A Sabbath Practice

I grew up in a faith tradition that taught Sunday, the Sabbath, was a day of rest. But in my experience, there wasn’t much rest. We had to get up for Sunday School, then church followed by lunch with church friends. By the time we got home, I was so tired that I barely had time to rest from all the activity, let alone from the six days before.

In hindsight, it’s a pretty funny contradiction – teaching the principles Sabbath on the Sabbath to the same group of people pressured to attend, serve, and commune. It wasn’t until I left traditional church that I actually experienced a regular, weekly Sabbath.

Sabbath began as a Jewish practice. According to Genesis, the first book of the Bible, God created the world in six days and rested on day seven. God named the day of rest “holy” and instructed the people to follow suit. Jews practice Sabbath on Saturday. Christians changed the Sabbath to Sunday, since Sunday is the day that the resurrection of Jesus is celebrated.

It’s not that a Sabbath has to be a specific day of the week. But if we don’t dedicate a chunk of time to rest, it’s probably not going to happen. There’s too much to do and that list will never take care of itself.

For me, Sabbath is a practice of slowing everything down – my pace, my thoughts, my responsibilities. Our typically hurried state of being and intense stimulation tend to crowd the space we inhabit, making it difficult to hear and see within and around ourselves. Sabbath is an invitation to stop, look, listen, breathe, and rest.

I don’t practice Sabbath like the Jewish tradition of not working for 24 hours. And I don’t practice like many Christians do of going to church. Instead I devote one or two mornings a week to keep my schedule clear so that I can spend the time tending to all my senses. It is 4-5 hours of no expectation and no obligation. There are things that still get done, like taking care of my dogs. But I don’t ask myself, “What should I be doing?” Sabbath is my break from that question that plagues many of us day in and day out.

Rest can be difficult though, if we aren’t used to stopping. I often hear people express guilt over not doing something. Our culture values what we do/produce/accomplish. As for rest? Well, that’s for when the job settles down or the kids get older or we get older. Even vacations are busy for most of us.

Sabbath is sometimes painful. What I see and hear may not be what I want to know. The space created doesn’t always feel nurturing, but rather intimidating or lonely. Not returning to that To Do list is hard. Honoring Sabbath means saying no, sometimes to things I want to do.

However I have experienced many benefits because of my Sabbath practice. My resilience has increased. I feel more myself, fully myself, connected, content and focused. I have an improving awareness of what’s going on around me. My experience and understanding of what is sacred deepens. My values and priorities become clearer. And all of this, paradoxically, because I am not trying to do any of this.

Thank God for the Sabbath. Literally.

The Damage of Patriarchy

I grew up with a pretty strong sense of self. Confidence was never an issue. I had plenty of other issues – still do. But my default is to believe I have a right to be heard, a perspective worth sharing, and a contribution worth receiving. It’s not that I don’t question myself, but rather I don’t question my value. The struggle through my life has not been “Do I belong?” – but rather “How do I fit?” This perspective is presumptive, I realize. There are times I don’t fit, and that’s okay. Sometimes when I don’t fit, that hurts. And sometimes it makes sense. But my perspective is also empowering.

As a woman in a patriarchal society who grew up in a conservative culture where women were third in line (God – Man – Woman), my presumption made me bold. I ignored the glass ceilings. I was helped by a mother who rejected this nonsense, and a father who didn’t try to limit my contributions to the world. For many years, I thought I had avoided the trappings of patriarchy. I made my own way, and that was proof.

It wasn’t until seminary and a class on feminism and the Bible, that I realized how much I was influenced by patriarchal values. For example, until my 30’s I held a general distrust of women. I considered most to be petty and disloyal. As I sought to deepen friendships with women, I learned my assumptions were often not true. I began to wonder how much of my assumption had been based on experience, and how much had been absorbed by a patriarchal narrative. The more I thought about it and the more I heard how other women talk about women, the more I concluded that many of us were doing exactly what patriarchy wanted us to do: distrust one another; compete with each other; destroy one another. Patriarchy is strengthened when women do not come together.

Another realization during this class was to see how I had tempered my strengths when working with men. I thought specifically of a time when I had served on a church board. I often went head-to-head with a man, a successful business man. My internal monologue always accompanied the external dialogue with this man: “Don’t get too far ahead of him.” “Don’t say something that will make him feel dumb.” At the time, I justified my actions by seeing him as the weaker one. But now I was seeing this as my felt responsibility to manage his feelings. Certainly I had a responsibility to be collaborative and kind. But I was going far beyond that as I sought to prevent him from feeling inferior to me, as if that was my responsibility.

Some changes I’ve made:

  1. I no longer use gender when I speak of or to God. I have learned how humanizing God, or worse yet making God male, only makes the idea of God manageable and safe. Now that God is not limited to my understanding of men or people, the idea of God has expanded significantly. God is not meant to be managed or manipulated.
  2. I no longer feel the responsibility to manage a man’s ego. I expect him to manage his own and instead focus on being my best self. This has been both freeing and empowering. I am still learning to identify and pursue what I need. But I am learning to build a life that is meaningful for me, not just for those around me.
  3. I support the right for women to make their own choices about their bodies. I believe there are important conversations to have about reproductive decisions, and that should occur between a woman and her doctor. Restricting those decisions is the same as saying women cannot make thoughtful, difficult decisions for themselves.
  4. I acknowledge the pain and damage patriarchy has caused other groups, and how I’ve contributed to their pain. I think particularly of People of Color and the LGBTQ communities. The more I have freed myself from patriarchal thinking, the more clearly I see their pain, and the better ally I become.

My experience has been that there’s an ongoing conversation among women about how fragile men are. And we use this perceived fragility to ignore our needs and wants. As gender and sexuality become increasingly fluid, I see the potential to not only water down the patriarchal nonsense, but to eliminate it altogether. Perhaps that’s why some are feeling frightened and reactive. What has long been considered normative is being challenged and replaced. And that is scary for those who don’t know anything different.

I’m not trying to hate on men. I am trying to point out the danger of unchecked power. Patriarchy is a system that has named “men in power” as the normative. And in this country, specifically white, Christian, heterosexual men. So we are not just talking patriarchy, but also Christian nationalism. And that’s for another blog post.

Power is seductive, and seems to cause most to use it selfishly. The best way to prevent the abuse of power is to share it with diverse voices and perspectives. With the recent US Supreme Court decisions, it feels as if we’re moving backward, not forward, by reducing that diversity. I hope it’s patriarchy’s final “Hail, Mary” attempt. They’re in a losing battle and I think they know it. For those of us who reject patriarchy, let us not lose hope.

Limits

I am competitive. It’s the competition I love, not winning. Winning is fun, but losing can be too when the competition has been strong. Challenges energize me as I strategize to solve problems. With time and experience, my skills have strengthened and I rarely walk away from something or someone. Our culture feeds right into my wiring. With technology there is so much I can do. And advertising reminds me of all that I can have. I might forget that I have limits.

Recently I have been learning a lot about trauma and its potentially lasting impact on people. I became interested in the subject because I was encountering more and more individuals in my line of work who were living with residual trauma. I would hear heart-wrenching stories while noticing ways their lives were still being directed by the trauma. Feelings of fear, distrust, anxiety and isolation weren’t periodic experiences but were their daily realities.

There are many factors that contribute to how one will respond to trauma. My competitive spirit has been helpful. Not wanting to be beat, I honed in with laser focus on what was happening, identified what was needed, and got to work. The initial goal is to survive, followed by learning and making adjustments in hopes of not experiencing that same trauma again. Safety would return. Resilience grew. This stoked my confidence in what is achievable.

I never had difficulty acknowledging my physical limitations. I periodically enjoy a physical challenge but I never forget what my limits are. I cannot go 24/7. At the end of the day, I willingly go to bed in order to recharge. If I wanted to run a marathon (I don’t) I recognize that my body would need time to be conditioned. To train properly, I would need to push my limits thoughtfully but not too hard in order to avoid injury. There seem to be obvious parameters to how far we can push ourselves physically. I have a friend who, after running several marathons, trained for a 50 mile race. I cannot comprehend running 26.2 miles, let alone 50. But he did it and survived. If he kept going, training to run 60 miles, 80 miles, 100 miles, at some point it would be all he was doing. And I imagine eventually he would either run as much as is physically possible or die trying. My friend (or certainly his spouse) is smart enough to identify the foolishness of such an endeavor.

I have not done as well with acknowledging my emotional limitations. I didn’t see the same parameters as there are for physical limitations. At least not for me. With proper training, I could keep going. With the right skillset, there was no reason I couldn’t “run” longer, faster each day. I became a seasoned hurdler of emotional challenges.

There are many ways residual trauma is manifested. I don’t live with fear, distrust, anxiety and isolation as daily realities. My trauma baggage looks much more admirable. But looks can be deceiving.

How I’m Finding Hope for 2021

What a year 2020 was. And 2021 isn’t looking a whole lot better. It’s been a shit show, and it appears the shit show isn’t stopping anytime soon. In the midst of that, I have been the recipient of important lessons and incredible gestures of kindness, love and support. I thought I’d share some highlights, if you’re interested. And I would love to hear what has been helpful for you.

Lately I haven’t felt much energy to write. (Lately, as in the last four years.) Some of that was because I felt my writing didn’t matter much and so I found myself feeling less and less inspired. My writing may not be my next budding profession, but I recently learned of someone who reads what I write and she encouraged me to keep it up. Her words brought tears to my eyes as she thoughtfully articulated what my writing meant to her. I tear up now as I think about her text. Two lessons for me:

  • Do not underestimate the impact of your actions on another, positively or negatively. Remember that with your words and deeds.
  • When someone does something that inspires or encourages you, say something. That affirmation might be exactly what he/she needs to keep it up.

These last four years have continually and painfully revealed our differences. We have felt them in this country on a collective scale. But we have also felt them in very personal ways, within friendships and our own families. Some differences I’ve encountered: the importance of character; political solutions; religious priorities; how we define “Love they neighbor”; who we see as the marginalized; what we define as true; which sources are reliable and maybe more importantly, which ones are unreliable… These differences have robbed joy, hope, community, connectedness. I know that these differences didn’t just appear, but they seem to be deepening. What continually pulls me through the awfulness and renews some semblance of hope is this:

  • Remember the humanity of the other. When I lose sight of your humanity, I lose a bit of my humanity in the process. When I remember your humanity, no matter how different you are from me, there is common ground to be found. And it is there that we might be able to build something, if you are also willing.

Convictions matter. What you believe should drive who you are and the legacy you build. But convictions have been at the heart of much of what we have seen in our divisions. And our divisions seem to be becoming increasingly toxic. Shouldn’t our convictions be making this world a better place, not worse? As I consider the work I have done and continue to do, I can see how I have contributed helpfully. But I can also see, when I take the time to be honest with myself, how I have contributed to the toxicity as well. There have been many times, exhausted or frustrated or a combination of the two, that I have deferred to behavior that ended dialogue rather than contributed to it. I can also see examples of my own arrogance and self-righteousness. Not an enjoyable picture, but an important one to see and examine. My next lesson:

  • Convictions have positive impacts and have negative impacts as well. A positive is that they provide clarity of meaning and purpose. A negative is that they create blindspots. We must continually seek to understand how we are contributing positively, and how we are part of the problem. If you can’t see both, you are more likely contributing negatively than positively.

My goal was to end 2020 with 11 days off AND two weeks of accumulated vacation time as a cushion moving forward. That cushion would provide me with a safety net if something unexpected happened. In a year of quarantine, the goal felt particularly important. In order to reach my goal, I went almost a year and a half without taking one full week off. I would take long weekends here and there, but that’s it. July 2019 was my last full week away from work. For those who don’t know, I work as a chaplain at a hospital that primarily cares for pregnant women and newborns. Note that they don’t call the chaplain for cases that go well. The grief I regularly companion others in is deep and difficult. Self-care, including time away, is essential to doing my work well and staying in my role longterm.

By September of 2020, I was on course for achieving but seriously doubting my goal. I stayed the course while finding ways to practice self-care, though noticeably limping along as I did so. Part of what prevented me from changing my plans was the fact that many of my colleagues also seemed to be limping along. It didn’t feel fair to take more time off because they needed it as much if not more than me. So I kept my eyes on the prize and I finally reached my vacation. I finished 2020 with 11 days off IN A ROW and more than two weeks in my bank of vacation hours accumulated.

The day I returned, I was welcomed with a heavy and full caseload. I noticed I not only had energy for the needs of that day, I finished the day tired, but not depleted. My time off had accomplished what I had hoped. I was not only rested, but my reserves had been refilled. Lesson learned:

  • Self-care is essential to being one’s best self. Take time in small ways and big ways to care for oneself. Self-care is about knowing oneself, tending to oneself, healing and restoring oneself.

None of these lessons were new, though they have taken on new meaning. And they proved to be helpful in navigating these last few years. Each one has also helped make space to see and experience God in all of this, something that has been downright challenging these last four years. Too often the focus on faith has been about victory or blessing. I gave that up when I began to take seriously what Jesus had to say in the Gospels. But to learn what it means to love God with all of my being, to set aside what I want, to love especially when I don’t want to, to care for the marginalized – the lessons of faith, the point of faith – have been much richer in the darkness.

My hope in recounting what has helped thus far is that it might inspire you to explore what has been helpful for you. With how 2021 has started, I’m guessing we’re going to need all the help we can get. In spite of what the year brings, I hope that we can all finish 2021 saying:

  • I did my best.
  • I learned some things.
  • I honored and protected the dignity of others.

Feel free to let me know how I did. Godspeed.

Go!

For too long, stop signs permeated my faith. “Don’t believe this.” “Don’t do that.” “Don’t go there.” “Don’t listen to that.” And I grew up in a relatively comfortable home. I can’t imagine what a legalistic faith would feel like. These stop signs were sometimes fear-based. They were often a warning to prevent me from going where God didn’t want me to go. People who disregarded these stop signs weren’t serious about their faith. They didn’t trust that the stop signs were meant to keep them safe.

As I got older, the problem I increasingly grappled with was that the stop signs weren’t producing healthier individuals. People who followed these rules were just as screwed up, though perhaps in different ways. I began to question some of the stop signs and eventually cautiously move past them. To stay compliant to the stop signs would have been to become stagnant in my faith and eventually have it die altogether, like repeating freshman year over and over and over. There is only so much of that one can take, especially freshman year.

My Christian faith had taught me this idea that there is the letter of the law, or the rules one is meant to follow; and then there is the spirit of the law, understanding the greater intent of the law. Jesus was often cited as the example of one moving from the law to the spirit of the law. Did he break a rule by healing on the Sabbath? Yes. Was it wrong? Jesus said it wasn’t. Interestingly Christians would use Jesus as an example to shame Jews for getting it wrong. And yet this is exactly what I experienced from Christians.

When I began to venture beyond some of the stop signs, I encountered a number of people who cautioned me, who judged me, who bullied me, who shamed me. There is a lot of negativity in some religious systems. And it’s hard to not be impacted by it. It’s hard to not have one’s faith hardened by other people’s negativity. It’s hard not to have one’s faith soiled by constantly being told what’s wrong with you, with what believe or who you are reading or what you find inspiring.

I have had to learn how to be fueled by what is working. I now listen for the “Go!” moments in my life. I am still learning to quiet the voices yelling at me to stop. I try to relish the inspiration and I do my best to move past what would otherwise shut me down. It’s not that there isn’t a periodic “no” or “not yet.” Sometimes it comes in the form of “What about this?” or “Are you sure?” The difference is that the stop sign was put there by someone else. The “no” or “not yet” or “slow down” or “are you sure?” requires on ongoing engagement with my faith.

I get the purpose of stop signs. They aren’t inherently bad. But if those stop signs are the point of your driving experience, you aren’t really focused on the experience of driving. I trust my acquired skills to navigate and stay safe. Feel free to disagree. We can even have a great conversation about that. But if all you are going to do is to yell at me to stop, to tell me I don’t understand, to point out how you know much more than me, then I’m going to have to keep on going.

The Problem with Love

The problem with love is that it’s hard work.

Movies make it seem like the hard work happens until love shows up. But life isn’t like that. At least my life isn’t like that. Life is hard work. Love shows up. Life continues to be hard work. And now you’ve got the work of relationships too. So in fact, love makes the hard work harder.

I don’t just mean romantic love. All love is hard work. There are wonderful perks to love – companionship, friendship, affection, camaraderie, fun… lots of things that make the work more than worthwhile. But make no mistake, love is work. Lots of work.

Wouldn’t it be great if love were easy? If love solved our problems, not caused more problems?

I’m not down on love. I’m just feeling the need to be clear about the reality of love. While I look at those I am closest to and couldn’t be more grateful for those relationships, I also see the effort we have put into those relationships to make them work as well as they do. The relationships that have grown and strengthened and lasted aren’t the ones that have been the easiest. They are the ones that have been mutually worked on.

Certainly in the case with my kids, I did most of the work through their childhood. But I also sought to teach them their responsibilities in a relationship and eventually expected that to occur in our relationship as well. I would not have the relationship I have with my adult kids if they did not at some point start participating in and contributing to it.

Is that to say the relationship with my kids is perfect? Hell no. They’d be just as quick to say that as me. We get annoyed or frustrated with each other. We need breaks every now and then from each other. But I would say (and I hope they would to) that the relationship we do have with each other is deep, reliable, helpful and often enjoyable. And that no matter what, we will always show up for the other when truly needed. We might show up late. We definitely show up imperfectly. But we always, eventually, show up. That is why, while love is hard work, it is worth the work.

The reason I found myself thinking about love today is as I continue to figure out how to survive this awful year, I was reminded that at the center of my faith is love. It is the center of all the commandments according to the Christian faith. It is the most important responsibility. And it’s hard, especially when there are people who are hard to love. But I know that there are always people who are hard to love, including or maybe I should say, especially me.

There are days I don’t feel very loving, and days I don’t feel very lovable. I try to figure out how to love anyway. For those I’d rather dismiss, those who annoy me, those who don’t seem very deserving, those I’d rather not hang out with, I try to love anyway. It’s hard to keep showing up. I fail regularly, which gives me the opportunity to practice self-love as I learn to do better. We know that we can’t be very good at offering love if we aren’t good at receiving love.

I wish the point of faith was to be right. Or to be rich. Or to be protected. Or to be blessed. Those sound so much easier. But since it is not, at least not for me, I am thankful for what my loving relationships have taught me and give me in order to learn to love others, to keep showing up for others. I’m not sure I’ll ever get to the point where I can say I love all. But that’s the goal.

Ugh. I grimace as I write that last part. Because the problem with love is that it’s hard work.

What I’m Learning in the Midst of a Pandemic Situation

  1. Toilet paper is what Americans covet the most. This surprised me. I would’ve thought the answer would be money or unlimited data or selfie filters. But it turns out that we can’t live with the thought of not having toilet paper. When all of this madness subsides, I’m going to make, produce and sell Pandemic Bidets. I think it’s a million dollar idea.
  2. Empty nesting is overrated during a world crisis. I couldn’t be happier to have my kids home with me right now.
  3. The second refrigerator that seemed unnecessary once we became empty nesters would be very helpful during the pandemic crisis. (See #2.)
  4. I have great job security as a hospital chaplain. I don’t love this one because it is the hardest parts of life that ensure my work is valued. But it has been interesting to navigate the crisis without worrying about whether or not I have a job. My heart is heavy for the many people who can’t work or won’t have a job to go back to once this ends.
  5. More information is not necessarily going to make a difference. For weeks we were preparing for the inevitable Stay-At-Home order and learning why it was so important to practice. And yet some (or perhaps many) ignored that information and act like it is time to catch up with neighbors and friends. Hey folks, IT’S NOT SUMMER VACATION!
  6. Spend time not thinking about the worldwide pandemic. Nature is an essential stabilizer. To see the birds go on as if it is any other day reminds me that life is moving forward; that summer will come; that people will rise to the occasion; that we (collectively) will get through this. I watch those who are oblivious to COVID-19 because they remind me of life beyond COVID-19.
  7. Self-care is essential in maintaining my sanity. I learned during my stay-at-home parent days that no one was going to take care of me so I damn well better learn how to do that for myself. My mind and body tell me when I need to amp up taking care of me. Lack of motivation, fatigue regardless of how much sleep I got, excessive negativity are all indicators that I am depleted and need to be refilled. I have learned that what I need to do is do something, anything, to remind myself of who I am. Weeding the garden, making a delicious meal, organizing a closet, going for a long walk in the woods, playing with my dog, zooming with great friends are all things that help recalibrate my mind and body when the work has become too much. And these days, the work is a lot. Self-care isn’t a luxury. Self-care is a necessity.
  8. Financial health is like any other aspect of health. Sometimes a person’s decisions contribute to his or her overall health. Other times it has nothing to do with decisions made and has everything to do with things out of that person’s control. Most of the time it is some combination of the two. I’ve been learning this lesson for awhile, awakening out of my white-middle-class-fog. The lesson began as I better understood the complexities of poverty (FYI It’s not just a matter of working harder). But I see this now more than ever as we learn in the current crisis who is most vulnerable and asking myself how can I help.
  9. Laughter is still the best medicine. Practice it daily.
  10. The purpose of faith in my life isn’t to provide answers but to help hold the tough, important questions. The faith of my past would have told me what God is and isn’t doing right now, but I have become quite skeptical of that kind of belief. Instead I find faith as sort of a book binding. The pages move back and forth, can be bent and even torn. And yet there is something that prevents the pages from flying apart in all different directions. The movement of the pages, the creases and tears all remind me that life is fragile. It is important to take that reality seriously. The binding provides hope that the fragility may overwhelm but does not have to prevail. The binding is the presence of the Collective Good, of God.

Maybe there are more lessons I have learned. I am sure there are more to be learned. But that feels like enough for today. The rest of today will be my own restorative work so that tomorrow I can do the hospital work of how to provide the best possible care under our current circumstances. Godspeed, friends.

Moving Forward Five Years Later

Almost five years ago, I began this blog with the post, Why I Left the Church to Start a Church. It’s a good time to give an update on that church. First I am struck by how much that post still reflects where I am. If I didn’t have my community of faith, The Other Church, I’m not sure what I would do to replace it. I have outgrown the organized church. Or maybe a more accurate way to say it is that my faith has outgrown the organized church. I need a space that allows doubt, questions, anger, and disappointment along with hope, joy and peace. And I need the room to go where I need to go, not where the church tells me to go.

Lots of people inhabit this space, “spiritual but not religious” you might say. Many have deep questions of meaning and purpose. As I have sought to provide a safe space for exploring these questions, I have learned several things about that space. I thought I’d share some today.

  • Being vulnerable is hard. In our social media culture, we are more comfortable with our filtered photos than our messy lives. Vulnerability is an invitation to be honest with self and others. For people who carry deep pain, that invitation can be particularly frightening. Unless they are willing to face their pain, vulnerability will feel like too big of a risk.
  • It is easier to be told what to do or believe than to decide for oneself. Believing what someone else tells you to believe removes accountability. It lessens the need for reflection. The parameters have been set and one simply has to move within those parameters. To pick those parameters for oneself can feel scary. My observation is that for most of us, we only do so when those set parameters no longer make sense.
  • If one can avoid hard work, most of us will. Numbing is a quicker fix than feeling the pain. Fighting or blaming is easier than listening. We are a culture of immediate gratification, and we are dying because of it. We refuse the work before us, or we pour ourselves into work that brings little or no change. Maybe that feels safer. Maybe that’s just who we’ve become.

Shortly after my initial post almost five years ago, a church-of-sorts was officially launched along with a website and social media platforms. The tools were developed to find others who were interested in going on this journey with me. In this carved out space for exploration of faith and meaning, I found a group of people. We are learning to be more vulnerable. We are exploring what we believe individually and collectively, and what we will do with those beliefs. We are learning to do the hard work, encouraging and helping each other along the way. We don’t do any of these things perfectly and we fail regularly. But we keep trying as we also do our best to love and care for one another.

As The Other Church community moves forward, know that there is always room for one more. And in our next steps of moving forward, I have decided to shut down the church’s website and social media platforms for now. At this stage, I do not see these tools helping us with the work we do. We are not meant to be a community that is watched, but rather one that is engaged. We all need a community of people who know us, love us, challenge us and accept us. If you have followed The Other Church, I want to thank you. If you have supported The Other Church, a double thank you to you. Now go find a place for you that will embrace all of you. And if you want to be part of mine, you are always welcome.

Godspeed.

Tough Love

I have been the recipient of tough love on several occasions. I am referring to the experience of being told something I didn’t want to hear because it was hard to hear. But as the pain ebbed, I could see that I needed to hear what was being said. It is that moment of truth you initially push aside because it hits a little too close to home; a truth that challenges the narrative you have chosen to believe; a truth that feels like a mirror being held up too close to reveal a flaw you would rather not see.

Rarely does a tough love moment work the first time its message is conveyed. Its effectiveness usually requires multiple supporting messages and a recipient willing to listen or at least unable to ignore. One of my tough love moments was about money. And in hindsight I realized how that moment had been years in the making. I didn’t enjoy my tough love moment. But I was changed by it, for the better.

Initially I didn’t believe any logical and loving person could vote for Trump. When he was elected, I was shocked. When I realized some of my friends and family voted for Trump, I couldn’t really talk about it. I was so incredibly uncomfortable with the thought that one could believe Trump deserved the office of President. The only argument I heard that made any sense was the struggling coal miner who believed that Trump might revitalize the coal industry. I didn’t believe Trump would actually do that. But I could wrap my head around it.

I still can’t comprehend how a logical and loving person supports Trump. I’m not saying that a Trump supporter can’t be logical and loving. I am saying that a Trump supporter has a malfunction going on in both logic and love. That is my tough love message. Trump is a malignancy and in order to support him, you must deny the damage and ignore the hurt he is causing.

It doesn’t matter how he advances your convictions, who he puts into power for you, or what you gain. Nothing is worth the damage this president is causing at the expense of others. Without love, we are nothing and we gain nothing. And so we need to cut out the fucking cancer. If you are a Trump supporter, put forth a decent candidate for 2020 who represents you without decimating decency. Put forth a candidate who is able to argue his or her ideas rather than relying on cruelty towards another. Put forth a candidate who serves more than his or her own ego. Put forth a candidate with integrity. I believe with all my heart that Trump supporters need this tough love moment.

I am aware of a paradox here. While I articulate my belief that Trump supporters need to do better, I am convicted of the reality that I too need to do better. I must move past my disbelief and discomfort and have the conversation with my family and friends who support this president. I need to speak and listen, which will not be easy. I propose, if you are also willing, that we try to give each other room. Thank you for reading this far. Now tell me what it is you are fighting for. Tell me what the tough love message is for me. It might be difficult to do, for both of us. But isn’t it time we choose something other than division or superficiality?

I have one final thought to share. It is not only our convictions that reveal who we are, but it is the substance of our lives: the quality of our relationships, the sense of peace versus fear we carry, and the love or lack thereof that we give. I hope my life is about love, whether I am standing up for the marginalized, or listening to someone I completely disagree with because love never fails.

 

Stories

You have a story to tell. You are your story. Do you know your story? Do you share it? Only you can. I hope that you not only own your story, but that you recognize how important your story is.

Sometimes the world sends a message that some stories are more important than others. That is a lie. Sometimes the world says that one can do irreparable damage to his or her story. That too is a lie. As long as we breathe, our stories continue. Each breath is a reminder that our stories are still being written, still being lived out.

Another truth to ponder – your story is sacred because you are sacred. Every day I have the opportunity to hear people’s stories. And more than anything else in my work, I remind people of this truth. You are sacred. Your story is sacred. Sometimes we avoid our story because we feel shame about it. Or we miss the beauty of our story because we compare it to another person’s story.

And in case you didn’t know, there are countless stories in this world to hear and learn from, to be challenged and encouraged by. Listen deeply. Listen empathically. Be curious. Be kind. We need these stories, all of them. Yours and mine. My story isn’t your story and that is a good thing.

Several years ago, my then teenaged son plopped himself in a chair nearby complaining of my decision to not let him go hang out with his friends that evening. He was genuinely annoyed with me. In his story in that moment, he was the protagonist and I was the antagonist. How could I, this big, bad, mean mom ruin his life? I let him go on for awhile. When the complaining showed no signs of slowing, I walked over to interrupt his story with another. I knelt down to be eye level. I gently touched his arm. “Isaac, going hungry is a tragedy. Losing a parent at an early age is a tragedy. Living in a war-torn land is a tragedy. This? My making you stay home tonight? Not a tragedy.”

I said this not to shame him but to broaden his perspective. That is what another story can do. I was challenging his story with another story in hopes that he would see things a little differently. Isaac looked at me, a bit startled at first. He then chuckled and said, “yup.” He jumped up and found something else to do.

Maybe it is because I said what I did without judgment or annoyance. Maybe it is because it was love that fueled my actions. Or maybe I was just lucky. But in that moment I could see recognition on his face of a perspective that changed the story he had been telling himself.

A few years later I was sitting in a room with my fellow seminary classmates. One student shared that he had recently taught his teenaged son to drive. Part of that education included how to be pulled over safely by the police. This man, a black man, one of the kindest, gentlest men I knew, went on to share about his dozen or so experiences of being pulled over by police only to be let go after being cleared for no wrong doing. He talked about the unwritten rules he had been taught to follow that he had to pass on to his son. “Don’t make eye contact.” “Be polite.” “Don’t question.” “Don’t show your agitation, frustration, or anger.” Just to name a few. These rules weren’t for the sake of common courtesy. They were rules for survival.

I pride myself on identifying outcomes. I come up with contingency outcomes and contingency-upon-contingency outcomes. Never once, in all of my worst case scenarios I tried to imagine did I consider that my son, who I had recently taught to drive, might be in harm’s way when in the presence of the police. Not once did I worry for his safety. Maybe if my classmate had simply talked about his experiences, I might have dismissed his story. But there was something undeniably disturbing in the contrast between his son’s “driver’s ed” and my son’s. I heard him. And I was undone.

His story exposed a world I had refused to see up to that point. His story challenged my story in a way that humbled me and tore me open. It was painful and hard to allow his story to coexist with my story. But I knew I had to keep listening. I needed to hear his story and many more stories of people who live in and experience the world differently from me.

I am still listening. I am listening to my story and your story. I look for the ways they beautifully overlap and the ways they uncomfortably bump into each other. I am living and learning through my story and your story.

So, what is your story? Have you told it recently? Do so, and tell it often. Remember to tell the ups and the downs. Share the good and the not-so-good. Celebrate the joys. Mourn the losses. Share your story. Again and again and again. The world needs to hear your story.