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The Women Who Weep

The food had just arrived at our table when we got the call from the hospital. We had spent the day at my grandpa’s bedside and had found a place to eat that was only three blocks away, but by the time my folks and I made it back to his room, he was gone. All that was left was for mom and me to kneel on either side of his bed and take his hands in ours, to bend over him one last time and to weep. It was raw and beautiful and desperate – an outpouring of love and grief. It was a sacred moment in one of those thin places where heaven seems close. And in that moment, I remembered the women who wept for Jesus on the day that He died.

My freshman year of high school, our church put on a large Easter pageant over the weekend of Passover. My mom was cast to play Salome – one of the women who wept for Jesus at the foot of the cross. Through each of the three performances, she and the actress playing Mary cried real tears as the familiar scenes unfolded: Jesus stumbling under the weight of his cross, the nails driven into his body, his final words and death. The scene ended as his disciples laid him across his mother’s lap in a recreation of Michelangelo’s sculpture The Pieta.

In the famous sculpture, Mary’s face is still and sorrowful as she gazes at her son’s broken, lifeless body. She meets this moment – the one she has been dreading for 34 years – with a serenity that I cannot imagine. Instead, I picture Mary’s face ravaged with grief and horror. Her hands tracing the outline of her son’s face like she did when he was a baby, trying to memorize each feature while she can. The calluses on his fingers bring memories of him as a little boy, learning how to work in the carpenter shop. Her friends gather round and weep with her.

I imagine them following Joseph of Arimathea to the tomb. The tears that must have fallen as they cared for Jesus’ body, working quickly as the Sabbath was approaching. The love they felt as they cleaned his wounds and dressed him and wrapped him carefully in clean cloths, positioning him on the narrow shelf as if he were asleep. It is almost impossible to leave him there. I can hear the sobs as they walk away.

Jesus encountered women who wept throughout his ministry: the widow of Nain grieving her only son, the Canaanite woman desperate for her daughter’s healing, Martha’s angry sobs after her brother died, and woman who washed his feet with tears of gratitude and anointed them with perfume. It may have been the love they felt in his presence that allowed them to let down their guard. Perhaps it was the vulnerability that comes with daring to hope. Women were drawn to him in their most desperate moments, and he met their tears with acceptance and love, and often, a miracle.

So it is especially beautiful that when He rises from the grave, Jesus’ first impulse will be to find the women who are weeping. There they are at the now-empty tomb, crushed with grief, reeling with horror, crying so hard they cannot even see clearly. And there He Is, with his words of love and gentle smile. Yes, on Sunday morning, there will be tears of joy and hope for the future.

But Friday is for mourning and for the love that remains, even after death. The tears are a sacrifice poured out for him. The weeping women are doing holy work. It is all that is needed on Friday.

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Summer and Smoke

The smoke is thick over Spokane today, shrouding all the familiar hills and trees and leaving a bittter taste in my mouth. We are surrounded by fire. The wind will bring smoke our way, whether it is coming from the north, south, east, or west. One child has been taking medicine morning and night for three days to calm her irritated lungs and to quiet her cough.

I want to complain that we are losing these last days of summer. The September days that should be blue skies and sunshine and temperatures cool enough for evening walks through the neighborhood. It doesn’t seem right to complain, though, when the fires aren’t threatening my home. So I try to bite my tongue as much as I can, and the title of that Tennessee Williams play keeps coming to mind, Summer and Smoke.

We are waiting out these gray days, solemn and hushed, as wild fires race through the Columbia Gorge and Glacier National Park and so many treasured spots across the Pacific Northwest. Praying for a fresh breeze, praying for rain. Meanwhile, family and friends in Houston are cleaning up after too much rain from one hurricane, and family and friends in Florida are bracing themselves for too much wind from another one. Still, I am struck by how beautiful these disasters are from a distance. The fires raging wild across the hilltops through the night, reflected bright in the river. The view of the hurricane from space, swirling thickly around that deep, powerful center. This old world – so lovely, so fragile, so off balance.

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Why I Marched

The night the Russia story broke (yet again) on January 11, I ordered an official Women’s March sweatshirt and asked a friend to march with me. It was a little act of resistance. I had watched as the march came together on a national Facebook group in the wake of the election, and kept watching over the following days and weeks as the regional march was organized here in Spokane. I was interested, but wasn’t sure I would really attend.

I have never done anything remotely like this. I am not a member of any political party, and have rarely voted a straight ticket. It’s true that over the past 20 years, I have come to identify more with the Democratic party than with the Republican party. This election, however, was about much more than party affiliation for me. And the reasons I marched on inauguration weekend were personal. Yes, this march was a response to the election. But it wasn’t about whining, being a sore loser, or promoting anarchy – and I certainly didn’t get paid. A week after the march, a friend sent me a private message asking me to help her understand what the march was really about and why I chose to participate. I appreciated her sincere question so much, and I have been thinking about it ever since. While I can’t speak for everyone, here are some of the reasons I felt it was important to make a public statement after this election:

  • I marched in support of victims of sexual assault. Predatory behavior is not okay, no matter who does it. I want my daughter to know that. And my son.
  • I marched in support of a safe work environment for every woman – one where her body is never a topic of conversation, let alone harassment or bullying.
  • I marched in support of friends and family who are in minority groups – the ones who feel targeted and afraid.
  • I marched in support of the women I taught at the community college in eastern Oregon. My students with Mexican heritage who taught me about doing hard work at jobs most Americans wouldn’t take, while attending school and parenting classes so that their children could have better lives
  • I marched in support of the students I taught in a Women’s Program here in Spokane. The teenage mothers trying to finish their high school diplomas, and the newly single older women, trying to brush up their skills and get back into the work force. This program was dissolved after massive cuts to education.
  • I marched in support of the women in my church who have been called to ministry by the Holy Spirit, only to be told that they won’t be equally recognized by the denomination because of their gender.
  • I marched in support of women who need affordable, high quality health insurance. I spent five years with only catastrophic coverage in my twenties. By the time I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I had full coverage insurance which gave me access to the kind of health care that caught my cancer early and allowed me to get the best treatment. It was still financially devastating. No one should have to face that diagnosis without comprehensive health insurance.
  • I marched in support of women with pre-existing conditions, like a history of breast cancer. The ones who are fighting to stay healthy because they have things they need to do, people they need to care for, a life they need to live.
  • I marched in support of lowering the abortion rate by providing women with easily accessible birth control and by making sure that there are social structures in place to support them after they have children.
  • I marched in support of those same children who will need food, good education, safe housing, and healthcare – whether or not their parents are able (or willing) to support them. I believe that pro-life means we continue to advocate and care for those babies after they are born, as well as before.
  • I marched in support of other Christians who refuse to have their politics defined for them based on one or two hot-button issues. The ones who have been bravely speaking up and the ones who feel they have to stay silent.
  • I marched in support of my friends and former students in Ukraine – the ones who immigrated to the US and other places, and the ones who are now living in a country partly occupied by Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
  • I marched because I have seen what life is like under a corrupt government that is not accountable to anyone. One where bribes are necessary to get basic paperwork filed. Where the postal service is not secure. Where the only news comes from channels that are told what they can report. Where you have to be careful about conversations held in the privacy of your own home because someone may be listening.
  • I marched in support of the values that I teach my kids: to be kind, to tell the truth, to be respectful even when you disagree, to stand up for each other, and to speak up when you see something wrong.

I wore a pink hat to the march, but it didn’t have ears. I marched for my own reasons, in my own way. As did millions in cities across the world. Here in Spokane there were women and men of all ages and backgrounds: church groups, feminists, families with kids, students and retirees. There was a friendly, easy-going solidarity in this huge crowd of strangers who smiled and waited patiently outside, missing the speeches because there were too many to fit into the convention center. We sang, we cheered, we marched. We realized that we were not alone – even in this conservative pocket of Washington. It was a response; it was a beginning. It was a buoyant, hopeful thing, and I’m glad I was part of it.

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Inauguration

When I started this blog this summer, my mind spun with ideas to post and stories to tell. It was time to rebuild the ashes of my life after my cancer diagnosis and treatment. I was looking forward to processing this transition through writing, which has often worked so well for me. I felt like a clean slate had been handed to me, and I was ready to fill it with things made new. I thought my life had been stripped down to the foundations, everything shaken, and it was time to build it back up.

Except, I was wrong. About that same time, the national election entered its final, nasty stretch and the leaders of my denomination took action in an unprecedented, authoritarian way. Unexpectedly, I found myself in a strange no-man’s land:

  • fundamentally opposed to the candidate from one political party because of my personal faith, and yet not fully accepted by the other party because of my personal faith
  • unsure whether there is still a place for me in the denomination in which I grew up and uncertain whether I can keep my faith and stay in this church.

The events of the past few months have rocked the foundations of my identity and left me feeling rootless in a way cancer did not.

My country has felt unfamiliar, my faith has felt unfamiliar. And while I wanted to write about it this fall, I didn’t feel like I should because who starts a personal blog and jumps immediately into the most controversial issues after two posts?

I wanted to get my feet under me first with some less explosive topics. I brainstormed and started several posts, but I have found it impossible to write about anything else when my mind has been preoccupied with the massive shifts happening in our nation, in my denomination, and in myself.

When I started this blog, I decided to use my own name because I felt it was important for me at this point in my life to begin fully occupying my own space without apologies. Well, here I am, and these issues and conversations are fundamental to me.  At the same time, I have had to do a lot of thinking about how I want to address them – to allow myself to have strong opinions without apology, but also to express them with respect and thoughtfulness. That sounds really hard. But I think it’s worth a try, and this is a good day to start.

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Chock Full of Grace

I have never been as eager for a year to end as I am for 2016 to be over. On the list of life stressors, we have hit several big ones. It has felt like I’ve spent most of the year in survival mode, and I am finishing it exhausted and depleted.

When I look back, I realize that a lot of the challenges have been good ones – two surgeries that completed my treatment plan and reconstruction, buying a house and moving into it, and beginning a new job. I wonder how I would have experienced 2016 had I made a habit of noticing and keeping a record of the many, many good things that happened. This year was chock full of grace, and too often I wasn’t paying attention.

As I was clearing out old files on my computer this morning, I rediscovered two random gratitude lists from several years ago. Reading those phrases unleashed the same small bursts of joy I felt when I first wrote them down. I spent most of 2012 counting “gifts” in journals and online, inspired by Ann Voskamp’s book and blog. The further I got into the practice of being thankful for even the smallest things, the more I could feel it changing the way that I experienced life and the world. Each time I paused to write something down, I was able to savor that moment of joy. My heart was often filled with appreciation toward the Giver of every good and perfect gift – and I was more aware of His presence.

I let myself fall out of the gratitude habit once I reached my goal of 1000 gifts. I have tried to pick it up again here and there – especially in desperate moments – but it was the regular practice that was so sustaining. We were designed to live grateful. I am longing to live in that space again – watching for flashes of grace every day and saving them in the pages of 2017.