Faith and Other Foibles, 2020

what’s beautiful is surviving struggle. what is beautiful is living to tell our stories. what’s beautiful is surviving heartbreak. what’s beautiful is not anymore about perfection…what’s really beautiful is living to tell your story and letting that story inspire others to survive the lives that they are living. ~CeCe Jones-Davis

Health

New data about the toll of anxiety and stress on the body is rolling out every year. We know now that stress and anxiety take a tangible toll on the body, down to the cellular level. Being alive during the pandemic this year, and being a full time teacher at a time when the vaccine had not yet been concocted, tested, etc., was the most continually stressful situation I’ve been in. That level of prolonged stress made me tired, and as minister CeCe Jones-Davis says, Change comes when we get tired but we have to keep going.

Thanks to the mother of a student (who has become a dear friend to me), who saw my exhaustion and physical pain, and advocated for me, I have pursued the changes that my body needs to offset the continuing toll of the trauma I experienced in adolescence, and the heavy weight of this year’s anxiety. I don’t feel that I am at 100%, but I remember there is a 100%, and it is my most holy work to get my body, mind, and spirit, back to that level of functioning and comfort.

Love

Leaving love and the comfort of another person is extraordinarily difficult; staying when it is time to go is far more so. I don’t have many words on Love–between humans–right now. I left love, I found love, I allowed my definition of love to be modified, and honestly, right now, its’ in flux. I have a better idea of what the love I want in my life to be like, but it isn’t settled, and I am allowing it to shift and move, as I and my beloved partner shift and move. I am grateful for the men who have shared my bed, for their smells, for their guarded vulnerabilities, for the shape of their body next to mine. Gabriel, te amo. Quiero pasar mi vida contigo, si Dios(a) lo quiere.

What I do know about love between humans is that sexual partners come and go. You may sign a mortgage with someone, you may not. Tried and true friendships hold. Sisterhood holds. Mentorship, done well, holds. When the romantic love you hoped for falls through, as it inevitably will in one way or another, for a time, or permanently, the relationships you made with friends, co-workers, children of friends, and your own children ( be it cat, dog, or human!) will hold. Because you invested in them. Because you chose to open your heart and your life to the beautiful people you encounter. As I had held others up, so they will hold me up, and it is an incredibly gracious and reassuring experience to fall back on the ropes of these nets you wove.

Faith

Like Love, this one is up in the air for me. I feel that I am soaring between unwavering loyalty to one tradition, over exploration of traditions from around the world, to where I think I’ll land: with deep appreciation for all traditions, but a universal perspective on the tradition that feels like home to me: that of Jesus, of the marginalized Jews and the mystical tales their people passed down for centuries.

I know that although I can’t verbalize much about my faith, it informs the way I live. My faith was there on the mornings when I opened my eyes and realized I had to do what felt impossible again. It was there when I prayed “God, help me calm down,” during a severe anxiety attack over Thanksgiving break. It, He, She, Spirit, Faith, is there every time I come back to myself, during a yoga class, a meditation, a walk through the park, a long hug with a woman who mothers me (there are many, including my biological mother, who gave me the gift of “matter to enliven,” as my osteopathic doctor says).

I know that I am endlessly grateful for my faith. It has been hard won, over the course of my years, and through tireless absorption of words from those whose faith is more mature than my own.

Friendships

This year I experienced betrayal in a more acute way than I ever have. I was treated poorly (hello, scapegoating, with whom I was well acquainted as a child) by women that I allowed to be close to me (physically, emotionally). After my anger and egotistical outraged (how could this happen to ME?!) simmered down, I learned that they hadn’t hurt me because they are bad people, but because there are decisions that I have made about how I will and will not treat people that not everyone else has made.

Attention to people who are different, honest, and naturally inclined to vulnerability: you will be the one who people try to put their stuff on and send outside of the city (Biblical reference, in the Bible it was a goat because we are the GOAT). You will be the one that emotionally immature, draining people seek to latch onto and manipulate the hardest. Resist. That is their work; you alone can do yours.

That being said, this year I made new friends. I welcomed into my life, from a 6 foot minimum distance, women from the west side of town who live in giant homes and read voraciously, introverted neighbors who I wouldn’t have met if not for the pandemic, a French family with three boys, the boyfriend of my mentee (he got condoms for Christmas), new students, old male yogis, young female yoginis, folks who were new to yoga, fellow teachers, seasoned veteran teachers, and poor homeless folks. The friends I hold most dearly are those who have aligned themselves with me, advocating for, and having fun with me for years, and those who, regardless of how long they have known me, have joined me in the work that is closest to my heart: that of making the world a more equitable place for all, starting with our children.

Service

2020: I was raised in a home where service was valued, elevated, and considered an essential part of every day life. Arguably, my career is one of service. I teach, I facilitate information processing, I listen and care. From 7:30am-3:45pm every week day, service is my identity. That’s service that I get paid for, however. Jesus’ (and other religious leaders) example(s) shows the value of service when you get nothing in return.

I donate monthly (small amounts) to Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, and Preemptive Love Coalition. My true service, however, is to walk alongside the children that I started mentoring 7/9 years ago. They are nearly grown, and I savor every moment that we spend together. It takes incredible intentionality and commitment to maintain relationships across generational, socioeconomic, and racial lines. My life, my precious relationships with these babies and their families, show that this isn’t impossible. Being a part of their lives is the most humbling, redemptive, and fulfilling experience I have ever had. Thank you, Aaliyah, and Keandre. My heart is yours forever, and I will never stop rooting for you to rise and soar in your own lives.

Professional

Until two weeks ago, I thought I may have taken the wrong career path. I thought this was where the path may split. I thought I needed to leave teaching. After deep rest, spiritual renewal, and quiet reflection, I remembered that it is important to quit my job, every day, after work. To leave work at work, care for myself, and return to the classroom with a clean-slated mind and heart every damn day. I remembered that leaning on co-workers has gotten me this far, and the amazing women that I work with will continue to be there with all their dry jokes, grounded advice, and mid-day stupidity.

Over the break, I remembered what my job actually is, why I love it, and how capable I am of transcending situational difficulties in order to find a more appropriate, functional, and successful way forward for myself and my students. I remembered why I live and breath to teach, and that I cannot do it well if I am not nurturing my own growth and learning, while also handling life’s unpredictability with unimaginable amounts of Grace.

Books

It was a 35-book year, thanks to quarantine, but here are my top mentions. The Water Dancer, Ta-Nehisi Coates. Between the World and Me, same. Normal People, Sally Rooney. Felicity, Mary Oliver. The Color Purple, Alice Walker. Everything is Spiritual, Rob Bell. Red to the Bone, Jacqueline Woodson. Untamed, Glennon Doyle Melton. Malcolm X, autobiography as told to Alex Haley. We are Displaced, Malala. Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire, Jen Hatmaker. The Will to Change, bell hooks. Relatos de una Mujer Borracha, Martina Cañas.

I’ll end my little reflection with these sweet words from Father Richard Rohr, a leader who keeps reminding me that the faith of my childhood is the most faithful home I can ever know.

Love is luring us forward, because love is what we already are at our core, and we are naturally drawn to the fullness of our own being. ~ Richard Rohr

Amen, and happy new year, dear ones. Let’s move forward into Love this year, as perilous and harrowing as it may be. We were made for this.

10 Lessons of Hope

I have accumulated some great nuggets of knowledge over the past year and I want to share them! Not because I know it all, or even half of it all, but because I know different things than you do, and sharing our lessons is a good way to practice loving each other and living wise.

Here we go…

  • Wherever you are, be there. Community is built by people who invest in the lives of those around them rather than spend time searching for the group to be in. I realized this last summer when I noticed that the “favorites” list on my phone was over a page long, and full of people I did not talk to on a weekly basis. I had accumulated a list of the people I thought I needed to be with, and that had only served to damage the community God had placed me in. I trimmed the list down to seven people: it is far more user-friendly now, and I do not so often feel stretched out and stressed by the demands myriads of friends used to place on me.

“There isn’t anything on earth like relationships to make you holy.” ~Stasi Eldredge, Becoming Myself, 146

“So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” ~Acts 9:11, ESV

  • Be refreshed by the things you like to do. If you tend to overwork yourself (like me), you may find no space in your life for activities you enjoy. Change that. You need to do frequent, inexpensive things that you find refreshing. God gives us these pleasures as blessings; they help us through the ache of everyday life. For me it is yoga, and writing in my journal. Other people go on walks, cook, or build bonfires outdoors. (**Beware of idolatry: don’t turn these blessings into curses by giving them the heart that only belongs to God.**)

“But a heart alive is a heart that is awake and curious and pressing in to more.” ~ Stasi Eldredge, Becoming Myself, 115

  • Be (extra) kind to minorities. Not because they are any more desperate or less important than the ethnic majority, but because, odds are, things in their family tree haven’t gone so smoothly. Why else would they be far from their biological roots? Just subtly offer to pay for dinner when you’re out with a friend who is a minority member, or get plugged in to a mentoring program for at-risk youth. America has a situation on her hands. What are you gonna do about it?

“We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” ~Matthew 7:12, ESV

  • Own what you’re good at. I’ve wasted too many compliments, shrugging them away, saying, “Oh, it’s nothing, I’m not that good.” Take the compliment! Don’t be puffed up with unrighteous pride, but don’t apologize for being good at something either. I struggle with math and science but I’ve wowed some college instructors with essays and short stories. God has made me this way so I can serve HIS amazing purposes!

“God planned for us to do good things and to live as he has always wanted us to live. That’s why he sent Christ to make us what we are.”  ~Ephesians 2:10, CEV

  • Learn to say “no” to demands people place on you. Practice it if you have to; I did. This is especially difficult and of key importance if you have an enabling personality. Ask God, not men, what he would have you do with your time.

“Made in the image of God, we were created to take responsibility for certain tasks. Part of taking responsibility, or ownership, is knowing what is our job and what isn’t. Workers who continually take on duties that aren’t theirs will eventually burn out.” ~Boundaries, Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend, 27

  • Be OKAY with not knowing. No one knows it all. Don’t drive yourself mad searching for the answer to every question that flies through your head in a day. *You don’t have to win the arguments.* Doing research, learning, and seeking council is good, but no amount of historical data or advice or analysis can set your heart to rest. Only God offers real rest. Trust him as you spend a lifetime learning the truth.

God, show me the truth and show me the lies.

      “We are not uncertain about God, but uncertain of what He will do next. If we are only certain in our beliefs we get dignified and severe and have the ban of finality about our views but when we are rightly related to God, life is full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy.” ~Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, 120

  • Beware of people who do know. Again, no one knows it all. The president, scientists, your parents, your mentors, your pastor, your therapist, they may have pieces of truth that cultivate discernment within you but they do not know it all. Our not-knowing is what makes us human, and spurs us forward to humble reliance on God. His ways are **not** our ways. Look out for people who have the answers to all your questions. Imagine a librarian who, when asked for books about World War II, starts reciting her personal knowledge of the war. You’d probably walk away slowly and Google it later. Surround yourself with people who don’t have all the answers, but are quick to point you in the right direction.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”~1 John 4:1, ESV

“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” ~Hebrews 5:14, ESV

  • Grieve. It’s OKAY to cry when you leave a job you have only had for two years. It is OKAY to spend an entire afternoon writing down memories of a loved one who passed away. If you need to weep, weep. If you need to take time thinking and wading through your emotions, set aside that time. You can experience the pain now or let it snowball for the rest of your life. God wants to bring healing to the pain in your heart, it’s part of your restoration.

“There is hope for your future, declares the Lord.” ~Jeremiah 30:17, ESV

“Jesus wept.” ~John 11:35, ESV

“Smooth sailing does not make a good sailor.” ~Louis Zamperini, Devil at My Heels

((for more on grief check out Prayer as a Place, by Charles Bello))

  • Ask God what his special love language is for you. Heather Nelson (http://sunshinedreams2u.blogspot.com/) told me this at a retreat a few weeks ago, and little did I know, God would reveal our special language to me less than an hour later. I stood next to a window and the sun slowly peeked around a thick tree. The white rays pierced glass and kissed my forehead. Sunlight. Sunshine. That is one of the way God speaks to me, letting me know he is near. Today I basked in that same glow, feeling alive and rejuvenated by this tangible taste of everlasting love. Perhaps he speaks to you in dreams, or via shapes or sounds. Just ask!

“And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” ~Ephesians 2:17&18, ESV, emphasis mine

  • If you are not a slave to God, you are a slave to death. In a way, slavery is our only option. But the slavery of God leads to fruit, to life! With God as our master, we find true freedom and the ability to rest in his grace and do good things. The other option is default mode: remaining in bondage to our own fickle, wounded hearts. None of our decisions are for good when we live by the flesh, but though the war rages on when we live by the Spirit, we are able to surrender to God’s excellent plan for the redemption of our souls and this planet.

“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” ~Romans 6:16-18, NIV

“Give your life away in exchange for many lives, give away your blessings to multiply blessings, give away so that many might increase, and do it all for the love of God.” ~AnnVoskamp, One Thousand Gifts, page 197 (http://www.aholyexperience.com/)

Have a new year filled with hope, friends. Happy 2015!