About Milagro Mama

A Bay Area 40-something, married 20-something years to the love of my life, with two sons (Teen and Tween); Jesus-follower, artistic-type, passionate about time with my guys and with friends, Bible study, stories of most types, cooking, and other creative endeavors.

3 Things I’m Learning About Anxiety and 5 Things that Help – part 2

This is part 2 of a two-part series on anxiety. Read part 1 here.

Let’s jump right in. Here are a few things I’m finding helpful in dealing with anxiety:

Routines
The pandemic taught me that I rely on imposed routines. When all normal routines vanished, it took me a while to find my way back to some kind of order. It hasn’t been easy, but intentionally developing consistent blocks of time for consistent activities helps. I also switch up my seating: writing in my recliner in the morning or at the patio bistro table in the afternoon, for example. I can’t control a lot, but I can control how I structure my days.

Well, mostly. Let’s be honest: sometimes life happens and even my own plans go down the drain…causing anxiety. Take a deep breath, acknowledge the mess, and move on, asking What’s my next right step?

Also, adding a touch of ritual to the routine, like a favorite mug within reach during my morning writing or lighting a scented candle during my evening reading, lends whimsy or beauty to the occasion.

Outlets
We need healthy ways to get out the Big Feels. When I wasn’t sleeping, exercise felt hard but also eventually helped me sleep better. Getting outdoors is especially important when exercise has been the only regular reason to leave home. Long brisk walks, running occasional stretches, and yoga locate me firmly in my body and help me feel healthy and strong. I can’t stand “stretching,” but call it “yoga” and I’m in; whatever works! I’m using the Down Dog app and love that it’s fully customizable to what I need.

When I over-exercised and injured myself, I doubled-down on writing. Every day I type fast and furious for 20 minutes, dumping on a document no one but me will ever read. Putting words to what life looks like and how I feel about it gets it out.

I’ve always loved to read and I’m reading more than ever to keep my mind occupied with something beyond me. I’d also like to create more art or put together some photo albums, but I’m wary of pandemic productivity pressure, of comparing what I know of myself to what I see in someone else (especially since what I can see are their curated social media posts); I will get to those things when the time feels right for me.

Interestingly, a synonym for outlet is safety valve, and these regular practices combine to help me feel safer.

Be
I tend to live in my head, either in the past or the future, so it’s always a challenge to be here now. But when anxiety grips me I need to do something – noticing the feelings in my body, walking away and taking intentional deep breaths, stretching – anything that healthfully disengages the immediate cause for panic helps. I also capture a few things each day for which I’m grateful; I have a journal specifically for that purpose.

One recommended way to ground yourself is the 54321 method; this hasn’t been as helpful for me, but naming my feelings and putting them in the clouds that gently drift away has – I may have a cloudy hour or even a few cloudy days, but eventually the sun will shine again.

If you’re a reader, I recommend Tara Brach’s book Radical Compassion. Let it RAIN: Recognize your feelings, Allow them to just be (rather than stuffing or numbing them), Investigate how they feel in your body, and Nurture your inner self. She writes that RAIN “awakens mindfulness and compassion, applies them to the places where we are stuck, and untangles emotional suffering.” As a Christian, it’s a course on prayer I didn’t get at church. (Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases).

Boundaries
I fell hard down the social media rabbit hole and my scrapes hurt. At first it made sense since a) it was a way to connect when we were all stuck at home and b) everyone had a different news source to share.

But alongside “news” I saw pictures of friends not taking things seriously and posts encouraging “you do you” individualism rather than “let’s all give a little for the common good.” I saw conspiracy theories and rants of many colors. I had to set radical limits.

And since the world is a wee bit scary right now, and everyone seems to be angry about something (I feel others’ emotions so hot they burn), when we can’t easily gather and seeing even a few people feels emotionally risky, I’m resigned to staying home as much as possible for as long as necessary.

To stay connected, I’ve started reaching out by mail; a note in the mailbox brightens someone’s day and often they respond with a text or email that brightens mine. Yes, I could call, but I like the phone less. Don’t even ask me to Facetime; I’ll Zoom only if it’s essential to you.

Anxiety doesn’t have to make sense, and my triggers will be different from yours. I’m paying attention to how I feel and giving myself permission to set the boundaries I need. Sometimes I feel guilty – everyone else can [fill in the blank], so why can’t I? – and I’m working hard to let that go. I’m not everyone else; I get to make my own rules.

Love
Jesus loves me, this I know… The fact that I’m dealing with anxiety absolutely does not invalidate my faith. God still reigns in heaven, and here on earth I’m having a rough go. Yes, I pray, and yes, I can pray while engaged in self-care practices.

My family has managed to balance time together with sufficient alone time even in our small home. I’m grateful for the support and joy they add to my life. But I can’t expect them to shoulder my burdens continually. I have to do this work myself.

I’ve been reading about anxiety and self-care. I have saved so many images to my camera roll that remind me to breathe, to be gentle, to tell myself a better story. I’ve asked myself what someone who loves themselves would do, and I’ve spoken to myself the loving words I’d speak to a hurting friend.

None of this is rocket science, and honestly, none of these approaches work on their own or all the time. So far I haven’t been able to banish anxiety from my life; this has become my new normal and I expect I’ll continue learning how to be me – and how to be kind to this version of myself – for the rest of my life.

What works for you? I’d like to know. And if you’ve found this post helpful, please share. We’re in this together.

3 Things I’m Learning About Anxiety and 5 Things that Help – part 1

Maybe I’ve had anxiety for years and called it “stress.” Maybe this is new. Either way, anxiety put me in a choke-hold when shelter-in-place orders went into effect in March. Among the long list of things I hadn’t expected was an entirely personal masterclass in mental health.

Five months later and I’ve mostly settled into my version of our “new normal.” While all of us have to deal with pandemic realities and increased political/racial tensions, most of us have an “and also…” to boot, other factors complicating our current reality. My “and also’s…” have been one-two-three gut-punches, the hits that keep on coming. Oof!

Let me be clear: my experience of anxiety has been exhausting but not debilitating. Even on days when I’ve decided to simply stay in bed, well, here we are in a pandemic and no one expects me anywhere. And while therapy would likely be helpful for everyone always, I’ve been able to manage my anxiety (mostly) with a lot of reading, research, and self-care. Anxiety has loosened its initial grip and now when I feel its cold fingers, I’m more aware and better prepared.

If your anxiety feels crippling and perhaps life-threatening, by all means get the help you need immediately. NAMI, The National Alliance on Mental Health, has a 24 hour helpline: 800-950-6264. If you don’t have the courage to call yourself, ask someone you love to call for you. Don’t suffer alone.

Meanwhile, here’s what I’m learning, offering it up in case it’s helpful for you. We’re all different, so I’m sure you’ve got your own acquired wisdom to share. Please leave a comment so we can support each other.

Mental health is physical, too.
For months I couldn’t fall asleep until the middle of the night, or I fell asleep and then woke in the wee hours to ruminate on random worries. It took about three months for my sleep to return to semi-normal patterns and even now I can expect occasional wonky nights.

Insomnia wasn’t totally new, but the vibrating sensation in my chest and stomach was. Similar to having chugged too much caffeine, I call it my “bees” since it feels like the humming of an angry hive. Other physical signs include destroying my cuticles or my shoulders hitched to my ears, tension head- and jaw-aches and unusually tight muscles.

Noticing the physical cues reminds me to breathe, stretch, investigate my feelings, and administer self-care.

It’s about control.
Things I can’t control: a global pandemic; the mess that is America right now; my son’s public educational experience; my mom’s health; friends who don’t take social distancing seriously; other’s thoughts or actions; anything outside myself.

We never could control anything anyway, we just acted like we could. Suddenly, we don’t know what to expect from day to day. All our routines have been stripped away and we find ourselves isolated from people who once played main characters in our communal sitcoms. Pre-pandemic we’d be thrilled to have an occasional blank day on our calendars, and now it’s all white space. We want that version of our lives back in part because we want to be able to pretend that we’re still in control.

Grief is messy and necessary.
We didn’t sign up for this and we don’t want it, but here we are. And while there may be some positives to this mess, we have to be honest about all that we’ve lost: to work at that job; to engage in public pastimes; to celebrate milestones of every sort with the fanfare we’d usually give them; to travel; to hug friends; and obviously, so many people have lost loved ones.

Admitting that grief is an integral part of what we’re all experiencing right now, that we’ve lost the lives we were living and the experience of life we expected, reminds us to be gentle with ourselves – and others. None of us have ever done life like this and it’s hard, sometimes it feels impossibly hard. Grief isn’t linear, either, and while it might feel easier with time, or easier some days, other days it will flip you to the floor and pin you down.

If you know me, you know that I’m a Jesus follower. Yes, the Bible says not to be anxious, to pray instead, so let’s talk about that. In telling us not to be anxious, the Bible actually acknowledges that we will feel anxiety. Anxiety is a normal part of human life. But we don’t have to stay anxious.

God created each one of us differently because He loves us individually in all the uniqueness He gave us. He created some of us to be more sensitive, more intuitive, more inclined to drama and all the Big Feels. We haven’t been punished, rather, we’ve been gifted with a different way of being and seeing our place in the world. We have things to offer precisely because our nerves lie a little closer to the surface. Exposed, we feel more and our unique perspective can help others appreciate life’s nuances.

Anxiety is not the problem, it’s staying anxious that’s a problem. We all have an anxiety warning light on the dashboard of our lives reminding us to attend to our issues; some of us will notice that light more often. That’s how we’re built and that, as God said in the beginning, is good…even though it may not feel good.

Stay tuned tomorrow as I share a few things I’ve found helpful in dealing with anxiety. Meanwhile, if you’ve found this post helpful, please share it with someone who will benefit from knowing that they’re not alone in their experience.

Reminder: YOU are Essential Even if You’re Not an Essential Worker

Essential: s·sen·tial
/əˈsen(t)SHəl/
adjective
Definition: absolutely necessary; extremely important.

Who knew the word essential would take on such significance in 2020?

At midnight on March 17, 2020, Californians were suddenly under lock-down orders due to an unprecedented pandemic. Everyone but essential workers would stay at home, leaving only for exercise (and that on foot or bike) or essential needs like picking up groceries or prescriptions.

Essential workers are those on the front lines: health care workers and first responders; government officials and those employed to maintain needed infrastructure like water, electricity, transportation; grocery workers and minimal restaurant staff; mail carriers and delivery people; and a few others somewhat randomly defined. Yet even essential workers were asked to work from home whenever possible.

My Guy’s a pastor. Pastors inspire hope, essential (anytime and) in a pandemic. He works from home for all but a couple hours each week when a very few people gather to record elements for the now-online services.

Pre-pandemic, I worked at a wine bar. While some might argue that wine is also essential during a pandemic, you don’t have to go to a wine bar to get wine. Our bar closed. Guy can work from home; I can pour wine at home all I want, but I’m no longer paid for it.

He is considered essential; he can continue to do his job. I am not considered essential; my job can’t be done remotely; I can’t do my job. 

That right there is the fly in our ointment: essential and essential worker have gotten mashed up-messy like mud pies. Just like we’ve mashed up our occupations and identities since forever. Guy’s job may be that of an essential worker whereas mine is not; however, we are both essential. We are essential because we are.

You are now and will always be essential even if your work is currently not that of an essential worker.

Your occupation occupies a lot (or, currently, little to none) of your time, but what you do is not who you are.

You are who you are; you are not what you do.

Who you are matters regardless of what you do.

I’ll admit, it’s been a struggle. Guy’s done a lot of what he’s always done, plus a few newly-related things, just differently. Meanwhile, now and again I’ve floundered trying to figure out what to do next.

What you do matters, but it doesn’t make up all of you. It doesn’t create your identity. Purpose and Meaning are different.

For example… Purpose: my job required me to pour wine for customers; Meaning: As I poured wine I also offered generous hospitality and, when invited, a listening ear. I made customers happy not just by doing what I had to do but by serving wholeheartedly.

Currently unemployed, I spend a lot of time doing stuff for my family. Most moms know that can be a thankless job but it depends on not just your purpose, the activities that fill your day, but also the meaning you give to those actions. I do dishes and laundry, I cook and clean. But what I’m really doing – the meaning in the purposeful actions – is providing tangible care for the people I love.

Payment doesn’t provide meaning, either. A paycheck doesn’t equal value. I don’t get paid to care for my family. I’m also not getting paid to write these blog posts. But I write because it’s who I am, how I process the world and my place in it, and I hope that my writing extends hope to others. Purpose: I write words. Meaning: I write words that offer hope.

Please remember: You are essential. Whoever you are and whatever you do, you matter. You have purpose (your To-Do list, whatever that looks like these days) and meaning (the why behind it). You are unique, one-of-a-kind, with strengths and gifts to offer to a waiting world that needs you. You are absolutely necessary and extremely important. You are loved.

Cover image by Jessica Joh from Pixabay

Challenging the Challenge: Why I Passed on the #challengeaccepted

When Instagram began to fill up with black-and-white photos of women tagged #challengeaccepted, I googled it. The lead article mentioned some female country singers promoting natural beauty – no makeup/hair, no special lighting or filters, no glam, just women being themselves. Women supporting women being real women.

But that wasn’t what came across my Instagram feed. Instead, I saw superstars coiffed and posed. Even among friends, I’ve seen very few “just being me” photos. Oh sure, I’ve smiled back at the great smiles on faces of people I know and love. But really, why would anyone risk a natural shot when the # had morphed into something glamorous?

People simply follow suit; my friend posts a B/W selfie and challenges me, I’ll just do the same. Right? Except I didn’t.

When my friend challenged me, I passed. Good friend that she is, she asked why. I am all for women supporting women, but how do B/W selfies support women, exactly?

On the surface, the words sound right. Women should support women. We should challenge each other to grow, to be and do more, at times to do less in order to care for ourselves and others more. On the surface, there is certainly nothing wrong with women posting beautiful pictures of themselves – one of the hallmarks of social media, obviously.

But just as selfies are superficial, I’m digging down below the surface to clarify two things bugging me: inclusion/exclusion and competition/comparison. “Supporting women” means challenging them to post a selfie, and then the selfies themselves become an online beauty pageant? C’mon, ladies, we all know that we do and can do more to support one another in meaningful ways.

Playing tourist with the Strong Girl statue in NYC

Going way back, it reminds me of slam books in elementary school, handmade books with questions like, “Who is the nicest person in our grade?” or “Who is the cutest boy in our class?” You felt a secret thrill if a friend passed you their book and you hurriedly scanned the pages for your name scribbled there. You felt great – or, more likely, not – if you found it.

Our teachers had good reason to confiscate and trash those books: they tended to salute those already on top while confirming for the rest of us that we were as gross as the dried up chewing gum stuck to the bottom of our desks.

Another google search turned up indications that the # might be related to interpretations of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s powerful rant against the sexist comments made to her on the Capitol steps (talk about a strong woman; now she’s inspiring!); or a years-old cancer awareness campaign (that makes no sense); or a Turkish campaign against femicide (more logical if yet ineffective).

The friend who challenged me was herself challenged by someone who is “competition” in her professional field. However, that challenge was intended as encouragement that they are both members in a professional community with a common goal. My friend also recognized that, as it’s not her typical style to post pictures of herself, posting a self-portrait was an actual challenge nudging her beyond her comfort zone (okay, that helps; I relate). And, as photographers, showcasing their skills is also a professional move.

Still, I’d rather see real women being themselves. I’d rather see women doing what they love, being strong, achieving or learning something, engaged in a favorite hobby, taking risks to grow. I’d love to see action shots that will inspire my own action. I’d rather see women truly challenging, supporting, and inspiring women. Wouldn’t you?

In the spirit of women supporting women, please check out the links below:
This may be one of the best #challengeaccepted photos I’ve seen – she’s doing something active, demonstrating her strength and sense of adventure; plus, she writes some stellar words about women supporting women.
And my friend who challenged me and then listened, my favorite creative collaborator has inspired me yet again this summer by redoing her beautiful website to showcase her immense talents.

Cover photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash

Reading: July 2020 Pt2

I normally read a lot on vacation, and this year I didn’t even have to pack and travel to accomplish that “more than usual” book consumption. Staying home I had more time than ever!

Book titles link to Amazon for more info + easy purchasing. Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Please comment and share with me a book you’ve enjoyed recently.

image by Risa Rodil, risarodil.com

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“…even though the Church I love has been the oppressor as often as it has been the champion of the oppressed, I can’t let go of my belief in Church–in a universal body of belonging, in a community that reaches toward love in a world so often filled with hate.”

If you are a white Christian, do I have a book to recommend to you! Brown has written from her heart and her head, from her experience, from her place in the shadow of hope. Sit with this one. Listen hard. Drop your defenses. Take notes. Ponder and pray. Then commit to do something to work toward change.

Jesus gave the Church the ministry of reconciliation–not just people to God, or Jew to Gentile, not even just Black and white, but reconciliation between all people in the sight of the God who loves everyone of us. We can do better. Let’s do better.

How the Bible Actually Works: In Which I Explain How An Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom Rather Than Answers—and Why That’s Great News by Peter Enns
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“…the Bible holds out for us an invitation to join an ancient, well-traveled and sacred quest to know God, the world we live in, and our place in it” (p10).

This book busts to pieces that old cliche: “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.” Because we have to ask: What does the Bible actually say? It said something to an ancient people, but we are not them. So what does it say to us, today, wherever we are? Not just the meaning of the written words on the page, but the intended wisdom behind those words read with the Holy Spirit who is wisdom.

Honestly, this concept shouldn’t be shocking to anyone who has ever heard a sermon preached, because pastors and scholars have long been interpreting what the Bible means for us today. Or to anyone who has noticed a contradiction or differences between the stories about Jesus in the four gospels. Enns points to examples within the Bible itself where the biblical authors were already interpreting the Bible as they had it, for example, how should God’s people worship God during the exile when they couldn’t worship in the Temple? Another example: Paul reinterpreting the Law post-resurrection.

This is great news, because it means the Bible isn’t static but a living book of wisdom. It makes the Bible even more exciting. And Enns brings his great sense of humor to his writing – a breath of fresh air in biblical scholarship.

The One and Only Bob by Katherine Applegate
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My son and I read aloud The One and Only Ivan when he was in elementary school. We both loved it, so how could I not read her follow-up about Bob? (Kiddo is now in high school, so we’re sadly no longer reading aloud together). As a dog-mom to three rescue dogs, as an animal lover and frequent zoo visitor, I enjoyed this book, too. It would be a great discussion started for adults and kids to talk about how we treat animals, how to forgive yourself and others, and what it looks like to be afraid and brave at the same time.

“Humans love it when we get silly. I think they’re so weighed down by people problems that sometimes they need to be reminded what happy looks like.”

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Book of Longings is the fictional account of Ana, a strong woman with a largeness inside her to be a voice, to fill others’ ears with the words she writes from the holy of holies inside her. She is also the wife of Jesus.

I wasn’t sure I could go there with a married Jesus; it doesn’t offend scripturally, but it sure bucks tradition. Kidd writes in her author’s notes that she recognized the audacity of the goal in writing this story. But the story is fully Ana’s, and the author’s words are so gorgeously entwined that they caught me up.

Truly, I loved this book. I got angry at the injustices women have faced, then and now. I enjoyed the way scriptural characters and incidents were depicted with new light. Alongside Ana, I fell in love with a human Jesus whose humanity often gets lost in the religious focus on His divinity. I wept while He died in a way that, with its familiarity, I don’t weep nearly enough when I read the Bible.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Even though it was predictable, I wanted to like this one. Lara Jean was a relatable character, smart and funny with weaknesses that both set her apart and that she knows she needs to work on. But I didn’t like the ending at all. I know it’s book 1 of 3, but really, it needed a better ending.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Collins’ best book yet and, sadly, so currently relevant.

What do we believe about the essence of human nature? Are human beings essentially good or evil? Do they need to be controlled by social contract to prevent a devolution into chaos? What defines or distinguishes those in power from those who must be controlled? And how do our beliefs about human nature affect our actions? More importantly, how society will be structured?

I couldn’t put this one down. It was fascinating to meet young Coriolanus Snow, to watch how his early life experiences shaped him, to see who had influence in his life and how he could be manipulated, as well as how he manipulated others. Snow lands on top, indeed.

This could make a good book club pick. Unlikely, but I would also suggest it as an optional extra credit assignment for high school students.



View all my reviews

Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

As the Rattle Shakes: All’s Well that Ends with the Rattler Relocated

The first time I personally encountered a rattlesnake we were hiking the trail to the top of Yosemite Falls in Yosemite Valley. Not the gentle walk to the bottom of Lower Yosemite Falls, but the Serious Hike to the top. If I’d read in advance descriptions of the hours of strenuous switchbacks, I would have opted for a different hike. None of us made it to the top. Not a big water year, we got great views of the Valley but not the Falls, since that view rewards hard-core hikers who make it further than we did.

Disappointed, we eventually called it and began the return trudge. I quickly fell to the back of the pack (again) with my Guy and young son, the youngest in our group and the least likely to enjoy a grueling hike. I must have stopped to take a picture because I walked a few paces behind them.

Switchbacks mean everything slopes every which way. The trail sloped downward ahead of me while the mountain also sloped from above me on my right to below me on the left. Plodding along, I heard the leaves rustling to my right; just then a snake stretched long and slithered straight at my feet.

I know that protocol dictates an immediate halt: stay statue-still and let the snake go on its way. My head holds that information, but my fear-of-snakes instinct took over. I screeched, leaping into the air and landing several feet down trail.

I crashed headlong into my startled guys, and I should have anticipated what happened next: after a quick reminder/chastisement that I had not followed procedure, my Guy moved in to get a closer look at the imminent danger I’d narrowly escaped: a four-foot-long rattlesnake.

Still shaking, I had no interest in a closer look. That thing almost slithered across my toes! I clamped down hard on my son in case he ran after Daddy. Meanwhile, Guy found a stick and gently prodded the snake off-trail to keep both it and other hikers safe. And then he took pictures, though the snake was well camouflaged in leaf-litter.

Our older son felt especially devastated to have missed the excitement. At the time, he imagined his future as a herpetologist, a reptile expert. Most animals fascinate him, but snakes especially have his heart wrapped in their coils.

When we spent a summer in Costa Rica, he regularly held his own with seasoned field guides and experts discussing all the native reptiles, how to distinguish between the venomous and nonvenomous species, where they could be found, and what to do if you got bit. It was riveting to watch adult reactions to a kid, then fifteen years old, who already knew what they had spent years studying in college and post-grad programs.

I am not a snake enthusiast, but my son has taught me to appreciate their necessity to ecosystems (not a rodent fan, either) and their beauty. Yes, I said it: snakes can be beautiful. I doubt I would have come to that realization on my own volition, but he’s been putting snakes in my hands since he first held one at a pet store when he was three. I love him more than I fear snakes.

We now have seven snakes in our house, all nonvenomous, all in enclosures in his room. He’s also incubating the six eggs one of his snakes laid; he plans to sell the babies once they hatch. You don’t have to see them when you come over, but in pre-pandemic days some people came over specifically to see them. Our home feels akin to a family-run petting zoo.

So I wasn’t all that surprised this weekend when Guy and C21 hurried out the door with snake hooks and a large plastic tub with a lid. By word of mouth, a neighbor had known who to call when she found a snake in their yard. In fact, dangerous as it could be, I wasn’t even all that nervous nor did I suggest that they call the proper authorities instead. My guys have proven that they respect the animal and its power, and they know their stuff. They could have their own Animal Planet show.

Without incident, they got the snake into the tub and the lid firmly on. They put it in the car and drove it to a remote, unpopulated area nearby where they released it. They described the ride between sites as incredibly loud as the snake communicated its incredible displeasure; the neighbors, on the other hand, were ecstatic.

I’m proud of my guys for honoring both the humans’ need to have the snake removed and the snake’s place in the ecosystem. The snake is not a bad creature for doing what it was created to do. Like the spiders who eat the flies and so we relocate them out of our house, the snake will go on to do its thing keeping down the rodent population.

A friend asked if I could ever in my wildest dreams have imagined I’d be related to people who could do this. Nope, I replied, and some days it’s still a wild dream.

Cover image by Ana Meister from Pixabay

Who Will Be the Good Samaritan?

When someone tells you they’ve been hurt, you wouldn’t tell them they haven’t.
When someone shares with you about their experience, you wouldn’t tell them that can’t have happened because you have a different experience.

When a whole group of people tell us they’ve been hurt, a compassionate response involves listening.
When a whole group of people share their experience, a compassionate response involves trying to understand how and why that happened to them.

An appropriate, compassionate response does not include setting about to prove them wrong, declaring that that can’t possibly have happened because it hasn’t happened to you. They must be wrong, right?, because what they’ve described seems so wrong.

If I tell you I’ve been hurt, and you tell me I haven’t; if I describe my experience and you tell me I’ve misunderstood what happened to me; if you choose not to listen and try to understand, not to bear my pain with me but instead to defend those who have hurt me, I will not trust you. In aligning yourself with the one who hurt me, you have added insult to injury. I will call it like it is: you have heaped additional abuse upon the abused.

And if you don’t listen but instead want to tell me to buck up, that God loves me and God will take care of me if I just trust Him more, I won’t believe you. Because we know of God’s love through the ways we are loved, and you haven’t loved me.

We cannot love well unless we listen well. And once we’ve listened, we have to be willing to do something. We have to be willing to lean in and shoulder the pain with those who’ve been hurt. It’s time to stop defending the abusers, even though they may be us.

Jesus told a story about a traveler who got robbed, beaten, and left for dead on the roadside (Luke 10:25-37). One after the other, some VIP’s passed by on the other side of the road. Jesus doesn’t explain their excuses but it’s not a big stretch to imagine that it might have had to do with ceremonial cleanliness–they couldn’t afford to get blood on their blouses since that would mean additional time to ritually purify themselves before they could get on with their very important business, ironically (or not) of helping others come close to God.

The story’s good guy is the least likely of the passersby to stop and help. Samaritans and Jews didn’t mix. The Samaritan should not have wanted to help a Jew, and the Jew might not have accepted the help if he had been aware enough to have an opinion. At this point, though, it’s pretty clear he needs help or he will die.

This Samaritan allowed himself to be moved by pity for their shared humanity. He got on his knees in the dirt to do roadside triage. He examined and then treated the man’s wounds, cleaning and anointing them to prevent infection. He put the man on his donkey and took him to an inn. He spent the night caring for this stranger when surely he should have been on his way to his intended destination. When he had to move on, he made sure the injured man would have continued care; he paid the expenses and promised to check back in and cover any overages.

The Samaritan went so far out of his way and then some. Clearly the story tells us that he didn’t have to. He could have kept on going like the others. Jesus’ listeners wouldn’t have expected the Samaritan, of all people, to stop. Yet the Samaritan who showed mercy has become the Ultimate Example of what it looks like to love your neighbor.

You know, the Great Commandment: Love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got, and love your neighbor as yourself. The two basics of living in God’s kingdom, the non-optionals above all others for what it looks like to follow a God who defines Himself as Love (1 John 4:8).

Our brothers and sisters of color have exhausted themselves trying to get us to hear and understand that they’ve been hurt. They’ve been beaten and left for dead. And so many of us have crossed the street, looked away, held our noses to avoid the stench of blood. We’ve said we’re too busy, the problems are too big and they’re not our problems. We’ve said that there aren’t any problems, that they’ve misunderstood their own experience, that they’re bringing the problems on themselves. It has nothing to do with us. We’re good people, and we’re not racists. Obviously we would never beat someone up.

Obviously. However, if we haven’t been part of the solution, we have been part of the problem. We are complicit if we walk on by with our heads full of excuses held high. Getting involved will be costly. So I ask: who will be the good Samaritan? And what will that look like today?

I’m listening.

Cover image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Reading: July 2020 pt1

Nothing like a global pandemic to shut down summer travel!

During a typical summer, we would spend a week on the Monterey coast. We would probably also get away for some camping or to visit family. Guy and Q16 had reservations for a Scout bike trek in Maui, and Q would also have gone to Scout camp. Well, not this year.

Courtesy of generous friends who booked a small condo in Tahoe they were unable to use, we spent three nights away…except I was still on crutches. No hiking along lake-view mountain trails for me. You know what I did instead. That’s right, I read! Good thing, as Quindlen points out in the quote below, that books are both the destination and the journey, the means of travel and home itself.

Below are my thoughts on the books I’ve read so far this month. Book titles link to Amazon for more info + easy purchasing. Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Please comment and share with me a book you’ve enjoyed recently!

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a beautiful book! And yet, my overarching emotion while reading was sadness, utter heartbreak for Desiree and Stella, mostly for Stella.

I caught a short review in O Magazine when I was about 2/3’s done with the book that said this is a novelized version of The Great Migration. Maybe I’d heard those words, but I didn’t understand them. Google helped me out.

Did you know that between 1916-1970, 6 million Black people left the American South for the Northeast, Midwest and West, “one of the largest and most rapid mass internal movements in history”? I didn’t. Another thing the history books didn’t teach us.

And HBO bought the rights to make it a series. Hooray! Definitely one to watch, but read the book first.

The Book of V. by Anna Solomon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When someone tackles a classic to dig deeper and reinterpret it for a new generation, when they do the source material justice and create something beautiful and beautifully new from it, I am here for it. The Book of V. is all that.

Note: If you are an easily offended Christian or Jew who doesn’t want anyone to play with your scriptures, this is not your book. I’m a devoted Christian willing to hold loosely that Solomon intended to write something new; it’s art, not divine inspiration, obviously different.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I needed a reading palate cleanser, something super light to read before bed. It’s the kind of book I would have read with my kids in elementary school, maybe 3rd grade, though the characters are in middle school. The takeaway: be kind to everyone, and take small risks to enjoy life more.

Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire: The Guide to Being Glorious You by Jen Hatmaker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“I finally clearly know who I am and how I was made, how I thrive and what I’m here for, what I believe and what I care about, and I’m not afraid to walk in that, even when it doesn’t fit the mold. I am finally the exact same on the outside as I actually am on the inside without posturing, posing, or pretending.”

The theme is integrity–being fully and fabulously yourself no matter what. And Jen makes a great cheerleader for women. I took some notes, and I have some work to do (as we all do). From the outset, Jen cautions her readers (women) that some chapters will hit us squarely in the feels and others won’t, that some will hit us at growth points and others we’ll already have under control. True in my reading experience.

I read the Kindle edition, and I hope it’s just that, but I found myself regularly distracted by typos.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

“A little black girl yearns for the blue eyes of a little white girl, and the horror at the heart of her yearning is exceeded only by the evil of fulfillment.”

Morrison’s first novel. Imperfect, beautiful, devastating. Having read in the forward that her intent was to explore “the social and domestic aggression that could cause a child to literally fall apart” without demonizing the characters who trashed her, I wasn’t sure I could continue. I did, though, and it broke my heart. Some parts are so uncomfortable and still ring so true.

I gave it a 2 star rating because of its imperfections and because this is not a book to lightly recommend (though let’s be honest, an armchair reviewer like me giving any rating to an author of such prowess and grace as Toni Morrison? Ridiculous). It’s not for the faint of heart. Beloved and Sula are both so much better, so don’t start with this one if you’re unfamiliar with her canon.

“The soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live. We are wrong, of course, but it doesn’t matter. It’s too late.”

Let it not ever be too late!

View all my reviews

Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay
Anna Quindlen quote from StorytaleDecor on Etsy

My Days of Wine & Movies

Yesterday marked what would have been the third anniversary of my first shift working at the sweetest little wine bar.

Three years and one week ago, I arrived at the bar for the first time to attend a private party in honor of a friend. Some months earlier, I had seen an ad that the bar was hiring and joked to my guys that I was going to get a job pouring wine. They replied, “Yah, right…” and that was that. I didn’t apply.

That night, however, I unknowingly struck up a conversation with the owner who offered me a job on the spot. The next morning he called me. Laughing, he asked, “Are you serious?” Laughing on my end of the line I responded, “You know, I had the strangest dream that I accepted a job I hadn’t meant to apply for.” A week later I started my new job.

I started that job much to my family’s amusement and my friends’ amazement. I had no restaurant or retail experience. I’m an introvert and a homebody. I had spent my entire adult life working in and writing for churches while I also earned a Master’s degree in Divinity (an M.Div., common among pastors) and raised two boys. Working at a bar seemed off-topic and out of character.

Still, the very idea brought me joy. I like wine and I like people. Besides, I had four weekends, eight shifts, before my older son would leave for college and I would take two weekends off to drive him cross-country. I could do anything eight times and then, if it wasn’t a good fit, I could quit.

To the contrary, I loved it. Over time, I recruited four friends to work there as well.

Sure, sometimes it was slow and other times so busy I broke a sweat. But I discovered that I delight in offering hospitality, making someone smile as I suggested a wine they’d like or served them a beautiful cheese plate. I’m not big on small talk but often we discussed the movies playing next door, and sometimes those who sat at the counter came in for the company; they wanted to share the struggles and joys of their lives, and I was happy to listen.

The bar’s co-owners, business partners for 20+ years, also owned that gorgeous historic Art Deco movie theatre next door. They held an annual film festival that brought in stars and rising stars. They also developed a cabaret concert series in which Broadway stars traveled to our small town outside of San Francisco to share their flare for fantastic music. At both the bar and the theatre, we hosted receptions that included delicious wine and beautiful food. It was fast-paced fun and I had a lot of creative freedom to execute a vision for serving our honored guests and VIP ticket holders. The opportunity to support the arts added a new layer of meaning to my life.

I made friends at the bar and we definitely had our share of colorful characters. We became a real-life version of the TV sitcom Cheers, where everybody knows your name, as the staff and regulars developed a rapport that extended beyond the bar walls. We celebrated many special occasions together: birthdays and anniversaries, births and baptisms, home sales and purchases, holidays and blockbuster premieres. On Sunday evenings, talented local singers came in for Open Mic Night. On occasional weekends, musicians played guitar and sang for us. A local artist decorated the walls with movie-inspired paintings. We held monthly karaoke nights that month after month gathered steam to become the best party in town.

Four months ago yesterday I worked my last shift at the bar. The previous night had been a karaoke night; we anticipated a low number given the increasing amount of information regarding the pandemic and the correlating caution/fear. Instead, our regulars showed up in force and we had one last blast together before the bar came to a sudden close.

COVID-19 took my job. I miss getting out of the house, serving guests, seeing friends. But that’s small potatoes, as C-19 took a lot of jobs. What makes my heart ache is that it may take down the theatre altogether. The theatre’s fixed costs (rent, insurance, equipment maintenance, etc) total as much as $18,000/month, and clearly the longer movie theatres are closed the more difficult it will be to afford to reopen. Our community stands to lose not only a spot for gathering and entertainment but a theatre that has provided so much more than just movies.

The theatre is running a fundraiser, a One Ticket Challenge. If I’ve ever poured you a glass of wine; if you’ve ever enjoyed chatting with the server in your neighborhood’s version of Cheers; if you’ve ever taken in a movie at an independent historic theatre; if you’re willing to donate the amount of just one ticket to help save this historic gem, please visit their GoFundMe page. Thank you in advance for your support!

Sorry, Not Sorry

We were on vacation, lounging about as appropriate. The teen had fallen back asleep on our bed where he had retreated to get some alone-time from the parentals. Guy and I were reading quietly side-by-side in the living room with the patio door open to allow the breeze to circulate, and wind through the quivering aspen leaves sounded like water flowing in a stream. Lovely. Relaxing.

Into this quiet scene I suddenly snorted laughter. Something in my book caught me uproariously funny and my outburst caught me by surprise. Though Guy didn’t react at all, under my breath I whispered, “Sorry.”

And then I looked up, startled again by my reaction. I said, “No, I’m not. I am not sorry for laughing out loud. I will not apologize for finding my book funny or laughing in response. What a ridiculous apology! I’m not sorry.”

Bless this patient man accustomed to my off-topic outpourings, he laughed with me. He agreed, definitely no need to apologize for laughing.

What the heck? I.apologized.for.laughing!

Why was it such an instinctual response to apologize for making a sound and interrupting the silence? It’s not like we were in a library where, after long years of practice, instinct would have kicked in to stifle the laugh in the first place.

I suspect it has to do with the notion that women should apologize for interrupting, for speaking up, taking up space, sheesh, for existing. You’ve noticed it, right? Women apologize for everything. We are constantly saying, “I’m sorry.”

Jen Hatmaker explains: “I didn’t recognize the small box reserved for me until I showed up expecting to fill the whole room…. This culture is rabid to tell women how much oxygen they can use, space they can take, tables they can join, opinions they are allowed. Code words abound to signal when a woman has stepped too far: hysterical, bitchy, bossy, aggressive. (The man versions of these words are: energetic, strong, decisive, assertive, because ‘bossy men’ are just called ‘leaders.’) Women have always struggled for a credible place at the table” (from her new book, Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire).

Of course, apologies become necessary when we’ve thoughtlessly intruded on someone’s feelings, on their rights or bodies or property. We should apologize when we shoot off a hurtful knee-jerk reaction rather than a thoughtful response. Most of us need to reign ourselves in from time to time and when we don’t we should absolutely offer an intentional apology.

But today I am committing to myself again: I’m done with meaningless apologies. I am not going to apologize for having an opinion. For speaking up. For living in my body. For being who I am, with my thoughts and big feelings and dreams, for taking up space, for putting myself out there. I am not going to apologize for laughing, even if it interrupts your quiet time.

Who’s with me?

Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.