Three Year’s Grief

It has been three years since my cousin, Harper, died by suicide at age 14. She would be starting college this fall. 

I was in Florida with Mom and Dad and Rebel, visiting family, including Harper’s parents, and even spoke on the phone with Harper the night before she died. 

We learned later that she had mapped out the night she would die, she had unstrung her violin, she had said farewell to her Instagram personas. 

The depression lied too loudly.

And now we grieve. 

If depression is lying to you, please get help. 

I wish, I so strongly wish, that Harper had asked for help. 

I wish I had been able to tell her about some of the dark valleys I have gone through. 

I wish that I could have shared her burden, so that her load would not have been so heavy. 

We journey in grief after losing her to depression. The lies can sound so much like truth. 

If you need help, call me. Or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a resource that has people who are trained to help, available at all times. 

I wish Harper was still here. I want you to still be here. I pray that whatever valleys you are facing, that you ask for someone to walk with you, to lend a hand, to shine a light in the darkness. 

You don’t have to do this by yourself. 

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In Between Mornings and Evenings

I wish I had better mornings. I miss the mornings where I could wake up and go center for twenty minutes. I miss my cup of coffee with the world growing brighter and the silence of the night giving way to the early chirping of the birds and the quizziting of the cicadas. I miss the mornings I woke up and did a section out of Common Prayer with my husband as we began our day together in ministry. 

Those days are not presently possible, but hopefully not gone for good. Although it never happened with great frequency, I wished I could do a yoga routine with all of that. And I still have to eat a protein rich breakfast in order to not feel like I am about to collapse by 11:30a (it’s touch and go sometimes anyway). 

My dream morning routine would probably last over two hours… and I simply don’t have time for that these days, especially since I have a darling twenty-five pound cuddle buddy that expects me to curl in and offer milk at all times of the night, and especially loves her last dream feed at the hour before I have to get up to face the day. 

It’s a season. But I wonder if my dream will ever become reality. When I didn’t have children, I had my other reasons that I couldn’t get up early enough to do my dream routine… usually because bedtime with my husband was late enough that to get the necessary sleep, I needed to sleep in until we both got up to get breakfast. Or shower, or both. 

When I was in div school, I had the hardest time having a conversation with my first year roommate while we rideshared to campus. I think I am a morning person… but not a conversational morning person, at least not on a student sleep-deprived schedule. Even now, if I don’t get my first cup of coffee in my system before my firstborn wakes up, my patience and ability to have a coherent conversation is tenuous and paper thin at best. 

I had far more fun in the evenings when I was a student. But these days, if I am awake at 10p it’s because we’ve had an important phone call or a little one is still restless or I got stuck in a project that I thought was going to take less time than it turned out taking. 

Life is strange, isn’t it? 

These days, give me the day. And I will do whatever I can with it. Mornings, evenings, or the time in between… how ever long it lasts, this is the season I am in, now. 

Who Can Speak

When I joined the Peace Corps, in the process of moving to Kenya one of the forms I had to sign was a statement declaring that only the Peace Corps Director could speak for the Peace Corps in the country where I was volunteering. I was a volunteer, the only personal connection many people had to the Peace Corps, and I lost track of the number of times I said, “for me, since I can’t speak for the Peace Corps.” I took it to heart. The statement was really about the news media and political officials, none of whom I had any contact with when I was serving as a volunteer, but I still feel the need to say that I was only speaking for myself. 

I also had to sign a form saying I would not proselytize while in service… since I wasn’t a missionary, and we were representatives of the United States Government, so, you know, no street corner preaching allowed. (Which is still a little funny to me, because while I was in service in Kenya—and I expect the numbers haven’t changed very much over the last 12 years—the country was 90% Christian.)

So instead of talking to my coworkers about faith… I talked to my fellow volunteers, 90% of whom were not Christian. Each of my forty fellow volunteers had a different reason for their dismissal of the church, most of them were seated in the harm that they received or the hate they heard come from a pulpit or a pew. I had a couple of close friends who said that I was the first person they had talked to that actually listened to them when we talked together about faith. It remains one of the best compliments I have ever received. 

Listening well, trying to understand, receiving words with grace, and being open to ways in which I could be contributing to harm has been my goal as I have continued into formal ministry since then. 

The Peace Corps declaration about my needing to be careful to never speak for the United States Organization I was serving with stuck out to me, and still sticks out, because it echoed the language of the church I was raised in, a phrase I learned when I was a teenager: the General Conference is the only group that speaks formally for the United Methodist Church. And they only meet every four years, so the United Methodist Church is not inclined to knee-jerk reactions and heat of the moment responses. 

I was raised in the United Methodist Church. And at least since I was twelve, I have considered myself to not be a member of a particular church, but the annual conference I resided in, and really, the global church. I deeply felt part of the global church, a church that reaches across oceans and crosses borders and opens doors and provides shelter to those in need of sanctuary. 

I love this church.

I returned to Kenya while I was in Divinity School as part of an internship with North Church Indianapolis and the Umoja project, a partnership between ten congregations in Indianapolis and ten congregations in the Chuliambo region of Kenya outside of Kisumu. I remember one meeting in particular where the directors representing the Kenya side and the Indianapolis side of the partnership were creating a Memorandum of Understanding. I remember being particularly impatient as I heard the same things said repeatedly by each of the members of the discussion group. I didn’t realize until we finished the meeting that we had accomplished far more than I realized, in part because the decisions were made by all the group, developing a consensus between the entirety of the group. 

It was a far cry from majority rules. 

~~~

This week, the United Methodist Church completed a special session of General Conference, called together to discuss one single topic: the consideration of ordination and marriage of LGBTQIA+ individuals. A narrow majority of the delegates voted to keep the language of the current Book of Discipline and increase judicial penalties for congregations and pastors who break the rules. (The Judicial Council will be meeting in April to determine the constitutionality of these decisions. Yeah, the United Methodist Church has a Constitution and makes decisions based on a democratic process.) This was the first time that General Conference had discussed the issue of the rights of our queer siblings to get married in the church since it became legal in the United States. 

~~~

Eight years ago, I became a pastor, and took my first appointment of my own in the United Methodist Church. For five years, I served under appointment, and until about three years ago, when I took extended family leave, and became a pastor without a congregation. I still preach, and have celebrated communion a handful of times, (I have sacramental authority at my husband’s church…) and we baptized both of our daughters into the United Methodist Church. 

I love this church. 

I’ve preached approximately five hundred times. Every single time I stand (or sit, when I was unable to walk) before the gathered congregation, the first and last word I want to say is that God loves the people who are before me. Those who are present have represented a vast diversity of opinions and political stances. And I still, every single time, regardless if that one person is listening simply to think of the best verbal jab to give at the handshake line, preach grace to the people who listen. 

I love this church. 

Every single person is created in the image of God. I love the image of God in them, and so I love them, even if I don’t really enjoy the verbal jabs and the antagonism and the judgement I have received from people I was sent to serve. 

My word from the pulpit is still love. It is still a declaration that each child of God is created in the image of a God whose love poured out so much that we were created so that God could love us. 

I love this church. 

My heart broke this week when my church said that the United Methodist Church would continue to create a dividing line, excluding some of the very children of God I am called to love. 

General conference doesn’t speak for me. Not in this case. 

When I celebrate communion, I always say: This is not my table, this is not this church’s table, this is not even the table of the United Methodist Church. This is God’s table, and all are welcome to come, taste, and see that the Lord is Good.

In my own words: I love you, as you are created, formed and molded in the image of God, and you are worth that love. And you will always have a place at the table I celebrate.

Wandering

When I was a child, I liked going my own way around things. I moved differently than the way my family moved, either faster or with a different cadence, and so I went ahead of them many times if I knew the general direction we were going in—if I thought I knew where we were headed. I kept track of where they were by looking back every so often to make sure they were still going my way. 

It almost never failed. 

Almost. 

I always assumed that they were keeping an eye on me. Following me. But occasionally, they turned when I had kept on going straight. And I looked back, and… They weren’t there anymore. No longer following me. I was no longer ahead of them. They were nowhere to be found. 

Well, at least for a time. Shortly after I figured out they were not behind me, I would find them, and it seemed that it had been my fault that I had gotten separated. To them, at least. I always felt that it was at least a joint effort, our disconnectedness. 

Perhaps so. Perhaps not. 

I remember feeling deeply wronged in being blamed for being separated. It was as if I had willfully separated myself from them. I remember being told not to wander. 

And what is so strange in revisiting these memories is that I still have that visceral urge to defend myself, to defend my own walking pattern, that I had not changed what I was doing, that they were at fault for leaving me, rather than me for leaving them. 

I imagine that my memories from twenty-five and thirty years ago have colored with age. 

I know that we were both mistaken. 

I thought I was leading. I was not. I was walking ahead… but still following, still under the guidance of my family. And at some point… I was no longer aware of the guidance, and our paths diverged. For a time, we went our separate ways.

For a time, I was lost. 

Or at least… not where I was expected.

My family was not where I expected them to be, either. 

And for however long it lasted, we were lost from each other. 

The two times I explicitly remember, it wasn’t for more than a few minutes, maybe a turn around a corner or two in a grocery store or on a foreign street corner. 

And then we were back together, and I had to shift my cadence and walk with them more carefully. I was the one who had diverged, and I had to change what I was doing so that I didn’t leave them again. 

That still feels harsh. Or rather, both my need to change and my judgement are harsh. As I look back, I have a recollection of my feeling of betrayal, of feeling as though I was blamed for getting myself lost when I felt that at least the fault should have been equally laid on each of us, me for being alone and them for having gone in a different direction than I thought. 

Even now, I don’t know exactly how it happened, how we got separated. I don’t know how I ended up in a different place when I thought we were all going in the same direction. I thought we were all following all the same rules, or at least the same guidelines, even if we travelled with different patterns. 

Eventually, we managed to reunite, to come together, to end up in the same place. We arrived at our destination, as one group, as a family, together. No longer lost. Perhaps a little wiser from the experience. Maybe a bit jaded, learning my own independence in the midst of discovering the limits of my agency as a child. 

I still have to balance my agency, my independence, my need to stay with my family, my cadence, and my exchanging leading with following. It’s funny when each of these revolving influences cycle in importance, some balancing their crucial necessity with the next in line. 

I still travel, but these days, I’m the one keeping up with the little ones, rather than being little, myself. Dear ones, if you wander, let me know where you are headed, so we can find the new places, together. 

Catching Moments

A year and a day ago I took a photograph of the tiny face of my sleeping twelve hour old Roar. It is currently the best photograph I have yet to take. The light is streaming in behind her, but diffused in the gentleness of the sheets and covers surrounding our nest of warmth. We are gently resting from the ordeal of birth the night before, but resting in our bed together, beginning the journey of learning from each other how to nurse and feed, how to ask for what we need and how to get what we want. 

Both girls when they were very young made this delicate huh-huh-huh sound to say please can you feed me now. It faded over time, and now all I’m left with is a fading memory of the sound. She was so small, and for such a small amount of time, quickly growing through sizes as she smiled for the first time, discovered her hands, and found her ears. 

I took a replication of that photo this morning after laying her down for her nap, her hands curled around her face again, the light, now, different, the covers patchworked under us as their color brings a vibrancy that mimics the way Roar plays now with us, her family. 

Photographs of Rebel, her sister, have worked to capture the innocence of that shot, but this one photograph is simply perfect. One of the reasons I like it is because there is actually no way to do it again. We are in a different bed in a different house facing a different direction. I’m not having another baby. There will never be another twelve hour old Roar. It is incredibly precious for that. She is precious, for certain, but while I have this photograph, I remember the way she taught me what she needed when she was so tiny and delicate. 

Roar is certainly not delicate, even though she continues to be precious. She’s substantial, and surprises us with her joy and emerging personality. As sisters, Rebel and Roar laugh and play, together and alongside each other. She’s watching us, keeping us in check, and making sure that we never leave her out of the fun.