As I have taken time in the last couple weeks to lament the horrible racial injustices still plaguing our nation, to listen and learn from people of color, and to engage in conversations with family, friends, and acquaintances alike, I have just a few thoughts I want to share with my white brothers and sisters. 

  1. This work of dismantling the effects of white supremacy in our homes and lives and communities must be LIFE. LONG. WORK. In the last few weeks, I have come back again and again to a quote from Daniel Hill’s book, White Awake: “Therefore, when white people decide to engage in meaningful cultural identity processes, we’re choosing to say no to the privilege of avoiding race-based stress…We will continue to be able to choose whether or not to stay engaged once we’re exposed to race-based stress. When our ‘racial comfort’ is challenged and our low stamina for engaging in racial stress is revealed, we need to find a way to stay in the game.” WE HAVE GOT TO INCREASE OUR STAMINA. This is not about sharing posts on social media for 2 weeks then going back to our “normal lives” and moving on. We have to find a way to stay engaged for the long haul. To be honest, I have felt weary in the last couple weeks. I have been weighed down by the emotional toll of reading and watching black and brown people suffer- AGAIN- under the weight of racist systems that are at the very foundations of our country. I feel like I am huffing and puffing a quarter mile into a marathon. I recognize my lack of stamina and the incredible amount of privilege behind that. Because our black brothers and sisters don’t have the option to stop or give up in the face of weariness. And so I am thinking about and planning ways to stay engaged and increase my stamina for this work. There is too much at stake to fall down and give up a mile in. I would encourage you to think about what it will take to increase your stamina for the long haul.

  2. We have GOT to increase our brain capacity for nuance. When you have a history as tarnished as ours, as complex and (in many ways) repressed as ours, virtually NOTHING is going to be black and white. Our brains don’t like gray. Our politics don’t like gray. Our relationships and communities and religions do not like gray. But trying to force the gray to be black and white will not lead to growth or understanding or justice or peace. I have learned so much from dear friends about getting curious and asking questions. As I engage in ongoing work to dismantle white supremacy in my life and community, I am learning that I need a spirit of curiosity in my tool belt. For example, a frequent refrain I hear in my community is, “We just aren’t affected by all this here. We are insulated from the rioting and black pain.” Interesting. It would be easy to use that as a cop out, to say “I just don’t have opportunity to engage in racial justice work here, or to build relationships with people of color, because there is so little diversity in my area.” But instead, let’s get curious and talk about WHY. Could it be that there is a reason for that? Could it be that we are perhaps MOST affected by what is going on BECAUSE we are insulated? Could it be that we are part of a history that has strategically created insulation in this area? My friends are teaching me that curiosity is a powerful tool for change. When you feel discomfort or a lack of understanding creeping up in response to what is going on in our nation, get curious! When you are trying to hold conversations with white people in your life who seem uncomfortable or defensive, get curious! Ask them questions! I am not skilled at this by any means, but I am learning and want to get better at this.

  3. I went to a conference last year where a man and woman shared a powerful song they had written out of the grief of losing friends of color from their faith communities to police violence. This song has been playing on a loop in my head over the last several weeks. The chorus says, “We’re asking you to remember that distance is a privilege you have to surrender. Distance is a privilege that was taken from us, and we hope it’s taken from you.” [The song is by Sunia Gibbs and Jonathan Brooks. Currently not available, but I will share it and urge you to buy it if/when it is!] As I reflect on the major shifts that have taken place in my heart and life as I am confronted by the racist structures I have benefitted from and participated in, the catalyst that has most powerfully influenced me is by far PROXIMITY. Proximity to pain. Proximity to the men and women who have been harmed by white supremacy. Proximity to injustice and those suffering under the weight of injustice. Distance is most certainly a privilege, and I am learning that I must continue to move closer, to PRESS IN, to listen, to expand my circle…to surrender the comfort and ease that come with distance. If you want ideas on HOW to get proximate, send me a message. I would love to have that conversation with you. For starters…

  4. Want a powerful, TRANSFORMATIVE, active way to dive in? I cannot recommend the Sankofa Journey highly enough. Three years ago, I climbed on a bus with a multiethnic group of men and women seeking to understand our history in this country and the way that history has created and supported and protected white supremacy. We took a 3 day journey down South, stopping at places like the Edmund Pettus bridge, and 16th Street Baptist Church, and the Equal Justice Initiative. We cried and wrestled and prayed together. I had the opportunity to listen to black men and women so graciously share their stories of pain and suffering. IT WAS LIFE CHANGING. And if you want to take a step toward growth and learning and putting your feet in the game and your money where your mouth is, I highly recommend putting in the time, money, and effort to be part of a Sankofa trip. Registration is currently open for the next trip this fall. I first heard about Sankofa from Austin Channing Brown years ago, and it has quite possibly been the most pivotal experience along this journey of dismantling white supremacy in my life. Again, shoot me a message if you would like to hear more about it. 

White friends, family, and acquaintances- Let’s keep learning together. Let’s keep having hard conversations. Let’s keep showing up, even messing up…then asking for forgiveness and showing up again. There is too much at stake for us to give up or allow weariness to sideline us now. 

We will be more than okay

I am sitting on the couch, watching out the window as the sun fades and breathing in the scent of vegetables roasting in the oven. It is pretty much a typical Wednesday evening, except tomorrow I will be back in this place again- and again Thursday evening, and Friday evening, and every evening after that for who-knows-how-long. A month ago I was planning a trip to Europe; I was supposed to return home today. Two weeks ago I was making plans with friends and visiting my favorite local coffee shops and gathering with my community. Today? My favorite coffee shops are mostly closed. I make plans to FaceTime with friends. And my little house church has become even more of a house church- as in, we each do not leave our homes but gather remotely over a video call. My life has become very small, and yet at the same time I hope my heart is growing larger. 

We used to live under the illusion that we had control over our lives, didn’t we? That we could make plans and they would happen. That we were mostly safe and in control of our own destinies, that our health and wellbeing was mostly in our hands. That there were certain things in this world that could be counted on— jobs and routines and economies. A little virus has ripped a hole in that illusion, and we watch the world tremble at the reality that we were never in control.

There is destruction and hoarding and ranting and raving—a revelation of the lunacy that is a byproduct of utter fear. But there is also beauty and creativity and a linking arms across humanity—a byproduct of the kind of love that can only bloom in times of adversity and universal suffering. This, my friends, is why we will be more than okay. I don’t mean okay in the sense that there won’t be suffering and even death—that, as aforementioned, is inevitable and beyond our control. If you and I survive this, then we will face death in the form of some other tragedy down the line. No—what I mean is that love and light will prevail over fear.

We each have a role on this battlefield. A choice to champion the beautiful in each other. To love the marginalized by sacrificing convenience and abandoning the rat race for quieter days at home. It is our duty to find ways to plant joy where we are, to laugh and play and create—to do so, even now, is perhaps the greatest stand of defiance we can make to the darkness of fear that is determined to keep us small and afraid. We will be more than okay, though. We will bake and read books and dream big dreams. We will be together, even if it means we are separated by six feet or a computer screen. We will pray for the sick and the suffering, even if we cannot hold their hands and wipe their brows. We will cheer on the brave few who relentlessly march to battle, who show up day after day in ventilator-lined ICUs and do the brow-wiping and hand holding the rest of us cannot. We will celebrate the work of those who mostly went unnoticed before everything changed—the truck drivers and waste management professionals and grocery stockers and janitorial staff. We will write letters and sew masks and come together like never before. We will be more than okay, because love will prevail. A virus can ravish lungs and economies, but it will not ravish Love. 

And so, beloved friends— Be brave. Defy fear. Seek creative ways to care for one another. Laugh and connect and imagine new ways of being. Life will be different, but perhaps it will be different in ways that will grow our hearts and root our lives to the things that matter most. Perhaps we will be more connected, more grounded, and more eager to spread joy right where we are planted. Perhaps we will be okay. No, I know it to the core of my being— We will be more than okay. 

My life a prayer

I pray to God—my life a prayer—watching and waiting ’til morning (Psalm 130:5, MSG).

My life has been so very many prayers. My cradling of a new life, a prayer of joy. My weeping over someone I love fading from my grasp, a prayer of sorrow. My fidgeting, a prayer of anxiety. My eyelids drifting closed with sleep, a prayer of rest and peace. My pacing of hospital hallways, a prayer of desperation. I have prayed to God—my life, a prayer. 

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This one’s for you, Weary Dreamer.

Last night I was startled awake by a nightmare about cancer and chemo treatments, and today I deleted online dating profiles. Welcome to 30. I typically love the fresh start of a new year, and I am one of those obnoxious people who loves coming up with a “word of the year.” This year, though, the inspiration has run dry. I am a dreamer, but I am tired. I want to eagerly proclaim “THIRTY WILL BE THE BEST YEAR YET!!!!!!!” But instead, I find myself sipping coffee and breathing through an unknown that I’ve come to be more suspicious of than eager to embrace. Anyone else?

In the movie Frozen 2, the whimsical snowman character, Olaf, repeatedly belts out the refrain, “When you’re older, absolutely everything makes sense.” That line struck me, and I wondered if children today believe it as much as I used to. I have only navigated 30 years on this harsh, beautiful planet, so maybe a few more years here will prove me wrong…but I found myself wanting to correct Olaf. No, Olaf, when you’re older, absolutely nothing will make sense. 

I spent my first decade of life creating imaginary worlds under the sprawling oak trees of my Indiana home. My sister and I would make up the most remarkable “future houses” we could imagine, complete with beds on islands that required canoe transportation and rooms with trampoline floors. I was confident and full of joy in ways I am still trying to reclaim. Even then, 30 seemed the ideal age…the age when maybe the imaginary world I visited would become the reality I inhabited. I thought everything would surely make sense by now.

My second decade of life commenced an anxiety and perfectionism I am still recovering from. So many adults in my life preached a black-and-white reality that did not seem to leave room for questions I did not even know how to verbalize at the time. I learned that everything was supposed to make sense through a defined and rigid worldview, and if it didn’t, you were ostracized. At least, that was my perception. I had absorbed an existence that promised affection and reverence in exchange for the easy going, compliant, eager-to-serve version of myself I discovered most people in my life seemed to prefer. By the end of that decade, every piece of that black-and-white reality was shattered into a million pieces, and I was left sweeping up the mess.

I started out my 20’s in the throes of a shocking and unexpected grief, while most of my peers were partying and dreaming of ways to exploit their new-found independence. I was more at home with my Tuesday night grief group, an eclectic band of men and women all significantly older than me. We mostly just vented about the stupid and hurtful things people had said to us in the midst of our pain over unique (and yet relatable) losses, and I could think of no better place to be at the time. In an attempt to make sense of absolutely everything, I threw myself into service and walking alongside other people navigating their own pain and loss. I clung to Bible verses about how “those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy.” I wanted to believe that the heart-searing trauma I had just lived through somehow had a purpose. I craved meaning in the midst of the chaos that brewed in my heart and soul.

Now I am starting out my 30’s scraping together hopes and dreams as I face a new decade that, so far, is looking nothing like I dreamed it would when I was a starry eyed kid jumping into piles of raked leaves. I am buying baby gifts for friends whose weddings I smiled through and dressed up for in public (then went back home and cried into my pillow over) throughout the last decade. I am peeling back layers of that persona I donned in an effort to be loved and accepted. I am trying to make sense of the years and experiences I lost because I was instead navigating grief and loss, and the years and experiences I lost before that because I was so entrenched in a religious culture that rewarded a carefully curated (and others-directed) version of morality and “purity.” Nothing makes sense—and yet, maybe that is what makes the most sense of all. 

As I look back on the last decade of my life, I realize that we do not get to choose the things we become certain about. For example, I am less and less certain that I will ever make it to that picket fence dream world where I get the house full of babies I’ve always longed for and a husband to laugh and cry with until we’re both old and wrinkly. I am less and less convinced that the dogmas I unabashedly preached as a zealous teenager are unquestionably true. I am less and less certain that the tears I cry will always and without fail produce a “harvest” of joy.

But. I am certain about a few things. I am certain that I am not promised anything, not even the husband and babies I believed for so long to be the direct result of a “moral and pure” lifestyle. I am certain that God is far more mysterious than I will ever comprehend, and there are people whose experiences with the Divine do not fit into those dogmas I used to cling to—and yet their own experiences with the Divine are no less true than my own experiences with God. I am more and more certain that, though I have no idea what the coming day, year, or decade will hold, it will undoubtedly yield both overwhelming joy and immense pain.

And so I sit down once again, weary but with pen in hand, and I write out a list of scrounged up hopes and dreams for this next year. I am weary but not defeated. I am jaded but not hopeless. I will continue longing for that picket fence world, and I will choose, again and again, to hope against all odds that I might get there some day. In the meantime, I will defend my right to grieve the life I thought I would have while those closest to me are celebrating that which I have always longed for…even if my grief and wrestling makes some uncomfortable. I will delete apps and establish boundaries around the people in my life who entice me to fall back into that false persona I used to put on to make myself more palatable to others. I will take up skiing and continue traveling to beautiful places, because I refuse to sit on the sidelines of life while I hope for and work toward the things I do not have. I will persist in seeking to understand and dismantle injustice, because I may be weary but I am not defeated…and I still believe to the core of who I am that humans were created to be bearers of Divine love and shalom to a dark and hurting world.

So here’s to you, weary dreamer, wherever you might be. May you discover in this next decade how powerful you really are. May you find yourself surrounded by an army of truth-tellers who refuse to accept things as they are just because they have always been that way. May you deeply lament what is broken and the life you thought you would have, and may you be loved and held in the midst of your grief. May you find the life you have instead to be one of adventure and community, because there is always joy and friendship to be mined from hardship and suffering. May you take up that tiny inkling of hope and wield it like a burning torch when it feels like there is no light left to illuminate your way. You are not alone, weary dreamer. Warrior on, and may you know that your battle cry matters and is needed in this world…even when it is nothing more than a whisper in the wind or a cynically muttered morsel of truth you are struggling to believe in yourself. We are in this together, and 2020 ain’t got nothin’ on us.

Fingerpainting in Color: Creating Space for the Both/And

One of the most gut wrenching moments of my life was the minute AFTER my dad took his last breath. Those last days with my dad bleed together in my mind…time was both painfully slow, and also uncontrollably fast. And yet, after he took his last breath, it felt like time stopped. I didn’t know what to think, how to breathe, whether to cry without ceasing or sigh in utter relief that the waiting was over. But seconds after he sighed that last time—and failed to suck breath in again—one of my dear siblings ran out of the room and let out the most primal wail I have ever heard in my life. I have never felt…held…witnessed such deep pain. And yet, the next day—mere hours after experiencing the tsunami of a grief whose equal I have yet to meet—I found myself laughing with a friend in a movie theater. If my life were the movie, I as the viewer would have had a serious case of whiplash trying to connect the two scenes.


In the last few weeks, I have been processing what has to be one of the most defining lessons of my journey: Life is not just one thing. No, life is a maelstrom of color…of beauty AND pain, of joy AND sorrow, of hope AND despair. Sometimes at the same time. Perhaps our human brains struggle to reconcile the reality of such deeply conflicting experiences, but whatever the reason, we try so hard to conform this maelstrom of color into a binary of black and white.

Nothing has taught me this valuable truth to the degree that singleness has. And I want to share what I mean—Not necessarily to garner empathy or understanding (although maybe hearing my experience will give you greater understanding and empathy for single friends in your life?), but because I think the same general principle applies to, well, everyone. What in your life feels like a colorful mural of pain and beauty all mixed together? And how can you invite others in your life to see the full array of colors on display in that mural, instead of just reducing it to a black and white scribble?

For me, singleness has been the most beautiful, transformative stage of my life. And it has also been the most painful. 

I can be both incredibly lonely, and also surrounded by amazing, supportive community.

I can be grateful I am not in a painful marriage, grieving alongside those who are, and also still long for a relationship.

To be gut-level honest, one of the hardest parts of my job are the nurse visits I do with newborns and their parents. I watch couples care for each other in the postpartum haze and delight over the new life they mutually brought forth into this world, and every.single.time. it produces an ache in my soul…because I have longed to be on that journey myself for years now. BUT. Those visits are also one of my favorite parts about the job, because I get to share in the delight of these precious families and help ease their concerns and fears during one of the most vulnerable stages of their lives. It is both/and—a maelstrom of color in a world we like to pretend to be black and white.

I can desire and ask to be treated as a full human being in the midst of my singleness—that I be sought out and cared for in friendship, considered for positions of leadership in both secular and religious spaces, and included in conversations even about sexuality, marriage, and parenting. I can desire and ask that you actually care about my WHOLE life, and not just my relationship status. AND, I can also desire and ask that occasionally those I love listen to my angst over how hard singleness is and how deeply I long to NOT be single.

I can celebrate the beautiful aspects of my life that exist purely BECAUSE I am single. I love that I have the flexibility and space in my life to drop everything in order to sit with a friend at the hospital. I love that I get to do life alongside friends raising their babies, helping to carry the load and even living with those families at times. I love that I can travel whenever I want to, make big decisions without having to consult another person, and prioritize my time and finances based on my own convictions and values.

AND. At the same time…

I can also hate making decisions alone and having no one to help shoulder the load of adult responsibility. I can long for a partner to come home to at the end of the day, knowing that person will answer when I call and always be ready to laugh or cry with me. I can also hate the fact that I am the default person asked to do x, y, or z simply BECAUSE I am unattached. I can feel so desperately deprived of human touch, wondering what it must be like to have a steady diet of physical affection.

I desire to be a strong, independent woman—and I also desire partnership and support.

I long for a relationship, and yet I also *hate* despise* loathe* the dating game (what it takes to get there).

Singleness has been the most beautiful stage of my life…and it has also been the most painfully transformative. It is not good OR bad…it is good AND bad. And everything in between. It is a maelstrom of color all swirled together.

What in your life do you find to be both miraculous.beautiful.hopeful—and also excruciatingly hard? I would guess you can relate. If not in singleness, then in any number of situations you might be navigating. I have friends who are walking through grief, health challenges, infertility, faith shifts, parenting challenges…the list could go on and on. And I suspect each of those friends could easily highlight both very painful experiences unique to their lives, AND beautiful, life-affirming moments that only exist BECAUSE of the hard.

What if we gave each other permission to live into the non-dualistic nature of this life? To cry AND laugh—sometimes in the same breath. To respect the pain AND acknowledge that sometimes we want a distraction from the fire we are walking through (case in point? Me going to a movie the day after my beloved dad breathed his last…the friend who held space for that strange day is a saint). What if we embraced each other as we are, while also holding space for who we are becoming?

To do so would require intention…continuing to check in with each other…refusing to assume that what looked like joy and hope yesterday indicates the dissipation or resolution of pain and grief. To do so would require a practiced empathy—seeking to understand a hurt that may not be consistent with your own experience. To do so would be incredibly messy. After all, fingerpainting with a thousand colors could never be neat, clean, or simple. But the artwork we could produce together would be breathtakingly stunning, I think. And I believe that our communities, homes, and world would be more safe and whole if we could learn to make space on our walls and in our lives for the brilliantly spectacular artwork that is the both/and of this journey called life.

Embracing An Embodied Humanity: A Manifesto

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My body has always scared me. I have a distinct memory of laying in bed one night, my heart pounding and my palms sweating. I was probably around eight years old, and I was convinced I was dying. I had been told that my lips and hands would turn blue if I was having a heart attack, so I pulled out my trusty flashlight and handheld mirror (conveniently stored under my pillow) to check. They were pink, but I was not reassured. My heart continued to pound loudly, a sound that reverberated in my ears. My body was trying to communicate something to me, but the physical sensations it was using to do so were so foreign and unwelcome to me that I truly thought my moments were numbered.

I grew up and became a nurse, and while the fear I have of my body these days is much less irrational and out of control, the mistrust is still there. I have learned the art of repressing most messages my body tries to communicate. Hunger? Not to be trusted. I am only allowed to eat at specific times! Physical cues of deep internal emotions? Shut them down. After all, fear, anger, and even elation are unacceptable. Desire of another body? Depraved! And yet, the very faith tradition in which I was raised worships a God who put on flesh and became an embodied human being—A man who satiated his hunger with good food and flipped over tables in anger. A man who sweat with exertion and incredible pain. A man who touched women, even and especially women who were marked as scandalous by the society in which they lived. A man who wept (or more accurately, “snorted like an angry horse”) over the death of his friend. When I read about Jesus now, it is impossible for me to ignore just how deeply embodied and human he was while walking on this earth. I wonder if he was perhaps even more human than most of us living today (in a culture that does everything it possibly can to shape, cut out, and contain the human body).

It is this journey to understand my embodied humanity that has led me to wild and wonderful places in the last couple years. I have beheld a wide and mysterious diversity of bodies who have embraced, led, forgiven, and challenged me. I have also become increasingly aware of the ways in which we police and exclude others whose bodies look differently than our own. It has always been this way, hasn’t it? The embodied Jesus was ultimately crucified because he dared to embrace, eat beside, walk with, and touch the bodies of men, women, and children who did not fit in the cultural or religious tradition of his enemies. He challenged a status quo that called some bodies “good, loved by God, and holy,” and other bodies “unclean, unacceptable, unholy.” He dared to love and embrace all kinds of human bodies equally, calling out the essence of the Divine in each one. And his enemies ultimately nailed his body to a cross because of it.

There are thousands upon thousands of churches in this country who gather on Sunday mornings claiming to worship and follow this God-become-man, all the while calling some bodies “good, loved by God, and holy,” and other bodies “unclean, unacceptable, unholy.” The irony in this is becoming increasingly hard for me to ignore. We don’t know what to do with bodies that look and act differently than our own, and maybe they scare us a little. But rather than sitting next to those bodies—touching them, holding them, laughing with and learning from them—we draw lines between us and them. We ask them to conform themselves to our likeness, and if they refuse, we push them outside and slam the door behind them. We refuse to listen to them, to genuinely try to understand how their bodies are experiencing this world. And how can we honestly pretend to understand their perspective or experience if we won’t even shut up long enough to listen?!

Part of my journey toward a greater understanding of my own humanity has been awakening to the deepest parts of me I have repressed. I am more than just my mind and spirit, the parts of me I was taught to trust implicitly. I am a human body, a body that feels magnificent sensations. A body that loves deeply with her hands and cradles life to her chest. A body that experiences hunger, arousal, and gut-churning sadness. A body that laughs deep in her belly and sometimes sobs rivers of snot.

And guess what? I am a sexual being too. Frankly, the religious community I have served, loved, and been raised by over the last 15 years has never known what to do with this aspect of my humanity. In my experience, sexuality has been (and is) treated as a secret club you are not allowed to join until you enter a heterosexual, monogamous relationship sanctioned by the church with a “stamp” of approval (usually an expensive public party). If you are not in that “club,” you are expected to ignore the fact that you are a sexual being. The very few conversations surrounding sexuality that I have been invited into in a church context have all revolved around what I need to do to repress arousal, cover my body, or figure out how to join the “club” (by becoming, well, NOT single). This narrow view of sexuality reduces an embodied essence to a physical act. If this is my experience as a white, heterosexual, cisgender female (read: part of the privileged power-holding “elite”), I shudder to think the Church believes itself qualified to direct societal standards of sexuality for bodies who do not look like or experience life in the same way ours do.

I am just now embarking on a journey toward understanding the ways in which the Imago Dei—the essence of the Divine—resides in my embodied humanity. But already, this journey is opening my eyes to the exquisite beauty of bodies that do not look like my own or experience the same kinds of hurts, longings, or hopes that I do. Already, I am realizing I need to shut up and listen. I am learning that it is not my place to exclude a body without having held it, to judge a body without having experience the joys and sorrows it has lived through, to tell a body what to do or not do without having cherished and walked through fire alongside it. It is not my place to say some bodies belong and others do not. Because perhaps the one human being who could have made that distinction instead spent his years on this earth tearing down and removing every barrier and distinction that was erected with the intent to exclude. When others moved away from bodies that looked, acted, or thought differently than their own, Jesus pressed in. When the religious elite picked up stones, Jesus said “I do not condemn you.” When tradition barred some front entering the presence of the Divine, the Divine put on embodied flesh and instead entered the lives of the excluded. 

I want to follow the example of the Jesus who willingly walked away from privilege and belonging and made community with the outsiders…holding their deepest sorrows, touching their physical wounds, eating good food in their homes, and calling out the Divine essence in each of them. And to be completely candid, I no longer have any time or patience for a theology, political party, or elite club that declares the bodies of a privileged few worthy of love, protection, and belonging and all other bodies unacceptable, unwelcome, and unworthy of being seen and heard. I have come to know a God who calls my physical body—yes, the very one that has always scared me—very good. And I believe your physical body—all her joys, sorrows, and deepest longings—is very good too. Even and especially if you look and experience life differently than I do. 

Dear Dad,

I will never forget that day. We sat in an old, rusty truck and held hands, looking out across the gravestones reaching as far as our eyes could see. I’m not sure if I understood the weightiness of that moment, the fact that your life was numbered in days, not years or even months. We sat next to stories past, perhaps not considering that yours would soon join theirs. Although, maybe you were thinking about your numbered days? I was 19, and I was too distracted by concerns and questions that now feel so petty. You didn’t brush them off, though. That was the kind of dad you were…always holding my dreams and ponderings tenderly, no matter how small or silly they might have been. You wanted to go for a bike ride, but the bikes remained in the bed of the truck because your pain was too great. So we sat and talked, a memory that I now cradle as one of the most precious.

Dad, I was thinking about you a lot yesterday. I wish that I could sit next to you in the oppressive summer heat again…here, ten years later. I wish I could tell you about the questions and concerns I have now. The world feels even heavier now than it did all those years ago, and sometimes I don’t know what to do with the weight. Somehow, holding your hand made me feel less afraid to stand up tall, to fight for justice and compassion and love. I am changing, dad, and sometimes I wish I could talk to you about that too. I wonder what you might say about my shifting understanding of the world, myself, even God. I wonder what insight you might share for those of us who are sad and angry about the brokenness of this world we live in but don’t know what to do about. I suspect I know what you might say, but I wish I could sit down next to you and look into your gentle eyes while you pour forth the wisdom you always shared so generously.

Here’s what I think you would say: Live with intentionality and faithfulness where you are. You cannot carry the weight of the world, but you can help bear the weight of someone’s world. Love extravagantly. Give generously. Remember that what you see, feel, believe is not all that is. Hold tightly to the Light of the World who is always breaking into what feels at times like overwhelming darkness. 

I have a feeling we would disagree about some things now, Dad. My understanding of faith and life has shifted so much from that day we sat next to each other ten years ago. But I also know that the best parts of Today Me were deeply shaped and impacted by you. You left your handprint on my heart and life, and even the fact that I have changed so much is a credit to the way you encouraged me to be a strong and passionate woman. You taught me that the best kind of leader is a humble, hardworking servant. I hope that I will always pursue the kind of leadership that cleans toilets, sits with the outsider, picks up trash, and mostly just loves quietly and without fanfare. I hope that I will always strive to be a leader who can admit to being wrong and laugh at my shortcomings. I hope that I will always carry on your legacy of being faithful in the small things until they become the biggest things.

Dad, I wish you were still here. I wish you could hold your grandkids and spend hours mowing the pasture and take long walks while whistling from the overflow of your joy-filled heart. I wish you could meet the people I have come to love who never knew you. I wish we could still sit in cemeteries together, even though I always thought it was strange you liked those places so much. There are so many things I wish were different, but here we are, ten years later, and I don’t think you would want me to spend too much time longing for what isn’t. You would instead give me a firm hug, then say, “Ab, just show up. That’s the hardest part. The rest will follow.” 

So I’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other, holding onto memories and the rich wisdom you instilled in me so many years ago. And I’ll keep sharing stories about you with people who never had the privilege of knowing you, hoping all the while that they get a glimpse of who you were because I bear your handprint on my heart.

Love,

Ab

To All Who Feel Lost in The Dark:

Last fall, I drove a familiar stretch of highway with the radio blasting and my mind tallying to-do list items. Suddenly, a peculiarity on this route I traverse every day caught my eye: The ground of the median, typically green and well-tended, was now black and charred. A fire had claimed this small square of land too. Over the next couple of days, though, green sprouts quickly popped up between the black blades, and it didn’t take long for the signs of destruction to completely disappear. New life, after all, is stubborn and persistent in its glory.

We giggled together as we watched her baby toddle across the room. “He’s walking!” I exclaimed, marveling at how much he had grown and changed since I had last visited. I imagined my friend as a young child, struggling to care for her little siblings and wishing the kitchen cupboards greeted her with something other than emptiness. The well of beauty and goodness inside of her could not be tamed, though. I again stood in awe of the tenacity and grace she exuded, this beautiful woman who was once a young child fighting to survive. The Imago Dei, blooming unfettered in and through her: New life is stubborn and persistent in its glory.

I held his hand and stroked his brow, occasionally reading to him passages of scripture he had long ago memorized. He hadn’t spoken, to me or anyone, in more than a day or two. His breathing was still steady, though, a testament to the strong and steady cardiovascular system keeping his body alive even in spite of the cancer ravaging his body. For some reason, his difficult and labored dying reminded me of the painful contractions that usher a squalling baby into the world. My family and I sat in a vigil around him, waiting for the death contractions to cease and the mystery of new life to find him with his last breath. The waiting, lingering in the painful reality of death looming heavy, was excruciating. But, new life is stubborn and persistent in its glory.

The end of February found me suspended in darkness…weary from physical darkness, and overwhelmed by a darkness of spirit. But, as it turns out, even darkness has a purpose in new life. Scientists have discovered that plants store up essential proteins in the dark, so that when light returns, the plants have everything they need in order to grow and bloom. It seems we often avoid and flee the dark, but I wonder what essential elements we need from darkness so we can grow and thrive in the light. I decided to press into the dark, to listen to what was stirring in my spirit and scoop up what seemed essential for the journey forward. And sure enough, the snow began to melt and the sun beamed more brightly. The darkness prepares us for light, because new life is stubborn and persistent in its glory.

And so, I want to say this to you—you glorious human being perfectly crafted to embody and spill forth the persistent spark of the God-flame: What feels charred, hopeless, dead, and dark might actually be the incubation of new life. The labor process can be excruciating. The darkness can be terrifying. The charred landscape can feel hopeless. But new life is stubborn and persistent in its glory. Never cease to look for signs of budding hope…for where there is darkness, goodness is being stockpiled for growth in the light. 

Getting to know a breaking-off-the-canvas God

She is almost a teenager, but when she looked up at me with eyes hooded by fear, I wanted to scoop her up into my arms and cradle her like a newborn babe. “My brain feels crazy,” she whispered to me. She is pushing through a darkness that feels insurmountable from the other side. But then again, sometimes my darkness feels insurmountable too. She has lived more brokenness and pain in her short life than most people will experience in a lifetime. The weight she carries—the darkness, the “craziness” that overwhelms her brain—is certainly more than I bear. But in that moment, I wanted to curl up next to her and cradle our unique and individual darkness together. I wanted to say, “Ahhh, sweet girl, my brain feels crazy too.”

There are days when I crave the easy answers of my childhood, when I long for the concrete, black-and-white thinking that defined my faith for so long. It is hard to imagine now, but there was a day when I could not fathom any shade of grey in my understanding of the Divine.

That was before I watched my dad shudder his last breath.

Before I crumbled, listening to my brother wail over the loss of his best friend.

Before my dreams were shattered and a deep well of longing was left empty.

Before relationships exploded and prayers were greeted by silence.

Before I was confronted by expansive need and the deliberately chosen ignorance and greed that continue to ensure the gaping lack remains for some.

Before I smoothed the brow of little children traumatized and assaulted, many of whom will likely become the “they” that are so quickly judged and dismissed by even the most religiously pious.

That was before. 

There are many days, now, that are defined by grey space. And honestly, it can feel far easier to sit down next to someone else with a paintbrush full of grey, to swirl our questions and doubts and greys together, than to engage with the black-and-white painters with whom I used to feel at home. That sweet little girl? I can sit down next to her with my “crazy” and feel known, accepted. There seems to be many a black-and-white gallery where the greys are not invited. The questions, the doubts are covered over with a splat of black paint. Even still, I do sometimes miss those days of black-and-white.

You know what has been deeply comforting for me in the last several days, though? Some words, crafted by someone centuries ago…someone who, far as I can tell, was also swirling paint on a canvas and trying to understand the God who had defied his black-and-white too.

“You hem me in, behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me…Where shall I go from your Spirit? Where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” —From Psalm 139

I imagine this God, the God I tried to paint with black-and-white for far too many years, the God who I’ve now been trying to understand in shades of grey…THIS God is an expansive, brilliantly colorful God. A God I cannot flee…or contain. 

“If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” Even in the depths of darkness…in chaos and the swirling, scary unknown…even there, God resides. Other painters may be put off by the shades I am throwing on the canvas, but I can never scare God away. In fact, I think so many of us are trying so hard to contain this God on a canvas that we can see and understand and whose edges we can define, and yet God is continually trying to break free. I wield my paintbrush with a new shade of grey—a new question, a doubt I have been too afraid to name—and I imagine God handing me a pallet of exquisite new colors carefully stirred and mixed and crafted. “Try these,” comes the whispered encouragement. Other painters beside me may snicker behind their hands, may give me the side eye that silently says “you’ve stepped too far outside the lines,” but I will take the pallet handed me and dip my paintbrush anew.

There have been days when I have longed for the black-and-white, but the reality is, paint-by-number would never satisfy me anymore. I can’t look at that sweet little girl, a precious child who has trusted and been harmed, and give her the black-and-white. The black-and-white could never contain or tend to her gaping and bloody wounds. Instead, I want to bring her a breaking-off-the-canvas God, a God who took on the colorful costume of humanity and who put on brokenness because of Love. I want to bring her the brilliant shades of a God who cannot be contained by the black-and-white canvas, the God who is somehow present no matter how far I wander or fall. I want to bring her the God who can cradle her pain, who can take her yelling and hitting and “how could yous” and not try to convince her to dismiss or forget the shittiness of it all. I want to bring her the God who loves her deeply and unabashedly with a no-ifs-ands-or-buts kind of love.

Yeah, my canvas is changing. And sometimes I look around the room at all the black-and-white canvases and think it would be so much easier to forget the colors and shades I’ve learned and added to my canvas. But really? As often as I say I wish I could go back, I really don’t. I want to know the breaking-off-the-canvas God who is present no matter where I fall or land. If that means I have to find new galleries and work rooms to practice this painting craft, so be it. I will press on, apron splattered with new shades of the breaking-free God who is finding me in the spaces and places I never knew I could wander.

What A Drive Across Town Taught Me: Our Tendency Toward Homogenous Friendship and Why It Is Crucial for Us to Widen Our Circles

My first car was an old Volvo wagon. It was a family car, but I drove it from the time I got my license as a 16-year-old until the summer after I graduated from high school. It wasn’t long before I paid $2,000 for a gray Mazda, and I have had my own car ever since. Sure, I’ve had to call friends or family to bail me out when I found myself on the side of the road with a flat tire or some other vehicular malfunction. But I’ve never been forced to rely on public transportation or my own two legs to get me from place to place.

I don’t think she has ever owned her own car. She grew up in a big city and is extremely proficient at navigating bus schedules and public transportation routes. She plans her days around when she has to be at a particular bus stop. I will never forget the day she asked for a ride across town. She had a kid home from school with a fever and sore throat. After walking her daughter to the hospital a couple miles away to be evaluated, she returned home with prescription and school excuse in hand. She called me, asking if I would be willing to drive her to the middle school so she could turn in the school excuse. I readily agreed because I was already on that side of town and free for the next hour. As we drove the 15 minutes to the school, she casually mentioned that a trip to and from the school would take upwards of three hours by bus. My jaw nearly hit the floor.

I have always had a car. And nearly every day I forget what a luxury it is to have easy access to personal transportation. She and I are the same age, but our lives are so incredibly different. I don’t have to worry about how long it will take to get to the bus station and switch buses. I don’t have to structure my life around the availability of other people to drive me to the store. I complain about oil changes and car repairs, but the truth is, I am privileged to worry about such things.


Recently, I stumbled upon some research that was rather alarming to me. According to the Barna Group, evangelicals are more likely than the general population to select as friends people who are like them. This is especially true in regards to religious beliefs, ethnicity, and political views. In fact, 91% of evangelicals report that their friends share mostly similar religious beliefs. Due to a number of different reasons I won’t get into here, I do not self-identify as evangelical anymore. But I still find this statistic to be concerning. Put as bluntly as possible, we have a relationship crisis, my friends. Barna states, “friendship with those who are different to us increases empathy and causes a shift in our views toward them—in very positive ways.” Read: Evangelicals are NOT experiencing this positive shift, but are instead cloistering themselves in an echo chamber.

Is it any wonder, then, that evangelicals are statistically considered to be the least likely to believe the United States has a responsibility to welcome refugees? It is difficult to empathize with someone else’s experience when you have no proximity to him. It was easy for me to stand in judgment of people like my friend, to ask naive questions like, “Why don’t they (the infamous THEY) just get a job? Why don’t they just take the bus?”—before I actually KNEW my friend and experienced the joys and challenges of her life. It was only through relationship with her that I discovered just how hard she works for her family. She taught me how difficult and complex it is to navigate systems that are created by people in power to supposedly “help” people like her.

In his book White Awake, Daniel Hill shares about an eye-opening experience he had, in which a friend asked him to list the most influential voices in his life in the categories of friends/mentors, authors he reads, and theologians he learns from. As he tallied his lists, he realized how homogenous they were. There was no diversity of voice in his life. He encourages his readers to take the same inventory. From whom are you seeking advice? With whom are you spending time? What voices are you listening to and learning from? If you find that you are primarily listening to and learning from people who are just like you, maybe it’s time to widen your circle.

But how? I readily acknowledge that intentionally integrating more diverse voices and experiences into your life is not as easy as snapping your fingers. But it is valuable, necessary work. Here are some ideas to get you started:

1) Volunteer. Find organizations in your city that empower and come alongside people groups we have historically (and presently) marginalized and oppressed. Don’t volunteer with the intention of “serving” someone. Instead, try showing up with an attitude of curiosity and a desire to learn from people who have a different life experience than your own. If it is difficult for you to find time to commit to doing so, try doing something that is more flexible, like writing letters to a person in prison. I will share more about this soon, but I just mailed my first letter to my pen pal through The Death Row Support Project. What an incredible opportunity to learn from someone whose experience I do not understand! I don’t know what it will look like for you, but be intentional about putting yourself in a place to learn from someone who is different from you religiously, ethnically, socioeconomically, etc.

2) Increase the diversity on your bookshelf. Read books written by people of color. Here is a list compiled by the ECC for Black History Month to get you started. Seek out authors, artists, film directors, and podcast curators who come from a faith background, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and/or sexual orientation different from your own.

3) Get curious. When you find yourself standing in judgment of someone else, or dictating what you think another person should do or be, take a step back and ask questions instead. Listen to people’s stories. Ask someone how they came to a particular conclusion. You might find that getting curious and seeking to KNOW people is far more enlightening and transformative than arguing politics from a distance.

In his book Tattoos on the Heart, Father Greg Boyle says, “Here is what we seek: A compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.” Friends, let’s pursue that kind of compassion. In my experience, doing so usually requires PROXIMITY and PRESENCE. In the way of Jesus—who ate with the outcast, touched the diseased, talked to the easily dismissed, and kept company with the unpopular—may we seek to widen our circles and lengthen our tables. I think you will find, like I have, that it is YOUR life that will be changed and enriched. ❤️