On the 20-something Prescribed Narrative, Change, and Freedom

I arrived slightly disheveled, sweaty from an 8 hour bus ride from Philadelphia, feeling like I could cry at any moment, when I received one of the warmest welcomes in my entire life. One of those welcomes in which the person drops what’s in his/her hands, looks you straight in the eye, and says sincerely, “First, welcome. Welcome,” pausing in between the two “welcomes” to invite you to breathe a full inhale and exhale.

An hour ago, I was at Union Station in New Haven crying on the toilet, grateful for the journey ahead while already missing the wonderful community that took a while to find. Now that I had it- after many lonely nights in which I wanted to move away- I didn’t want to let it go. I spent four years in Baltimore: 1 awful, 1 better and two amazing, going from a place I once near hated to a place I loved with a maternal nothing-is-going-to-stop-me-from-loving-you kind of love.

But now, I was moving to DC after a two week training at Yale to become a Program Manager at a small nonprofit that trains college athletes to become sports-based HIV educators in DC middle schools. This was a dream come true, as I spent many a torturous night writing sport for development papers longing to get into this field, but had no idea how to get there. It was going to be a great year. Though I was moving a mere 45 minutes south, it was still a big change for me. The words of a pastor I respected were helping me come to terms with this change:

Photo: MO 2015

Photo: MO 2015

“All change, even good change, must be grieved because change is a form of loss.”

I was likely never going to live in that same house with the front porch that invited you to take in the stars before coming inside each night. I was losing a spiritual community that took me a while to find- one in which we talked about social justice and spirituality over wine and genuine, vulnerable conversation. And all of this reminded me of the passage of time, which produces an almost sick sense in my stomach knowing that all of those memories will never again be in actual real time.

But now, here, one year later, I’m finishing my fellowship. Around February, I began having those nights in which you’re up until 2 AM trying to fruitlessly figure out your life. I’d light a candle by 2:15, sit Indian style with my palms facing upward, and simply connect with God. Not wanting answers. Not asking for anything but to simply be, and be open. After 5 minutes of stillness, I’d hop back into bed and laugh at myself for demanding answers to life that cannot be told ahead of their time. That is, until a week later, when I’d repeat the whole process. And the week after that. Until it’s late May and it’s hitting you that there’s two months left and you’ve done nothing to prepare for your next transition.

But then I had a moment on my bike. Friends and I were biking on our way from DC to Pittsburgh, and I could only see ten feet ahead of me, peddling in the dark with my headlamp. It occurred to me how many times I’ve tried tracing shapes out of the shadows, trying to figure out the contours of the future, when all I really needed- –and all that was beneficial— was right before me- those precious 10 feet of light wrapped in the ambiance of quiet, cool fresh evening air. In 2010, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, a future focused orientation that detracts from the present. Since then, every change, every decision was often met with a system of checks and balances, wanting assurance from a world that cannot promise that. But here, on these quiet bike trails, this stream of light pouring from my bike reminded me of a new way in which I wanted to orient myself: I would figure out my next life steps through travel, one destination at a time.

It’s now a matter of weeks until my fellowship ends and instead of my usual M.O. of anxiety, I’m actually at peace. At peace with traveling the world for a few months without a job lined up. At peace with spending time with sport for development organizations in countries where I’m grateful to simply be able to say two sentences in another language. I’ve thought about traveling the world extensively for a while now, thinking that was the ultimate activity you were supposed to do as a twenty-something. I felt shame at 25, 26 when I wasn’t doing that, still living in a city near where I went to college. But I have hindsight now to see that any earlier was not the right time for me. I had growing pains to work through that could only be worked through if I stayed where I was until I could learn how to be present, how to use my own voice, how to create community, how to stop holding myself back from the life of freedom I was trapping myself from.

Perhaps the best way we can measure how well we lived as twenty-somethings, or thirty-somethings, or seventy-somethings for that matter, is not by the number of miles traveled, or the archetypal narrative you think you’re supposed to be living, but instead, measure it by the moments in which you did something you never thought you’d have the courage to do. Measure it by the growth you see: in yourself, in the plants and trees around you. Measure it by the number of days in which you have no journal pages, because the days were simply too filled with beauty to be penned. Measure it by the numbers of conversations you had in which you walked away challenged, questioning the framework with which you always viewed the world.

That’s how I’ll measure these next several months after my fellowship. I know I’ll have anxious nights along the way, but maybe, just maybe, I will recall those words from that pastor that subconsciously gave me permission to grieve—and celebrate— change in whatever way I need to- be it in tears at unexpected places, or at 2 AM alone in my room, unsure of where I’m going. I’m learning that dances in the dark with Change’s shadows at God foresaken hours will be a part of my evolution. I’m learning to let go of the death grip I wrapped around the false security of detailed next steps that leave no room for mystery, wonder, surprises, hard challenges that are only there to show you how strong you really are. I’m learning how to ask, “What’s life trying to teach me?” instead of “Why the hell is this happening?” Learning that there are many narratives we can choose for ourselves, and that timeframes are truly a custom-fit, not one-size-fits-all.

It would make sense, then, to share with you that I’m writing this on one of my wandering mind til 2 AM nights- because I still wrestle and fight and muse in the midst of every change, even good change. I’m almost ready for the go-back-to-bed-and-laugh-at yourself part. Maybe tomorrow, if you see me, we can laugh in person, or in spirit, and we can unclench each other’s hands if they drift away from open palms, together living these changes, free, free…free.

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Photo: MO 2015

Photo: MO 2015

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Audacious Freedom: Screaming YES ‘Til We’re Breathless

Susan B. Anthony once said about the bicycle, “I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.” I get that feeling every morning and afternoon as my feet touch pedals, epitomizing that freedom she talked so wisely about in 1896. And tonight, two days in from the dawning of Daylight Saving Time, I’m delighting in this audacious freedom again and again as fresh air fuses with endorphins. A smile creeps up inside of me that simply cannot be held back.
And so tonight, as I’m about to go into my house and say goodnight to another beautiful day of freedom and bikes, something catches me outside for the umpteeth time. Maybe it’s the clear sky above me. Or the fact that I am out here in a t-shirt for the first night after a long winter that developed its own vocabulary (“polar vortex:” who can forget that, and what it feels like).
But I lay here.
I should be preparing for an interview tomorrow.

But I lay here.
I should probably go inside and get proper rest.

But I lay here.

All I can see above me is the moon, this ever present wonder in the sky that shows up night after night to remind us that life moves on, moves forward. 
Stars scatter the sky daring us to notice them, not to show off, but so that we will show up. To be here now. To stop missing the beauty that’s above you, watching over you day after day, night after night.

So I will lay here.

Freedom and life surge through my veins, a restlessness that can only be quelled by uncharted territories and taking chances and by the story that comes from when you start doing the things you’re scared of. When you stop waiting for feelings of confidence and reassurance and do it anyway, unarmed and unfettered. 

There’s no time to waste when all around you, the stars, the birds, the infantile crocus pecking its way through once snow-covered ground each beg your soul to awaken.

And so just for tonight, I won’t care about what time I go to bed.

I won’t frantic over tomorrow.

All I will care about is filling my heart with this Earth, overjoyed by the ability to walk, skip, and jump on it, along with all these beautiful people that inhabit it.

Copyright MO 2012

Copyright MO 2012

I look up at the moon once more. It’s traversed a part of the sky and moved what looks like just a few feet to the left, but indeed it has moved so many more. I try to picture it in the exact spot where it was an hour ago when I first came out here, but it begs me to let it go and stop trying to rearrange life and all of its pieces the way that I want them all to turn out.

   
I’ll let go.
And stay up too late.

And binge on open sky that opens hearts which open mouths and together, we’ll speak from bodies standing tall, hands outstretched screaming “YESSSS!” until we’re breathless.

Copyright MO 2009

Copyright MO 2009

Hallelujah. (A song if you like to sing. A poem if you like poetry.)

So many questions I ask
So many thoughts that I ponder
So many glimpses of you
In the ones they pushed aside

But I find you out here in the fringes
Wide valleys
With fields open wide
These faces and stories remind me
There’s room right here in your Kingdom
No, This door has never been closed

So when I go another way
That looks different from the safe confines of home
And I question all that is “true”

Hallelujah
I know I still run to you
Hallelujah
Yes I know I still run to you

 When I don’t look for you in Churches
And re-define “quiet times”
But still experience your presence
And don’t fall out of your arms of love

Hallelujah
I know I seek you again
Hallelujah
Yes I know I will seek you again

 When every footstep is sinking
And visions of love smash in sharp fragments
But I feel your hand uphold me
No, You never once gave up on me

Hallelujah
I know I will see you again
Hallelujah
Yes I know I will see you again

When the next impossible enters the junction
And this dream’s nothing more than a dead dandelion
Still I’ll know you create life out of crushed spirit
That’s where the essence of life becomes found

Hallelujah
I know I will find you again
Hallelujah
Yes I know I will find you again

Hallelujah come find us again

hands

6 for Six

We are just under a month away from election day and, despite all the progress in achieving marriage equality in Maryland, it could just as easily be taken away depending on how Marylanders respond to question 6. Here are six reasons why I will emphatically vote YES for question 6 to support marriage equality:

 6) Because I don’t believe that I have the right to deny the marriage of two consenting adults who love each other.

5) Because the quicker marriage equality is achieved, the quicker we can get back to using our time, capital, and media attention to address poverty, peace-building, human trafficking, and other social justice issues.

4) Because I want to add our country to one of the eleven that recognizes marriage equality. At the very at least, I want to remain one of the six states that currently recognizes same sex marriage.

3) Because the law gives freedom— freedom for people to marry those they love and for faith based institutions to choose which marriages they wish to recognize. (It saddens me to have to phrase this in such a way as to insinuate that some faith based institutions will disregard a couple’s marriage simply because they are of the same gender —-while eagerly welcoming in a divorced couple, another supposed “no-no” in the Church—-, but for those who are not ready to observe marriage equality, you will not be forced to change your faith based institutions’ stances or beliefs).

2) When I found out that interracial marriage used to be illegal, I was appalled and astonished. I also wonder where the Church was at this time. Was it supporting equality, love, and freedom? Or was it fostering hatred, judgment, separation, and inequality? I want my children and grandchildren to be so shocked that marriage equality used to not exist (i.e. they’re so accustomed to it that they don’t understand what the big deal was). I want to know that I, along with other people of faith, were on the sidelines voicing for equality, equity, and justice.

2012

1967

                                                                                                                                          Is it any different today?

1) Because my life has been personally touched by men and women who are gay or lesbian. Marriage equality has a face and a story. If you haven’t already, get to know someone whose sexual orientation is different from your own. Your life just might be changed. For more voices and stories, check out Believers for Marriage Equality: http://www.believersforme.com/

Are you registered to vote in Maryland?
Check here: http://elections.state.md.us/voter_registration/index.html

*Photo credits for this page: http://interacc.typepad.com/synthesis/2012/05/divided.html

My love/hate relationship with the Bible.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the Bible this year.
There.
I said it.

Oh, I know what I’m supposed to say about the Bible- it’s divinely inspired, living and breathing, sharper than any double –edged sword. I know what I’m supposed to do-  read it daily, memorize it, “eat it” (Jeremiah 15:16), “hide it in my heart” (Psalm 119:1).

But I’m trying to be real here.
And in my current season of life, that’s not quite where I am.

This year, these feelings have been precipitated by a writing piece I’ve been working on as well as the inspiration and wisdom I’ve read from several authors/bloggers I respect. Rachel Held Evans posts about Biblical Womanhood and points out that this can mean anything from making a woman marry her rapist, to calling your husband master, if you take the Bible at its literal word. She was making a point that we need to ask better questions about why we interpret things the way we do and to be wise with the way we throw around “Biblical” in front of words. Because we all “pick and choose” which scripture to follow. For example, I choose not to follow the scripture verse that says to kill a woman if she isn’t a virgin (Deuteronomy 22:21). All of this reading and processing got me thinking. I’ve been working on a writing piece in which I’m trying to find 101 verses that Evangelicals no longer follow and 101, in contrast, that if followed, would literally change the world. I’ve had lots of stops and starts along the way. I’ve been working on it since April. It’s now October.

Why do I keep stopping and starting?

I stop often because I lament and am frustrated about the way women were treated in the Old Testament and how certain verses in the Old Testament and New Testament are used to promote gender roles, in particular, that women should be submissive and men should be leaders. I mourn the wars, the violence, God smashing babies heads on rocks. I feel unsettled when I read narrow verses about eternity and can’t fathom God banishing my Jewish friends or my Muslim sisters in the Middle East who lived their lives in Earthly Hells of forced prostitution, genital mutilation, and honor killings. They dealt with this their whole Earthly life, and now, supposedly, they will have a relentless life in Hell in their life after death too?

Sometimes I feel a sense of shame for feeling the way I do. Especially because I “know” what I “should” be thinking, feeling, and saying about the Bible.

But simply put, I can’t fake it anymore.

It’s leaking out.
I bring my Bible to less and less places these days.
I open it less and less these days.

But I am learning more about God, the ways that He/She speaks, more about people and imago dei than ever before. I am learning that the story didn’t end with Revelation. I believe, along with the UCC and other churches, that God is, indeed, still speaking and that he isn’t limited to the sole medium of the Bible.

By looking for him in ways other than this book, I am washed over with refreshment by all of the ways I discover him all around me. In the beauty of the trees. In a song. In the resilience of women and girls who have been trafficked but refuse to see themselves or others as victims, rather as victors. By not reading this book as much as I “should,” I am more acute to these other ways he speaks (kind of like how dogs don’t have good vision, but make up for this with an excellent sense of smell). I guess what I’m saying is I see him everywhere. And it’s not in the more traditional places that I’ve been so affixed to.

He’s everywhere. All day. I see his love win out over evil time and time again. I know that’s supported by a verse in the Bible. Though I’m not reading it right now and quoting it, I am most certainly experiencing it and know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God’s hand is in this, making beauty out of brokenness.

There’s some dark stuff in the Bible. Genocides, infanticides, killing animals (God’s creation) to assuage God into forgiveness of sin, commanding women to remove themselves from everyday society simply because they had their period and that this uncontrollable bodily act is somehow so revolting that women should be embarrassed to be seen when it, by no choice of their own, arrives biologically…

There’s beautiful stuff too. You know. Faith, hope, love. Forgiveness, grace, life over death. I can’t read 1 Corinithians 13 without feeling a deep connection to something holy and beautiful. I can’t read the Sermon on the Mount without feeling as though Jesus was truly remarkable, encouraging all of us to live a life very subversive to cultural, societal, even, at times, religious mores.

But for right now, I’m taking a little break from this book. You can tell me that I’m straying in my faith. You can tell me that I shouldn’t be doing this. You can tell me I’m wrong. You can tell me I’m missing out. You can call me a disrespectful sinner. You can tell me that God doesn’t like the way I’m talking about His word. Go ahead.

As for me, I’ll be sitting here, real, raw and exposed, being transformed into something, someone, I hope, that has experienced God on a visceral level, reminded that some of our “Heroes of Faith” mentioned in Hebrews 11 did not even own Bibles. And to let you in on a little secret, I do, in fact, still turn to it from time to time. Just not as often as I have in the past. And to let you in on another little secret, I really do love this book. Not in the pollyanna ways I once used to, but from a part of me that’s been willing to ask questions, talk to God openly and honestly about what’s going on here, and take a chance that even though I may not be reading it, I am, in fact, experiencing it. And sometimes in life we don’t need to read anymore; sometimes we need to get our hands dirty, our toes squiggling through wet grass, because life is meant to jump off the page, have actions to correlate with words, and to be LIVED. Because the story is still being written. Somewhere along the way, I feel as though I’m living the words I have read or heard quoted time and time again. And sometimes I wonder if I’m literally standing on a page in the Bible. But then I realize that I’m experiencing it, in real time, and somewhere in between this reading and experiencing, it all amalgamates, and I don’t know if I’m reading or living or both. All I know is it’s beautiful, it’s holy, it’s reckless, swelling with this life abandoned, messy with watercolor streaks painted far outside the lines. I’m not worried about my behavior (or misbehavior if that’s how you see it) in this season. I’m ok with experiencing God in ways predominately outside the Bible in this current season. Because He’s got me. He’s got you. Letting each one of us experience Him in the ways we connect with him the most. I’ll keep coming back to this book; you can count on that. You can travel the world over, but there is some place in the world that can resonate as home. I guess what I’m saying is I’ve left my “safe home” of Bible reading “quiet times” (Christianese for Bible devotionals) and I’m running around the field, to first base, and second base, and even third, and I will always end at home. I might strike out on my way. But I always start fresh at bat from “home.” I’ve found my home in Christ, and this home is lit with the light from the Bible. And it’s also lit with solar panels and candlelight; it’s energized by some stories of the poor, some preaching, some time spent in solitude out in Creation, sunlight on my face…

It’s beautiful.

So beautiful that the more I think about it, I wouldn’t describe my Bible relationship as “love/hate.”

I’d say it’s “love/freedom,” and it’s an insatiable love that cannot be contained to any page or binding.

If you see me somewhere along the way on my journey to “home,” I’d appreciate your encouragement, not your judgments. I hope we can ask each other hard questions. I hope we can recognize that there is so much going on here than we will ever realize and that’s why it’s called FAITH. I hope you accept me when I say that I see a lot of grey in the Bible, with a few “black and whites.” But maybe you won’t. And that’s ok. I’ll see you at home plate, where we will celebrate the big, big God we worship as this big, big team as brothers and sisters. There might even be ice cream.  

Ignited by a Fire That Will Never Burn Out ((Thoughts on Wanting to be Understood))

I never realized how badly the desire to be understood rested dormant in my heart until waterworks poured from eyes sitting down at a newcomer’s meeting one Sunday morning this past spring. I drove forty minutes southbound to a church I’ve always wanted to go to whose founder has authored writings that have put words to all that I feel in my heart, allowing me to sigh, wow. Someone else who thinks like me. Someone with whom my questions are not only safe, but welcomed, encouraged. So when the woman giving the newcomers’ overview asked me for my name and I burst out crying, I realized that for one of the first times in a very long time, I knew I was in a safe place where I could be understood. Where no daggers would be thrown at me. Where I could grow in my faith without being chastised for asking difficult questions. Where I would be met by other people, walking in faith, who aren’t afraid to acknowledge wounds that the Church has caused, and offer an opportunity to start anew, welcomed with however little or however much faith you possess. I can’t explain to you the peace I felt to be present in a community in which I knew I was welcomed, genuinely welcomed, to explore the Ancient of Days knowing that I was not in a room full of Bible-quoting, finger pointing Evangelicals. Instead, I felt like I had literally been ushered into the arms of Jesus himself.

I knew that that rainy Sunday in April was the start to a new beginning in my journey of faith; one in which I officially surrendered trying to be someone I’m not, letting go of my college Evangelical days in which I sat uncomfortably in my seat, cringing each time I heard that anyone who didn’t accept Jesus into their heart would spend eternity burning in Hell, but too afraid to speak up and say politely that I really didn’t want to pass tracts around campus after class on Friday. Ever.

I now know that I don’t fit in many Christian circles but I can’t let go of this incessant longing for the Divine. My heart is with the thirsty, for those who yearn for something more but don’t necessarily know what it looks like.

I do know that part of it looks like letting so of stringent views about theology. I am frustrated with the walls I’ve seen so many in the church put up. Holding signs that say, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” doesn’t exactly help a fellow hungry human being feel closer to God, much less change their sexual identity, if that’s the “agenda’” you’re after. Writing books about Hell, emphasizing that “we can’t get it wrong” doesn’t exactly help the person with questions looking for hope feel welcomed.

But besides all of that, I am tired of wasted time spent on arguing over theological debates instead of fostering loving relationships. I don’t want to lose any more friends; I also don’t care if you think I’m a heretic; and above all, I really just want to be your friend. I don’t care if you believe in eternal punishment for those who don’t profess Jesus or if you do believe that Jesus did it once and for all to “save” everybody.

I don’t care anymore.

All that I’m concerned about is if you are finding God in this journey. That you are finding freedom and joy and peace and some mess and some conflict and some yes-es and some no-s and questions, LOTS of them. I hope that you can find peace in your storms, comfort in your sadness, grace for every time you fall. I hope your journey is about feeling appropriately small when gazing upwards at the Heavens, in awe of so glorious a Maker. I hope your journey finds God in unexpected places, far from steeples and tracts, like in the smile of the poor, in the playfulness of a child. I pray your faith encourages you to spend time with those who are different from you and challenges you to find the image of God in all you come in contact with. I pray your hurts get healed, and that you would come to realize that God is kinder, that God is warmer, that God is more loving than you have ever dared to imagine. I pray you find your hands holding God’s and that your shoulders will be squeezed in a heavenly embrace and that you won’t want to let go of this moment because this moment is exactly what you have been longing to experience all this time. I pray you never go parched, but oh, that you would still maintain your hunger and your thirst and may it draw you straight into the arms of your Creator, beyond understanding, until your soul is dancing, on fire, ignited by a flame that will never burn out.

The second time I went back to this church, I did cartwheels on the church property with a new church friend. By far, my most favorite Sunday afternoon to date.