What They’re Asking

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Photo by Sven on Unsplash

This poem refers to Britt Marie Was Here, a novel by Fredrik Backman. I didn’t love the story, but Britt Marie’s empty, desperate life pierced me. I felt that her hunger was not as odd as it might seem, so I wrote this response.

Britt Marie displaced her husband’s shaver
So she could hear him say her name
To ask where it was.
He didn’t say it nicely
But it was her name and
When he said it
She knew who she was.

Backman’s novel is truer than fiction
And older than Enneagram numbers
Because women have always
Wondered and wandered
To voices that grunt, nod, or whisper
Answers to their questions that echo
Echo over oceans, porches, trails, cereal bowls—
Do you see me?
Am I beautiful?
With this mole and with this limp
And even when I can’t see you and
With that mistake—
Do I matter?
Can you read my voice?

I don’t know and I can’t hear and
What did you say?
If you said yesterday
That I’m the sun and moon to you
I wonder if today it’s true.
Do you see past my brain to my pulse,
And what do you see there?
Is it pretty? Do you like it?

She may not mouth the words or
Trust her lisp to ask
But she puzzles, dreams, doubts,
Whoever she is—
The lithe bride, the mall janitor,
And the receptionist’s hello—all ask,
Sotto voce, just like
The sparky barista, the wallflower,
And the social butterfly
Who visits all the sweet spots.

She never displaces a shaver
But she still listens
To be named,
Seen,
Belong.

But We Had Hoped

Maybe we’re sufficiently far enough out from Christmas that I can safely talk about the questions I have about it. Please don’t call me a Scrooge before you hear me out!

I love chocolate and chocolate-covered everything and candles and carols– all the music that Christmas evokes. But I’ve never seen how plates of cookies and candy link to Jesus’ birth.

Growing up, Christmas wasn’t a big deal in our family. We had a great Christmas dinner and friends or family to eat it with, and I value that simplicity. We never exchanged gifts, because our parents wanted us to think about how we could give to people who had less than we did. I’m grateful for this, even though every Christmas now I feel caught out and odd because I don’t have the gift-giving, card-giving rhythm everyone else does. Special gifts are lovely, and I love a party as much as any extrovert in a pandemic does, but I’ve never seen that we celebrate a friend’s birthday by giving everyone else presents.

Maybe it’s the rebel in me, but I look for ways to give unbirthday gifts outside of Christmas. I’m not highly organized at this, but sometimes I try. Last Thanksgiving break, I rounded up a dozen simple vases, (I was going to spray paint quart jars but you know how scarce they are this year. Dollar Tree to the rescue!) bought two rolls of ribbon, and went foraging for greens. I spent several hours arranging the greens at the kitchen table, then handed them out to friends over the next days. It was so much fun, so simple, and a way to give seasonal beauty that lasted at least a month.

Now I’m dreaming of making bunches of biscotti and passing them out in the next months. Wouldn’t homemade gifts be more special when they’re unexpected?

I like traditions and feasts and making candy together and reveling in gorgeous Christmas music, so I don’t plan on deleting Christmas from my life. But let’s not confuse happy, delicious traditions with a deeply significant event in history that’s so murky we know few details about how it was. Is there a way that we could keep the lines clearer between tradition and remembering the wonder of Incarnation?

We can call things tradition or fun but I don’t see how chocolates connect with the Incarnation. You can disagree, and that’s ok. Maybe I’ve not entered rightly or fully into celebrating spiritual realities.

To help start fresh traditions and clear connections to help us remember significant spiritual realities, I propose we start celebrating Easter as a bigger, brighter, richer event than we usually do. The worst possible thing happened on Good Friday, and then the most unimaginable, wonderful thing happened, and most of us say oh yeah, Easter’s coming soon–when is it, exactly–I don’t remember–shall we get some lilies for the table?

I dream of our whole calendar focused toward remembering this most unbelievable, shattering event. There’s much about that day in history and that context that we don’t know, but whenever I read the Emmaus story and the walkers tell Jesus “We had hoped he was to redeem Israel,” it breaks my heart every single time.

All of us know hope, broken hope, and the way a heart implodes. Easter is the only antidote in the world for that universal human experience, and it’s something to celebrate long and loud.

But how?

It’s been a whole year of Lent, not just forty days, and I have any amount of books and poetry and devotionals to help focus me in this Lenten season, and none of it is helping. I have no elastic in my soul to expand to Lenten Bible studies or reading eloquent poems. I’ve given up so much this year, I can’t think about deliberately cutting out another thing or adding something special while I wait for Easter.

So this is my dilemma. I want to celebrate Easter with beauty and joy and anticipation, and build traditions and remember how the worst possible thing became better than anyone’s dream. But this doesn’t seem to be the year to start. And I don’t know what to do about it.

I’m in the “but we had hoped” stage and most days I’m ok, but other days I’m edgy and whimpery and not a paragon of celebration and virtue. I’m like one of the two walking home to Emmaus, head down, disappointed, unable to make sense of what’s happening.

It’s dark but it’s a season and it won’t always be this way. Meanwhile, in the next post, I’ll list the tiny steps I’m taking toward light and beauty.

Toward Light

To follow up on from the last blog post: here are steps I’m taking toward light. They’re not connected to Lent or Resurrection like I idealize, but they help keep me from spiraling down and crumpling.

  • I’m writing a poem every week. It’s kinda fun and a little healing.
  • I made a royal pavlova to celebrate a friend’s birthday. And biscotti another weekend. Different kinds, all irresistible.
  • I use Sara Hagerty’s adoration list to focus and settle me every morning. She has a new list every month, and I love them so much for their simplicity and truth.
  • I take great joy in my miniature orchid that’s blooming its heart out (photo up top) and my other normal-size orchid that blooms stunning berry colors every year and is popping buds again. Both take minimal effort to nurture, and their colors give me so much. The mini orchid is called an “espresso orchid” and its cheery flowers are just slightly bigger than a quarter. Exquisite.
  • For whatever reason these days, I wake up 30-90 minutes before the alarm goes. Now I effortlessly have extra time in my day, so I wrap up in a blanket at my desk and study to teach Sunday school or do some other project and look out at the eastern waking sky and feel so, so peaceful. I always think of Emily Dickenson’s lines, I’ll tell you how the Sun rose – /A Ribbon at a time –
  • After lunch, I take a 10-20 minute walk outside so as to get all the sunshine at its optimal time. Sometimes I invite or compel a co-worker to come along. This noon walk decision is the absolutely best thing that I’ve done all winter.
  • I listen to choral music–my play list or a new find. Loud. As loud as is socially acceptable.
  • I do housework or drive or walk in silence, letting the sounds and ideas and sights of the moment wash over me without needing to solve or conclude.
  • I went with friends to a greenhouse and fell in love with these strings of dolphins. Who can be uncheered with a string of leaping dolphins? I’m not so great with succulents, but I hope I can keep them leaping.
  • I try hard to eat more protein and fewer carbs. It’s a constant fight.
  • I spend as little money as possible. But when I find books I know I’ll read, or make food for someone, or join friends at a restaurant, I spend with no guilt.
  • I visualize rolling my burdens onto Jesus’ shoulders. It’s something like the way I shrug off a heavy backpack onto the shoulder of a friend who offers to carry it for me. The exercise forces me to deliberately focus on Him instead of only at the injustice and hardship that takes me down.

The brighter evenings, the brave crocus blossoms, the chirpy Baltimore orioles tell me that “no winter is forever, and no spring skips its turn.”

Filters & Personas

Photo by Teigan Rodger on Unsplash

I wonder why

People cry for authenticity

Honesty, transparency

But use

A million filters

In their stories.

This glow,

That persona,

Woke lingo.

I reach for clarity

Tempered with grace,

Steel and velvet

In their place.

Glory and agony,

Diamonds and shards.

Real. Liminal. True.

The best

And highest moments

Never reach IG

Because they sparkle IRL,

Real-time, not reels where

The expanse of reality

Stays screen-flat,

A likeness, not life.

But dopamine hits

And the scrolling thumb

Is running from—

From stab and throb?

From pine and pungent mist and moon?

From laughter, questions gone soon?

Be still, the poet said.

Ask the pulse

Its hunger,

How the drug of choice

Lifts higher than this moment:

That leaf’s blaze,

This shimmering chord,

Those dimpled grins.

Be still.

Be here.

Silence seeps

Its sweet tang.

Pleiades stills

A raucous brain.

Flicker, flame,

Shine, tune

Sigh, pine.

Vast sky expands,

Woos, implants

A yen for more

And grants it.

Songs Stay On

It was a year, as everyone has already noted.

I don’t have words yet to talk well about it, and there are still clouds and questions with no answers. I am hopeful but not glib about 2021. Not chirpy, as my personality tends to be.

This not the place to list last year’s losses. That would take too long and be too depressing. But one immense loss has been choir, choir concerts, and formal and informal singing groups. I feel incredulous that last January, just before the year started unravelling, I went with friends to a packed auditorium in Cleveland to hear the St. Olaf Choir conducted by Dr. Anton Armstrong. I still listen to some of the songs I heard that night. I’m not a gifted singer, but listening to songs and singing with people feeds me like nothing else does and I miss it terribly.

In the darkest, hardest parts of the year, when I couldn’t sing, I listened to others sing. Often it was “Jesus Strong and Kind.” Or “Sure on This Shining Night.”

When everything inside me feels scrambled, I listen to choral music. When I want to rest my soul, I turn on my favorites, this curated list of chorale gems. The voices, harmonies, and chord progressions soothe something deep in me. I start breathing deeper and my focus shifts from troubles around me to the shimmering melodies or words. This list has multiple arrangements and languages of the Lord’s prayer and Psalm 23. Wonder how that happened.

This list are all my favorites depending on the moment, but indulge me while I share my exceptional choices:

  • Pieces from Stellenbosch Choir. From South Africa, they have a rare, winning blend of Dutch harmonies and African rhythms. I dream of hearing this group in person some day.
  • The first time I heard the stunning soprano lines in Arvo Part’s “And I Heard a Voice,” it took my breath away. Then I read the backstory to the song, and how he composed it in his native Estonian, and now I like it even more.
  • Sometimes I wake up with lines from Forrest’s “Come to Me” or Mealor’s “The Beautitudes” in my head, and it makes the whole day better.
  • Whenever I hear “Indodana,” I see the silhouettes of the women at Jesus’ cross, weeping with no words. I can’t listen to the song without some emotional fortitude because it’s so sad. But it gives voice to what was the most wrecked night of their lives.

I often think CCM has more honest lament than classical and sacred music does, so I find some CCM lyrics cathartic and healing, but I don’t find most CCM beautiful aesthetically. And beauty is what I need when I’m fragile or sad. Beauty (very loud or very soft) or silence.

Toward the end of last year, I got to sit in on the dress rehearsal for this recorded Christmas concert. The only thing that’s better than singing in choir is listening to your friends sing. While they practiced, I sat on the floor in the back of the gym in the dark and cried because it was so beautiful. Earlier in the year, some of them were also in on this virtual choir and I’m so proud of them.

Clearly, this is the era of virtual choirs. Even though it goes against most of what is true and enjoyable about choir, virtual choirs offer something better than silence and isolation. Last summer, I heard about Eric Whitaker’s “Sing Gently” virtual choir about two days before the tracks were due in. I downloaded the sheet music and the practice tracks, but didn’t have time to finish. That close, I would’ve joined over 17,000 singers to debut that sweet song, and it would’ve been a nice way to remember the year. Maybe another song, another time.

Hope wears thin these days, but in brighter moments, I believe that some day we’ll pack into auditoriums and sing again. I dream of attending a concert like this of Brahm’s “Requiem.” The European elegance, red and black formal wear, the singers surrounding the audience–I would be be in raptures.

Singing aligns all the parts of a person with beauty and goodness, which is one reason it’s so healing for me. In this fragmented, splintered, fraught era, we need more singing. We need songs everywhere. We need truth and beauty and goodness flung around in music and voices and community. We could never have too much.

Snow Globe

This morning marks seven years that I woke up in the hospital after the worst day of my life. This morning, I saw the same light, the same cold, but everything is different. My brokenness then was physical and emotional and He is still healing me and I can never say how grateful I am. Today’s shaken globe reveals other kinds of brokenness in all of us. Different ways, different places, different aches. But I believe with all my heart that He walks with us, weeps with us, and leads us to wholeness and this keeps me from despair when the world shakes and breaks.

This is the light

And this is the ice

And this is the years

He heals me.

*

That morning,

She came in from the ice

And held me soft and

Snow glittered on her black wool.

*

Inside, looking out,

The snow globe, steady,

Turned and turned,

These seven seasoned years.

*

This morning,

I see light and ice,

Feel cheeks wet with stupendous

Overwhelm.

The gentle healer shakes the snow globe

Again

But never drops it.

*

This is the light and

This is the life

His wondrous hands

Poured into mine.

Use Your Words

I’ve loved words for as long as I can remember. Our family parsed words to death, arguing whether a word meant one thing or another. When I taught ESL in Poland, I made the bag pictured above with words from a favorite hymn because I thought an English teacher should have a bag with words. And Wordles were so much fun! They’ve kinda gone out of style by now, but I loved their eloquence and simplicity.

Sometimes I buy a thing just because of its fun name. Like a car air freshener called “High Maintenance” or a mini orchid because it’s named “Espresso Orchid.” It was white, not espresso colored, but it fit in an espresso-sized cup, and I found it irresistible, and am thrilled that it’s finally shooting out a bud stalk.

Words. Names. We fling them around. Label things. Describe ourselves, describe feelings, describe situations. And what a humdinger of a situation this year has been. What a stupendous opportunity to use words well, to let them sparkle, fly, heal.

I’ve seen healing words, heard them, received them. They infuse me with new energy and light. Words carry light, you know. Or darkness. Which is sobering. In mysterious, staggering power, words create our reality. We can name a thing wonderful or terrible, and it becomes that. Is this power part of carrying God’s image–the part of Him that named creation into existence? Is it akin to how Adam named the animals?

I’ve heard wise moms calm their distraught, screaming children by saying, “Use your words.” Then the child says, “I’m cold.” Or “He hit me.” Or “I want to go hoooooome.” Then the mom knows what’s happening, and the screaming stops. She worked ahead of time by teaching her child words to use.

I think we could teach each other words that are useful and clarifying. I think this weird year gives us a fantastic chance to try to name what’s happening.We’ve heard lots of yelling, words flung around like daggers, weighted with hate and anger. We’ve complained, and tried to be strong, and given up lots of dreams, and readjusted our plans a hundred times, and cried buckets of tears of deep loss and sorrow. We’ve worn out tired words like

unprecedented

anti-maskers

fraudsters

systemic

mitigation.

Anger and grief are real and valid and we should name them. Name them, own the tsunami emotions, and care deeply for those in hardship. Death, a serious health diagnosis, loss of home or loved ones, mental illness, front-line medical work, violence, and abuse deserve words like

suffering

devastated

crushed

agony.

God’s people should be leading the way in holding the broken hearted, comforting, helping, and offering quiet presence. If they speak, they should give gentle, luminous words, not judging or giving quick fixes.

In contrast, when a storm comes through and takes away electricity for more than 30 hours, or a vacation got cancelled, or masks are mandated for specific situations, we can use words like

uncomfortable

disruptive

disappointing

inconvenient

sad.

When I hear anger about masking or changes in holiday plans, I want to say, “Use your words!” And choose them appropriately. We can be sad and disappointed about many things, but if we’re not in a flapping tent in a refugee camp, and we have contact with our loved ones, and we didn’t bury a family member, are we suffering? I suggest not. We should use our words instead of screaming.

The stark pictures of boots and crocs upside down outside a UNHCR tent in Greece (upside down so the rain doesn’t get in them, and outside so they don’t dirty the living quarters in the tent) calls me to be utterly careful how and where I use the “suffering” word. When I hear people yelling about masks, and being worried about the effect of COVID on our nation, I think they don’t get out much. Am I being judgy? There are much worse, much harder situations across the globe that deserve our anger and our prayer. We can be honest about how we feel because anger or sadness doesn’t disappear by ignoring it, but we also need perspective and higher goals than keeping ourselves comfortable.

What if we’d use our words to name our situation with truth and grace like Jesus did? What if we channel our deep emotion toward gentleness, compassion, and caring for what is truly devastating? Could we create a new reality by naming things accurately?

I wonder.

Patina

rain chains

Rain chains on amazon.com

Reflections on re-entry to my birth country, five years after.

They swooshed camp chairs
Out of carry bags
And lifted Pinterest-perfect snacks
From Thirty-One bags
And glided on soft-soled shoes
To friends with nodding faces.

I watched
Them and
Ordered
My lungs to breathe and
My knees to not crumple

Until I found a quiet place
To sob and sit and list
All the things I missed
And what was new. I’d never
Needed a camp chair.
(Stumps and grass
Had always worked fine.)
And what was Thirty-One?

Words dribbled over lines,
Lines puddled into memories.

Lewis said far, far better things lie ahead
Than any we leave behind
So I lettered his lines for my wall

But a life won’t be stuffed into words
And memories ooze
For years. The tears
Don’t stop but drip down
Down to the mother bowl
Of copper dark
To rest and glisten and breathe
And sometimes see
Chimney swifts circle and drop
Circle and chirp and drop to 
Home.

Days drop into weeks
And years into a rain chain where
Loss empties gain, fills loss, drips gain and
Splashes into weathered green
Mystery rimmed
Shimmering.

Smiley Faces & Emojis

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Photo by Hansjörg Keller on Unsplash

When I want to send a text these days, I look at my most-used emojis and feel astounded at how they reflect the essence of much of my communication. It’s a long way from the hundreds of smiles I wrote by hand—like this, but vertical: =). Dashes for the eyes, not dots, are important to me. I don’t know why.

Twenty-five years ago when we moved to Ireland, someone chartered a bus for our friends and relatives to go with us to Dulles Airport, a three-hour trip. After a helpful agent checked in our mountain of luggage, all the dozens of friends and relations trooped through the airport, onto a shuttle, and waved us off at the door of the plane. That’s how long ago it was.

In the first years, we relied on letters and faxes to stay connected with people across the ocean, five time zones away. I spent a big chunk of my stipend on stamps and stationery. I remember the wonder of watching a fax come squeaking off the machine. Never mind that it was thermal paper and could easily fade. It meant someone was feeding the message at this exact moment, and it was magic to feel that connected in real time. I wrote dozens and dozens of letters, and Michelle and I wrote each other every week for the first two years. I often wish I could read them again. Or maybe not.

One friend saw how much Michelle missed me and gave her money to call me once. We arranged by letter what day and time we’d call, so we had to schedule it way ahead. The rate was something like $20 for an hour, and the call was such a treat!

Then a friend in PA told me that I could write her via her family’s email, and I said, “What’s email?” Eventually we got a modem for our family computer and every morning it would do its whirring, chirping, burbling noise to send and receive emails. That was when we got all the silly chain emails that said if you don’t forward this, your billy goat will do something bad. Our family shared one address, and our friends would write our names in the subject lines so it would go directly to our individual folders, but even so it wasn’t a super confidential system.

When I got my own gmail address, I loved the versatility of logging in at any computer in any state or country and connecting with my people. I spent hours and hours emailing friends who lived far away. My isolation and loneliness in Ireland and Poland pushed me to learn what it takes to sustain long-distance friendships. I was willing to put in that time and effort because it was a large part of how I was supported and connected with people with whom I shared history. I had dear friends and mentors who had a lot of patience with me and with email in those days, and I’m deeply grateful. It helped that I could express myself well with words, but communicating via email was a skill I prioritized. I didn’t buy as many stamps anymore, though they were still important. I started typing and printing my letters instead of writing them long-hand like I’d always done. Also, I laughed and laughed when I first learned about the chat option. You could message back and forth in real time! And send animated emojis! There was a new kind of culture in chats I had to learn. You didn’t have to do formal hellos and goodbyes. You could just show up, message something, and disappear as you wanted. Kinda novel. Kinda fun.

In 2004 a friend told me about Xanga. She said it was like online journaling and I thought that’s the oddest thing I’d ever heard, and I would never put my journal online. Then for some reason I got an account, and moved around in that world a little bit but it was always a little noisy and scary and overwhelming to me. I liked it and didn’t like it. I didn’t like the pressure of creating a persona for myself. But I made some good, life-giving connections that I still treasure.

Then came Skype, which avoided the cost of a phone bill, though I still had to pay something to call internationally from Poland. It was a good system in its time, and I feel a little melancholy about its iconic beep-beep-swoosh ring tone. When I had major surgery in Poland, it was worth a lot to use the Skype video option to call my mom the next day, show her my incision, and let her see my surroundings. The tables were turned several years later when she was on chemo and I was five time zones away. Then I used WhatsApp video, and it helped me feel not so far away to be able to see how she looked when she lost her hair, and how she closed her eyes when she was tired.

There are lots of voices out there that decry technology but I’m so grateful for the ways that it has helped me feel not so far away from so many people I love. I’m particularly fond of voice messages. I sent a voice message to RSVP to a bride, and she messaged back: “I’m so glad you sent me a voice message. I can hear your soul that way.” Or another friend who was recently in such a remote place in West Africa that she didn’t get messages for three weeks: “When I got your message, it made me feel so loved and a little weepy because I just want to have an evening together.”

These days, I get tired of staring at chins and necks in Zoom calls and “You’re muted.” BUT WE CAN SEE EACH OTHER AND HEAR EACH OTHER! (At least, we can when the weather is clear and my wifi works.) Bumpy, scratchy Zoom calls are still better than thermal fax paper. Most times, anyway.

I’m super choosy about the podcasts I listen to. I want substance, not chitchat, so I mostly listen to counselling episodes and journalists with the BBC. This week I listened to this one about naming unspoken griefs. They talked about ambiguous loss and how it shapes our relationships. One line hit me hard: “Sustaining long-term long-distance relationships requires you to live in ambiguous loss.” It’s true. I’ve learned ways that work well to communicate but my soul never gets used to the distance, never is reconciled to the dissonance of being psychologically present but physically distant from my people. It’s good to have a name for it now.

These days, my task bar shows two—sometimes three— messaging apps I use every day. Please please please don’t send me an invitation to another messaging platform. Can we please just use what we have, which already works great?

After all the words and voices and sound bites, sometimes there are no words. My most-used emojis tell the story of what I say when I don’t have words. They span the spectrum of my current experience: a (tan) thumbs-up, a face with floods of tears, a broken heart, a dancing lady in a red dress, a laughing scholar, puzzled, wrinkled eyes with a grimacing mouth, a grinning face with sunglasses, hearts floating all over a happy face, a wink, a wink and a kiss, a party hat face, a shocked face with wide open eyes and mouth, hands holding a blue face, cheering, waving hands.

The smiley face with the dashes for the eyes and the (tan) praying hands all do the same job. They give a way, a mechanism, a system for hearing and being heard which is mostly about loving, and I’m very grateful for all of it.

The Freedom of Both/And

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I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a beautiful big toe. Unless they belong to a tall, slender woman, all big toes seem lumpy, gnarled, irregular, with dirt embedded under the nail.

Big toes are also super important for walking well, staying balanced, and keeping grip on flipflops. Toes are both ugly and important.

So maybe it’s a lame metaphor, but give me a chance here!

By nature, I’m an all-or-nothing person. If I can’t have everything, I don’t want anything. Don’t compromise. Don’t give me compensations. Just give me what I want, or forget it.

How similar is this to a two-year-old near you?

This is why I’m trying hard to learn how to live well in ways that don’t mirror a two-year-old.

Maybe it’s personality. Maybe it’s the brain trying to sort its data and get rid of dissonance. Maybe it’s from growing up in structure and strict morality where things were black and white. If one thing is true, an apparent contradiction can’t also be true.

It’s too messy to make sense, it’s too complex to be tidy, so get rid of gray. A toe can’t be both ugly and useful.

Except. Maybe it is.

Actually, it IS both.

In the current season of global collective grief, I’ve seen myself going to the binary way of thinking. It’s all or nothing. Suffering isn’t suffering unless it’s job loss or illness or death. Therefore, my pain/disappointment/discomfort doesn’t count. Yours doesn’t either, unless you’re an Indian rickshaw driver who lost his job in the shut-down, or your loved one died alone in a hospital.

But I’m discovering that something wholesome happens in me when I hold two apparent contradictions and hold them both as true, recognizing each, not discrediting either.

I learned this in another season and I keep bumping into it.

I loved the elegance of European fashion AND it drove me crazy and made me feel like an ugly country mouse.

I loved teaching English AND I hated not being able to be able to communicate fluently in Polish.

I love my job and my people AND I dislike Pennsylvania.

I’m really sad to cancel my summer trip to Jordan and Uganda AND I’m happy to have Plan B come together.

I’m sad about my canceled summer trip AND I’m sad for India and Minneapolis and all the college graduates who couldn’t walk across the stage.

When I was getting ready to leave Poland for good, a co-teacher asked if I’m ready to go. “Yes and no,” I said. “I’m ready to go, and I don’t want to go.” He said that makes sense because I’m too complex a person to have it all one way. (He also grew up with only sisters, so he knew how to be patient/understanding with complexity.)

Every time I answer a question with “Yes and no,” I reiterate that life is too complex to have one clean response, and it’s ok. It’s even mature and wholesome to hold many disparate emotions because it makes us larger, more empathetic, more understanding of others. When I find myself lashing out, quick to set someone straight, I’m missing a chance to hold their truth, validate their story, listen to their words as they try to make sense of their world and their experience. Validating their experience helps heal them and helps to stretch my soul bigger.

Maybe we come up with our binary statements and use our all-or-nothing lenses because it’s easier than doing the hard work of entering tension and staying there for awhile.

Also, this is very important to me:

Holding apparent contradictions never excludes truth, beauty, and goodness.

I can cry my eyes out about a deep loss AND the sun always comes up again and the hummingbirds swoop to the feeder and my people somehow love me. A big part of wholeness is opening my eyes to the beauty that still surrounds me and always will.

This often stumbles me. I tend to focus on one or the other, and dismiss one or the other: the sun is still shining, the hummingbirds are still beautiful, so I should stop crying and enjoy the beauty.

Well, maybe. Possibly.

Beauty is healing, and it can stand a good lot of focus these days but it doesn’t negate the ugly. Maturity (moving beyond the two-year-old stage) and knowing Jesus enables us to acknowledge but not stay focused on the ugly-but-true. Because there are many beautiful things that still are true and real.

I think Christians should be the first citizens to recognize beauty for what it is and call each other to pursue it, but we don’t have to do that at the exclusion of acknowledging what is hard and ugly and broken. Wholeness and healing is not so much a matter of balance (focusing on one side of the scale as much as the other side) as it is about living well with tension, which never feels super comfy.

Our brains don’t do this naturally. Like using a stiff muscle, we need gentle stretches, gradual strengthening, increased rigor to build our gratitude focus.

In the middle of crisis, none of us has good perspective. With time and listening to others’ stories, we gain new definitions of suffering and pain. Like the two-year-old who begins to be aware of another’s feelings, we start seeing our story in light of other’s stories, and we gain equilibrium, gentleness, patience, with both ourselves and others.

Embracing nuance and not denying reality, however disparate and confusing it is, I hope we can come to flourish in both/and instead of either/or.