Saturday, April 23, 2016

Conversations in the jasmine

I saw a picture of a friend today while I was scrolling through Faceboook. She was with her husband and they were celebrating a birthday.

I remember having long talks with this friend almost ten years ago. My heart was freshly broken; hers was broken, but healing. We talked about love, God, relationships, friendships, trusting. She was talking about this friend who was starting to become more than a friend, and it was scary and new and she was and wasn't ready for it.

Meanwhile, I was trying to find hope in the face of all my plans falling apart. She'd been through it, so we talked about it, as we walked through evergreen labyrinths, surrounded by pomegranate trees and fragrant jasmine. I wished I could fast forward, to know if things would be okay, to know how things would work out.

Because that's always the question, when things fall apart. Will I ever be okay again?

Even if we know the answer is yes, the uncertainty looms over us when our bodies aren't cooperating,  when the finances fall apart, when we find out we have to move away from loved ones, or any of those times when the work to get to yes seems insurmountable.

But because this is a reflection, we can fast forward. My friend married that guy who was starting to become more than a friend. And even though it took a while, I was okay again. And the things I really wanted to work out... they didn't happen. But that's okay because that made space for what actually happened to happen. And what actually happened was pretty darn wonderful. And more importantly, I grew. Growing doesn't always feel good, but it's beautiful.

So as I scrolled past that photo of my friend this morning, and gave it a "like", I was grateful. Grateful because those conversations in the park seem so long ago. And grateful because I am still learning all of those things: love, God, relationships, friendships, trusting - and still having conversations about them.

Maybe I need to plant some jasmine... 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

easy and light

It's the quiet moment of the morning, where the hazy light peeks through the windows and no one is awake except Sadie and me. (And that's only because I woke her up.)

I didn't sleep super well last night... I woke up sometime in the wee hours of the morning with anxiety, which feels like caffeine jitters in my body (Eyes wide open, energy pulsing, though not the kind of energy I'd like to have.) I couldn't really put a name on why I was anxious, so I just did the things that I do to try calm my body... praying, counting the inhales and exhales, snuggling up to Caleb, getting up and walking around. I think because of all of that, I have the beginnings of what might be a headache; though I did fall back asleep for a bit.

Despite all that, this still morning is leading me towards gratitude. Why? There are a lot of possible explanations, like "I have a lot to be thankful for", which is true.

But really, I want to be thankful, because why not? It's like another practice I've been trying on with people in my life, thanks to some good advice. Assume everyone has the best intentions. It's really a lot harder than it sounds, because we tell ourselves stories about everyone from the guy who cut us off in traffic, to our neighbor who hasn't trimmed her yard in weeks*. But, if you can honestly assume that all these people have the best intentions, the posture that this puts you in is easier and lighter on the soul. And if you need to confront someone, doing it from this place will keep both of you from being on the defensive.

So that's why I'm going to keep practicing (and it really is practicing because I am a very beginner) these two things.

*Obviously, if you are in a situation where you fear for your safety, you should follow that instinct. I'm just talking about regular stressors. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

FAQs about our chicken Sadie

We got a lil chicken named Sadie! Actually her full name is Sadie Luz, but not many people ask us that.

Here are some questions that we have been asked a lot:

1. Where did you get Sadie?
Our neighbor has had chickens for a while... actually he's had one chicken for a year. Last year, he bought two, but pecking order is real, and one killed the other. This year, he got ten new chicks... nine were the same variety, and Sadie is a "chicken mutt". All the other chicks picked on her, and he was worried. When he found out Caleb and I had been thinking about getting chickens, he decided to just give her to us.

2, Is it a chicken or a rooster? Also, don't you live in the city?
We can't have roosters where we live but chickens are ok! Our neighbor bought only females.

3. What are you going to do with her?
Besides just being adorable and a delight to have around (hence her middle name, which means "light" in Spanish), she is going to lay eggs and we will eat the eggs. The eggs will not turn into chicks because we don't have a rooster. Also, chickens apparently love eating mice. Win!

4. Are you going to eat her?
Well, I'm a vegetarian (and not that I ate meat before, but I feel even more committed to it now), so this question is a little weird to me, especially from people who know that I'm a vegetarian. At this time, Caleb does not have plans to eat her. Chickens usually lay eggs fairly regularly for 2 years, so we'll have to see what her life looks like after that.

5. Where does she live?
She's still a little baby, we think she's only about 3 weeks old, so she lives in a box in our living room with a light to keep her warm; but we take her out and play with her a lot, because chickens are social animals. Caleb's building her a coop, and then she'll live in our backyard.

6. Only one chicken?
We want to get three more! Our coop will have 4 laying boxes, so we could have even more than four if we wanted. However, since we don't know much about Sadie or our neighbor's chickens, she needs to be isolated from other chickens for at least 30 days to make sure she doesn't have a chicken disease. Any new chicks we get, unless they're from a hatchery, would also need to be isolated for 30 days in different air space.

7. What does she eat?
She mostly eats chicken feed, but also eats bugs, grass, clover, weeds, and anything that's in our yard. (We're all "Where did all this tiny bite-size trash come from?!")

Here are some things I didn't know about chickens but do know now:
- They sneeze.
- Their feet look like dinosaurs and are really warm and also have toenails.
- They like to cuddle (at least Sadie does), but only on their own terms!
- They don't have teeth and have to eat grit to help them digest stuff.
 - They can be house-trained. (I haven't done this, but have watched Sadie enough to think it would be pretty easy.)
- They like to sleep while roosting (sitting on a branch).
- They take dirt. dust baths to get the oil out of their feathers and it's so relaxing that they looked stoned afterwards.
- They make super cute peeping noises.
- I don't know if this is all chickens, but Sadie likes to lay on her side and it's really awkward and adorable.
She will sometimes put her head down and spread the top wing. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016


I've been insanely in love for almost five years.

And there is not a day that goes by that I'm not incredibly grateful.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

#Blessed part 2

//Quick side note - this is my 200th blog post on this blog! Yay! //

About a year ago, I wrote this blog post about the word "blessed".

I have to tell you - I still think about this all the time. I hear people using this word, or see it on social media, and I cringe. Blessed is not a synonym for lucky.

"[B]lessed does not mean pleased. Blessed does not mean happyBlessed does not mean fulfilled. It doesn't even mean fed or clothed or housed or healthy...

What it really means is that you are not alone, for God is with you." 

When I am thinking about blessing, I think about when I receive the blessing or benediction at the end of a church service. I usually try to prepare myself, because it's a weighty thing to receive a blessing. 

Alternatively, I think of this verse: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule." Matt. 5:3 

When I think about this in my life, I think about and appreciate how backwards it is. I actually think many of the things that we've received and counted as blessings actually make it a little bit harder for us to see God. Here's an example: We live in a house that we bought. We can use this house to show love and hospitality to others. We can recognize and appreciate that we are now responsible for taking care of the little patch of earth it's on, or how it makes our lives a little bit easier, how stability is good for us humans. 

But Jesus never really tells us to go out and buy houses and get a stable life in place. Quite the opposite. He says over and over how much easier it is for the poor to "get it", to see and live into the heaven on earth. 

Where is the blessing in life? I think it's when your body falls apart on you. I think it's when you are up late because you can't sleep thinking about everything you have to do, or any time you glimpse the fragility of life. When all your plans and hopes and dreams fall apart, that's when you're blessed. Because that's when we can start to glimpse a more complete picture of God. 

And that's why, if you happen to be fortunate enough to have stability, to have a home, to have a job, to have dear and close friends, family close by (all of that? I wouldn't call it blessing. I'd call it grace.), it's so important to be in contact with people who do not have these things. We need them. We need them to remind us what God looks like. We need them to teach us the things they are learning and to share their wisdom with us. 

Isn't it wonderful that we all need each other? Inconvenient yes. But also... #blessed. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

On staying

This May, I have an anniversary. Well, actually, I have a couple of anniversaries, including Caleb's and my dating anniversary.) But today I want to talk about a ten year anniversary... with my church.  

In 2006, I took a class in college called "Music of the church". The class was fabulous. We talked about church history, and listened to old recordings. Toward the end of the semester, we talked about the "Emergent Church" movement. These were churches that wanted to keep the best of the ancient practices, while also maintaining the freedom to do new things. As someone who had grown up with liturgy, but at the time wasn't finding it particularly compelling, I was fascinated. It turns out there was one in my home city. 

After the semester was over, I headed to the church the first weekend I was home, with my dad. I felt like I had come home. I took pages of notes from the sermon, from the song lyrics. Everyone was friendly and welcoming, but there was a feeling of authenticity that I hadn't felt in a church in a long time, maybe ever. 

The church was a bit far from my parents' house (about 40 minutes) so I didn't go every week. I went when I could, when I was home from college. I was hooked by the authenticity, the words they used to talk about things, the fact that some of my favorite authors visited (over the years Lauren Winner, Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, William Young, and more), the music - most of which was written by people within the congregation, and some of the ancient rhythms incorporated into life. The church went on a pilgrimage together for a weekend each year, over the summers, I participated in groups that biked, practiced lectio divina, or just gathered once a week for Compline. 

Over the years, though I did not attend regularly, I made a few friends, met them for coffee or dinner. I even went on a few dates, discovered music, borrowed books I never returned. (If you're out there, I still have your books and I'd like to give them back!) I attended the church pilgrimage, and had conversations with a variety of people. 

The second year I went to the Pilgrimage, my life path was altered. That year, they had a Friday night 70s dance party. The costumes were unbelievable, but not very many people were dancing. I happened to love dancing, and so I decided to just go for it. On the dance floor, I ended up in one of those little mini circle things that happens. After the three of us had been jamming for a while, one of the guys stuck out his hand and said over the music, "I'm Jon." "Ellen" I yelled back, next shaking hands with Eric. And that was the start to how I met a group of people - including one that I would eventually marry - that I would meet with over the next several years, until the group organically came to an end. 

This is actually the Pilgrimage dance party one year after that original dance party, but we danced together again, This one was 80s themed.  
Can you spot Caleb?
Caleb and I started dating in the church parking lot, he proposed to me in the church basement. Our story is inextricably tied to this church. And I love that. 

This used to be where we always sat... until I started to only feel comfortable sitting in the back, for reasons described below. 

But somewhere along the way, things started to change. I went through several life and career shifts. The church went through a time of transition. Staff came and left. Suddenly, I found myself mostly irritated by the loss of practices that had been meaningful to me and a few other changes that seemed to be replacing them. My journey didn't seem parallel the church's journey. And it hurt. Even the music seemed louder. I mentioned it several times to several people until a pastor told me that I should just get some earplugs and recommended a brand. 

The earplugs I wear every week at church
I was in a new job, one that had me constantly questioning and tracing out power dynamics, then trying to advocate for the side of the least powerful. I heard terrible, tragic stories, and would sob through many church services, frustrated by how irrelevant they seemed to me and the brokenness of the world. Ferguson happened. Trayvon Martin happened. Racial tensions blew up, and I followed the stories with my power dynamic lens. I ached for hymns and lectionary, and the authenticity that had originally drawn me in. Nothing felt genuine anymore, and I couldn't tell if it was because of me and my struggles, or just that the church was growing and changing. 

We talked about leaving, going somewhere else. I wanted to find solace in liturgy the same way I'd found it back in college. And yet, somewhere deep down, I also wanted to stay.  I wanted to see if I could ride out the season. I wanted to not be a consumer of churches, leaving when it didn't suit my needs anymore. We committed to a new small group, I committed internally to keep trying. 

Last fall, we did a burst of sermons on justice, and my heart sang. I felt like the season had lifted. And maybe it did. But since that ended, I've continued to be in this hard place, continuing to commit, continuing to try, waiting, waiting, waiting and hoping, hoping, hoping. 

Some days I'm frustrated. But some days, a little sliver of God pokes through the clouds and reaches me, and I press on. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The day my sacrum seceded from the union

Today my body stopped working, though by the time I finish this post, it will be yesterday, a day I am mighty glad to put behind me. 

As I mentioned previously, my back flared up big. But previously, I had no idea how big. 

Today, I started my new usual rhythm: lay around for a few hours, get up and walk around for a few hours. And of course, I chose to take my walk out in our backyard. I walked out and leaned against a light pole to remove my socks and tuck them in my pocket. Then I stepped out of my shoes and slowly began padding around the yard. When I got to the farthest corner, I realized something was very, very wrong. The pain was increasing; and I had to do something to make it stop. I wished I had a walking stick, or had put my cell phone in my pocket, or could spot any neighbors. I dropped to my knees - a move that, for some reason, doesn't hurt me - and then moved to my side and I lied down. (Note: I have totally forgotten the difference between lie and lay, so sorry about that.)

I stayed there for a bit, tried to remain calm, and eventually made my way to my feet, lasting only a couple of steps before I had to make my way back down. This time, I noticed a large stick in my yard. My eyes lit up and I crawled toward it, reached and.... got it! I lay back down, resting in the clover, breathing, willing Caleb to come outside, willing myself not to panic that I was suddenly in a situation I hadn't ever expected to be in, or at least not for several decades. I slowly made it to the back door, with much pain, and realized I couldn't make it over the six inch stair (or step back into my shoes). I opened the door and called for Caleb, who got me to the couch and agreed to take me to the ER. Then the panic and tears came from being stuck, from the pain, from the whole situation. 

Almost two hours after arriving at our local hospital, I was still writhing around uncomfortable as heck, sitting in the wheelchair. Caleb got me a blanket and I laid down on the floor. Bliss.... sort of. 

Then came seven more hours once we got into a room - doctors, nurses, MRIs, blood work, Caleb having to help me any time I wanted to move because I was in so much pain. After some IV pain meds, we finally were able to pin down that the pain was triangular - radiating from the two dimples on my back across the spine, and down the sacrum. It was then that I knew that my sacrum was trying to abdicate, leave it's job. 

We're so glad to be back at home, with various prescriptions for muscle relaxants, steroids, prescription strength naproxen. Tomorrow (today?) the adventure continues, with early morning calls to be made to two of my doctors, looking for answers, looking for the independence to dress myself again. 


The other day, I was filling out a questionairre or a form for something or other and I got to the question that asks "What are your hobbies?" 

First of all, I would like to know how you all answer this question. Because though spending time catching up with people on Facebook is something that I do a lot of during my free time (especially because it's a back-safe activity), it's not something I like to put down as a hobby. Feel free to share these hobbies in a comment. (Tip: you can use "anonymous" and then just put your name in the comment box if you don't want to sign in.)

But for once, I knew that I had hobbies! I had two things I'd been doing lately that had been interesting, engaging, something totally other than what I do normally. Are you ready to hear them? This is what I've been doing for fun:

Building fires and walking around my yard looking at stuff. 

Now. Perhaps these don't sound particularly engaging. We live in an urban lot that's not particularly large. The fires are built in our fireplace. But at someone who never learned how to build a fire until very recently, I find it totally fascinating, calming, and functional. And SO different from my normal work tasks that are long-term and digital. 

We haven't lived here very long, not even a full year - and so walking around my yard during spring time is like opening a surprise box every single day. Daffodils that we planted... they survived! Daffodils that we didn't plant! Lilies! Tulips that we planted... the squirrels didn't eat them! Lilac bush! Mysterious beautiful white flowering vine! Rose bushes! Violets! Purple flowering ground cover! (Vinca?) Copious amounts of clover! Moss! Redbud tree! Forsythia! Dandelions! Onions that we planted last fall survived winter! Mysterious green bush! Mulberry tree! 

It's a good life people. Don't let anyone tell you that puttering around your yard doesn't count as a hobby. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

You can't rush your healing*

The days after I herniated the disc in my back were pretty awful... Actually the day it happened was ok... but the next day, I hobbled down the hall of the hotel as fast as I could, making it to my room just in time to break my puke-free since childhood record. And then I spent the night hobbling to the toilet to throw up (My doctor would later call it "Montezuma's revenge", but I just call it bad water), and then laying back in my bed on my side, the only comfortable position available.

The next day, Saturday, I spent in my hotel room, crying to my parents over Skype, hobbling around my room, eating tiny bites of green protein bar every couple of hours, grateful to have a large supply of clean water available.

This was a while ago, but I've been remembering a lot of it lately. On Wednesday this week, I met with my neurosurgeon to review my latest MRI. She was amazed by how much improvement I showed in the scan:"Your back was so bad that ten out of ten neurosurgeons would have operated on you... but you said no, which isn't necessarily the wrong response. Studies show that two years post injury, patients with or without surgery are in the same place."

So we agreed on physical therapy to help rebuild my muscles after sitting and resting for so long, and I started the somewhat complicated process of scheduling an appointment. Then I went out and worked in my yard, trimming vines, taking photos, cleaning my house. But pain memory and muscle loss is real. After so much activity, I spent all of Friday evening and today laying in bed because sitting is too painful. My back is still trying to teach me something. I haven't been in this much pain since I hurt my back, and I could not be more grateful to be learning it here, in my house, on my couch, with a dear friend stopping by to bring me straws to sip water, and Caleb and my brother around to make jokes. Every few hours, I get up and walk around slowly in my yard, rooting my feet to this place, helping my nerves to understand that I am okay, that we're in this together, that they aren't being pressed by misplaced disc any more.

I walk out and look at my daffodils from time to time.
I have books and snacks, and a yoga bolster (think very firm, long pillow) to put between my legs. I have warm clover outside in my yard that feels so good on my toes. I have medicine, I have supplements, I have good digestion. (If you can avoid violent digestive illness and severe back injury at the same time, I recommend it.) And so, even though I wanted to do so many other things today, I rest and I wait and I listen.

*Title of post based on this song: