Radical hope … from where we’re at

[I know … it’s been awhile … not sure what to say about that. This piece is the basis for a reflection I gave at church last week.]

I actually remember the first time I heard someone sing harmony. Well, I’m sure I must have heard it before, but this was the first time I had ever really noticed it. I was in elementary school and my dad had picked up my sister and me to hang out — I don’t remember where we were going. The radio was on (as it often was in my dad’s car) — you don’t have to talk if you you’re listening to the radio. And my dad was singing along to the music and I started to also, but as I opened my mouth to sing, I realized he wasn’t singing the same thing that the singer on the radio was singing — I remember thinking how cool it sounded. Of course it made it hard for me to sing the melody then. I had to really concentrate so I didn’t go where my dad went with his voice … I had to concentrate on the sounds the singer was making. But I remember how fun, how energizing, how much satisfaction it brought me to sing in harmony with my dad. At that point I didn’t know terms like harmony or melody or chords. I just knew that even as our voices were doing different things, we were making something more, something better, together.

Today our passage in Isaiah 11 paints a picture of radical hope birthed from a desolate and hopeless situation. It begins, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” We’re not talking about a seedling here, this isn’t something carefully nurtured and cultivated. In fact we’re talking about a tree that’s been hacked down, cut to the ground. This stubborn branch is growing from a stump – from what is left after the tree’s been destroyed. In fact Isaiah 10 describes that destruction, just a few verses before the prophet writes, “the tallest trees will be cut down, and the lofty will be brought low.” Nothing is left. Hope for life is gone.

Have you ever been there? Does this sound familiar? You look around and you’re unconvinced that anything you do will make a difference. The situation is beyond hope. Maybe some of us have felt snippets of this in the last month, in the last year, in the last few days.

How do you have hope when:

  • You worked so hard on a project just to have it hacked to pieces by a co-worker
  • You can’t stop fighting with your spouse
  • As hard as you try, you can’t stop drinking
  • People of color continue to be criminalized, devalued, violated and killed in the United States of America
  • You’re so lonely sometimes you can’t breath
  • When you don’t feel safe anywhere anymore and the fear is paralyzing.

Advent has felt especially adventy this year. In the last few weeks, I have been so keenly aware of our collective and my personal need for radical and miraculous hope. I keep saying, “I’m desperate for inspiration.” Some days, getting out of bed feels like climbing a mountain.

And yet, Isaiah writes:

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”

There is something miraculous happening somewhere. Even if we can’t see it.

One of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott says, “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.”

And so even in this adventy advent, when hope seems like a long shot, I’m putting one foot in front of the other. Trusting God to show me the next right thing.

Last week at Thanksgiving I really struggled to try and name what I’m thankful for — I mean beyond the givens — of course, I’m thankful for my family, my kids, my friends … but I wrestled this year with Thanksgiving.

Finally I was able to name this:

I am Thankful for those who have the strength and the space to offer their voices and their bodies to stand for justice right now. Because right now, I have neither strength nor space.

Still, I must believe that in 1,000 different big and small ways, we’re all doing our part.

  • For some radical hope might look like getting out of bed in the morning.
  • For some it might look like inviting a friend for coffee
  • For some it’s creating welcoming shelter for refugee families
  • For some, it might look like running in a marathon today
  • For some, it’s teaching ESL
  • For some it’s advocating for racial justice.
  • For some it’s writing poetry

We each trust God to work in us and to work through us — illuminating our path, making the next right thing clear …

For the water protectors at Standing Rock, it’s continuing their presence there. For me, it’s making sure my kids are healthy and fed.

But you see I believe that illustrates the beauty of the rest of this Isaiah passage:

As we read on, Isaiah describes images of such extreme peace — hyperbolic peace, certainly incomprehensible for us in our time in history.

We read this beautiful passage, envisioning these idyllic images.

 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid …
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

Note the passage doesn’t say: there are no more lions or Glory to God the snakes are gone. It doesn’t say we don’t need those lambs.

And it doesn’t say that in order for this peace to be realized, that lambs should behave like loins or children like snakes.

In this passage, everyone’s there — bears, babies, lions, leopards, lambs. And they are all themselves — they are who they are.

What’s different then? How is this kind of peace possible? Verse nine says,

“They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”

Y’all, I believe that the kingdom of God is revealed through each one of our unique selves living in light God has given for us today, putting one foot in front of the other, doing the next right thing (even when it all feels unclear). Even when it’s so hard and you’re so afraid and even when you don’t believe it’ll do a lick of good.

We’re all in this kingdom work together — Like John the Baptist, who in his unique-locust-and-honey-eating, camel-hair-wearing way, was preparing the way of the Lord. Surrendering to the work of the Spirit of God in him and through him.

And this brings us back to the image of my dad and me singing harmony. Y’all, I believe we have got to be discerning. Make sure you’re singing the part that’s yours, the part that you’re called to — we can’t get distracted by someone else’s melody. Because as we each sing our part, going where our unique voice needs to go, we live into the beautiful harmony and the peace that is the fullness of the kingdom of God. We create it together ….

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My year of intention

IMG_0987About a moth ago I turned 40. I’ve had so many thoughts about this significant milestone over the last six months, over my lifetime, really.

I’ve anticipated this transition with dread, fear, self-doubt and hope.

My 30th birthday was rough simply because I loved my 20s. I was incredibly self-indulgent and not super-responsible or accountable to anyone. I met and married Jake in my 20s, and together we committed to adventure together. We traveled all over the U.S., Mexico, Central and South America. We followed our passions and pursued our own interests. We worked to pay for our pursuits.

And then I unexpectedly got pregnant. We’d always said kids were 127_2775something we’d do someday, but we weren’t one of those couples who’d determined it was time to start trying or that we were ready. In fact we were in no way ready. And yet, at 29 I became a mother. I realized mothering was something that I was passionate about too. I loved this little being more than I loved anyone in my life. I gave all of myself over to motherhood and I was happy to. At the same time I was keenly aware of all I was letting go of – a life that was mine alone, all my indulgences, putting my desires first. I turned 30 after a year of this new reality. I was learning what mothering wee ones required (I was in the thick of it) breastfeeding, sleepless nights, diapers, no personal space.

And so for me, the transition to 30 carried the weight of all that I was leaving behind in my 20s. It was rough, scary, shocking.

That and the fact that 30 sounded old. So much more adult than I’d ever experienced.

IMG_9983And as it turned out, my 30s were full of all those adult things – growing up, giving of myself to other humans that I loved so much more than I ever imagined that I could. We had two more kids, and I chose to stay at home with them because I couldn’t imagine anyone doing a better job at caring for them than me. And although I loved it and wouldn’t have made any other choice, I was always aware that my life was not my own.

And so in some ways, this transition to 40 feels incredibly freeing to me.

I feel excited and hopeful about the freedom I’m experiencing as my kids become more independent. We are done with the diapers, co-sleeping (for the most part), breastfeeding, and complete dependence that comes with littles. And with their increasing independence I am getting little tastes of personal space.

All thee kids are in school now (1st, 3rd and 5th). I started working outside the home again when we were in Nicaragua and continue to work now that we’re back in Texas. I’ve been at my job for about a year and enjoy the creativity and challenge that come along with it. I am excited about what is possible in this newfound independence and the ways that I can invest in myself and my passions again. This is all wonderful!

At the same time, 40 is still 40.

It carries with it these ideas of midlife and aging and wisdom, the weight of what society expects of us by this age. I realize I can look back on 20 years of adult life. And although I can look back with nostalgia and gratefulness, I also realize that if I do live a relatively healthy and long life, I’m about halfway to the end. This is literally the mountain top, the peak, the top of the hill and I’m technically heading downhill from here on out. That’s sobering.

I’m reminded of Mary Oliver’s words, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

And I feel compelled to enter this decade with intention.

IMG_1070

I’ve been working on a list of 12 month-long commitments that I’ll focus on throughout the year. These are activities, passions, interests that I’m planning to pursue. It’s my way of celebrating the place that I’m in – right now. It’s my way of embracing this decade – welcoming it. To be present and to pay a little more attention to me again – now that there’s space for that.

I’ll list them out here – just to put it out there. We’ll see how this goes.

November – A month of running at least five days per week.

December – A month of daily morning meditation.

January  – A month to begin The Artist’s Way

February – A month of experimental photography – a shot a day for 30 days.

March – One month of Texas trails. I think this might amount to one trail per week.

April – The month I get my tattoo. I’ve had this beautiful tattoo in my head for about 10 years now. And it seems like this might be the appropriate time to do it.

May – One month of beautifying my home. I hope to tackle one home improvement project per week.

June – One month of yoga every morning.

July – One month of juicing. I’ve wanted to incorporate juicing into my life for a while now.

August – One month of blogging everyday.

September – One month of daily ab work.

October – One month of generosity. This one is still coming together in my head, but the idea is that I’m intentionally generous – that generosity is the starting point for the choices that I make.

I think my hope is to keep track of progress monthly here.

So look for a November update coming soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forty things I love about my life at 40

Today I turn 40 years old. I have been on this earth for 40 years.IMG_2170

A few weeks ago I started a list of things that I love about this time in my life — here and now.  The impetus for this exercise is twofold: one — to help me really notice the beauty and joy I have in my life, in the midst of the chaos, and two — to help me not to be sat that I am in fact 40.

So here goes (in no logical or decipherable order):

  1. I am probably in the best shape of my life.
  2. I am self-aware — I can recognize my weaknesses and appreciate my own gifts.
  3. IMG_0686I get to mother some remarkable little humans.
  4. I appreciate myself as a highly sensitive person, and I can understand my potential pitfalls as well as appreciate the depth of connection I have with people because of that.
  5. I have an amazing, generous, kind and supportive sister. And she’s got an loving husband and some sweetie-pie kids.
  6. I am at a point in my life where I can look back and appreciate the richness of my life-experience and notice the movement of God all around.
  7. I own a house, a car and a computer.
  8. I don’t have it all “figured out.”
  9. I still have amazing legs!
  10. I value my health — mentally, physically, emotionally — and I prioritize maintaining it.
  11. I enjoy dancing and I do it regularly — uninhibited.
  12. I have an amazing partner in life  — he’s challenged me, cared for me, forgiven me and is ALWAYS on my side.IMG_3185
  13. I have accomplished some pretty awesome things physically — I’ve experienced natural childbirth (three times), I’ve hiked the Inca Trail in Peru to Machu Picchu, I’ve run a half-marathon.
  14. I have done some really interesting work — I taught middle and high school English, I worked in community development / engagement in El Salvador, I taught childbirth classes, I worked as a women’s health promoter, I worked in development in Nicaragua … gosh, a little bit of everything!
  15. I have an amazingly comfortable bed for the first time in my life (purchased this year).
  16. I have a network of wonderful people in my life who love and support me.
  17. IMG_0845I can better recognize and receive the love of my mother. We missed each other for a lot of years. I am thankful for my mom.
  18. Carlos Reyes is in it.
  19. I am less judgmental than I used to me — I aspire to not be not be judgmental at all (you gotta give a girl credit for knowing where she’s got room to grow 🙂 )
  20. My wardrobe is improving (little-by-little).
  21. Shiner Bock makes a regularshiner bock appearance.
  22. I am able to indulge in reading for pleasure (on my own) again.
  23. I practice yoga.
  24. I have meaningful work, contributing to something bigger than myself.
  25. I am unabashedly feminist and I’m raising feminist kids.
  26. I have a creative, brave and inspiring brother.
  27. I participate in a challenging and life-giving faith community.
  28. I will soon have a privacy fence in my backyard.
  29. I still make my kids’ halloween costumes.
  30. My kids fold and put away their own clothes.
  31. We live in San Antonio and in the great state of Texas.
  32. My kids are compassionate — they know how to love deeply and sincerely.IMG_4616
  33. Chips and Salsa.
  34. I speak decent Spanish.
  35. God is so much more than I ever imagined.
  36. Jake and I have each changed so much since we got married almost 15 years ago, and yet our commitment to one another remains — it’s something I know I can count on.
  37. I don’t know what our lives will look like in 10 years.
  38. Love is the center of our lives and always fueled by adventure and curiosity.
  39. My son, Joaquin loves to read. Frida and Mireya do too. We share books — reading together nightly as much as we can.
  40. I have the pleasure of looking back at 40 years of memories — with a grateful heart.

emptiness

emptiness big bend

Workers rush toward some hint

of emptiness, which they then

start to fill. Their hope, though,

is for emptiness, so don’t think

you must avoid it. It contains

what you need!

 — Rumi, from The Just-Finishing Candle

I was with a group of wise women yesterday and we discussing this excerpt. I’ve actually been thinking about it all week.  I came across it in my morning reflection on Tuesday and couldn’t resist it’s pull every morning that followed.  And so I brought it to this group of wise, graceful, reflective women for us to ponder individually and collectively.  I asked two questions:

Where have you encountered emptiness?

How have you experienced emptiness providing exactly what you need?

And the conversation that followed was oh so rich.

We shared stories of pain and disappointment.

We reflected on the peeling back of our identities and the letting go of deep desires to please.

It was deep and meaningful exchange that helped me reflect, understand and articulate better what I have encountered in emptiness.

Emptiness — what is it anyway?

It is the void I encounter when all the things I use to define me fall away.  It is the vast space that exists where I cannot point to my actions, my degree, my achievements; where who I am is not synonymous with in my role, or peoples perception of me, or how I’ve failed.

It isn’t a place I’ve gone often or even of my own volition really.

But, in that space, without the burden of expectations or performance, I am free. I can appreciate the unique being that I am. I am centered in the wholeness of who I was made to be.

mistakes, depression, darkenss and slowly … doing better

[This post has been over a year in the making. For the past year I’ve returned to it as a way of processing and healing. It’s the best explanation I’ve got for what happened in Nicaragua and I offer it here, with a bit of trepidation, but with hope that my story of brokenness can bring hope to those who are struggling in similar ways.]

I’ve spent a lot of time in my life thinking about mistakes.

I’ve heard it said that through mistakes, we learn. That mistakes keep us humble.  That they are evidence of a life fully lived.

In theory, all of this sounds true and valid and good.

But this speaks nothing of what the experience of living through mistakes feels like.

Living through mistakes, facing them, owning them …

Especially for me.

For me, mistakes feel like a statement about who I am.

With no regard for size or severity — whether they are insignificant or gargantuan — making mistakes almost always leads to a flood of insecurity.  My good friend Kathleen used the analogy of a fire hydrant and I find that helpful.  It’s like this fire hose of lies comes blasting at me every time I screw up: loser, fake, fuck-up, unlovable, reject, failure, liar….

For years and years, over and over, I drowned in these floods.  I spent much of my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood believing that I wasn’t good enough, a loser, unlovable, a fuck-up — flooded with insecurity and often self-loathing.  I lived through long periods of depression before I even knew what it was. And during those times, I often made unhealthy and harmful choices.  I wasn’t self-aware enough to understand what was happening — to face the unhealthy self-concept or harmful behavior.

It wasn’t until I had kids and went through pretty difficult periods of postpartum depression  that I began to recognize my unhealthy thought patterns and my low, low self esteem.  I went to therapy (several different stints), read lots of books, had lots of accountability, and began to recognize the power of unconditional love — from God through people who choose not to give up on me, who believe I am worth it. And slowly, I too began believing that  I am worth it.

I began seeing myself with God-eyes.

I am exactly who I was created to be.  I am enough just as I am.  

And the four to five years leading up to Nicaragua were probably some of the healthiest I’ve lived.  I was more confident, self-assured, secure, comfortable in my own skin.  I’m not saying the fire hydrant didn’t flood me when I screwed up. That is always there (even though I wish it wasn’t…). It just meant that I could recognize the lies for what they were. With time, centering, breathing, and listening to the voice of God, I could hear the truth about myself. I could see myself in a healthy perspective again.  But my God, does that take work!  And time! It takes time to get by myself, to quiet my mind, to invest in me.  And anyone who’s had small kids knows how hard to come by me-time is for parents.  But I learned that investing in myself leads to a healthier me, and that was worth it for all of us — me, Jake, the kids.

But then we made the decision to move to Nicaragua.

Sometimes, I wish I could go back in time and talk myself out of it. We had a good life here in Texas.  We made sense — our lives worked.

Sometimes I think that in spite of all the meetings and discernment and pro/con lists, all the energy we invested in preparing ourselves and our kids, in spite of our well-laid plans,  we made the wrong decision. Not that it felt like it while I was living it.  Not at all. It certainly felt difficult, but it also felt brave and adventurous and like living out a call. But boy did it cause stress.

What made me think that all that we were sacrificing was worth “the good” we were doing?

What made me think I would do well in a job like that? I worked and worked.  I worked so fucking hard. We recognized the stress and what it was doing to us early on, but we kept hoping that with changes we made, with tweaks to our routine, with intentionality, our lives there would feel doable, satisfying, like the lives we’d imagined we’d have.  And I tried and I tried and soon, the spinning of wheels began to do a job on my healthy self concept.  And when I made mistakes it got harder and harder to center and live into the truth.  And with enough mistakes and not enough grace, I began to forget the truth I believed about myself.  And by the time we made the heartbreaking decision to leave Nicaragua, I don’t think I could even remember or recognize the person I used to be, the woman I’d once believed in.

I returned to Texas full of shame, betrayed, bitter, insecure, broken and incredibly confused.

And I marinated in all of that for months.  I hid in my bed under the covers for a long time.  I felt so completely and absolutely alone.  I was the mayor of Loserville without much hope for any kind of future. I applied for jobs. I went through the motions of life — I was hollow, depressed and hopeless.  I drank a lot.

The process of choosing life again after living underneath the oppressive weight of hopelessness and depression feels pretty nearly impossible. It took more intentionality, more time, more investing in myself.  I went back to therapy,  I read a few more books, I got reconnected to my beloved community and I began to search for the power of unconditional love — from God through people who choose not to give up on me, who believe I am worth it. And again, ever so slowly, I began to believe that I am worth it.  I again was able to see myself with God-eyes.

I am exactly who I was created to be.  I am enough just as I am.  

Each day I pray for just enough light for the next few steps. I ask for patience and grace for others and myself.  Because in truth, every decision that we make is the culmination of each of our individual (and shared) life-experiences. Each choice is evidence of what we’ve learned in our lives. And sometimes, because of the tough lessons our lives have taught us, we are able to shine.  And sometimes, because of the tough lessons, we miss it completely.

I’ve realized something through my little life-journey this far, in my experience with other humans: there’s lots of imperfect people out there just like me. There are lots of us doing the best we can with what we’ve got.  There are lots of us out there learning from our mistakes.

The other day I came across a quote from the beautiful and brave Maya Angelou.  She said,

 Do the best you can until you know better.  Then when you know better, do better.

And little-by-little, I am.

Praise be to God.

Amen.

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