The Edge of Hope

Sometimes it feels like I am holding on to hope with my fingernails. 

And that I’m slipping. 

And that the precipice is getting sharper and sharper. 

And I’ve started to bleed.

And hurts only to grasp at the lacerating edges of hope and feel so uncertain and not know if anything I will do matters. I fear holding on too much closely because I can’t tell if hope itself is doing the harm. 

Is it hope, or optimism, or fear, and I actually can’t feel the hope.

Does hope pierce my soul and release it, instead?

Or is hope an arrow shooting through the night sky and I lost my chance to grasp it when it disappeared into the mist around me. 

Or maybe. 

Maybe hope is the thing that is hovering around me as I grasp on the edge of this existence. 

Will it catch me? Could it, even if it wanted to? 

Maybe it isn’t hope that is cutting into my hands, but my desire to hold on to at least one thing that made sense this time last year, that now is ridiculous, pointless, impossible. 

Could it be that I am harming myself by thinking that hope has anything to do with the past? 

I’m tempted to compare my existence to those around me, to say that “I don’t have it that bad because we’re ok with money and we have a home and we’ve got a reliable job in the household and a stocked pantry, and a bunch of folks don’t have that.” And when my mind does that, I feel guilty for being lonely and angry and frustrated and tired and weary. But I am those things. And we can’t see our family. And we can’t go trick-or-treating. And I don’t risk going to shop for things that are outside of the essentials because even the pharmacy team can’t figure out how to wear their masks right. 

And so, I’m left with a sliver of hope, that maybe I will get to escape this season of despair, but really not knowing how it will happen.

— — —

The last special worship service that we had in person was Ash Wednesday, where we imposed ashes on our foreheads and said “dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” And part of me has not left that space. We began our quarantine in the midst of lent, and I do not know if it will be safe for me to return to in person worship until next year’s easter, or pentecost, or will the kids actually lose a full two years of worship. 

We don’t know. We don’t know, and so I don’t know how to grasp hope any tighter, if  actually holding it tightly is causing it to diminish like water or sand in my grasp. 

Perhaps I need to cup my hands like I am drinking from a fresh spring, holding a newborn kitten, or comforting a weeping child. 

Maybe it is that I think that my hands can do the only bit of holding, and I forget that I can embrace hope like a friend or a child or a child or a parent or a lover. 

Maybe my hands are not the right place for this holding. Or not enough, at least. 

What if I gathered hope up like one of my gangly squirmy children and let it sit for a while. Or embraced it like my lover. 

What if I need to be hope’s little spoon. 

I wonder what would happen if I allowed hope to embrace me, hold me instead. 

Can I rest in hope?

I’m unsure what to actually hope for that doesn’t feel directive. I can’t predict or conform the future to my hopes, and maybe that is why hope feels so ephemeral these days. I hope that my children are safe, that the children in my community whose skin is different than my own are also safe from the hatred of the fearful around me. But I want to look with better eyes than that. I want to hope bigger than that. 

But I don’t know if my hope can do any more than that right now. 

Unless. 

Here is the last thing.

I hope I can still find joy. 

Cultivate joy.

Dance in, breathe in, drift in, work in, sleep in, walk in, cook in, bathe in joy.

Not happiness, mind you. Nothing as saccharine or dismissive as that. 

But joy. Embodied joy. 

Thats what I hope I still spread and share and sing and soar in, even when it keeps getting darker. 

I hope for joy. 

Revel in the Revelation

My thoughts are jumbled up and caught in the midst of a deep knowing and a precipitous drop into a wild learning that I’ve been searching for these past five years. 

Everything has been layering into place to get me to here.

Right now. 

Revealing this. 

I’ve been taking lessons from my own body. Learning to trust it when it says yes, and no, and wait, and rest. Maybe everything was simply too loud, before. 

And now I’m listening for the gentle voice of my own being, created, good, and whole, and returning to fullness. 

I became thin, a veil to my own self, and rather than thickness I’ve built into this fullness, even as my milk runs dry and my tears run dry. 

From the thin place I entered, I have been guided to a place to understand my own theology of touch. 

I’m learning where the yes comes from. I’m learning more about how the yes has been closed off and told it was inappropriate and shamed and negated and gaslight and relegated to the smallest portion imaginable. 

But I am not settling for crumbs. 

There is more than enough to go around and I will help you get your enough while I seek my own. 

And I will listen to the gentle rhythm of the rain and my heartbeat and the wind in the trees and the rushing of the creek and I will dance with my whole self. 

Dance like my five year old and my two year old and dance like I’ve learned it already and like I’m creating a new kind of dance and there is only the true way to do it if you are dancing with the creator of the dance. 

There are no wrong steps if you are trying to listen. If you are able to say you are sorry. If you are willing to confess where you have been wrong and where you have hurt others and if you are willing to be contradicted with grace and learn. Learn. Learn. 

Then. 

Then we can move together and learn to hear our bodies together and listen to the voices that have been ignored out of ignorance that claimed it was innocent and now. Now we have seen that what is harmful is not holy, now that it has been revealed as the opposite of good, we can turn to the revelation and see. Actually see. 

And now that we see, we can help others see. And as we reveal our full selves, we dance and sing and twirl and party and circle around with joy and pleasure. We Revel. We cultivate this joy that cannot be denied or shut up or blocked out or dissipated or disappeared or ignored. Rather, we move, sing, embrace, listen, experience, breathe, and rejoice in this freedom. 

Nothing is created out of context, and I want to acknowledge that this is a response to what I am reading and hearing and listing to in this current time. Right now, my conversation partners are adrienne marie brown, Prentis Hemphill, Monica Byrne, Heather Willet Olsen, Kate Bowler, Sarah Howell-Miller, and Rose Eveleth. I wonder what I will learn next.

Keep Me In Your Heart

Rebel has started saying this to my husband and I whenever we take our leave of her. It doesn’t matter if we are going to the grocery store, a quick run to the church to pick up more supplies for work, taking a walk, or even just upstairs for a nap or getting some non-interrupted work done. 

“Keep me in your heart! You’ll be in mine!” then kisses and ASL “I love you” hands until we are out of sight. 

It’s one of her ways of coping with this season of uncertainty. She is quite old enough to understand that something important is going on. She knows the world is different. Her world is different. She hasn’t been able to give a friend a hug in over a month. She’s only seen one, for that matter, and that was from her carseat for a five minute chat while the other friend was on her porch. We had to cancel visits from and to grandparents. (And the beach, which I’m super torn up about.) She can’t go to the grocery store. Or church. Or school. Or the playground. 

I don’t even want to let her see the playground, because I don’t want either kid to see it surrounded by police caution tape. That’s not an image I want to help her process. 

So. She knows something is going on. But how well can she understand that half the world is at home. Half the world has basically ground to a halt. I can’t process it. But it is happening. And so I’m trying to help her understand what she can and being with her when it overwhelms her. 

It is rightfully overwhelming. 

Hank Green shared the realization that this is the single largest collective intentional action in the history of humanity. That’s a big deal. It’s not a war. We are unified for one goal. It’s an action that we are taking to protect those most at risk among us. We aren’t all doing it the same way, but we also don’t understand it. We are still learning and realizing new trends and figuring out the best way for the most people to be healthy and share the best way to communicate what we need to do to be a responsible society. 

We want answers, but sometimes they simply don’t exist. We are learning how to live with ourselves in this current reality that is nothing like normal even on days when it could be. 

And so, because of the uncertainty, my daughter asks me to remember her when we are apart, even if it is with a door between us. And I do. I keep her in my heart. 

And I keep you in my heart. Because I cannot keep you in my hands, or offer you a gracious touch or comforting hug, you are in my heart. I remember you. 

Keep me in your heart. 

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. 

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.