Thursday, December 7, 2017

eight square inches

i do not intend
to listen
when you tell me
i cannot
change the world

i ripple impact.

these eyes
have shed a thousand tears
have looked shame in the eye
transforming it to healing grief

these ears
have bathed in beauty
bled from pain
remained open vessels for new learning
maintained slopes pouring growth
to the heart
out through hands
moved to act. touch. heal. push aside.

this tongue
has formed whispers of comfort
launched rockets
of just anger
fought back fear
eaten hope

these lips
have kissed away heart wounds
tasted the sweetest strength found only
in a welcomed lovers skin
curled upwards to the sun
silent power shot across to another
striking loneliness a death blow

this mind
has learned, unlearned, relearned
wrestled with demons in and out
chosen the painful tenderizing of opinion
so perspective never hardens to hate

this heart
has chosen to stand still
instead of flee
to fight and sometimes relinquish
to face defeat but never be
to break wide open
and over
and over

eight square inches of my face
a house for all this
and more

eight square inches of my face
i see infinite

you see flesh and wrinkles
tell my eight square inches
"you cannot change the world."

i respond with silence
a composed canvas

but inside
i reverberate a force
rendering your words hollow

"i already am."

and though you don't see it, i do.
you are too

sixteen square inches.
infinite world changing impact

there is only one difference
to how you and i
change the world

i intend to do it
on purpose

Saturday, September 23, 2017

transplanting blackberries after a homicide

To My Dear Community,

My husband ushered our children into the back bedroom to finish their movie, unaware in their innocence, as the gunshots cut the air of our neighborhood. A quiet street I've only ever known to be full of dog walkers, joggers, and the occasional driver going a tad too quickly down a residential street now filled with flashing blue lights, yellow tape, and chalk.

Our front window, which still looks out at a row of adorable houses that remind me of a rainbow now also looks out on the memorial of a young man, our new friend, killed just steps from our front door.

It has been a hard week for us. And here, in our little neighborhood, as I go to my kids school, to work, and talk to our neighbors and friends, it sounds like it's been a harder season for us as a community in general. We're growing a lot, so many new people, so much less space, so many more cars.

And it seems as if it the growth is coming with more stories like the one that unfolded outside my dining room window as a life flowed out into a storm drain in the street while the kids obliviously sang along to "let it go."

There are more stories of people hurt, hurting one another, kids discouraged from walking to school without a grownup - our ideals of safety threatened and somehow suddenly fleeting.

People seem more afraid and it's coming out as anger; I get honked at more, glared at more, and if I'm honest, I'm honking more, snarkier with the person taking too long (in my opinion) in the check out line, defenses automatically up when I walk out the door. It just seems we're all more on edge. The tensions of our world, our city, and our community stuffed down into raincoats with zippers increasingly too short to hold all the pain and wondering in, and so there are quick glances away if our eyes meet a stranger's. Friend or foe? We don't know, and we’re too heart-tired to find out.

But in the wake of the events this week, I've thought of our West Seattle community a lot, and I had a few very simple things I wanted to share with you. So, here it goes...

I think a lot about fear. If I'm honest, I can feel a lot of it on a daily basis. I've learned over the years how to use it as a catalyst for good, how to be grateful for my constant vigilance, seeing the many ways it has benefited my family, my community, the things I am involved with. Fear is like a yellow light - it's not a directive to stop or to go, it's just a sign it's time to make a decision. And the more information I have about my trajectory, goals, and physical realities the more likely I am to make a wise choice in response to that yellow light.

My favorite yellow lights are the ones accompanied by an accurate pedestrian crosswalk - that number countdown to the yellow light is what all lights should be, and what I wish life provided: adequate time to know what to expect and how to prepare.

But in real life, which has come way too close to home for us this week, it doesn't work that way. While the yellow light of fear happens frequently enough, it is very rarely preceded by a gentle warning: "fear is coming soon - just wanted you to have a bit of time to prepare and plan your response."

Here is what I have learned about fear: if we do not choose how we will respond when it inevitably comes, then in the face of fear what flows out of us is our worst, not our best.

Fear tells us there is a threat, and in the absence of an intentional response to fear, our instinct tells us to turn away, to pull in, to put up higher fences, install bigger security systems, and fortify our defenses. And we do. I do.

But, here is another thing I have learned, having grown up in a city where the literal fences were high, topped with barbed wire, and monitored by dogs and armed guards.  The put up, pull in, back off mentality does not bring a greater sense of safety, nor does it diminish an actual threat of risk. Perhaps it does for a moment, but not for long. It is fleeting, and our belief in our own ability to singularly control our individual outcome in the world is like a drug: we need bigger doses of heavier substances to retain our feelings of control.

We are a culture that prides itself on self-reliance and individualism, and a city where politeness is paramount but our internal walls are high and we more easily turn away than towards. Uncomfortably, especially for us, this truth remains: the anecdote to fear is not an exertion of power or a reinforcing of our own walls. The anecdote to fear is togetherness.

This week has been incredibly hard for me and for our neighborhood, but it has been so softened by the fact we already knew our neighbors - even the ones who were the victims in this senseless tragedy. There was instant comfort in knowing that even in the midst of real fear we were surrounded by people who knew us, knew our kids, had us watch their pets, and came over for drinks or bbqs.

We didn't know our neighbors on accident, there was no roster passed out when we moved onto the block several years back. There was a lovely bottle of wine dropped off, and a couple phone numbers swapped at a neighbors night. The rest has been slow building. It has meant going on evening walks as a family and stopping to say hi to anyone we see out and about, including getting into or out of their cars (and yes, it's always awkward, and yes, it's always met with eventual warmth). We introduce ourselves, say where we live, offer to swap numbers and remind people "we're close by if you ever need anything."

It has meant watching when the houses go up for sale, knocking on the doors of folks as they unpack their boxes, passing on the next bottle of wine, swapping numbers, and again saying, "we just live right glad you moved in." It has meant large group text chains telling neighbors about impromptu BBQs on the first warm Saturday of spring, asking for help managing our chickens while we travel, walking the mail incorrectly delivered to us over to it's rightful owner a block away and choosing to knock on the door rather than stuff it in the mailbox.

Building community, which I recently heard described as common unity, does not happen through programs, or private groups. Neighborhood groups on social media help with the transfer of goods and information, but they are no substitute for a handshake, an eye-to-eye smile, or a knock on the door.

I've lived in a lot of places, I've been close to a lot of pain, and experienced it myself. I've had my sense of safety violated more than once, and know it will happen again. As much as some knee jerk part of me wants to do everything I can to gear up for battle, I've lived long enough to know the real war isn't in the moment of fear, it's in how I've prepared my heart, my family, and my community before it comes.

I'm a fighter, through and through, there is no flight in me. But I won't fight fire with fire or violence with violence for one simple reason: love is much stronger than hate or fear. You see, hate and fear eat a soul alive while love self-repairs and grows stronger each time it's shown. A community turned towards one another, intentionally woven together, is more safe than a community pulled away from one another in fear and hate.

It's not up to me to decide what your block is like, that's up to you. But here on this block, even after the week we've had, we're going to keep turning in. We're going to keep watching each other's pets and kids, inviting each other over for warm pies, asking how the day was & waiting to hear the real answer. And the folks at the corner of the block are going to wrap this around the block and across the intersection, and I hope it spreads like wild blackberries our neighborhood is known as the part of town where folks know their neighbors, aren't afraid of the ways our city is changing, and see the yellow light of fear as an anticipated reality that we get to respond to with choice.

I hope you've already planted your own blackberry patch of love and togetherness in your neighborhood. But if you haven't, that's ok, just consider this letter a starter clipping from mine. It's all you need to get started, just drop it in the soil of a knock on a neighbors door, water it with a the swap of a phone number, and fertilize with a text when you're running errands and just wondered if anyone in the neighborhood needed anything while you were out.

Hate raised its head this week, and it will again, even today. But I'll raise my head even higher, choose to look in your eyes a little bit longer, fighting for love a little bit fiercer. It's the very best thing I know how to do, and I really, really hope you'll join me.  

And you know, we live just down the block so if you ever need anything, just holler; and if you're new, we're so glad you're here.

Friday, May 12, 2017

10 Year Anniversary - A decade of life summed up in mere pages

I woke up this morning, rolling over to steal a glance at my husband before my eyelids fell shut again, murmuring "happy anniversary, babe." He seemed to wake almost instantly, pulling me into his arms and starting to kiss me. I smiled, remembering where we were 10 years ago today. 10 years ago I sat crying in our wedding suite bathroom, overwhelmed by the energy of the day, blaming my tears on a lost bag of perfectly planned out negliges, but truly bowing under the weight of the decision we'd just made: marriage.

circa 2007

We're in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico right now, "celebrating our anniversary." Anyone who knows us, or knows that tidbit of information always responds with "happy anniversary!" I think, what we're really marking and noting, celebrating and acknowledging is that it's been 10 years full of life, and not all of it as idyllic as it might seem from a few social media posts of two lovers in paradise.

I remember when I first met my husband, vividly. And I remember talking with college girlfriends who would ask "do you have butterflies?" and I always shrugged and said, "not really, I'm not a butterfly sort of girl." I learned early on in life that feelings are like a buoy in the sea - they're a marker and so important, but what really counts is what they're anchored in hundreds of meters below the surface, in the wet, dark mush.

The butterflies I did feel only once overwhelmed me, and they were more like bats flying out of a cave at dusk than a whimsical whirl of white wings on a grassy field - the moment we were pronounced (a word which will forever feel to me like a straight jacket of matrimony because it's only ever used otherwise in judgment or death) husband and wife. To this day I've only told a few souls that I nearly fainted in that moment, not with an overwhelming rush of joy, but with an deer in headlights thought of "what have we done?"

This is turning into the most depressing 10 year anniversary blog ever written. Hang in there.

When my husband and I were dating, we didn't say 'I love you' until the day we were engaged. We'd both had our fair share of relationships before one another, and felt in many ways, we didn't have much new to give each other. So, we saved those words with this expressed intent, "when I say 'i love you' I will always mean 'i choose you.'"

We've fallen back on that anchored meaning countless times. When the buoy of our lives has stretched as far away from it's anchor as possible, angled in such a way that if one were to dive straight down they'd hit only murk and no anchor, 'i love you' has pointed us to the anchor rather than the buoy. 'i love you' has pointed us to the choice rather than the feeling, and I'm so glad it has.

I recently posted the below picture of my husband and I with a quote from Kristen White; "I didn't fall in love with you. I walked into love with you, eyes wide open, choosing every step along the way."

Marriage, and really life, is a series of choices - dozens of them a day. And we watch for the big ones, and we oftentimes respond valiantly to the obvious, but the littles ones wear us down, catch us off guard, fatigue us with their monotony and ceaselessness. It's the habits unchecked, the wound brushed away from consciousness that settles itself in a corner to grow, the dream constantly scribbled as item #3 on the priority list while many others rise past it to top attention. It's the addictions that flare occasionally and are beat back by sheer will power, the temper that flares when almost no one is looking, the pedicure that scrubs of callouses and peels back the veneer on a thinly wrapped monster disagreement on time, money, self-care.

But it's also the choice to turn towards instead of away, to listen instead of shout back, to look into their eyes instead of at the wall, to not always fix it but sometimes just look at it without flinching until you stand on the same side of the problem instead of across it. It's the choice to own your contributions, needs, perspective, and beliefs; and the willingness to let them shift in various seasons. It's the choice to say thank you, even for the tiniest thing, even when it seems the action or gift was owed or obvious, which we seem to think warrants less gratitude. It's the choice to measure the weapon-words before they fly off the tongue, speaking them instead to a trusted friend who will capture their fire with compassion and turn it into a candle to bring a more gentle light to a spot of darkness.

On some days, love is a feeling, the kind we read about and see depicted in everything from commercials to films to music to novels. But I'm glad I didn't sink my teeth into that feeling as the health metric for our marriage, because the absence of that feeling would then necessitate distress and worry. And, with a decade of this behind me, I can say that absence is inevitable. I'm grateful I never thought of that absence as a threat, but as a season, and at times as a sign there was more work to be done. I'm glad that feeling is a buoy - a sign, to be paid attention to, but held down firmly in the wet mush of choice.

I don't know what the next ten years will hold, the older I get the more heartache there seems to be swirling around me, and the more opportunities for savoring the joy and the beauty. I don't know who I will be, or who my spouse will be in ten years - we are vastly different now than we were when we met just breaths past adolescence. But I know choice, I know 'i love you' will always carry two meanings, and that we'll keep turning our face towards.

This isn't meant to say we have it all figured out, we definitely don't. This isn't meant to say I'm confident I'm past the moments I want to quit; I'm fairly certain there are more of those to come. This isn't meant to say that if you'd just tried harder your marriage would be better, or even be. If anything, I hope you hear, in the midst of whatever struggle you're in or have been in, "it is hard. it is work." But I also hope you hear, "it is sweet. it is worthwhile. it is a choice, my choice."

and choice is refreshed as frequently as we take breath.

So today, on our 10 year anniversary, I celebrate choice with an unflinching gaze on the last decade - the losses and the gains, the challenges we overcame and the ones we lost, the pain and the beauty, the sure-footed steps and the careless ones that cost us or others, the dreams we set aside and the new ones we discovered. I honor hard work, not just ours, but our children's, our families, our friends, our communities' - whose hard work has piled rocks on our anchor, settling it stronger for what may come. I cherish tenderness in the face of pain, gentleness in the face of anger, strength in the face of fear, and laughter in the face of struggle.

Almost ten years ago, weeks after our own wedding, we wrote a song for my sister-in-law's wedding. The chorus simply said:

I choose love, the time is now
we're starting out, though I don't know how
we'll walk this road that we cannot see

but when the winds grow cold
and the sky grows dim
when the sea lies still
I'll remember then
that right now
I chose love

Happy Anniversary, my love. I love you.

circa 2 days ago

Monday, March 27, 2017

Loss wrapped in beauty

Loss can jump out of the shadows sometimes, very abruptly, leaving a gash on our souls that demands our attention. A sudden illness diagnosis, a miscarriage, the death of a loved one, loss of a job, being wounded by someone we trusted. But loss can also creep across us, the way a beautiful sunset somewhere along the course of time turns into total darkness as the sun disappears and clouds cover the stars and moon.

And loss, wrapped in beauty, is perhaps the most difficult of all to respond to simply because when loss and beauty are intertwined, the loss can go unnoticed until it reveals itself in a pile of rubble made of bits of loveliness.

It's a friendship that brings so much life and joy, that starts to dissipate and is one day altered or gone.

It's a journey into parenthood, that brings so much newness and hope and laughter, but also ushers in a loss of independence, flexibility, and self-confidence.

It's the decision to start a family that starts with excitement, anticipation, and hope, and somewhere turns into bruised hearts, fleeting dreams, and another box of even more unwanted tampons.

It's the relationship or marriage that is full of so much laughter, dreaming, and togetherness that picks up dents and dings, and can turn into an efficient business/parenting partnership where gymnastics and football practice are calendared and bills are paid but backs turn as lovers roll away to the far edges of the bed, and we shrug to a friend over coffee, the tears dried up, "I don't know, somewhere we just lost each other."

It's the pursuit of the new passion that starts with energy, a renewed sense of self, and a belief in adventure that can turn into a sudden realization that priorities have slipped, and with it, health, relationships, and margin.

Loss wrapped in beauty is tricky, not just because it sneaks up on us, but precisely because it is wrapped in beauty. And to give up this kind of loss, would be to give up the beauty as well.

There are so many sayings that can be summed up more or less in the most popular of them all "better to have love and lost, than never to have loved at all." Yeah, sure, we all know it's true, but it sure doesn't ring true on that day (or week, or month, or year, or season) of loss, at least it doesn't for me.

But, what I'm slowly starting to see, is that not only can I develop a habit of seeing the beauty in spite of the loss, but, if I open my heart to it, there may even be beauty in the middle of the loss. Maybe, just maybe, loss is fertile ground for new beauty.

Not that there is beauty in broken dreams, shattered marriages, lost friendships, elusive pregnancies, or the moments of parenting that rip off every last bit of veneer and reveal our ugliest selves. These are the losses, the full-throated, warm-blooded losses that cut us at our knees every time. Having gone through these, or held dear friends and family while they went through these, I know these are the things darkness is made of.  While stillness can be found in the dark, it is a weighty stillness borne of necessity, and not the stillness of a flower tilted toward the sun.

The beauty is what is borne out of losses acknowledged, shared, grieved. This beauty is born out of a friend turning further toward you, not away when you casually hint that you're experiencing a loss. This beauty is born out of a partner pulling closer when you admit you've failed, or point out that perhaps they have.

This beauty is born out of surrender to the hope tomorrow will be better, even if today's view is blurred with tears and rain. This beauty is born out of the healing that comes when we share our greatest fears, failings, and broken dreams and are met with a teary whisper from the soul of one we dared to tell, "I know."

This beauty is born when we are seen, and still loved, not to whisk the loss away, but to help us weave it somehow into a piece of what is the tapestry of our lives.

I don't know what your losses are - whether they jumped out and bit you, or snuck in wrapped in beauty but lately seem only blackness. But I know you've got them, or as it feels at times, they've got you.

But I also know the only wasted string in a tapestry is the one that's never seen, never acknowledged, never incorporated into the whole. Whatever your loss is, I know someone will hold it well, will hold you well, will let it be loss, but not see you as lost. And when they do, I know that tenderly held strand of your life will begin to weave in to beauty, not just yours but theirs, too. I know that a seemingly lifeless color will provide contrast to the brighter hues of realized dreams, loves, and life.

Don't brush away your losses with callousness or shove them away with grit - see them, grieve them, share them. They are yours, but they are not you.

And maybe (often) the loss is only a season, and the friendship returns, or the pregnancy happens, or the marriage is filled with renewed life, or the parenting hits a better rhythm - but even if this is the case, there still will have been a loss. A loss that is a part of your story.

Dear one, for whoever you are, you are dear - your story, made up of your dreams, your loves, your successes mixed with your failings, your defeats, your losses - it is the only one that's ever been written quite like it. Sure, the pieces of you in and of themselves are similar to many others. You're probably one of a billion people who can sing, and one of 4 billion who can cook, and one of 7 billion who've loved, and been wounded. But your tapestry is as different from anyone else as each new sunrise is as different from the one the night before.

Sunrise, the mixture of darkness and light, of loss and gain, of end and beginning - all wrapped into one unique and beautiful masterpiece that impacts every one who sees it. Just like you.

Friday, February 24, 2017


"What's all this talk of illegal and police, mom?"

I knew the question was going to come eventually. Kids are always paying attention, and while we are conscious of what content they are exposed to, the reality is conversations about current US politics are swirling around at school, at church, in our home.

Across the dinner table, I caught eyes with my dear Kenyan friend, who is living and working in the US legally, and very well versed in the depths of the US immigration system. I took a deep breath and turned my eyes to my 7 year old son, "well," I began, "pretty much everyone is a citizen of a country."

"What is a citizen?" he interrupted.

I struggled through the next 15 minutes, fully aware my children were more attentive to me than perhaps ever before - little eyes locked on my face, asking questions, both to me and to our friend. "Does that mean if we tried to visit your home in Kenya we would have to get a visa, and if they wouldn't give it to us we couldn't come?"

I struggled to impart the value of each individual life, the seemingly micro implications of macro policies that are actually life-changing sentences for one and mere words to another. I tried to impart the value of pride in your country, and the value of countries having rules and laws, even regarding who can come, who can stay, and who should go.

As our conversation came to a close, I ended it with a value our family holds true to the depth of our very core - a value catalyzed by our faith, and lived out to the best of our abilities every day.

"we know our job is to love all people - no matter who they are, where they are from, what god they worship or don't worship, how much money they have, how their body works the same or differently than ours, who they love, what language they speak, what color their skin is, or how we know them. our job is to do what we can to make the life of each person we interact with a little bit better - every time we interact with them."

"ok, mom. Can we play hide and seek before we go to bed?"

And they were off. But the conversation stuck with me, and as I've mulled it over in my mind I realized what was so hard about the conversation: I wanted to give my children an honest answer, and one that valued the life of every human - both those impacted by their parents deportation, and by those who really believe deportation is the best option.

I'm about to lose 100% of you for one simple reason: you have a conclusion on the above topic and we have stopped changing our minds. Now, perhaps a bit ironically, you're either going to think "no, we haven't" or "yes, we have" - but what I hope you think is "have we?"

Curiosity is the root of new discovery.

In about September of last year, as the polarization in our politics came to more of a head, I decided I was missing something - how could so many people think so differently than me? or arrive at such different conclusions? support so many things I thought were absolutely horrible? I concluded I was missing something, rather than what I heard many people conclude: "they" (the nebulous "other") were missing something.

Why would I conclude this? Two very simple reasons: I do not know everything, and I can really only choose change for myself, I cannot force it on someone else. Whether you like it or not, those things are true for you, too.

So, I set out to understand what I was missing. I listened to conservative talk radio during one part of the day and liberal talk radio during the other. I read Breitbart and RedState, NPR and The New York Times, BBC and Al-Jazeera. I paid more attention to my conservative friend and families facebook feeds and tried to read an equal number of shared articles from people who I knew held vastly different ideologies.

I've continued to do this over the past 6 months, and have expanded to talking politics with immigrants, Muslims, white suburban Americans, Christian Church pastors, friends and strangers. Why? It's not because I have infinite energy - it's exhausting.  I've done it because clearly we're missing something.

Clearly, we're missing one another.

I have heard people on all sides of every aisle imaginable say terrible things about people across the other. It turns out mud-slinging, sarcasm, and fear-based rhetoric are quite happy crossing any political aisle.

But I've also learned so much. I've mostly learned how little I know, and been re-assured most people think whatever they are doing really is a good choice. I've learned that when people make choices they know will hurt others it's either because they think the other is out to hurt them or someone they value, or they feel it's the lesser of two evils.

I've also learned most people are looking for the exact same thing: a place to call their own in the world, safety and job/food security for themselves and the people they love, and the chance to enjoy a little bit of the world around them. That's really just about it.

When was the last time you changed your mind?

Not about what you wanted for dinner, or if your spouse was right about how rude your tone was. Really changed your mind. Changed a deep core truth you hold about a major system, group of people, religion, political topic, theological belief.

My children fight a lot lately. There is screaming, crying, and grabbing every day in this house. And as I've pulled back a little to hear trends in this perpetual state of fighting I realized one commonality: they're both shouting their self-advocacy.

I think we as adults are doing the same thing in every spectrum - the media, religious institutions, universities, protestors, social media, politics. We're shouting our beliefs, values, fears, and grievances at one another, and if this ends anything like my children's argument - something else will break, someone will get more hurt, and the relationship between the arguers will be more fractured than when it first began.

I'm working with my kids on thinking of the other person first, even if they truly believe the other person is wrong. And then I'm asking them to begin anticipating the other person's needs, while also honoring their own needs. I'm asking them to show how they want to be treated, not shout it.

And when they reach an empasse on who gets to eat the last gummy bear, I ask them to zoom out and figure out what's really important - the gummy bear or their relationship. They still say the gummy bear. We'll get there. I hope.

Would you do the same? Would you please, for your sake and for ours collectively, change your mind  or your heart on something? And would you do so because you allowed yourself to be impacted by someone you used to fear, detest, or look down on?

I've hesitated to write this blog for a while, for perhaps very obvious reasons. But it's time. We aren't about to wrap up this era of US & global politics, we're just getting started. And in a few decades when it's over, I don't want to say I hunkered and hated or worried or ignored, I want to say I spread my arms and mind wide, loved and welcomed even and especially where there was risk, and learned and spread truth as best as I was able.

I'll leave you with one final thought: I have never seen a deep change of heart or mind outside of relationship. That's why stepping out and in to the places we feel so out of place is so absolutely important. Once we begin to truly see the "other" as just "another", we begin to understand, and learn, and compromise. Unity is a massive tree born from the smallest seed of listening and humility, watered with patience and kindness, and planted in shared experiences and values.

Let's plant a forest.

Photo by Brian Green

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