Recently, I had a health issue arise, pretty suddenly, kind of dramatically, and somewhat severely:  gastric reflux.  I’ll spare you the details, but this was way beyond “heartburn,” with severe chest pain that left me spending way too much time at work clutching my chest and being quietly afraid, unable to function and really do my job right.

I hurried to the doctor after googling “gastric reflux” (when scary amounts of acid repeatedly come up into your mouth, it’s not hard to guess what’s going on) and learning that not dealing with the issue could lead to esophageal cancer.  The doc did some tests to make sure there was nothing else going on and agreed with my own diagnosis.  We have a plan and are working on it.

I wanted to keep it a secret at first, because we who are obese know that quite often when health stuff comes up, even people who like us are most likely thinking something like, “Well, you shouldn’t be so fat, and then you wouldn’t have that problem.”  Not wanting to think about people thinking that about me, my first impulse was to only tell people who needed to know.

Upon further reflection and examination of my family tree, which is extensively populated with sufferers of this malady – and not all are obese – it occurred to me obesity (while a contributor for sure) might not be the whole answer here.  Immediately a book that I love to hate (it’s about spiritual causes of physical maladies) came to mind, and I quickly changed the subject, since I’ve never once opened that book without wanting to throw it across the room, stomp on it, and perhaps burn it (it tells the truth, I just hate it, okay?)

I guess God really wanted us to have the conversation, though, as it came up while I listened in prayer:  a gentle reminder that basically every single day (perhaps without a single exception, I’m not sure) since our current president was elected, I have heard some kind of news about him that has made me viscerally, physically angry – my body has responded sharply.  Not just irritated thoughts or angry theorizing, but an actual I-feel-this-all-the-way-through-my-body anger.  So that’s….what…more than a year and a half of daily physical rage.

Could that kind of stress push a body into something like gastric reflux?  My answer would be:  duh.  Of course it could.

My natural reaction to this news would be, of course, to be mad at the president once again, for making me sick in my body.  But I’m an adult, and we adults don’t get to play the “look what you made me do” game if we are reasonably mature, self-aware, and at least somewhat mentally healthy.  I get a choice about how I respond to a world that is simply not going to change just because I am bothered by it.  My life, my mind, my body, my choice – I can make myself as sick as I want to be, and no one can stop me…but also, no one can make me.

Having said that, the answer of what to change was not immediately obvious to me.  When my pastor said in last week’s message that some of us might be idolizing our identity as “the resistance,” I had two responses at the same time.

One was:  okay, I will ask God if that’s what I’m doing, though I don’t think it is.  I will ask, I will listen, and I will accept and act on what God says about it.

The other was a series of very pointed mental questions:

  1. When early American slavery kicked in, what should the “good people” have done?  Surely SOMEBODY saw that it is evil to separate families, rape women, beat them, buy and sell them.  I don’t care that the culture was different – SOMEONE knew it was wrong.  What was their moral obligation to God in that moment?  How might things have gone differently if the good people had pushed back and not just let it roll?
  2. When early immigrants to the USA took the children of Native Americans away from them and put them in schools to take the “Indian” out of them, alienating them from their culture and separating them from their families, what should the “good people” have done?  Somebody, somebody’s mama, somewhere…they KNEW this was evil, and still it happened.  What did God want them to do?  What might have happened if they had pushed back with all their might?
  3. When Japanese Americans were rounded up and put into internment camps, robbed of their businesses and livelihoods, etc., what should the “good people” have done?  Sure, fear was running the table in that time.  But moral courage is a real thing, and SOMEONE could have had it.  What did God want the “good people” to do, in that passage?  How might our shameful history be different, if people with strong convictions had found their voices and used their power?
  4. Same questions about the Jewish Holocaust in Germany.
  5. Same questions about the Hutu & Tutsi tribes in Rwanda during that genocide.
  6. Same questions, ad infinitum, across every human atrocity in the history of mankind.

I know we’re not “there yet” to the point of starving people to near death, lining them up along trenches, and killing them to be buried in mass graves.  I get that some recoil at comparing what is happening in our country to that.  But…read history.  I read A LOT of history about these things, because when I was a kid my dad told me to learn it well, because someday people would say it never really happened…and he turned out to be right.  I read it, I study it, I hold onto the information.  I look for patterns.  What we’re doing is not at the level right now of what was done to Africans brought here into slavery or what Hitler did to the Jews.  I know.

But none of those events STARTED with the horrors.  They started with reworking the language about certain people, normalizing brutality against specified groups who “deserved it”…getting the “good people” numbed to the evil so that it could go forward.  I have no idea if that is what we’re headed for, but when I compare it to what I study, it frightens me.

I don’t want to be a “good person” who agrees with evil acts against human beings because I was lulled there by language changes and brutality normalization.  I don’t want to answer later for not trying to turn it around.

So….how to balance this?  How to do the right thing in the face of what looks frighteningly familiar to me (and to me, my faith demands that I stand against that which is familiarly evil)…and at the same time strike some “trusting God” balance that helps me not to ruin my own health with daily rage episodes?

I went to Audiofeed Festival this week with those questions tussling within me, and answers seemed far, far beyond my reach or capacity.  What’s the right thing?  What’s the right balance?  I can’t just turn off the news and pretend it’s not happening, as I don’t want to be a “good person” in another history book who let another mass atrocity go by, happy as long as I am not the object of the torture.

Audiofeed, like Cornerstone Festival that came before it, is not just a time to listen to good, non-mainstream Christian music.  It’s not just a time to reconnect with my fellow oddballs who feel like outsiders in the bigger Christian culture.  It’s not just a vacation getaway.  Oh, it’s all those things.  But it’s not JUST those things.  It is a place that refuels me, restores me, and brings me voices of counsel in the seminars and other gatherings that equip me to go back out and do another year of life in a world that is hard to navigate.

This year was no exception.  The current division and almost complete inability for varying sides of the arguments to have any kind of reasonable discourse, to work together for the common good, to think well of each other despite disagreement, to speak respectfully of one another despite different perspectives…this was the stuff of talk after talk, everywhere I turned.

Glenn Kaiser hit on the subject repeatedly, pointing out to us that God disagrees with us every day of our lives about stuff, but still loves us, still blesses us, still works with us.  Could we disagree so graciously?  He pointed to the extreme opposite ends of the spectrum, asking in his usual plain-spoken way, “Which false balance would you like to become an abomination in?  Which fruit of the Spirit am I manifesting ‘in your face’?  Why do we continue to plant flags when this kingdom is gonna fall like all the others before it?”

I could hear these words from Glenn because I’ve watched him live out his faith, serving the “least of these.”  Because I’ve heard him call evil what it is, not being mealy-mouthed to keep all sides happy, but also not looking to fight – just looking for what God requires.

“No matter what part of the body of Christ you are,” he said, “you’ve got ‘bad breath’ theologically, doctrinally, etc.  We only have partial knowledge here on earth.  Contending for the faith doesn’t mean being contentious.”

“Okay,” he urged, “You’ve received grace – how you doin’ with sharin’ it?”  He was unflinching, holding up that mirror.  “What am I imparting, when dealing with others?  Compassion?  Grace?  The love of God?  You can’t earn it!”

“The church,” he said, “thank God, is not God.  Give them, give others, the same grace and mercy that I want for me.”

I don’t exactly know what to do with that, but my first response is that I probably need to spend less time focusing on my rage at what is happening and more time praying with my heart as broken as God’s surely is.  Being mad is easier, and certainly less painful than being brokenhearted.  Brokenheartedness feels like powerlessness, while anger somehow (deceptively) feels like power.  I’m still thinking and praying through how the shift works, but I’ve got the first pieces and I’m working them with all my might.

At an interactive seminar with folks from the “Liturgist” podcast, including band members from Gungor and the hip hop artist called “Propaganda,” the call was to actively see the world from other perspectives, to step back and listen, to let the powerless have power, to vote for change.  Somehow in the mix of that and so much more, I found some practical, more local focus where I can direct my actions for change.

So I guess my plan is:  revamp the prayer and attitude approach on the national level, and revamp the action approach on the local level, and listen hard for whatever else God has in mind.  It’s not an easy plan, but it might be a recipe for both living up to what my morality and faith require, while at the same time not further ruining my own health along the way.

So there’s my self-centered perspective on the topic.  For sure it’s imperfect and quite incomplete.  May something here be helpful to you…and may I return to reread this in a year and be joyfully surprised at what God has done.


Step 1:  When I was in college, I saw a flier for a “reconciliation retreat.”  I understood that this was about race, and I was hungry to know more, to grow, to open up my world.  Having come from a very rural, extremely racially homogeneous area, I “knew of” a few black people, but knew exactly zero.  It was my senior year and a horrible financial aid package left my family living in a housing project, my first “interracial” experience.  I was stunned at how segregated we were, even living beside one another.  At the weekend retreat, I spoke about this, but I mostly listened, as I was very much in the racial minority for the moment.  Being among these beautiful women was like landing on another planet.  They talked about different things, in different ways.  Their humor was different.  Their hair care was different…something I’d never suspected.  I watched and I listened and I hungered to learn and change.  It was just a weekend, but it was a start.

Steps 2 through roughly 562:  I worked to learn about people who are not like me.  I read voraciously – books, newspapers, magazines, the internet, anything I could lay my hands on.  I studied photo essays.  I focused hard on history.  I sought out helpful TV programs, documentaries, etc.

Step roughly 563:  I worked at a domestic violence shelter, filled with an ever-changing population of women and their kids from all economic and racial backgrounds.  I did intake interviews, asking questions so heartbreaking that I’d apologize up front for asking.  I helped them set up their rooms when they came and I helped them pack to leave sometimes.  I was the rule enforcer to people who weren’t in the mood for rules.  I watched, I listened I learned.  I saw in myself that I judged things that didn’t need judging – that had no moral positive or negative.  Not wrong, just different than my own background/perspective/habits.  I saw my judgmental, small self and recoiled, fighting with all my might to peel it away from me forever.

Step 564:  I got an unplanned foreign exchange student from Switzerland.  I thought he’d be best buds with my son, but in the end it was me that he spent the most time with.  We talked endlessly, seeking to learn about each other’s cultures.  I helped him with vocabulary, referring him to for the racier stuff, much to his delight.  He taught me about his country.  I quickly figured out we couldn’t even compare our schools to his – the two were just too unlike to say, “a junior in the USA is the equivalent of ___ in Switzerland.”  I heard about his family, his school, his friends – a whole world apart from anything I’d ever known.  I took him for his first fast-food drive-thru – he’d never eaten or drank in a car.  Oh, I corrupted him with all manner of junk food (I surely owe his mom an apology – I’ve learned a lot since then!)

Step 565:  My exchange student went home when the school year was over.  Shortly thereafter, his lovely, generous parents made me the offer of a lifetime as a “small token” of their gratitude for their son’s year with me:  an all-expenses paid trip to visit them.  My world was so small, I was too afraid to drive to Chicago and fly out of O’Hare – they kindly spent the extra funds to fly me from my local, non-scary airport.  I got my passport and eventually off I went.  They were kind beyond words.  They toured me around the whole country.  It was sparkly clean – everywhere I went, it seemed like someone had just spit-shined…well…everything.  The public transit system was astonishing – no cars actually necessary.  There were no power lines beside the roads (all buried).   There were no semi trucks on the roads on Sunday.  Plants grew on all the roofs, even at the airport.  Those were just a FEW of the surprises along the way for me.  It was like being on another planet.

Step 566:  As part of our driving tour, we visited my exchange student’s father’s side of the family, who were all Italian.  It was a fairly small 2nd- or 3rd-floor apartment with the biggest dining room table I’d ever seen.  These people wanted me to like them – they had printed off my photo with my student from the internet and stuffed it in one of the photo frames on the wall.  I wanted these people to like me – I want EVERYONE to like me, but I really wanted to make a good impression with my student’s family.

But somehow, I kept causing offense without meaning to.  Early in the meal, I was offered wine and politely declined, causing the whole table to kind of give me the stink-eye – I could tell they thought I was judging their drinking.  My student’s dad explained to them what we’d discussed at their house – it was just my thing.  It wasn’t a statement.  (Honestly:  it was just that I belonged to a Southern Baptist church, and when I’d joined, the vows included a “no alcohol” clause, backed up with scripture.  I was very clear:  I did NOT agree with their interpretation of that scripture, but also alcohol had caused some real heartache to someone close to me, so I wasn’t opposed to swearing it off.  So…I didn’t drink because “I promised”…not because I had any notion that “it was wrong.”)

Anyway…back to our story.  Assurances were made that I wasn’t judging, but those assurances weren’t felt very well – this much was clear.  Later in the dinner I didn’t take enough of the antipasto, at which point I was helped to understand that this might be taken as refusing their hospitality (there were just A LOT of people at the table and I was trying to leave food for the others…!)  And then later there was conversation, and I was asked about my favorite TV shows, at which point I confessed that I didn’t do TV.  More stink-eye, with clarifying questions about specific series, all of which I had HEARD OF for sure.  I tried to answer warmly and affirmingly, but clearly they were feeling like I was quite the uptight b*tch who neither drinks nor watches TV.

The conversation turned to soccer.  Did I like it?  I confessed that I don’t care for sports.  This was when I learned from my student (while hard looks were passed among the others) that hockey is part of the Italian national identity – EVERYONE loves soccer and has a favorite team.  Not liking soccer is just not done.  Oops.

After dinner, it was time for espresso in tiny cups.  I was excited about this.  I love coffee!  As I heaped sugar into mine, someone across the table asked if I wanted cream.  Now…I was NOT going to ask for cream…but if they were offering…heck yes I wanted some!  I smiled, nodded, and said yes please.  At this point, a look of horror and panic passed between several of the women, and they all got up and left the room.  My student, laughing to himself, let me know:  one does NOT put cream in espresso in Italy.  The ladies were off finding a proper cream server and hunting down cream and there was much to-do as they did so.  My student laughed and quietly said to me, “You’re lucky they don’t shoot you where you sit for this!”  with his best just-playing face.  Oh golly.  Too late to back out now.  They brought the cream, handing it politely to me with body language that let me know I was basically a monster.  I thanked them, stirred it in and swallowed, wishing I could fall in a hole in the ground.

The conclusion of the meal was more wine and more stabby looks at the silly American lady who does not drink.  Now let me be clear:  in the midst of the dinner was also lasagna so delicious it nearly made me weep, repeated attempts by the family to make nice conversation with me, and a whole lot of funny/entertaining things.  It was NOT a misery meal.

But:  despite my desire to be pleasing, I had managed to offend these people at every turn – and I don’t believe for one moment that they came to the table wanting to be offended.  Despite the fact that Italy is a western country, despite the fact that English was one of the many languages they spoke, despite our commonality of all loving my student…I just didn’t understand this culture and couldn’t navigate it well.

Step 567:  A few years later, I pulled up stakes and left to live in an intentional community in Chicago.  Communal life was like a whole other planet.  Big city life was like a whole other planet.  I lived in one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in all of Chicagoland – hearing foreign languages and meeting non-white people on the street was the norm now, but opposite as humanly possible from my upbringing.  I loved it.  I relished it.  I never wanted to leave.

And now we come to the point of this essay…what were all those steps toward?

The opening of my perspective.  The introduction and reinforcement of the idea that there are many worlds, many beliefs, many traditions, many perspectives, many habits and customs, many many many many things outside my little ideas of what the world is and how things work.

And then came step 568:  my journey of listening through the Bible in a year.  I did it first in 2016, and again in 2017, and now I’m on round 3.  I tell you this not to brag – LISTENING through the Bible is not work like reading is.  It’s SO EASY, logistically.  I tell you this to set the context:  my relationship with the Bible is changing and changing and changing again.

The first big bump was after dinner with the Italians.  I thought hard about this:  their culture is more like mine than not, and yet the gulf of understanding was so wide and so hard to navigate.  If I can’t even understand people from my time, from another western culture, who speak my language and watch the same TV shows available to me…how exactly is it that I’m so sure I can pick up my Bible, written so long ago, on the other side of the planet, in nonwestern culture with SO MUCH DIFFERENCE from ours, originally written in other languages….how exactly am I so sure that when I read a passage, I am truly understanding all that was intended at the time of writing?  How exactly can I be confident that I am hearing all the stuff the Holy Spirit is saying to me through it, when there’s SO MUCH CONTEXT there that I have absolutely zero clue about?  How exactly?  It knocked my certainty out from under me about my understanding of scripture, and I’ve never regained that certainty (really…I’m not sure I even want to).

Other stuff jiggled me along the way, but the massive bump that followed was that first year listening through the Bible.  Listening made it “real” to me in a way that reading never had.  It became less “a story” and more “actual people having actual experiences.”  I couldn’t push it away to focus on the lessons – I was forced to interact with the pain of the people in the moment.  Many times it left me yelling at God, “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO ABOUT THAT?!”  Sometimes, some semblance of an answer came.  Often, I was left with simply:  trusting that God is good, and my lack of understanding about these passages is a lack of understanding, not an indictment of God.

So today I don’t say, “the Bible says it and I believe it.”  I don’t say that, because I have no confidence that an American in 2018 has the full context to be sure what the Bible MEANS when it says some things.  Especially one who’s not a Bible scholar or extreme historian.  Today I’m left with knowing that God is good and always with me, and that God and I are working out what I’m supposed to do with the Bible.  But for sure I don’t worship the Bible, and for sure I don’t pretend to be sure of everything I “know” from it.

It’s where I am…more and more what the Southern Baptist version of me would’ve considered a heretic.  But more and more at peace with God.  More and more not needing to have answers sewn up.

What’s next?  I don’t know.  I’ll just keep walking, and I’ll see what God’s got in mind.

(Publishing with zero edits, and letting it go!)

love meditation

Posted: February 10, 2018 in Uncategorized

1If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

Looking/feeling like the smartest person in the room isn’t a goal from God, and others can see through it even though they are generally too polite to say so.

If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.

Being deeply, wildly, notably spiritually gifted is a consolation prize, when compared to the big-hit-lottery that is love.  Those who love are treasured when they are with us and missed when they are gone.  Not always true of those with splashy talents that impress others but also can leave others feeling less-than.

If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Even acts of service are garbage when they are motivated by something other than love – things like the need to feel important, the desire to experience belonging, the adherence to a high ideal – all garbage when they don’t spring from love.  All the “filthy rags” of our own attempts at independent righteousness.  Without love, it is not God who gets honored.

Love is patient and kind.

Even and especially with those who are neither of the above. Even when it doesn’t “make sense.”  Even when it cuts.  Even when it costs.

Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.

It doesn’t look for ways to “knock down a peg” those who are richer or prettier.  It doesn’t preen before those who are poorer or uglier.  It is deeply interested in the dignity of the other.

It does not demand its own way.

Even when it sure it is right.

It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.

It doesn’t look for reasons to be offended.  It views problematic interactions from a humble perspective, always allowing that it might not have the whole picture – that it might be wrong.  It lets go of old hurtful histories, rather than holding them close and caressing them.  It does the hard work, where this is the most difficult.

It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.

It does not behave badly just because it has been treated badly.  It has integrity even when surrounded by the lack thereof.

Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Love knows that God is working, even when that work is not evident.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever!

All the highest and best things I treasure are garbage, where they don’t come from love.

Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture!

Certainty, this side of heaven, is for the most part a lie.  Thinking we really see the whole truth about anything is a joke.

10 But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.

Eternity will be surprising.

11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.

Also when I was a child, I was 100% certain that my speech and thought and reasoning far surpassed that of my elders.  Arrogance is the biggest childish thing time has taught me to put down.  Putting it down is a daily battle.  Knowing that I haven’t completed that battle is wisdom.

12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.  All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Lord, let me so love that I needn’t hang my head in shame when that clarity finally comes.

13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

My faith is very important.  My hope is very important.  Love is much more so.  Where I subjugate love to a lower level, I’m getting it wrong.

Now that I’ve gotten 2017 properly processed, it’s time to think ahead to 2018, not to make resolutions (which are made to be broken, am I right?) but to consider where I’d like to focus in the coming year.  I love this stuff.  Here’s what I’ve got in mind…

Pouring Out

I made myself a YouTube channel and this year I intend to share some spiritual encouragement there, not because I am some kind of amazing guru but because I am more faithful to a practice when I’m sharing it with others than when I simply decide to do it for myself, by myself.  My channel is called “One Beggar Telling Another,” based on the D.T. Niles quote, “Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.”  I’m super excited about this.  I have three things in mind on my channel:

Mindful Mondays – a focus on prayer and connectedness with God, ‘cuz when do we need that more than when we’re groaning our way back from the weekend to everyday routines?

Wisdom Wednesdays – I notice more and more that old crappy songs play themselves over and over in my head – often music I never even liked in the first place.  Terrible themes, awful ethics, deplorable decisions…no, no, no.  Frequently I sarcastically start singing it aloud to G over breakfast – that’s his cue that I’m stuck again in crappy song land.  I’ve decided to take an intentional approach toward memorizing Proverbs, in hopes that stuffing my brain with wisdom bits will push some of the old garbage out for good – worst case scenario, it gives me a good thing to shout out when the songs start the replay cycle in my head.

Faithful Fridays – we’ll see if I can pull this one off.  I did a bit of the Lectio Divina with one of my BFFs this year (with G sitting in some of the time.)  This ancient practice takes just a small bit of scripture and creates a routine for meditating on it – one can do so for hours of course, but we found that doing it for even 10 minutes consistently brought us insights and inspiration of the practical, carry-it-forward-with-you sort.  I have an idea how to do it, but I’ll have to educate myself aggressively to pull it off, as I’m not just pointing the camera at myself and speaking into it.  No promises here that this will be great or even happen at all, but golly I’m gonna have fun trying anyway!  If I get the first one up, I’ll have proven I can and then I’m more willing to say I’ll be back again.  J

You are invited to follow along for any/all of these if you like (and no offense if you don’t!)  I’ve disabled comments on the actual YouTube channel itself because YouTube comments are a wasteland of horrible mixed in with the decent folk, and I don’t need that garbage in my life – I already make up enough mean things to say about me in my own head without that kind of help.  I’ll be posting the stuff to my Facebook page, where we can discuss as we like (and where it’s easier for me to delete comments made just to be difficult – one can disagree without being an ass).

My other “pouring out” stuff is mostly at church – fun things I have planned for sharing with others.  And some not at church, which is mostly about working one-on-one with others to help them grow where I’m able to help.  I’ve also started looking in a different way into finding a personal spiritual mentor for myself (easier to pour out when also being poured into), as it is something I crave and have had exceeding difficulty finding or nailing down once I’ve found a prospect.  More on that if/when it works out.

Sprucing Up

I’m struggling hard these last few months with my body; my weight is up at it’s-uncomfortable-to-do-anything-or-nothing level, which is a threat to my health and a downer when I’m getting dressed and all my clothes hate me.  I did an food accountability email thing with a couple of friends this year; rereading what I sent out shows that my problem is not lack of education or information…just application.  I’m pondering small steps to start heading in a better direction (and I’ve started acting on that today).  No big promises here about a specific diet plan or exercise schedule (I’d break it as fast as I made it)…but I’m processing and have started on the kind of small changes that have helped me in the past.

Meanwhile, one of my closest friends said to me recently that she’s putting on makeup daily as part of the mental health battle – this when I was sharing with her that I’m starting to feel like I want to do more than my usual eyeliner, mascara, chapstick and go.  I don’t think makeup is all that and I don’t ever want to be a person who can’t be seen without it…buttt I do feel like maybe trying a little harder on that front might push me toward that better direction on other self-care items.  So maybe I’ll give it a try (that’ll of course involve shopping, which I’m not doing when it’s too cold to poke my nose out the door…so…not today, at least!)

I started being able to run again late in 2017; while the current weather isn’t conducive to the outdoor running that I prefer, I look forward to getting back to it ASAP; meanwhile I’ve got options here in my house to move enough that stairs won’t leave me out of breath – I’d like to avail myself of those options (I’m aiming for the sky, I know!)

Soil Work

We got our raised bed garden up and going in 2017; it was fairly successful.  I planted things too close together, which meant some of the bigger plants murdered some of the smaller ones by throwing shade, but it was a lot of fun.  In 2018 I am planning to put more raised beds in – basically to fill all the sunniest parts of our yard with boxes for growing veggies.  I even want to try my hand at growing greens during the winter, using a double hoop-house.  In the shade (which is most of our tiny yard), I’ve got some plans too – a permanent spot for our burn pit and a covered outdoor seating area that will double as an awesome overnight shelter during Sukkot.  Can’t do that until we get the new roof on the garage, which we can‘t do until we finish getting finances in order, so it’s kind of a domino effect.  I also have a plan for more shade-loving plants of the non-food variety for the rest of my yard, and I almost shriek with delight when I think about my plans to bring in beneficial insects to help us fight the battle.  We brought in nematodes this year, which help…but ladybugs will be way more fun to watch and interact with as we add them and their cute little houses I can install.

No Word Yet

I don’t have a “word” yet for 2018 for me – listening and praying on what that might be.  Last year’s word was PRESENT and I see its print all over what went down, even though I didn’t execute it perfectly.  I’m awfully glad I don’t have to do all the work when it comes to the year’s word – I’ll listen, I’ll name it when I hear it, and then I’ll enjoy watching what God wants to show me as I press in.

There’s more – A LOT more – that I’m dreaming about for 2018.  But these are the highlights I’m willing to put on the interwebz.  If you’ve been around much, you know how this goes – I want to hear about your plans!

It’s that time of year again – time to look back and collect up the goodies 2017 gave me that are worth carrying forward, and time to look forward and consider what to aim at in 2018.  Having New Year’s Day off work, giving me a big block of silent time to do so (with an added incentive to stay in, as it is literally dangerous to breathe outside today) is priceless.

Some years I come to this process bristling with ideas; this year I ended up reading through a bunch of the year’s emails to remind myself what even happened, as the cloud of the national political awfulness was almost the only thing that came to my mind when I asked what 2017 had held.  The review of the emails was good – turns out A LOT of other stuff – good stuff – also happened.  Thank God politics is not all there is in life.

Healing Journey

New Year’s Day 2017 was my third day of taking an array of supplements recommended to me by my functional medicine practitioner (I say chiro, for short, as she’s also that) to address what had run into almost two years of increasingly severe-to-sometimes-the-point-of-debilitating fatigue.  By January 3rd I was already getting glimpses of feeling better, and a deliciously shocking series of events followed over the next six months.

A wound on my leg that wouldn’t heal for months suddenly and almost instantly did.

My monthly cycle went from “please kill me now” for at least one day per month to “merely a minor inconvenience.”

The arthritis pain in my feet (something I’ve lived with for I think five years) reduced in severity.

And yeah, my fatigue lifted – I went from needing 10 hours of sleep (and still tired more often than not) to being able to get by on 8.

It wasn’t a perfect journey – I was sick a lot this year, which my chiro attributed to a suppressed immune system.  I was chafing to be instantly better, so I kept sabotaging my healing by overdoing, until finally my chiro whipped out a word that slowed me down – she said I was “convalescing” and needed to act like it.  The seriousness of the word made me cry, but slowing down did help.

The cost of those supplements was $6/day, in addition to regular visits to the chiro; as the year went on I came to realize that we actually don’t have an extra $6/day just lying around.  I’d been pushing back first one bill and another to make it work; by August there was no more room for pushing, so I made the decision to discontinue the supplements that had given me back my life.  We are scrimping and working to get our finances to a better place before I can resume the supplements; I note my body starting to lose ground again on those fronts where so much was accomplished.  I’m doing what I can.


Swearing in a new president who seems to me somewhere between foolishly dangerous and outright evil (if you don’t feel the same, I’m not trying to pick a fight – several of my closest people – GOOD people – think the right choice was made) left me struggling to figure out what MY job was in response to it.

I wanted to go to the Women’s March in January, but my arthritis and fatigue made that impossible, so I cheered on a friend who went.

I attended local rallies, candlelight vigils, protests and various meetings in the first quarter of the year looking for my role.

G and I attended two events at the local mosque, as a we-don’t-all-hate-you and we-need-to-learn endeavor.  I learned a lot and met some great people.

I took an all-day class on communication to learn how to listen better.  I pushed myself harder than ever to listen and read and educate myself on the issues and cultures of people of other races, including listening in spaces where there is little to no patience for nice white ladies like me; as I cross over into 2018 I’m in the midst of a podcast series teaching me about where the construct of “whiteness” came from (the first thing I learned – while “race is real” in its effect, it is utterly unscientific where biology is concerned).

While I support protests and other forms of activism, at this point I find that for me, the best things I can find to do are educate myself aggressively, speak truth in settings where people who look like me will hear from me what they couldn’t/wouldn’t hear from people who don’t look like me, and live out my faith with increasing intention and vigor.

I also started listening to podcasts from perspectives with which I do not agree and cannot support, for the purpose of at least understanding other viewpoints.  As a culture we are forgetting how to hear each other; this is one of my weapons to prevent myself from living in an echo chamber and being useless among those with whom I disagree.

This year afforded G and me a service opportunity when we served at a local meal site, and loved it so much that we took it on once a month, a practice we’re carrying into 2018.  I debated about even listing this, as it can look like patting myself on the back, but also I wanted to note out loud that this is an opportunity available in most communities (maybe even yours), and it is wonderfully practical, if you’re looking for a hands-on good thing to do.

Meanwhile, I continually work to stock the pantry at home and do the things to prepare for a crash of one or more (all?) systems here in our country, since such a thing seems so likely and if it happens, I want to be one of the helpers, not one of the people crying with their hands out because they thought it couldn’t happen.

Spiritual Growth

I read a book this year that you should totally read.  Dr. Kelly Flanagan’s Loveable:  Embracing What I Truest About You, So You Can Truly Embrace Your Life was a life-changer for me.  I wept my way through it, getting confirmations from God at every step in the form of totally unrelated conversations and other readings.

Other books that I read spoke to the electronic overload of our brains due to the internet and all of its shiny goodies – Cal Newport’s Deep Work:  Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World irritated me but made good points, and Greg McKeown’s Essentialism:  The Disciplined Pursuit of Less was helpful along the way.  There were also a handful of church leadership books that left me thinking and worrying about the best way forward for today’s church.

I served on a Walk to Emmaus team – that’s a weekend retreat.  When I went on my first “walk” years ago, it radically changed my understanding of my faith; I’ve served on teams from time to time since then to create the same experience for others.  If you haven’t been, you should totally go!  If you’re local, let me know and I’ll help you get there.  Serving this time was by far the best experience I’ve had at the weekend.

Our annual Royal Family Kids Camp was another stretching experience this summer, leaving more foster kids imprinted on my heart for permanent prayer.  2018 will bring an affiliated monthly “club” meeting and mentoring program starting in the fall – I can’t wait.

For the month of May I fasted from Facebook, Netflix, and added/processed sugars.  This was NOT my idea; it came to me in prayer and I stiff-armed it for all I was worth.  But when I gave it a try, I learned a lot (much of which I pretty promptly put out of my mind, so the review of emails for this blog was a good thing – I can pick some of that back up and use it as I slide into 2018).

And I can’t leave this out:  our pastor did a 3-part sermon on “Crazymakers” very recently, addressing relationships with difficult people.  Part three of that series was one of the most important messages ever for me, empowering me to step out of an exhausting, years-long, continually toxic situation without feeling like I was somehow letting God down.  I recommend it.

Body Stuff

Though I had all that good healing stuff early in the year, this has not been a banner year for Karen’s body.  It’s not all bad – in November I started running again once in a while, to my delight.  But overall I am not in a good zone where the body is concerned – my weight is up to the point of continual discomfort, and something’s gotta change in 2018.  Some of that has come from eating cheap food (read:  crappy processed carbs) to fix the household budget, but mostly as I reread my emails from the year, I see a sugar addict who knows she’s a sugar addict just mainlining sugar continually and acting like it’s okay.

Fun Stuff

I read more books this year than I’ve done in a long time – I don’t even know how many.  I delved back into fiction, and it feeds me in a way that nonfiction does not – like a brain refreshment or something (but there were also a ton of nonfiction books along the way).  I used my library card and my free Kindle books available on Amazon Prime to just relish the joy of reading.

AudioFeed Music Festival was a refreshing few days – fun faithful nonstandard music that you can’t find on K-LOVE, interesting classes, and a departure from everyday life.

We did a seder at my daughter’s house with family for Passover.  We made our annual trip to Chicago so we could do Yom Kippur (funny that this day of repentance is my favorite Jewish festival) at G’s synagogue in Skokie, and we caught up with friends at JPUSA.  We also camped out and enjoyed meals in the back yard during Sukkot, and have great plans for Sukkot 2018.

For our 4th anniversary in August we took a little hiking vacation to Starved Rock State Park.  I want to do that again.  The rest of my “fun stuff” for the year was family stuff  and friend stuff and garden/yard stuff, because I am a real party animal.

I’m glad to see, looking back, that the yuck on the news feed is not all that 2017 contained.  The year hasn’t been perfect, and I’m getting a lot wrong along the way as usual, but overall I note how often I think or say aloud that I’m shocked at how happy my life is – I know for sure I didn’t “earn” this level of joy, fun, peace and purpose.  That’s where I’m choosing to focus – gratitude is ALWAYS the right answer, no matter the question.

If you made it this far (yes, I know I write way too long!)…thanks for hearing me out.  I’d love to hear about the goodies YOU pulled out of 2017.

a violent hope

Posted: November 13, 2017 in Uncategorized

My aunt and uncle have a farm, with land and barns and cattle and chickens and the whole deal – the kind of stuff to which I fondly I refer when I say that I grew up on the farm.  My husband the city boy can’t get enough of visiting there.

Recently we drove out to get tomatoes from their garden and apples from their tree; as we got out of the car, he was excited:  “Cows!”  The cattle were up near the fence, calves and all.  I headed for tomatoes and he went to commune with them.

But unlike most visits, he quickly returned to my side.  I was surprised he hadn’t taken more time; generally he works on his perpetual fantasy that they will come to the fence for petting and he takes his opportunity to Instagram them when they prove to still be cattle, uninterested in the affection of the stranger at the fence.  What brought him away from the fence so quickly?

One word:  the bull.  This guardian of the herd had not not needed special identification to make himself known.  One sound, one small gesture, and G was instantly aware that he was in the presence of danger, despite the fence between them.  Bulls don’t have to speak twice; when they tell you to back off, that’s what you do.


Earlier this year, my brother visited a crocodile farm somewhere in the south.  On my tiny iPhone screen I watched a short video clip he sent me, in which a gigantic, ancient beast rises up out of muddy water, opens its ponderous jaw, and lets out a rumble.  My brother said that when he made that noise and the water droplets shook off his head, the ground shook beneath his feet.  All I know is that every time I watch it, something at the very center of me experiences sheer terror, urging me, “RUN!”  Even coming from a device that fits easily in my hand, that sound says to me, “Today, you are going to die a horrifying and violent death.”  The crocodile doesn’t have to rage or create cinematic drama to make his power known.


Yesterday in church, we sang a song that paints a picture for me of that level of power.

But on that day/What seemed as the darkest hour/A violent hope/Broke through and shook the ground/And as You rose/The light of all the world was magnified/As You rose in victory.

The first time we sang that (and every time since), it wrecked me.  I pictured a scene I don’t know as well as a bull or a crocodile:  a lion.  He steps onto the scene and makes his voice known a single time.  The ground shakes, and nothing that hears remains casual or complacent.  The sound is fearsome power, and no one needs a tutorial to understand this is so.

This is the power of “gentle Jesus,” whom we follow and worship but too often miscalculate with our feeble imaginations, making Him small and easily understood, a casual “part” of our lives, sometimes remembered and other times forgotten.  I think God gave us things like bulls and crocs and lions as pictures (small and inadequate, but illustrative when we encounter them in person)  of the power we dismiss because we’ve distanced ourselves from Him and/or mistakenly measured ourselves as far greater powers than we are.

A violent hope broke through and shook the ground.  Scripture tells us that’s a thing that actually happened the day of the cross, something I don’t remember hearing as a small child, so it shocked me in my thirties the first time I noticed it.  An earthquake, the tearing of the temple curtain, graves opened up, a darkened sky.  Not a small, symbolic, cinematic moment for the artsy folks, but the violence of God in an instant overruling a death sentence hanging over humanity.

Feeling like you’re barely making it today?  May the power of that violent hope seize you and let you know how silly you’ve been to rely on your own power, when “gentle Jesus” offers you His.  May it shake the ground on which you stand.  Today, let’s pray like we have access to that because…

we do.

“God hates divorce.”  Five or so years before my divorce, I was comfortable with this scripture.  Smug, even.  I recall lecturing righteously to my kids about it as we drove somewhere in the car, filled with superior gladness that I was a stable, responsible person who would never break that vow made before God, never put my own needs so much on the front burner that I’d inflict pain and chaos on others around me.  Divorce was for flaky people.  Selfish people.  People who couldn’t get their shit together.  (And on rare occasion, it was for ladies and were rightly fleeing physically abusive situations – even at the worst of my arrogance, I understood THAT part.)

Divorce was for people who were not like me.

It wasn’t long after that my marriage began its slow, awful crumble, with plenty of fault to go around.  There were stages and much struggle over a period of several years – this was no sudden decision – and then a couple of years of getting through the actual legal severing once we’d determined that the marriage simply would not be saved.

It was the hardest, ugliest thing I’ve ever been through.  Here’s the thing I learned:  when you make a marriage vow, you create a holy, living thing.  Divorce is the deliberate murder of that living thing.  No matter how hard you work on being civilized and cooperative, it is a death…and not a natural one.  The pain level for me and for him was intense – shocking.  We each felt at different points that we might not survive the process.

That was to be expected, right?  Divorce hurts.

What I DIDN’T expect was the level of pain it would cause others.  The kids, yes, of course that would hurt – that was the hardest part of making that decision.  Lots of people, including counselors, told me that “kids are resilient” and I shouldn’t base any choice on the question of “what about the kids.”  I didn’t buy for a minute that it would be anything less than excruciating for them – the only reason I was able to push forward was that it seemed staying was going to damage them even more.   So, I didn’t leave *for* the kids, but as I did what I needed to at the time, I understood the choice as “the least bad option” available to me, where it came to their well-being.  What I believed then and still believe, right or wrong, is that we (BOTH of us) had broken things irrevocably, and we only knew how to be unhealthy with one another.  Not a good legacy to pass on to kids.

But the pain wasn’t limited to those in our little 4-person family.  It splashed around.  It hurt extended family.  It hurt friends.  It intruded into the workplace.  It was an ugly gift that just kept on giving.  I hadn’t seen that coming.

Even today, when I talk with anyone who is struggling in a marriage, I am quick to let them know:  don’t think divorce is an easy out.  It is ugly and difficult beyond any words I know how to use.  Pursue all other avenues.  In most cases, take divorce off the table as even a thought – even CONSIDERING it is harmful to a marriage.  Don’t go there, as long as you can find any other option at all.  Keep trying.  Keep praying.  Keep working on yourself.  There is no easy escape hatch.

I thought of all that this morning in church, as our guest pastor paused amidst his message for a sidebar.  “Denominations,” he said, “are not of God.”  He told us there are FORTY THOUSAND denominations inside of Christianity…”each birthed from divorce.”


In my final year as a junior high Sunday School teacher, I did a “survey of the faith” segment with my class.  We started with Judaism, and studied the rise of the Christian church, the split between Catholic and Protestant, the various denominational differences, etc…for the better part of a year.  We visited Jewish synagogues to start out (from orthodox to messianic in nature).  We checked out a catholic church with a Latin mass (though the priest fell ill and didn’t show up for service, so we never actually heard the Latin).  We attended services at all sorts of different denominations within protestant Christianity, trying to learn a little first about each and then go in respectfully, collecting impressions to discuss later.

My class was a FANTASTIC group of kids and in some ways the exercise was great fun and highly educational.

In the end, though, I regretted doing the “survey of the church” segment with them…because of how much hope it sucked out of ME…and how much I worried that I’d damaged their ability to trust the church by looking so closely at it.

Because today’s guest pastor was right:  every denomination has been birthed by divorce.  Every new church was started because someone decided they weren’t satisfied where they were, things were not being done “right,” they were going to do it “better,” and for whatever reason they couldn’t just work out their differences where they were.  Bring on the split, and the split, and the split and the split, starting more and more churches, many too focused on their difference from the others and not enough on loving one another, all of them filled with messy people doing it imperfectly.

If you haven’t been to the church wars, maybe you don’t know the level of pain and chaos and awfulness therein.  I have.  I know.  While I was an awful combatant the first time I went there, the second time I felt like a child of divorce.  I wasn’t on either “side” of the war.  I liked and loved people on both sides.  I just wanted them to play nicely together – to humble themselves, to fix the mess.  The fix came eventually, I guess, but it took people out of that congregation and it left a big scar.  It was a divorce.

God hates divorce.  Once upon a time, in the middle of ending that marriage, those words felt like a giant finger of condemnation pointed at me.  Like a judgment.  Like a measure of my failure.

A little further down the road, I don’t see it that way AT ALL.  Does God hate divorce?  Sure.  Not because someone is “failing,” but because of that pain that splashes around, that ugly gift that just keeps on giving.  He hates divorce because of the harm it does to the people He loves.  If divorce has happened in your household, or in your church, maybe you know what I’m saying here.

We’re not going to go back and fix this – the endless denominations exist, and this side of heaven we’re not going to lay that all down, undoing our different labels and nuanced theology.

But we’d do well to consider this business of being birthed by divorce…and working on healing the wounds inflicted therein.

We can do that, with God’s help.  He’s all about it.