel.
Travel.

Worry about money less. Trust in God’s provision.

Explore what’s on your heart; don’t let anything that keeps resurfacing go unexamined. Ask God for a way to incorporate coaching into your life, perhaps alongside some type of women’s health/gender equality program.

Conserve water from your showers when you first turn the faucet on and wait for the temperature to adjust.

Write people cards. Even spend money sometimes on the really nice ones, like the Quoteable cards or UNICEF cards.

Practice contentment. Be wild and unruly, but in that process, express continual gratitude. If you are unsatisfied with something and you can change it, do something about it.

Learn that your passions need to be pursued because God has put them there for a reason, no matter how contrary they seem. If people use labels to describe you, give them an envelope to put the label on and go FedEx yourself back onto your journey of freedom in Christ.

Practice Christian unity. Remind yourself that no matter how much you may disagree with or feel hurt by certain faith teachings or practices, each of us is made imageo dei and each is saying, “Yes” to Jesus’ heart-beckoning call into the Kingdom of God the best way they know how. In light of so big a diety, ultimately our words and arguing will fall silent in the presence of this God… the God of love.

Take lots of pictures.
Speak hope.
Laugh at yourself.

And, as always,
Love life.
Be brave.
Play hard.

Forever and ever,

Your 25 year old self