Because You're Such an Optimist

I’ll never ever forget the first time my therapist casually dropped a “that’s because you’re such an optimist” into our sessions. RECORD SCRATCH. THIS IS A PLOT TWIST-A MAJOR FREAKING PLOT TWIST. I needed her to explain herself please. Because I’d been pegged. My whole life I’d been handed a narrative about myself. Does that ever happen to you? Someone (or many someones or alllll the someones-society itself) tells you a story about who you are and you buy it? Hook, line, and sinker. I did. I believed the world when it told me that I was a raging pessimist. Because I’m very very serious. I don’t laugh when a whole room of people is laughing if I’m seeing something deeper, like maybe the hurting person for whom the laughter is at their expense. I don’t laugh at sexist jokes. And I feel the world deeply. I travel around this planet daily taking in her vibrations, intoxicated by her pulse. I don’t suck it up when I’m feeling deeply. When the world is crashing down, I’m screaming “HEY LOOK EVERYONE THE WORLD IS CRASHING!!!” When things are broken I call them broken and I do not shut up about it until they are downright good and healed. When I know deep in my bones that things can be different I say so and I do not ever give up ever until I see that change coming ‘round the bend. These things about me, this verbose truth telling and prolific emoting, they make me serious and effective and badass. They do not make me pessimistic. A pessimist looks at the world and thinks: shit I don’t know, it is what it is, what could I do? And I have never done that, not a day in my life. “It’s because you’re such an optimist,” she said. The mother of optimism. An optimist looks at this world and says: nah, not this, I will not stop until not this. The truth of who I am was always there and I was living that truth, the only piece missing was me knowing the truth. When I began knowing the truth? When I began knowing who I am? Fire. 

Evaluate your story and the narrative you were given about who you are? Does it sit right with your gut? Does it actually truly make sense? Or might you have ingested a lie? Lies about our identity are toxic. The truth sets the whole damn world on fire.

Growing Up Girl Part 1: but am I pretty? (about bodies and women and self-worth and feminism and society's beauty standards)

"i want to apologize to all the women 

i have called pretty

before i've called them intelligent or brave

i am sorry i made it sound as though

something as simple as what you're born with

is the most you have to be proud of when your 

spirit has crushed mountains

from now on i will say things like 

you are resilient or you are extraordinary 

not because i don't think you're pretty

but because you are so much more than that." -rupi kaur

 


I couldn't possibly be more aware of my body. And I couldn't possibly be less in my body, present there. Or so it has been. Yoga is helping. Meditation is helping. Circles of women who hold my stories compassionately are helping. 

I had many interests as a young girl and none of it had anything to do with my appearance. I very much enjoyed photographing nature, stomping through creeks in the woods, staring at the clouds while lying in the cold grass, jumping on the trampoline, and watching disney movies with my family. I was thoroughly obsessed with mystery novels and I adored time alone in my bedroom with a million candles lit. Going to church with my family was genuinely one of my favorite activities and discussions about the existence of God and God's love for humanity were truly captivating to me. I loved anything outdoors as long as it didn’t involve sports. I was convinced that animals had God in them and I wanted as many of them near me as possible. My mother was my favorite human on the planet and having her near me was the most important thing in all of the world. I’d have preferred her company to that of even my girlfriends my own age but oh how I loved my girlfriends too. Girlfriends were like treasures and I felt rich. All of these pieces of my life made me who I was: a wild, free, spirited girl who loved life. 

Yet, inside, slowly but surely my voice was being held hostage by the voice who asked over and over, "but am I pretty?" 

Growing up girl meant constant awareness of how my body appeared to the world around me and my particular outer appearance happened to match that of society's wickedly cruel standards. I didn't make this so, I did not choose this, but one of my first memories is of feeling special because I was pretty, they told me so. On t.v. and at church and in my home and at school and everyone, everywhere. Eventually, I internalized the message I’d already been sent a million times: my worth was in my body and what my body could do for the male species. While I was interested in literature, theology, religion and nature growing up, the only thing that seemed interesting about me was my outward appearance. Just my looks.

“She’s so pretty,” I’d hear them tell my parents as I caught the look of pride on their faces. “You’ll be a model one day, for sure,” they’d tell me, at eight years old, and I knew I was supposed to be excited at this prospect. I knew from as early on as I can remember that I was supposed to be invested in my appearance. I felt the world's gaze upon my body like a layer of bricks I was forced to carry around with me everywhere I went- this heavy load of self-conscious awareness of my body from as young as kindergarten. Deep inside of me, at the core of who I really was, I did not care what I looked like or what others said about what I looked like. The real me wanted to explore planet Earth and to write poetry but the world didn’t tell me to be interested in those things. The world told me to care about my looks. Eventually these subtle and not so subtle messages felt like divine truths. Thou shalt be pretty.

I'm eleven years old walking the halls of middle school. “She’s flat chested and she doesn’t kiss long enough,” my best friend reported back to me about why I’d been dumped by my boyfriend. My darling girlfriend wrapped this tragic news in as much compassion as she could muster but it stung nonetheless. It was mortifying and yet I also couldn’t figure out exactly why I cared. I felt hallow, scared, and ashamed. What exactly was I ashamed of? “Flat and doesn’t kiss long enough.” I did have very small breasts which was fitting seeing as how I was a very small girl. This was a fact that until this point hadn’t bothered me in the slightest. On the contrary, I’d been so against the very idea of growing large breasts that I’d prayed to God to keep me small. When my breasts began to grow even the tiniest bit to where my nipples became noticeable while clothed, I simply placed band-aids across them hoping they would disappear. Growing boobs would only get in the way of my perfectly enjoyable childhood of climbing trees and riding bikes in the mud. Yet when this boy criticized my flat chest I immediately became enraged. The worst part of which was that I was not at all angry at the boy. I was furious with my own body; infuriated that it had caused me such humiliation.

I'm twelve years old standing in the bathroom while my gang of girlfriends clamor over bags of lipstick and mascara, all competing for mirror space. I take one last glance at the mirror, feeling small because of the acne threatening to invade my face and the way those dark circles under my eyes never go away. "You know everyone thinks you're obsessed with your looks, right?" A knife to my gut twists and turns as I take in this brutal message about the way my peers experience me. All I want in this world is to curl up in my mother's arms with a long mystery novel and a cup of tea. 

Year after year I dissociate with my body more and more. My body; a commodity, a goal, an ideal, a means to an end. What end? Pleasing

I begin to loathe this vessel my soul rides around in. I don't even know who I am, I feel empty and lost, separate and unknown. Unknown. Is there any misery as troubling as this for beings hard-wired to be known?

I'm twenty-nine years old and I muster up the courage to ask, "could you please just compliment me on something other than my looks? Maybe don't even mention my looks at all for a while. I can't take it anymore. I feel like I'm nothing but your prize." 

I'm thirty-four years old and I walk into an auditorium where I've been invited to speak. I step up to the mic because someone once heard me speak and desired that I bring my wisdom into their space. My wisdom. My intellect. My passion. My expertise. But it is my body I am thinking of. How frizzy is my hair? Can anyone tell that my stomach protrudes far past my breasts? Am I sucking in that belly enough? Have I chosen a shirt that covers enough? Is my hair lively and framing my face enough to take away from how round my face is? Do those dark circles under my eyes tell a story about my life? Is my body distracting from my message? I try desperately to shut her up, this unreliable narrator who's taken me captive. I've practiced for years now: practiced owning my true voice, practiced quieting the world's voice inside of my head, practiced focusing all of my attention on what I care about. "But am I pretty?" whispers throughout my body like a resounding gong in a shoe closet. Over and over the question begs to be answered. 

I can command the attention of a room with my fire and spirit and whimsy and wit. I can wrap you into the arms of my soul with my compassion and empathy until you truly believe the truth that you belong. I can paint you a picture of a better future and describe intelligently the ways of history. 

But am I pretty?

I can grow gardens of nourishment and wonder from earth that was once worthless, crumbly clay. I can weave words into firestorms of truth that settle in the hearts of humans like a mother's hug they didn't even know they needed.  

But am I pretty?

I'm thirty-five years old attending a conference full of women I adore for the purpose of talking about the deeper truths of life. This conference, which I've been a part of planning, this conference is about conversation. It's about leadership. It's about calling. It's about badass breaking down of the status quo and revolutionizing the way people lead in the world. But I don't feel pretty. 

We talk about sex and power. We talk about ancient understandings of femininity. We ask important questions. The dialogue is intriguing, exhilarating, intelligent, and world changing. But I don't feel pretty. 

I feel frumpy and unnoticeable. My hair is all a frizz from travel. I've chosen a shirt that only accentuates my round belly. I look exactly like Anne Hathaway at the beginning of The Devil Wears Prada. And so I shrink, folding in on myself, wrapped in doubt and confusion about who I am and how I fit in this world. 

The first day of our conference wraps up with a cocktails and keynote event on a rooftop and our event is sponsored by an incredible boutique clothing store. So before we head upstairs for cocktails we peruse this gorgeous store and it is here I've found my salvation. I frantically search the clothing racks for something that will make me pretty. I need this. This is not some superficial quest for more clothing to fill my already overflowing closet. This is my quest for my own worth. This is decades of muscle memory at work, my fingers casually flipping through dresses while my heart races and my face sweats. I need this like an addict needs her drug. I'm consumed. 

I buy a dress I cannot actually afford, I throw my hair up into an elegant-messy bun, and I run up the stairs to our rooftop event with satisfaction in my bones. As the compliments come my way I sigh, I relax, I am at ease, I am home. I am worthy to take up space here now. Because I feel pretty. 

That little girl who doesn't know her worth is still hiding deep inside of me. Despite years of calling her into the light of the truth of her power, she cowers sometimes. And when she feels particularly weak she pounces on my self-worth like a wildcat seeking her prey. But she can't hurt me. I turn to her and tell her it's okay. I remind her that she's not small anymore. I explain to her that I know who she is now and that it has absolutely nothing to do with being pretty. I practice gentleness with her. The last thing she needs is more shame. I hold her. And I ask her to join me in moving forward, another day of reckoning

I'm learning to return to my body, forsaking her won't help a thing. My body was never the problem. Growing up girl in a world that objectifies girls' bodies had ripped me from my self. I will have to practice for the rest of my life; practice loving my own self into wholeness. It is heavy and holy work. 



 

About Regret and God and Humans and Love

A few weeks ago a bunch of powerful religious leaders felt the need to assert their power in a loud and flashy reminder that they hold they keys, they are the doorkeepers, and only they decide who's in and who's out. This loud and flashy reminder was named, "The Nashville Statement" and when I read it I desperately wanted to find a way to be louder and flashier than the powerful guys. I don't have loud and flashy but I have my own messy, beautiful, terrible story. The following is the story of how I used to be like the powerful religious leaders with the keys and how that experience has both destroyed me and healed me. 

My visitation appointment was for 11:00 AM so I left the house at 7:00 AM because you never know what the supposed to be two hour drive to L.A. will actually entail. Also, I’ve never been to a correctional facility before and I have no idea what I’ll need to do before my appointment. I’m a complete and utter ball of absolute nerves. My stomach aches, my heart aches, my skin even somehow hurts. It’s like every part of me registers that this is horrible, this is not how it’s supposed to be. 

Colby kisses my forehead and says something sweet about how he wishes I wasn’t going to do this alone but all I can think is that I need to, I have to, do this alone. I’m not sure in the moment what the mission is, why it has to be this way. There’s just something deep within me, far beyond the conscious mind, that compels me to go see my baby brother in jail by myself. This is something I have to conquer and I cannot conquer if I’m coddled. So I plug my iPhone into the car and I type in the name of the correctional facility while carefully compartmentalizing in my mind what I’m about to face because if I think about it, I’ll never make it. 

A long car ride by yourself makes it impossible to compartmentalize, though, and soon my mind drifts to a different time entirely. A time when my little brother still goes by the name “Bubba” and wants to be everywhere I am. A time when my Mom’s head of curls are never out of place, not for a second and her lipstick is always perfection no matter what she’s doing, even when she’s digging up trenches in the backyard and planting trees and moving boulders. A time when my big brother and I always have differing opinions but even that is comforting and reassuring. Eventually we’ll agree to each other’s schemes anyway, like freezing G.I. Joes in cups of water or jumping from heights that could kill us. A time when my Dad doesn’t want any more animals in the house and he’s firm in his position but every new animal that comes through the door anyway endears itself to him. Those times feel so close to my heart I could choke on the memories, they stir within me something fierce, something far worse than nostalgia.

The wall I’ve worked so tirelessly to build around my emotions, to save me from myself, it’s cracking. I catch myself, though, and wipe away the solitary tear making its way down my cheek. Deep breaths. I cannot go there. I must stay strong. I am on a mission. I cannot lose control now. Some time that felt like twelve podcast episodes later and I’ve taken the appropriate exit toward the correctional facility but a wrong turn or two that lead me past the facility and straight into a stretch of land known as Skid Row, confirmed by the little blue dot on my iPhone map. I know I need to turn around but inside something compels me to just keep driving. I’ve allowed myself plenty of time and this feels like part of the mission. These streets were his home. These streets were a necessary part of my day, to take in the fullness of my brother’s story. 

As I embark on a journey to take in my brother’s story, it is the story of humanity itself that stirs within me as my eyes move from street corner to street corner, surveying every broken window and makeshift tent, every pair of hungry eyes. These people who so often become nothing more than political soundbites are my baby brother. When the little boy who used to sneak into your room for an unsanctioned sleep over on your trundle bed because he just wanted to be near his big sister is now the guy on the street with the cardboard sign, it’s so much more difficult to pass by the guy with the cardboard sign. Every judgmental comment I’ve ever heard goes racing through my mind, my heart, my soul and I want to scream, “THAT’S MY BABY BROTHER YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT! YOU HAVE NO IDEA!” 

I’m haunted by every judgmental word I’ve ever heard spoken. 

And I rage. 

By the time I make it to the correctional facility my face has been decimated by the ugly cry and I don’t even care. I just want to get in there and see my baby brother and tell him that I love him and that I’ve missed him all of these years and that I’m so sorry for everything that he’s gone through and that I’ll help him, I’ll do anything. I just want to hold him and make it all okay again. Once I get in there and see him I know I can make it all better. 

I stand in a long line to check in and as I’m waiting I’m overcome with a sort of neediness I haven’t felt in many years. All that determination to do this alone has passed away and I’m left with a desperation to be with someone. But I realize that I don’t actually long to be with anyone I know. I long to be with these people, here in this room with me, lined up to do the same thing I’m here to do. I see the woman on the bench clinging to the baby on her lap and I can barely hold myself back from running to her. I want to beg her to tell me everything, tell me every little detail of what brought her here today. I want their stories. I want every story of every human around me, these stories feel like they could serve as a shield to guard my heart. Perhaps if I know why they’re here, I can reconcile why I’m here. 

My number is called and I go to the window to check in, they ask for the prisoner ID and I’m dumbfounded so I respond with my baby brother’s name instead. They look at me like I’m new here and I pause to collect myself. I pull out the paper I’d printed from home when I made the visitation appointment and quickly scan to find the prisoner ID. They check me in and instruct me to leave my personal belongings in a locker at the back of the building. I go to follow their instructions but realize I have no change on me. The lockers require quarters. I panic a bit because the room does not read ready to help the woman who doesn’t know how to lock up her purse. I stare at the locker for a few moments hoping for magic and then I realize there’s a change machine. I can use my debit card to pull out some cash from the ATM and then get quarters. In an absolute frenzy I take out way more cash than I could possibly need and I head to the change machine but I spend what feels like an eternity trying to get quarters when I finally give up and realize I need assistance. I hesitantly return to the window and explain that I have no quarters and that I’m struggling to make any of the machines work when the guard who first checked me in replies with, “It doesn’t even matter. He’s not coming out of his cell today.”  

My whole body responds to this news she so casually and callously delivers. 

He won’t come out of his cell today. 

All I can muster up is a quiet, “what?” 

She repeats herself and adds, “he’s not in trouble or anything, sometimes they just won’t come out. He won’t come out of his cell. They just called down to me that they’ve been trying and he won’t budge.”  

“I can wait,” I offer naively. 

She says, “He’s not coming out, miss.” 

I don’t move. I cannot move. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t. 

“Miss, I’m sorry, but I need to help the next person in line.” 

“Okay but I can’t leave until I at least know for absolute certain that it’s my baby brother in there. You see, he’s been missing for a very long time and my family tracked him down and we’ve been wrong before about where he is and I just cannot leave today without knowing for absolute certain that my baby brother is here. Can you confirm that for me?” 

“Oh, sure, I’ll just show you his photo on file,” and she laughs. She laughs in my pain stricken face. 

But I don’t catch it at first because I’m too stunned. So I reply, “That’d be so great. Thank you so much!” 

She laughs again and says, “I cannot show you that!” 

Another guard behind her must have been listening in because he quietly steps between the laughing guard and myself. He says, “You really need to know if your brother is here?” 

“Yes, sir. I’m not leaving, sir.” 

“I can show you his photo but you cannot take it with you and you cannot take a photo of it.” 

“Okay, thank you so much.” 

“This is going to be rough, these photos…. I mean, you might not recognize him. You sure?” 

“Yes, I’m sure. Please, sir.” 

He steps away and I think I might actually throw up all over the window. 

The officer returns to the window and places a photo against the glass, a photo of my baby brother that is permanently seared into my consciousness… a photo that wakes me in the night routinely. 

“That’s my baby brother. Thank you, sir. He won’t come out? You’re sure?” 

“He’s not budging. They tried. They really tried.” 

“Thank you.” 

Somehow I turn and walk away. I don’t feel connected to my own body though. I’m not sure how I make it all the way back to the parking garage because I don’t remember the steps but as I cross through the entrance of the parking garage a man approaches me. He says, “excuse me, I just got out,” and he points back toward the facilities. “Do you have any change?” I open my purse and furiously rip open my wallet exposing all of the cash I’d so hastily pulled from the ATM minutes earlier. “Here,” I say quietly as I hand him everything. His eyes rapidly fill with tears and he says, “are you SURE?” I wrap my arms around him and embrace him like a mother who hasn’t seen her son in decades. He weeps and repeats, “thank you, thank you,” and I hold him tighter. Then, abruptly, I walk away and he whispers one more, “thank you," but it's clear that I needed him perhaps more than he needed me. In my grief, the embrace of a stranger meant everything. 

I don’t know how long I sat in the car staring blankly at the steering wheel unsure of what to do next. Eventually I muster up the strength to text Colby and he responds with empathy but I have nothing in me that can receive empathy in this moment. I am only rage and emptiness. All walls around my heart have gone back up and they aren’t budging. I am lost and alone and absolutely sure that this is the fork in the road of my life that leads to me going off the deep end. I’ve never gone off of the deep end. I’ve stayed calm, cool, collected. I’ve kept my shit together, so so together, for so many years. When the whole world has fallen out from under me, I’ve done all of the right things and taken all of the appropriate building a grown up life steps. And I’m done. I’m ready to rage and destroy my life and leave my loved ones in the wake of all of my poor choices. This feels like a very rational decision, the only rational decision. 

It’s settled then. I will drive somewhere to begin the first necessary step in ruining my life forever. I mindlessly drive to the beach, park, and walk over to the rocky cliffs that so irritatingly resemble the setting of every good and happy memory of my life. Why the hell did I drive here? I sit myself on a pile of rocks and stare ahead at the crashing waves, not a thought running through my mind. I sit there numb for quite some time but eventually I begin combing through the sand for smaller stones to stack against the larger rock beneath me. I form a castle of tiny beach pebbles and begin to sob as though these small stones have hurt me deeply. As the tears flow freely I begin to shutter at every horrible memory of mistreating my baby brother. Unlike the sweet memories I recalled on the drive to L.A. hours before, now I’m wrecked with the weight of memories previously tucked away in neat compartments of self protection. This time, I cannot hold them back. 

I recall getting ready to go out one evening when I noticed that my eyeliner was missing and my powder had definitely been used by someone other than myself. The horror inside as the reality sunk in that my baby brother was the one who’d rummaged through my make-up and used it for himself. To be stolen from might have offended my moral sensibilities, sure, but to have that offense coupled with the truth that my brother was still obsessed with make-up, still dressing in that way, still so… different. It was the true offense, of this I’m now sure. If I would have had a sister it would have been perfectly normal and acceptable for her to use my make-up without asking and maybe even to forget to return the make-up where she found it. Maybe I would have yelled at a sister, but not like this. Not the sort of yelling that the memory of burns in your belly like acid when your baby brother has just refused to come out of his jail cell to see you.

I recall occasion after occasion of my wrath unleashed upon my favorite human on earth, my baby brother. I made the biggest fuss, I ranted, I stormed about, I accused and I demanded some sort of punishment and I called it all love. It becomes crystal clear for me, sitting on that rock watching the waves crash against the shore, that the most profound emotion evoked by memories of growing up, the emotion far worse than nostalgia, is regret.

I’m haunted by every judgmental word I’ve ever spoken. 

They say that when you have a near death experience, your life flashes before your eyes. Maybe this also happens in the face of excruciating regret because I begin taking account of my life’s journey. I think about how I wouldn’t change who I am today for anything in this world. I am firm and steadfast and grounded in my truth. I stand for what I know in my bones to be Love and Mercy. That’s the entire deal, the whole story- Love and Mercy. I call them God. I recognize God in the rhythms of my daily life: sleeping and waking to a new day where I can try all over again. I recognize God in the very breath I take and the chance to dig my fingers in the dirt and grow something new. I experience God as simple and sweet, requiring so little-just longing to hold. More than anything, I’ve learned that Love and Mercy know no bounds; God’s arms are always only ever so entirely open to all. I’ve come to know God as absolutely, unequivocally standing on the side of the downtrodden, the oppressed, the left out, forgotten, burdened, powerless, defeated, weary ones. I’ve come to know God as fierce love whose only rage is against our very human propensity to treat each other like shit. I’ve come to know her as Mother and Father and friend and all that is pure and good in the world. God is swirling rainbows of majestic yet simple joy abiding in the heart of every human who has ever breathed. I rest easy in her grace. 

But I remember how it was not always this way. 

I think about how I used to believe it was imperative that everybody follow the rules and there were many, many, very, very important rules to follow. Everybody needed to be a Christian and everybody needed to say one extremely specific prayer. I was uptight and uneasy about the way of things, fearful that one wrong move would leave me damned. Believing that most would perish and only a few would know salvation, I felt anxious and overwhelmed, bogged down by the weight of religious encumbrance. How society’s rules felt like a sovereign god! Boys needed to dress like boys and girls needed to dress like girls. Men were to lead and women were to have babies. A man was only to marry a woman and a woman only to marry a man. The beauty of God I missed out on in those days! Oh she never restricted my access to her presence. Her love indeed knows no bounds, not even in the face of judgmental, pious, know-it-all religious people like myself. I missed out because I had not eyes to see. I couldn’t see the beauty in a God beyond gender and rules and religion. My baby brother lived his life beyond my absurd religious rules and I could not see him. I only saw him as lost and a project to be fixed. That is not love. 

And then that old Maya Angelou quote came to me like a catchy tune, “when you know better, you do better,” but sweet Maya, what say you when by the time a dear soul knows better, it is simply too late? I’m so grateful for the way my heart softened over the years. I’m so grateful I’ve become a safe person who holds space for anyone and everyone who feels rejected by the world. I’m so grateful to be a Mom to four boys, four chances to do better by young boys. I think of little Huck’s love of purple eye shadow and my heart’s delight in helping him apply it. I bask in the memories of painting my boys’ fingernails pink and marching with them in the Pride Parade. There’s not a worry in my heart about how my boys might dress or who they might love-I’m thrilled to find out exactly who they are and to love them completely there. I’m grateful for a journey of becoming and for the grace to do better. 

But by the time I had eyes to see and ears to hear, my baby brother was gone. Of course he didn’t want to come out of his cell that dreadful day. He couldn’t have known the changes in my life, how my heart would now be so open to his, how I’d gouge my own eyes out before judging him for a single thing, how very much I simply longed to hold space for him. And even if he had known the change in me, it would require great forgiveness to let me back in. I was not a safe person for my brother when he was in my life. But my life’s journey has been about becoming and a safe person is exactly who I’ve become. It’s the kind of life I’ve built, it’s the home I’ve created, it’s the church I’ve co-founded. There I am on that rocky beach taking account of my becoming, my life flashing before my eyes and I think, sweet God, I’m so grateful for your grace, but what of this regret? What of this grief? How will I live under the weight of it?

My mind then wandered back to the man I embraced outside of the jail after my bother refused to see me. How easy it felt to hold him, to give to him and to hold space for him in that moment of my own agony. And it occurs to me that this is the answer to how I’ll live under the weight of my grief and regret. I'll go ahead and let it break me because broken is the place where we become. I knew in that moment on the beach that my life was indeed at a crossroads but it was not the path of destruction I would choose. This brokenness, this kind of desperate, excruciating brokenness, it could only lead to one kind of life, a life absolutely drenched in grace. 

When we come to the ends of our own bullshit, when we’ve run completely out of ways to convince ourselves we’re good, when we’re broken to itty bitty pieces, it is then that we become the conduit through which love works. My grief and my regret, painful as they are, allow me a lens through which to see people who aren’t seen by the world. I may never get the chance to hear my brother’s story and to tell him how sorry I am for choosing religion and rules over relationship. I may never get another chance with my baby brother but every single day people come into my life looking for someone to tell them it’s okay to be who they are. I revel in the grace that allows me the opportunity to hold them and assure them that they are wholly and wildly loved exactly as they are. And like the God who loves us all, I rage against our human propensity to treat each other like shit. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Church

For the past three years now I've been serving as a pastor at my church here in San Diego. Actually, I co-founded the church in my living room along with my husband and a group of friends- the dearest people on Planet Earth. Each of us as worn out as the next, none of us knowing exactly why we were showing up to create a new version of the very thing that wore us out in the first place and all of us equally passionate about gathering together to do something inexplicable. The church, you see, had been both a home to us and a place we'd been exiled from. Still, we felt this pull, an agony really, to keep her alive. If the doors kept swinging shut on us, we'd be the damn doorkeepers ourselves. Maybe it was a bit haughty of us, definitely a little audacious, and most assuredly dangerous. What if we too became irresponsible doorkeepers? What if in our eagerness to become a place of healing for the wounded, we only inflicted more wounds?

Perhaps the most terrifying thing I've ever done in my life is to say yes to church planting. So you can imagine the passion that outweighs that kind of risk, can't you? If you'll put your ass on the line for something that's personally wounded you, you must believe in it something fierce. I do. It's still inexplicable, really. And I've shied away from talking about it because it's still so raw for me. I think, if I'm completely honest, I'm scared shitless to talk about (or write about) church and pastoring and God and Jesus and the Bible. There's still some deep-seated fear in me about my place to say such things, especially as I stand in a place of leadership at my own church. It dawned on me today, though, that my leadership is lacking if I can't tell the truth about my experience and the way it's shaped me. If I can't tell you about my doubts and my fears and my sometimes still very jaded view of the Church then my leadership is actually missing a crucial element to it- honesty. If I tell you what I really think about the Church and God and Jesus and the Bible, will you think less of me as a pastor? Maybe, but you might also find yourself in my stories. And that, my friends, is my job- I tell the truth and let Spirit do with it as she must. Come hell or high water. Besides, I think part of my fear is still just this age old belief that maybe I'm not allowed to say what I think and that is some bullshit everyone needs me to rise above. 

In the beginning, the Church felt so safe to me. As a young child, school never felt safe to me;  I spent most of my childhood in survival mode; week to week I'd make my way through school days hoping and praying my childhood away because then I wouldn't have to endure school any more. At school I felt utterly stupid, I believed I was broken because I couldn't meet the expectations of the system, I felt stressed out and anxious, I felt preyed upon by aggressive boys, and unprotected by the adults I was told to trust. At church, however, I felt a refuge from all of that escaping and surviving and numbing and dying inside. I could meet the expectations of my church: believe. Don't ask questions. Just believe. Do as you're told. That felt safe to me at the time. I didn't have to take any tests and no one had to know what I thought. I could just keep quiet and belong. Church was my actual sanctuary. I ran around with my best friends creating imaginary worlds and laughing hysterically about nothing and believing I was the safest I could ever be, tucked inside the walls of my church. I mostly ignored the confusing messages about my femininity, about how I was inherently inferior to my male counterpart, and the terrifying fate of my soul if I didn't quite buy into the belief system I was sold. As a kid I only cared that I had a place to be where I could make people happy with the right answers and no questions. I even clung to the terrifying theology because it was a system I could adhere to: believe and belong. I got this. 

As a teenager, though, church began to feel less like a safety net and more like a chore, a chore with dire consequences attached at that. Believe the right things or spend all of eternity in conscious, physical torment and separation from everyone and everything you love. That didn't feel safe. Also, you're responsible for everyone around you believing the right thing too so that they don't also burn forever. Really didn't feel safe. And don't forget, men are the leaders, women are to submit quietly. So. Not. Safe. As a young child, I mostly kept those messages tucked neatly away in a compartment to the side so I could focus on all of that safety I felt in a building I loved with people I loved-belonging. But adolescence brought all of those terrifying messages to the forefront because life got even scarier than math tests. When I was thirteen years old my Mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness and underwent dangerous brain surgery. Facing the mortality of the most important person in my life, the person who tethered me to this planet with her love and ferocity, it sent me off the rails. I couldn't compartmentalize anything any more. All of those messages that tormented me in the back of my mind became unbearable anxiety at the forefront of everything I did. I couldn't hold the tension. I could no longer be quiet so I could no longer belong. This was my first break up with the Church. I wasn't allowed to break up with the Church physically so I still showed up multiple times a week but I detached. I separated myself mentally and decided that the one place I used to find belonging was now just another place to be an outcast. 

I had so many questions. The more questions I had, the worse I felt about my own worth and value as a person. That's how much we detest questions in our ever so certain, modern churches. We cause young people to question their inherent value as human beings in the name of certainty. Thou shalt not ask why the hell things are the way they are. Thou shalt accept the timeless truths handed down to you by old, white dudes. These are the rules. Even in the face of the most terrifying, unexplainable tragedies, we must be steady in our belief, our belief in doctrine. So what if your life falls completely apart? You have your theology. That's how I felt, anyway, as a teenager wondering how to live without her Mom. I just couldn't find any peace or strength or hope in the doctrine of the church and I started to realize that the church=doctrine. I wanted to rage but I was told to pray. I wanted to fall apart but I was told to have faith. I needed someone to validate my pain for me but all I found was unwavering faith in a faraway god who punished people for their thoughts. 

When Mom finally passed away just as I entered what they call adulthood, all of my doubts and rage and rebellion were tucked neatly back inside of their compartments. It was like my Mother's passing shook my ground too much and I needed the foundation of my childhood. I dug my heels back into the doctrine of the church. I believed again, with fervor. Living my life without my Mom felt like the most terrifying and dangerous feat so I clung to the illusion of safety I found in the Church and her doctrine. It was also at this time that I fell in love with Colby and we were married just a short year and a half after Mom's funeral. I was thrilled to be a pastor's wife and to build my life around the church. My children would grow up the same way I did, at church three times a week and believing all of the right things. 

There was only one problem: those nagging questions and doubts never really went away. Adulthood is freaking hard. I tried so desperately to keep everything neat and tidy but despite my best efforts, life was messier than the Church's answers. My marriage couldn't be restored to health by adhering to strict gender roles, believe it or not. My depression couldn't be cured by just the right amount of prayer and trusting God. My doubts couldn't be erased by studying the Bible more frequently and diligently. I broke up with the Church for the second time but again I kept showing up to her house anyway, this time because I was married to a pastor. I felt like an imposter going through all of the motions but not really buying any of it. You can imagine how in some twisted way, I felt relieved when eventually we were kicked out of church. It was searing pain and a breath of fresh air all in the same moment. Maybe then we could finally just be normal people. Sleeping in on Sundays sounded heavenly. 

The thing about my journey is that it was always meaningful as hell. Everything is. My turbulent relationship with the Church was always leading me somewhere. The more uncomfortable I became with the Church, the more passionate I became about the Church, strangely and without realizing it. Eventually, it became ever so clear to me that all of those years of feeling like a misfit in school and then finding safety in church and then finding that I wasn't actually safe in church, those years were a gift because they taught me to be the Church myself. If the institution of the Church wasn't a safe place for all people, I'd make myself a safe place for all people. Our wounds deliver to us our passions. My aching brought me to my life's work-opening up space for people. And ultimately what I've learned is that there's no such thing as a doorkeeper, anyway, because where God's concerned there aren't even any doors. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More About the Kingdom of God on Earth

There's more than one reality. There's the worldly reality where your president is a menace who cannot form sentences but he can sign executive orders. And you can't pay the bills and no one understands you, and you're afraid and you have valid reasons for being afraid and you and your family can't seem to get along no matter how hard you try or how much therapy you buy.

There's that reality, no doubt.

But there's also the reality that's much harder to see. No human endeavor can adequately paint a picture of this other reality. We catch glimpses of it in sunrises and newborn baby toes and a glass of prosecco on a balcony overlooking the ocean; we catch sight of her presence in our lives.

We feel this other reality when we cry and when we hug and when we eat and drink and make love and nurse babies to sleep on our breast. The Celt called these moments "thin places," where the space between heaven and earth is diminished.

We believe in this other reality when strangers pull together to save a child in danger, when our dad finally calls to say he's sorry, when our family gets through a meal without an argument, when the Supreme Court rules in favor of equality, when justice prevails, when freedom is so real an experience for us that we can feel her in our bones.

This other reality that's more difficult to see is actually the truer reality: we are love, we are loved, all things are being made new, everything that dies comes back to life, restoration and reconciliation are written into the lines on our skin. This other reality is love and love wins but sometimes it's impossible to feel that truth.

It feels unbelievable that love wins when we're staring right at the disaster and overwhelmed by the wreckage. That's why Jesus taught us to pray for Heaven to join us on Earth. And so we must stare right at the mess and pray for the truer reality to break through the veil. And trust that ultimately she will. And we cherish every tiny moment of break through along the way.

Heaven is here. And also not yet. Come to Earth and bind us in your grace. Amen.