July 26, 2017

On Superhero Capes

There once was a girl who wore a superhero cape.

It wasn't a fancy cape. A hodgepodge of florals and stripes, bold and tame. Fashioned from scraps found along her way, it gave her a super power.

Superhuman strength... but not the kind that can stop bullets or lift cars clear above her head.

The kind that can walk through fire.

The kind that can silence storms and tame the wild.

A few too many battles changed her mind. She didn't wield well this strength. She decided that the only way to survive was to use her superpower to protect herself.

Her heart turned to forged iron. It made her stand tall. Her cape changed from rags to shimmering light, and she thought she could fly. She used heavy stones to build a fortress. She flew to its highest turret and lived high above all of the people she knew. She was untouchable. She was unhurtable. 

She was strong.

But this power was never meant to protect her. It was never meant to draw battle lines in a circle around herself.

People came from far and wide to see this heroine. She wandered the halls of her fortress, watching the people from her spire. But she could not touch them. She could not help them or love them or live among them, for her cape was only beautiful and her heart was only safe inside the stone walls.

She grew dismayed, her iron heart rusting ever so slightly at the seams. She prayed each night that she would become strong again.

Her strength did not return. Rain began to fall each day. It eroded the mortar between the stones of her tower. She cursed the sky from which it came, and the God Who had seemingly not answered her prayers. Her cape turned slowly back to rags and her heart to flesh and blood.

Our heroine awoke one day to find a bright sky and the sun shining warm.

"Maybe, for one day, I could walk amongst the people. My fortress is no good anymore anyway."

So, she ventured out with her cape made of scraps. She tried to lift the heaviest stone she could find, but she wasn't able. She tried to fly above the treetops to see the glorious view of the sky, but her feet hardly left the ground.

"This old cape isn't worth anything," She said as she trudged back to her tower. She reached to untie the knot, just as a ragged stray dog stepped into the path before her. It limped and snarled all at once, warning her away. But, she knew it was badly hurt. 

"I just want to help you," she said, reaching out a cautious hand. "It's really no use trying to guard your wounds."

Slowly, the dog obliged. She wrapped it in her cape and cleaned it up. As she continued home, the dog followed, and she realized that even if she couldn't fly-- even if she didn't stand tall-- she could tame the wild again.


June 06, 2017

On Being Overdressed

Imagine a little girl, dark wispy hair, big gray eyes. She dances in a black velvet tutu across every part of her life. There is joy in the assuredness of knowing who she wants to be. More than anything, she wants to be a dancer-- a ballerina.

At age 5, she's handed a shirt. It's been so long since then, she can't remember what color it was, but she knows she slipped it on over her tutu and tried to keep dancing. The shirt is too big on her, and it turns her graceful movements into lumbering steps. The big, block lettering scrawled across the front distracts her at first.

"Big Boned" is all it says.

Over the next few years, she is handed more and more shirts. She doesn't think to remove the previous ones, just keeps layering them up.

"I don't want to be your friend."
"Cheeseburger."
"If you don't like it, change it."

Layer after layer, she just keeps dancing. But, to those around her, her dance looks more and more foolish as her movements are inhibited by her bulk.

At age 13, she stops trying to dance.

She receives more shirts. Gifts from people who admire her from afar, but can't handle her when they get close. Identities that she silently dresses herself in.

"Unstable."
"One emotional outcry after another."
"Why are you like this?"
"You're always having a bad day."
"Why can't you just extend compassion like a normal human being?"

For years, she buys clothes that are too big and too dark in hopes of appearing less. She wages war on her own body for its betrayal of her. She tries to see if wasting away will make her feel smaller.

Those who know her well can see this. They hand her more shirts, trying to encourage her and remind her of who she really is.

"You're perfect the way you are."
"You're beautiful."
"You could never scare me away."
"You're the smartest girl I know."

But they are shirts, nonetheless. No matter how well intentioned, the words are still something she has to either prove false or prove true. Layer upon layer on a body that is already far too large.

Things do change. They do get better. It's not the shirts those dear friends hand her that makes the difference. It's the fact that they believe what they're telling her, and they're still there. It's the new people she meets that can look past all of the layers to see that little girl with the big gray eyes who was made to dance. It's her Maker whispering in her ear...

"No one else gets to say who you are. You are Mine."

She doesn't know how many shirts she's put on over the years, but she knows that she has a choice to make. Sometimes, when she looks in the mirror, she sees grace and elegance flash across her reflection. She could spend her life peeling off and replacing layers of clothes and lies.

Or she could cut through it all and find that black velvet tutu again.
The one with the satin ribbons and tiny pink rosebuds.

April 30, 2017

On Barrenness

Only once have I outright written anything about infertility. A few years ago, a friend of mine asked me if my five-year experience with it would ever work its way into my writing. I told her yes, but I didn't know if it was the right time. Even now, as my 17 month-old son sleeps in the next room, I still feel an ache from all of the struggle it took to get him here. I still feel like I don't quite fit into all of the "mommy culture" that having a kid throws you into, and I still struggle to put into words exactly why. In a lot of ways, infertility puts things into perspective. It helps you zoom out and see that there are things that are equally important to giving birth. There are even things that are more important.

This past week was National Infertility Awareness Week. 1 in 8 families are affected by infertility, whether it is life-long, secondary infertility, or in my case, a rather short experience by comparison. I'm not an authority on it, but I do have a story to tell. That story can be summed up in lessons I learned. I'm not going to tell you about my reproductive system, or my doctors visits, or the panic attack I had one time when I had to dig through my box of saved-up baby stuff so I could lend out my unopened and unused baby-monitor that someone asked to borrow. Instead, I'm going to tell you about what I've learned over the past seven years.

Hope hurts, but it's what we were made to do.
This isn't just in the context of infertility. This is all day, everyday. There will never be a time in my life when I do not have to choose between hope and giving up. Hope is an engine. It's a propulsion system. It carries precious cargo. It's what pushes through the stuff that we think will bury us.

Sometimes, there's nothing to run from, because there's nowhere to go.
I couldn't escape infertility. I couldn't escape watching almost every woman around me having baby after baby. I had to face it. I had to let it shape me, and in doing so, I met God in ways I never thought I could. I met Him in dark places... sprawled on the ground, as low as I could get, because I knew there was no way out.

"I’ve been to the bottom, when everyone else has left and I was alone with my hurt in the silence. I’ve been at the place where I knew all the right theology but none of it reached me.
In this pit, I found a silence even deeper still. It was called honesty, and in that place, He was the only one there. I cried out, and to my surprise, so did He."
J. S. Park




There are more important things in life than having kids.
This is possibly one of the least popular beliefs that I hold. Maybe it's because I spent the "formative" years of my adult life childless and with no physical assurance that having children was even a possibility, but I do believe that there is life beyond parenting. I believe that I am an individual with gifts, skills, and abilities outside of motherhood. Having a baby is not the best thing that has ever happened to me. Only Jesus can take that cake. Being a mom is not the pinnacle of real love. There are so many ways to give and receive real, deep, fierce love outside of parenting a child. My kid is not my life. If I made my life entirely about him, I would be doing him a disservice. There's a big world out there with lots of hurting and broken people to care for.

Every time I thought I couldn't make it through, I did.
The sun always came the next day. I was so much stronger than I believed. Every time I had the thought, "I can't do this.", I managed to do it. Once I realized this, things got a lot easier. I did not die of grief. I did not lose all of my value as a human being because I didn't have kids. I didn't get stuck in the quicksand. I put my hand to the plow, and I did what I had to do. I let myself feel, but I didn't just sit in it.


There are things I will never say to a childless woman. Among them;
"Just relax, it will happen."
"God's trying to teach you something."
"You should just adopt."
"You should be glad you don't have kids, because ______________" (You get to sleep in. You get to do whatever you want. You don't have to deal with the responsibility. Fill in the blank-- none of it is actually helpful.) There are, however, some things I will gladly say to any woman battling infertility. In fact, I'd say them to anyone fighting anything that feels too big and too hard and too heavy to navigate.

Embrace the process.
Don't lie to yourself.
Find out who you are.
Know who you want to be.
Don't be afraid to ask for help.


Don't give up on your hardest day.

January 31, 2017

Hydrangea

My child collects silk flower petals
Carries them in his small chubby hands
Places them in my palms
And gasps as he watches me blow them away.

Frantically, he gathers and carries,
Watching for a chance
To use what he holds.

Today I saw him
Find a chip in the paint of a wounded wall
He pressed the petals to it with expectation

And I saw a world where
We carry hope
And press it into the cracks of damaged hearts
Until all we see
Is a home
Made of blooming life

December 29, 2016

On Living a Life of Protest

When I was in high school, I watched a Danny Glover movie called "Freedom Song." Set in Mississippi before the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it gave my 17 year-old self a powerful (if not slightly naive') look into the Civil Rights movement, planting the seed that would eventually grow into my flight toward my current life.

There is one scene in particular where the activists decided that they would forego their usual drugstore sit-in for a different kind of protest. Person after person, both black and white, knelt one at a time on the steps of City Hall, praying The Lord's Prayer. I remember weeping as I watched this and heard "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven." I recited The Lord's Prayer every day at school when I was a kid, but this was the first time I had ever connected a fight against injustice as God's Kingdom coming to earth-- the first time I was emotionally affected by the fact that such injustice very much still exists today.

These sorts of protest have always tugged at me. This idea of taking a stand in order to scatter little shards that reflect the Kingdom coming. There is something about this beautiful, hard resistance toward unrighteousness that I can't tear my spirit away from.

I've been silently watching the world of protest over the last six months or so. People being labeled as rebellious, whiners, and criminals. People being brutalized and threatened and hated. Truly, that's the life of a protester. It's the life of a social disrupter. What really astounds me, though, is how often the people disparaging protesters are people who claim to follow Christ.

I don't feel like it should be necessary to remind anyone that Jesus was one of the greatest social disrupters in history, but here we are.

He touched the untouchable.
He crossed racial and cultural lines.
He healed on the sabbath.
He wasn't concerned with his social standing.
He opposed the ruling religious system.
He held His arms wide to the outcast, to women, to children, to the poor, to  the forgotten and judged.

 He might not have stood in any picket lines or chained himself to any wrecking balls. He might not have made clever signs or organized public protests. But He lived protest, and He died protest, and if we say we want to follow Him, not only is this the Jesus we come to... this is the life we sign up for.



November 08, 2016

To My "Token" Gay Friend

Dear friend, I want to apologize.

I'm new at this. I might be almost thirty years-old. It might have been a long time coming, but I'm new at this. My life has not been a reflection of welcome diversity. I haven't always practiced well the art of meeting people with grace.

The first time I found out one of my friends was gay, I was 13. Growing up in a Christian home, private school, and being homeschooled had done a really good job of dictating who I was friends with, and who I never even had the chance to befriend. So much so that I almost didn't believe it when I found out. It felt like the ground shifted under me.

Fast forward a couple of years to a Christian homeschool co-op where the moms in charge were banishing a family because their daughter had just come out as bisexual. I sat back silently while the other kids made fun of her and my heart tried to claw out of my chest screaming, "How is this supposed to help anything?!" The ground beneath me shifted again, but this time it felt like it was shifting in the opposite direction. Weren't we supposed to love people? Even if they were "living in sin," how would excluding them like this help us minister to them? How could these people make jokes out of this sort of thing?

Then there was college. I opted out of the Christian college track after my senior year had shaken my foundation a bit. I was becoming a bit disenchanted by the run-of-the-mill conservative Christian bubble I'd spent eighteen years in. I enrolled in the local community college hoping to branch out a little, and met so many different new people, each one of them tweaking how I viewed the world just a little. The members of the LGBTQ community that I met were some of the most influential-- from the Irish Literature professor who encouraged me to stick with writing  because I was "just too smart not to," to my creative writing classmate who, nearly in tears, told me I had to finish my first novel because it was "just so... important."

Two. I met two openly LGBTQ people in the first eighteen years of my life. In college, I had to really make peace with what I learned, and friendship after friendship since has taught me more and more what love really means. I say all of this, not to make excuses for myself, but to let you know why.

And, I'm sorry.

I'm sorry for every time I referenced your legal spouse as your partner, because I was afraid of what people might think of me.

I'm sorry for every time I made you feel like a project instead of a person.

I'm sorry for every gay joke I walked past.

I'm sorry for every time I preserved my own reputation at the expense of yours.

For every time I ignored my own heart as it tried to voice what your heart needed to hear most-- that you're way more than my token gay friend.

You are my friend.

It's taken a long time for me to stop believing in the concept of "token" friends. I don't believe in contrived relationship. I believe in meeting people as they come to you. I believe in seeing people for who they are.

I believe in stretching my arms as wide as they'll open, and working on my muscles so they can open even more.

And I believe with all my heart that  the most gap-bridging, selfishness-challenging, wound-healing thing I can learn to say is "I love you."

I love you, I'm sorry, and I'm trying.

November 06, 2016

On Being Erased

I joke a lot about how I can't say certain things because I "have a reputation to uphold." The people who know me best know that I'm kind of like an iceberg-- what you see is usually only a small fraction of who I am. This isn't an egotistical statement. It's more of a confession. I've always been a quiet, private person. It takes a lot for me to warm up to new people, and if I sense that there are things about me that might offend, alienate, or hurt other people, I generally just won't express them around those people.

I feel uncomfortable talking about social issues with people who are conservative, because I know that what I have to say-- though seasoned with deep conviction and experiences in a very broken and desolate place-- will offend them and possibly make them write me off as just another "bleeding heart liberal."

I feel deep guilt every time I mention my son to friends who struggle with infertility, because I don't know why God gave me a child instead of them, and I've been on that side of the conversation where I had no control over my own grief-reaction to someone else's joy.

I so often hesitate to speak about my journey away from the traditional church structure, because I know so many people who are heavily invested in it, and I don't want them to think that I'm accusing them of being bad people or loving God less than I do.

I think a lot of things I don't say. I value the art of thinking before talking... to a fault. No one wins at this game, though. When I withhold important thoughts and values because I don't want to strain relationships or estrange people I care about, it doesn't keep peace. It doesn't spare feelings. It doesn't even really uphold my reputation. All it actually does is compartmentalize. It takes away my voice. It erases me. It erases me, and I've come to a point where I'm not really willing to be erased anymore.

The whole point of this, I guess, is to say that my writing might look a little different from now on. You'll be seeing a fuller picture of who I am and what I feel, and I'm sorry if it is different from what I've led you to believe. I hope you stick around.

On Superhero Capes

There once was a girl who wore a superhero cape. It wasn't a fancy cape. A hodgepodge of florals and stripes, bold and tame. Fashi...