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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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.

Love Me Like This

What is your radical act for today?

Today I woke up and knew I needed a better day than yesterday. 

Yesterday was not a good day. 

Yesterday was a day of going on a walk to yell at the universe.

Yesterday was a day of rummaging through the pantry to figure out a meal at the last minute rather than putting together a meal plan and going to the grocery store with two kids and being creative. 

Creativity wasn’t going to fly yesterday.

And then today I woke up and my pants didn’t fit. And my shoulders hurt. And my right pinky is sore again. And my right hip is tight from where my daughter sleeps. And my scars were bright red again, which hasn’t been the case for years. 

Sometimes I need the reminder to live into my body as it is. Whatever it is doing at the moment. It does work. I need to thank it for the work it does. 

My imperfect feet

Sometimes my body is asking to be loved as it is. Just like this. She whispers gently, as if she isn’t sure she’s allowed to ask for things for herself. “Just like this, please. For now. Before we begin the checklist. Start with love.”

And then, sometimes my mind is lying to me, telling me that I am unable to do anything. Telling me that the world is beyond salvation. The family is too much to handle. The house will never be good enough to live in. 

The time is too thin for any… time… to breathe… 

Caring for my self begins with loving my gentle edges and soft curves as they are. But sometimes, I need a glass of water and a sandwich. Or an orgasm or a hug. Sometime she cries out because I have forgotten to care for what she needs: the yoga, the water, the protein, the fruit, the caffeine, the sleep, and the movement that keep my emotions stable enough for me to be able to love those who live with me. 

The poem isn’t saying those things aren’t good. They are good, but they are not an end to themselves. 

Loving my body as she is, like this, is an end unto itself. But it’s not all I need. I want more than what the gentle animal of my body wants. I need more. To feel my body do all that she is capable of. I need more. 

 

This piece is a response to “Today I asked my body what she needed” by Hollie Holden. I ran across this a while ago and my writing partner, Heather, shared it with me again as our prompt. I love how someone else’s words can spark and influence my ideas and creativity. I find it valuable to hear what someone else needs and to consider my own needs. Reading poems like this gives me permission to need things for myself. Not that I don’t think I need things for myself, but often I feel guilty for needing things for myself. I am reticent to allow myself the space to dream big. 

It’s better to not feel guilty when I dream. It’s better to let go of the “should”s and limits when I set down to dream of what I need to give myself. And it is better to see where I need to give myself permission to do the things that are healthy when I can let go of artificial restraints. 

Sometimes all I can give myself is the ability to ask for what I need from someone else. But that is so terribly huge. It is not something I have been able to do very well. I’ve had to learn how. 

And now I’ve learned how to ask in a way that healthy both for me as I ask and for those from whom I need help. It’s a give and take, of course. A partnership. And it is still in flux. I don’t have it all perfect. But I don’t need perfection. I simply need something I can live with. We cooperate together to create a life worth living. It’s worth the work. 

Parenting Together

Cuddled together in our partnered embrace, all I see is the echo of a semblance of a face. Too close to see and the whole of my vision, we twine ourselves together in comfort and comforting presence. 

Reminding me that we are together, we are one, we are on even ground even though we see things differently. We learn as we go. We make our own way. We grow together. 

We’re tired today. The baby will cry again soon, the toddler will ask for another wet kiss. Another day is coming of constant requests and continuous conversation. The “why”s have begun. Patience is a never ending attended skill. Parental responses must be immediate, while the preschooler can take ten questions to find a single answer. 

Even so. Even still. I’m glad I’m doing this with you. We partner and parent together, learning from our two girls and from each other as we go along. 

The challenge is to not lose our temper. The challenge is to offer grace to our daughters, each other, ourselves. 

It is not impossible, but it is very, very hard. 

And so we steal fifteen minutes between bedtime and the first time Roar roars to rest in each other’s arms. It’s doesn’t seem like much. But the touch is different than the constant contact with out children. We offer each other a resting space, a time to be off as much as possible, providing touch that doesn’t ask for anything but what we exchange. 

The presence is healing. Your presence is healing. Comforting. Restful. Good. 

Eventually fifteen minutes will be only the beginning. For now, it is enough. What we have to give each other is enough. More than survival, we have enough. Thank you for enough. 

Learning from Each Other

When John and I were getting married, Jason Byassee, our friend whom we asked to officiate, gave us these instructions in the midst of his wedding homily. 

“Repeat after me: I’m sorry, you were right, I was wrong.” At least I think that’s what he said. I don’t remember the words that way, but this is what John has borrowed for each wedding homily he has preached over the last seven years. I, having never had the opportunity to preach a wedding homily, didn’t have to call them to memory as soon, so I re-wrote them in my head to echo Derek Webb: I’m sorry, I was wrong, I love you. 

I like my version better… because I really don’t want to say someone was right if I don’t think they were, and I am far more capable and comfortable in claiming my wrongness than in granting someone else their rightness. (Yes, yes. This is a growing edge. But regardless.) 

I also really like ending with the statement of the foundation of the relationship: I love you. It says that the most important part isn’t that we argued, it is that we are deciding to continue to live more fully into our relationship. But we need to say we are sorry, too. It’s probably one of the hardest parts of a relationship, saying “I am sorry” and meaning it, knowing that I really did do something that was harmful or hurtful. 

“I’m sorry” and “I love you” are both critical for relationship, but what has surprised me about what I need to hear from my husband on a more regular basis in the last couple of years is “I hear you.”

One of the things that is most aggravating about the personality differences between my husband and I is that I feel and experience just about everything at eleven, and he takes things in, turns them over in his head, and processes them at a gentler level. (I don’t know, sometimes it feels like he’s hitting a three, at most.) For example, I’ll be terribly angry about something in the news, livid, even, and he will say: “but, what about this side of the argument?” 

He’s not being unreasonable. Not really. But in that moment, I don’t want to hear it. I’ll come up with the seventeen reasons that whatever issue it is has me basically on the balls of my feet in excited rage, and he will be looking for the rationality of all sides. 

I’ve learned to express when I need him to respond to my emotions before going towards rational disconnect. (What a radical idea, asking for what you need in the moment.) I’m also working on learning from his ability to rationally disconnect. I need that side of his perspective. I don’t always use it, but it has helped tremendously when I need to take apart an issue and look at how all the different pieces connect. 

He’s really smart, and anytime I bulldoze his processing for the sake of mine, I lose out. 

Don’t get me wrong. I still am processing on my level. And he is learning from my ability to feel so deeply that I vibrate with emotion. 

We’re learning from each other. 

I imagine that it will be a longterm process, not something that we can claim we’ve completed when we reach the ten, twenty, or forty year mark. It just keeps going.