Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Disintigrating Loops

For those of you who know me well in real life, my brokenhearted state is no big secret. It's hard for me to shake off mourning. It's not that I'm always sad or depressed. It's just that the sadness and vulnerability of stories and circumstances always seems to be very powerful and present for me. There is beauty, even joy, in suffering. I don't hate the sadness in things. I notice it and I am glad I do. It makes the joys richer.

All the same, I prefer a comfortable life. I'm a comfort bug--I don't like my feet to be cold, and I hate to be hungry. A cold shower might make me new enemies, and don't talk to me too soon after I wake up. There is beauty and joy in comfort, peacefulness, security, and quiet living, too. Given my choice, I'd take that any day, and some days I get it.
I also get (just in the past year) a health scare and an MRI to check for signs of Multiple Sclerosis. Starting on prescription antidepressants for the first time (and now, taking myself off them with the loss of my health benefits). Moving to a new city. A new job. Losing the new job the week of my Grandmother's funeral. Unemployment. Fear spirals that talk me into believing I'll be celebrating my 35th year by moving into my parents' basement, broke and alone and jobless.

Speaking of year 35, I had a struggle a few years ago turning 26, because my mother was that age when I was born. Over the years, I've imagined what it would be like to have a child, then two, then three. By my next birthday, I'll be older than my mother was when my youngest sister was born. There has not been a time in my life when I've not wanted to be a mother (ok, there are moments when friends' kids are obnoxious--but of course my children would never behave like that! *sarcasm*), and truthfully, it's a bitter, bitter struggle for me to be ok with the idea that God may not want me to be a mother or a wife.

I don't actually know what I want to do to make enough money to survive. I know I want to learn. To explore. To create. To connect. To love and serve. I am not sure how this looks in real life anymore.

So you see, I live daily brokenhearted by losses and vulnerabilities, and by the belief that I should be so much more than what I am.

But I know, too, that I'm not alone. Despite your happy facebook posts and your beautiful instagram feeds, I know that some of you out there feel desperate, alone, vulnerable and not-enough. Your life, despite the good in it, may not look like what you wanted it to, no matter what it looks like to me. Or maybe it does. If it does, don't tell me.

I recently was contacted by an old high school friend. He has, from the looks of it, an idyllic life--married to a lovely girl, two beautiful babies, just returned from working in London for several years. My first thought in response to his friendly note was, "Damn. If only he had reached out six months ago. Then I was working at what I thought was my dream job, I had just gotten back from a trip to Spain...at least I had a few things going for me."

In my recent unemployment, I've found time doesn't weigh heavy on me. For the first time in 15 years or so, I am able to read and rest and think and pray. And the result of all that is that I am rediscovering my own creative responses to the beauty and brokenness. 

In Makoto Fujimura's Refractions, he writes of art and creative response in New York in the aftermath of September 11: 
Art offers the power to pause and the potential to find healing in the remembrance of things past. Art may be at times the only true memory we own in our experience of disintegration. Art may even point to a greater redemptive plan beyond "the life and death" of each of our melodies.
The Creator God has given us creativity and the arts so that we may "name" experiences, just as God comissioned Adam to name the animals in the garden. It is significant that God gave authority and freedom to Adam, "and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name." God did not question Adam's decisions. God completely entrusted to Adam the responsibility...In the fallen realities of our days, God continues to affirm our creative responses to the darkened horizon, and by naming the indescribable, we may yet rediscover our hope to endure yet another dark day.
...we are also disintigrating, but St. Paul reminds us, "though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day." Art taps into this work of the Spirit within while recognizing the honest depiction of our disfigurement. God, the greater Artist, will aways seek to communicate via the disintegrating loops of our lives.*

Whether it's a beautiful photostream, a lyric essay, a dance class, making a cake, sharing a music video, painting, sketching, composing music, all of the "naming" you do--it's not fake. It's not meaningless. So keep moving forward, even if you feel like you're disintigrating. 

Of course, I'm talking to you, because it's always easier to encourage others rather than yourself. This is why we need our real friends, the ones who tell us when we're spiraling, who text us truths back when we send desperate texts (what? I know you do it, too), the ones who respond to our rambling and broken messages about being failures at life or making macaroni and cheese (Kraft Dinner to you, Canadians). Being brokenhearted isn't the same as despair.

God speaks through disintigration. Art. Gospel.

*The above quote is from an earlier volume of Mako Fujimura's essays. But he's working on a new project about generative community and creativity. Check it out here. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2124386031/culture-care-book

Sunday, July 13, 2014


I bought this t-shirt a few years ago. I loved the thought of holding fast, holding on to something even when things get rough--but this design caught my attention because it was different from most depictions of the phrase. 

Look up the words, and you'll see everything from tattoos to journal covers carrying the phrase. But most of the designs show an anchor. I liked this one because it showed the wave.

When I was first looking for jobs in high school, my dad told me perserverance was one of my greatest strengths--not letting go when things got rough. It was a nice way of saying that I'm stubborn, although people don't often see that side of me. Conflict is rarely worth the cost, but when it is, it can be hard to shake me.

It's only on the things that are close to my heart that I'm willing to run the risk of a storm. When I make up my mind to hold fast on something, my stomach pitches, my jaw clenches, and I have trouble sleeping at night for thinking about how to negotiate the next battering wave. I give a lot of attention to seeing it through. 

Sometimes, though, holding fast becomes going down with the ship. Maybe it's refusing to deploy the lifeboats early enough, thinking you can make it through one more wave. Maybe you don't give up the ship, but it gives up on you. 

The idea of diving out of the relative security and letting the waves toss you for a while seems terrifying and desperate. But what is it I'm supposed to hold fast to? Maybe it is that piece of driftwood. Maybe holding fast sometimes means giving up the ship. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Promise

Today, when I pulled my twice-recalled-by-GM car into the driveway of my current home, with tears on my face about current turmoils and trials, a rainbow appeared in the fantastic blue and grey and rose-colored sunset clouds. It landed right over the house in the thunderstormy, early-summer sky, and my first reaction was anger.

My life doesn't look like the one I thought it would. I'm sad, and the rainbow, which represents promise, seems like a very mockery of my current and ongoing heartbreaks. 

And then I remember the poem about promise I've had posted beneath my mirror so that  I read it every morning and every evening as I brush my teeth:

you promised.

well actually, you didn't promise very much, did you?

But you promised to be faithful, and not to let me fail beyond your forgiveness of my failures.

In common temptation, you promised that I would not be tempted more than I am able.

You promised not to lead me into temptation beyond my strength. 

And YOU - YOURSELF - are my refuge in temptation.

My escape from the pit - and THAT is enough. 

So that I can bear more than I thought I could bear



For THINE is the kingdom - and other great "fors";


THIS is what you promised.

It is enough.
It is everything.

-excerpted from Madeleine L'Engle's "The Promise"

Monday, May 5, 2014

Magic Chicken Soup

I was home this weekend for the first time in about 2 months. I left home only twice: once  to pick up groceries, and once to deliver Magic Chicken Soup to my culture-care family members Luz and Cole Bratcher, who were hit by the Nasty Cold truck this weekend.

I just ate some leftovers for lunch, and I'm not messing around, this soup is Magic--and it's entirely gluten-free, too. 

1- Organic Rotisserie Chicken (got mine from safeway. You don't have to go organic, but when I'm making broth from the bones, I prefer them to be extra-healthy)

2- whole carrots

3-stalks celery

1-sweet yellow onion

2-large leeks, the white-to-light green parts

1-bunch italian flat-leaf parsley

2 TB fresh Thyme leaves

1 TB fresh rosemary leaves

3 TB fresh grated ginger root

1 whole lemon, juiced

3 cloves fresh garlic

1 dried serrano pepper, flaked (or 1/4 tsp red  pepper flakes)


1 cup chardonnay (if you prefer not to taste the wine, use a lighter white wine)

sea salt and black pepper to taste

1. Put the whole chicken into the the pot, cover with water and boil until you've got a good broth. let cool, then remove most of the meat from the chicken and set aside. Add the carcass, skin and bones back to the pot, add more water, and boil again for 30-45 minutes.

2. With 2-3 TB EVOO, sautee onions and garlic until transparent. Add chopped celery, carrot, and leeks, sautee and stir constantly. when most of the moisture is gone and the onions are soft and melty, add 3/4 cup of the wine to deglaze and remove from heat.

3. Once the broth is extracted, strain broth into a bowl and discard the chicken bones, skin, and fat. Chop the chicken meat finely and add the meat, broth, and the sauteed vegetables back to the pot. Cook on medium heat. 

4. Add the parsley, thyme, rosemary, pepper or pepper flakes, and grated ginger.  cook for 15-20 minutes on medium heat until greens are soft. If the broth is tasting dull, add a little sea salt and black pepper.

5. Add the last 1/4 cup of wine, and the lemon juice, cook for another 15 minutes until flavors are blended. Adding just a bit of wine and the lemon at the end (in addition to the ginger kick) really brightens up the flavor and makes it taste springy.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Mourn every new thing

Mourn every new thing
New things are endings
Mercies renewed 
The only everlastings.

Somewhere, he opens a window.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Lent 2014


yourself of coffee, sugar, wine or words.

Stave off the cravings, let the headaches throb without relief and your empty spaces fill with other moments.

Wake early, watch the sun rise. Sip more sunlight each day as it gathers toward summer.

Live through Lent.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Femmeography: A Wake Up Call

I scheduled a photo session with Natasha, even though the photos on her website scared me. The women in those photos were so brave, bold, beautiful. According to the definitions of perfection we all have stamped on our vision, none were perfect. But these photos were better than physical perfection; women who were really beautiful; strong and silly, fierce, tender, joyful. These are virtues I want to see in myself, but it’s so much easier to emphasize the fearful, weak, and ugly parts of myself. 

I feel awkward in photos. Lots of people feel that way, I know. All the same, I’ve never been one who shoves the camera-wielding friend away or creates elaborate ruses to get out of group photos. It’s part of living, being in photos. But it’s been there, that little fear, locked away every time a photo op comes up. It pounces out with an almost-unconscious checklist: 

-check your makeup (I’m probably shiny. Wish I’d put on mascara this morning) 
-arrange your expression (don’t do that awkward smile this time, please) 
-at least make sure your crazy hair isn’t overwhelming the photo. (not much to do at this point...better pull it back) 
-Pose (I’m so not good at this...I’m so not good at this). 

It’s so negative. I’ve developed a practice of thinking about photos of as things that make me look good or bad, instead of simply a perspective of who I am. 

Going into my the photoshoot, I wrote down 4 fears and 3 hopes for the experience. 

I will feel awkward.  
The dancing (I have no rhythm.) 
I will do something wrong, somehow. 
I won’t be brave. 

I hope to feel brave. 
I hope to feel beautiful. 
I hope I am more awake. 

 After the shoot, I wrote down some thoughts right away: 

"This was about paying attention, about being awake to light and movement, conscious of the smallest movements that are usually so unconscious. I did feel awkward dancing, but it helped me let go of picture perfect, doing all of the things you usually avoid in photographs. While stretching and just moving around on the floor, I felt that pressure of tears behind the eyes, like when a poem is stirring but I can’t quite express it yet. It felt natural, but unnatural, the movements were not performance, but the perspective of the observer was there."

They are the essential things; understanding that gravity is there, pressing down on me, holding me close. Being aware of how my arms, hair, and face are reacting to the breeze and the light and the gravity, and the contact points of body meeting the ground, just me being present in the world. 

Just after the shoot, I noticed I felt drained, like after getting a massage or exercising muscles you haven’t used in some time, the way your legs feel a long hike, exhausted but aware of every square inch of tissue. 

After Natasha sent the photos, I had some more thinking to do. One of the things that stood out most to me were the photos where I made funny faces into the camera. It made me realize that beauty isn’t about a static pose. It is more feeling than a way of looking; it’s a surrender, a giving in to being myself, instead of trying to look a certain way. 

I have an expressive face, and while this was great for making friends laugh when I mimic or tell stories, I always felt very awkward about hamming it up for the camera; it’s very different making people laugh in real life because it is about the moment and context. When captured in a photo, it always made me feel foolish and ugly. 

So making faces for the camera, smushing my face around with my hands at Natasha’s encouragement, it was one of the things that really forced me to let go and surrender to the process. It wasn’t about performance or masks, it was accepting the structure and form and the possibilities in my face. 

In the photo that struck me most powerfully, I had been sitting and just stretching, right at the beginning of the session, limbering my neck, trying to relax and not overthink. I massaged the tension muscles in my neck and concentrated on that, on resting, when Natasha said quietly “Open your eyes.” I jumped a little and popped my eyes open; I had almost forgotten she was there. That was it. No preparation. No checklist. No pose. One person being awake, and another there to witness with the camera. 

In that photo I see the poet and the thinker and the listener. I see boldness and vulnerability, and both terrify me. The woman in that photo looks eerily powerful, like she could do anything. 

My friend Corrie wrote me a note when I showed this photo to her: “I loveloveLOVE the photo. It’s the most REAL YOU photo I think I've ever seen...all that I think and know and believe about you in one stunning photo. It's how I see you and somehow captured in a photo. (Isn't that a funny thing. That sometimes our real selves just completely evade a photo.)” 

I often struggle with feeling invisible. Though it feels selfish to me to acknowledge not feeling seen and known, I notice an airless, dangerous quality in my thinking when I’m in an “invisible” patch in my life. The outside perspective is missing; the friend who says “you’re not crazy,” or “yes, you’re acting crazy, tell me what’s really going on?” It’s the friend who sees you, and often simply by having a perspective that is not yours, helps you understand yourself better. That’s what my Femmeography shoot felt like. 

In the days and weeks following, as I thought about the session and received my photos from Natasha and processed through writing about it, it made me want to move more, to do yoga and to walk outside more often. I felt a deeper understanding of how makeup and poses are so far from being the whole story on beauty. 

"She is clothed with strength and dignity;
She can laugh at the days to come." --Prov. 31:25
I’ve only shared my Femmeography photos with a few friends, but the conversations instigated by the photos have been deeply meaningful. They’ve ranged from Corrie, for whom seeing and talking about my photo opened up a deep longing to instill an understanding of true beauty in her daughters, to Luz, who laughed and got tears in her eyes because she said she had missed seeing some of those expressions on my face in recent years, and reminded me not to hide behind my masks, to Anne and Christy who both kept using that word “brave” as they looked through the pictures. Walking away from this experience, I wish every woman could do a Femmeography session; I want every woman I know to do something like this, to make peace with understanding of her own physical presence.

If this process interested you, please go check out Natasha's beautiful work at www.femmeography.com, like her page on facebook and follow her work on twitter. I've been fascinated by the conversations the idea of Femmeography has brought up, and I'd love to hear more. What are your thoughts on real beauty?