beyond my own dying, resurrection

Four years ago today, I loaded up my shiny new Subaru with all that would fit, and made the long drive from Nashville to Denver.

I was a scared, shell of myself and I felt so alone. But I could taste the sweet freedom that God had waiting for me in the land of the Rockies.

After living in Africa for 6 months, I returned to Tennessee – rocked by reverse culture shock – with a seeming inability to relate to the world I had left before. My faith had been stretched, my theology of doctrine above all else had been eroded by the movement of the Spirit that I had no tidy explanation for. My understanding of Church and my place in it had been shaken and my entire worldview was uprooted.

I came back changed. And resolved to lean into a season of brutal honesty, whatever that might look like.

Four years ago today, I never could have imagined the loneliness, heartbreak, devastation, or agony that awaited me. I never would have imagined that I would barely talk to my family for a year after coming out and living half my life in secret, afraid of being completely cast off.

But I also never would have imagined how much my honesty with myself would completely transform life as I knew it. I never knew how deep friendships could go and how steadfast they would remain, even in the most brutal of storms.

Four years ago today, I didn’t know that I would despair of life completely in 2014. That I almost wouldn’t make it through a year of living in Colorado. That I almost wouldn’t make it at all.

But I also didn’t know that my love for Jesus would grow as my faith in institutionalized religion would fade. And I didn’t know that friends could become so much like family and that family could grow back to a place of love and reconciliation, even if not built on a foundation of agreement.

I didn’t know that I would go to a bunch of faith-based LGBT conferences in 2015, embark on a three week silent retreat in 2016, or launch my coaching business in 2017.

I didn’t know that I would one day feel at home in myself – no longer a stranger to my deepest fears and deepest desires. I didn’t know that one day I would feel free. That my wholeheartedness would sometimes feel devastating, because I was finally allowing myself to feel all my honesty for the first time.

Just as I could not comprehend the agony of my own dying, I could not begin to imagine the beauty and life of my own resurrection.

More and more, I believe there is really something to that radical Jesus. And I’m so grateful that, in my darkest and brightest of days, I never had to walk through it alone.

So here’s to growth. To being brutally honest with yourself. To learning to live in pure authenticity with others. To embracing the hard, the messy, the heartbreaking, the divine, the beautiful.

I hope you find your way out of death and into resurrection.

Those tomb days feel as if they will never end.

But they will. And they do.

Hold onto hoping.

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dear one

oh dear one,

you there with the burden of memory and the longing to be soothed and safe and seen – come lay down that back-breaking load.

has no one held your face in their hands, eyes laid upon soul-bearing eyes, and told you that you are a walking miracle?

has no one taken your troubles into the chambers of their well-worn heart and watered the ground under your feet with an ocean of empathy?

has no one reminded you how brave and beautiful you are? or that the cracks running through you like seams – your fragile places – are where the light gets in?

has no one held your hand in theirs and kissed your scars and told you that you are beloved? that your life is a brilliant flame – an enchanting wonder all of its own – that is even more captivating in the darkness?

oh dear heart…take these words in like water for the barren desert that has surely become of your tender heart – seeking moment by moment for an oasis.

you are the treasure.
you are the brilliance.
you are the beauty of the earth.

and you are loved
loved, loved.

you are loved.
you are loved.
you are loved.

for death must have its day

A couple of months ago, I packed up all of my belongings into boxes and suitcases, shoved the ones that would fit into my Subaru, and road tripped from Denver to Seattle to dive into a terrifying experience of silence and solitude and soul-wrenching vulnerability.

A few months before I set out, all I knew was that I was supposed to go SOMEWHERE in January to “walk backwards so I could move forward.” As I began to take baby steps that looked a lot like a leap of faith, everything fell into place (because SOVEREIGNTY), and I found myself, once again, leaning into the stirrings within me and setting off into the much anticipated, yet feared, unknown.

Going to Seattle for a three-week intensive – by myself and without any books or music or contact with anyone other than a therapist (whom I had not yet met) for a little over an hour a day – seemed to line up with the other daring and adventurous experiences that have so marked and transformed my life up to this point.

So I went to face my demons and reconcile with my child self and release the things that I had carried for far too many sunsets. I spent my days speaking aloud and giving voice to pent-up pain that spanned more than a decade of my life. My body pulsed beneath the weight of the trauma being lifted out of my being as I raged and wept and buried my face in the carpet of a strange home in the woods on an island far away from anything and everything that was familiar.

I learned, in the absolute agony of my separation from every familiar face and physical comfort, that the only way to peace is through the pain. And we cannot heal if we do not allow our wounds to bleed out completely and wash the toxic fragments from our fragile souls.

We live in a culture of pretenders. Americans, in particular, play the role of the self-sufficient, self-made, resilient and determined dreamers. Too often, demonstrating vulnerability is seen as weakness; in fact, this vulnerability is even seen as social, political, and occupational suicide. We fear pain and sorrow and unpleasant seasons because they render us broken and incapacitated to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.”

But I learned something there in that lonely cabin, where I only had the whispers of the wind and the silence of empty rooms and the warmth of my own salty tears. Somewhere, at the bottom of our sorrow, is a doorway to a peace that surpasses all understanding. Somehow, once our anger has exhausted its energy and grief has given way to quiet tears and sorrow has overcome our body with shaking sobs, there is a light in the deep and enduring abyss of our suffering.

Richard Rohr says this about denying our pain:

“By denying [our] pain, avoiding the necessary falling, many have kept themselves from their own spiritual depths – and therefore have been kept from their own spiritual heights.”

The paradox of this reality is not lost on me, even after having endured three eternal weeks of silence and solitude and enlightenment on an island I have no plans to return to. Somehow, when we are broken open and the pain is finally allowed to have its voice and free itself from our body, we are left with the capacity to carry wholeness and peace and love and hope unlike ever before.

But the only way to peace is through the pain. And while we live in a culture that rewards shortcuts that “get the job done,” there is no shortcut to healing. We must traverse the broken road of anguish and suffering and sadness and heartbreak and remorse and dying in order to get to the place of inner resurrection. 

Look at the seasons of the earth…death and dying are all around us. Trees and flowers must die and winter must have its way so that spring may come in all its glory. There is no hope of resurrection without first observing the agony of death and grieving all that has been lost. Something must be lost in order to be gained.

It is Holy Week. And tonight, we remember the death of Jesus and mourn the agony and sorrow of the one who claimed to be the Messiah breathing his last in front of his followers, family, and friends. It is devastating and heart-wrenching. It felt, to the disciples, like a defeat. Like all hope was lost. Like every hope they had before had suddenly been swallowed up in death.

But Sunday. We know it is coming. We know that it came. We live on the other side of the Resurrection story.

However, we live in this continual cycle of death and resurrection – in the physical realm and also within our spiritual selves.

So tonight, since we are reflecting on the death of the promised Messiah, I challenge you to also reflect on what places within have died or need to die off. It will ache to let go and let it die – be it a relationship, a dream, a way of life, and understanding of the world, etc. And the sorrow should shake you to your core. Tears should blind your vision and pain should well up within your heart. That is the only way to purge the pain from within and give death its due of mourning.

But one day, perhaps not too long from now, you will begin to feel the warmth of Resurrection building in the depths of your very being. For everything that dies gives way to new life.

And Sunday is coming. 

Our Apathy Bled Out: on Paris

I was shocked and devastated to hear of the bombings in Paris. And today, as I reflect on the tragic events and the overwhelming worldwide reaction of shock, grief, and a show of support, I cannot help but notice our collective silence surrounding similar events in other parts of the world.

I do wonder why I and many others were not as shocked and devastated by the bombings in Lebanon and Turkey. Why did world leaders not hold press conferences or Facebook turn our pictures into the flags of each country in shambles? Why did we not amplify our shock and anger and grief through every channel of social media available to us? Why did we not stand in solidarity when faced with the reality that other countries have also been bathed in the blood of those targeted in similar acts of terror?

Surely, among ourselves we can get to the bottom of this inconsistency within the human spirit. Certainly it is not mere ignorance which has dictated our passive response to other events of equally startling and horrific proportions.

Could it be that we are weary of headlines from war torn countries and have, thus, become calloused to the grievous acts of violence inflicted upon our brothers and sisters in the Middle East? Or perhaps we are so caught up in our own nation’s entangled history – so accustomed to justifying the violence our own people have inflicted – that we do not even identify the victims of attacks in the Middle East as our “brothers and sisters” and therefore, no longer mourn the atrocity of a rising death toll in countries like Lebanon and Turkey.

Maybe we have grown so comfortable with gross generalizations of people groups that we have, therefore, pinned all of our nation’s trauma on one pocket of the world and adopted an “eye for an eye” mentality which makes us numb to any tragedy that transpires in that region of the world. Maybe we have muted shades of grey and instead, filtered the world into lenses of black and white in which some people groups are inherently “good” and others are inherently “bad.” And in doing so, we have carefully measured our internal reactions to gross miscarriages of justice and blatant terrorism on soil other than our own because we have pre-determined who is worthy of our compassion and who must categorically remain an “enemy,” lest our view of the world break down.

And to be blunt, what happened in Paris fucked up our worldview.

Our sub-categorizations of humanity have cost us our empathy. And our seats of privilege have weakened our compassion. We have numbed our senses and in turn, our sensibilities, and continue to exist as if the earth is not running with the blood of innocent and unsuspecting sacrifices on the altar of human hatred.

We thought we could casually ignore the devastation of mass murders around the world. We thought that under the guise of warfare, those killings somehow were to be expected. And in the midst of our mind-numbing expectation of death and dying, we were completely blindsided by the blood which spilled in the streets of Paris.

Maybe we do not have words for the heaviness we perpetually feel as we read headlines of brutality from all over the world. It is possible that our minds and bodies and hearts can no longer contain the trauma or death and dying – of the hatred running rampant in the world in which we live. Perhaps we are a peoples who long for justice and yet grow weary with each new wave of darkness which threatens to extinguish the light of hope we so cautiously carry within ourselves.

But something broke our collective resolve. Something got through to our numb and calloused approach to much of the devastation throughout the world.

Paris – “the city of love” – is a place which represented an idealistic and peaceful state of being. To many, the city is confined only to images of the Eiffel Tower and the whimsy of imagination. Paris is a city that has been romanticized in countless forms of literature and art.

And amidst a world ravaged by war, Paris stood as an icon of endurance and innocence – a beacon of hope and cultural preservation within a world of ruins. And now Paris is running in blood.

We are shocked. We are devastated. And our worldview is being peeled back in layers. Someone didn’t play by the rules. Someone didn’t care about our safe and sacred spaces. And in confronting that brutality, we also have to confront the notion that we sanctioned off some places where violence was acceptable to our fragile minds and designated other spaces as sanctuaries of the earth.

We must consider the injustices within ourselves that contribute to a world where a bombing in Paris shocks us but a bombing in Beirut goes unnoticed by mass media. We must search within ourselves to see which ideas of humanity have incapacitated us to mourn for atrocities in all parts of the world. 

A friend shared this quote with me today:

This is what terrorism is occupied with as well: making real, palpable violence surface in opposition to the invisible violence of security.” – Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation

So perhaps now, we must allow ourselves to merely sit in the heaviness and darkness of this single tragedy – recognizing that this is not just an isolated event. Perhaps now is the time to consider our own passivity and grieve our role in the perilous divides within the human spirit. How do our experiences of security contribute to our lack of empathy for those who are attacked in spaces which appear to be less “safe” and “secure” than Paris? And why does an attack in Paris trigger so much more fear and empathy from us than an attack in the Middle East?

These are heavy questions. Death is devastating. Our worldview is fractured. And we are at a loss. But we have not lost our resolve. So even as we sit with these heavy questions, in the face of such darkness, may our hope and love outweigh our apathy and hatred. And in our tears and prayers for Paris, may we also weep and pray for those whose city name was never shouted in remembrance. 

diamonds in the desert


For the one who I feel I’ve known since before the foundation of time…I’m always cheering you on. Love you, Luke-aa.

—————————-

Light dweller,

you reside in the light

and you cannot leave it.
you are the poetry of the earth

rising like rays

which warm each living thing.
there is strength in your heart

and love in your breath

and every gentle sigh

is a cascading of wisdom,

of healing

falling from your holy lips.
man of dust and clay

rising from generations

sojourning on to the nations

with a promise

a hope

a reckoning,
do not grow weary –

for water will be sent to refresh

your parched spirit

bread to fill up the hunger

of your majestic soul
and your beautiful mind

will feast on the visions

of angels

as you rest by quiet waters.
oh know

even Jacob and all his dreaming

couldn’t light a candle

to all the waking from within

all the dreaming into life

inside your chest.
sing, oh Bethlehem

oh star brightly shining 

for Love is here

falling out of your eyes

like diamonds in the desert;
hush now, restless dreamer

your trail is marked

by miracles.

a love letter

Dear one,

Language has tried to possess you. Don’t let it.

You are not defined by the labels which attempt to explain or confine you.

You are the rhythm and cadence of every step your body has ever weathered, the majestic wonder of each syllable of your brave and beautiful name.

You are the fulfillment of every dream your heart has taken hold of – the melody of every song your soul has ever danced to, in both joy and sorrow.

You are light dancing like fire in eyes aglow with hope and merriment and adoration, awakened by the power of human connection and love and divine inspiration.

You are both dawn and dusk – a waking up and a coming to rest.

You are the ocean in its vast and breathtaking wonderment and you are the desert in its burning and terrifying splendor.

You are the immensity of the sky, the elusivity of the wind, the majesty of a cascading waterfall.

Do not crawl into the boxes or hide beneath the labels the world has constructed to keep you from experiencing your fullness, you captivating creature of light.

You are more than language, more than moments, more than the steady pulsing of your body’s own beating drum.

Grow up and into wonder, dear heart. You are braver than you realize and more beautiful than you could ever know.

And amidst the chaos of constructs which seek to capture your senses and keep you from light, may this Love letter find you breathing deeply – basking in the beauty of a Love which both holds and frees you to be all that you are – which fills and floods you until you overflow the earth with joy.

-to all the hearts in mending

break before we mend (on grieving)

I’m not the best at following rules, but there are some things in life that I wish were a bit more clear-cut. In recent days of watching friends grieve and after a season of much personal sorrow, I’m learning that grief doesn’t play by any rules. And through many failed attempts, I’ve learned that we cannot propel ourselves into any particular emotional or mental state beyond the one in which we most naturally exist, especially in seasons of grieving. 

For those of us who have managed to avoid or outrun the intensity of our emotions for some time, news flash: those bottled up feelings tend to catch up with us by inflicting physical consequences which eventually force us to uncover the source of our emotional – and now physical – strife. This type of reaction may take us by surprise but the reality is, sometimes we aren’t cued into our unprocessed trauma and grief until our body tells us it has had enough.

The hard truth is this: grief does not have a prescription or an expiration date. It can neither be dictated to us or medicated with definitive hows and whys nor given a cut off date. Grief is its own dictator and it dictates the actions and behaviors of so many of us in different seasons of our lives. It is wild and unpredictable and almost always startles us with its raw intensity. 

I have noticed that some people try to comfort those grieving by commenting on how strong or brave they are in the process. But to grieve is not to be strong or brave or heroic; to grieve is merely to be human. 

I used to think strength was the equivalent of never crying and never being emotionally affected by traumatic events. I was wrong. Strength is not measured by our ability or capacity to withhold or suppress emotion but by our willingness to navigate the dark depths of feelings which we feel too weak to endure. And while grief does not necessitate strength, I have found that the toil of grieving almost always produces strength. 

The strength produced through grief is not one which boasts an immunity to pain, but rather, it is a fierce and beautiful inner strength built on a foundation of awareness and recognition of our fragility and emotional sensitivity as humans. And I’m learning that by sitting in that place and giving in to the tears and the fears and in some cases, being rendered motionless by the weight of our aching, we are actually aligning and caring for ourselves in the most healthy way possible. 

So here are just a few things to keep in mind when we are grieving or walking with others who are neck deep in grief:

It is okay to be incapacitated by emotion and sit in the heaviness and pain of it instead of trying to push it down or propel ourselves forward.

It is okay to feel powerless to make even the simplest decisions.

It is okay to put down the phone and not feel guilty about the texts and calls that are adding up because we merely lack the emotional energy necessary to engage with those who are well-intentioned with their words and calls.

It is okay to ask for help and it is okay not to know what to ask for.

It is okay to admit that many of our questions have hollow and empty answers and that life seems far less colorful than before and that we can’t even consider the light at the tunnel without first wading through the long, defeating darkness.

It is okay if our grief consumes us and it is okay if our grief comes in waves – unexpected and blinding and terrifying – and ebs and flows, broken up by happy moments which give us life.

Our ability to experience and express emotion is what distinguishes us from any other living being. There is beauty in the breaking, but we must break before we mend. Mending takes time and the love of dear ones who are willing to sit with us in the hard silences and meet our needs even when we don’t realize what those needs are. Mending is a process and not always a point of arriving and it is so important to have grace with ourselves (when we are the ones grieving) and grace with others (when we are supporting those grieving) as we navigate the messy process.

Life is a funny melting pot of depths and heights. Sometimes we are the broken-hearted. And sometimes we are the ones who have the privilege and honor of loving broken hearts back to life. But in either case, grief is a messy and scary experience and connection and love and grace are the only things worthy of sustaining us through the seemingly never-ending and always present darkness.