Passing Peace

It’s happened hundreds of times. When the presider said the words, “The peace of Christ be with you,” we all responded, “And also with you,” and then we stood up to pass the peace to one another. “Peace be with you.” “And with you.” Over and over, grasping each other’s hands, giving one another a hug, gently smiling, reaching out. It happens this way every week on Wednesday evenings in my seminary chapel.

But this week, just an hour earlier, our buildings and the entire campus surrounding us had been on lock-down. Our doors had been shut and secured. Office lights had been turned off. Some were crammed together in a basement study room; others were crouched behind metal file cabinets. Those of us in the chapel closed our doors and continued to prepare for worship, unsure if anyone but ourselves would be able to come. I removed myself from the musicians practicing so that I could listen for the sound of approaching gunshots.

I’d received the email as the worship group rehearsed – there were reports of a shooter; everyone on campus should shelter in place. It was an hour before we were given the all clear, though we were told that one building remained under lock-down. At the time we began our worship service, we didn’t yet know that the whole situation had been prompted by a hoax report. So when helicopters continued to circle as we sang our opening song, and when sirens blared by as we said the Prayers of the People, I felt a prolonged sense of anxiety.

Then, near the beginning of the Communion liturgy, after the confession and pardon, we engaged in that ancient ritual of passing the peace. In that moment, it felt like a subversive act, a site of resistance to the atmosphere of violence we all breath. “Peace be with you,” said with both concern and sincerity. “And also with you,” spoken as we met each other eyes and touched each other’s hands.

Earlier, in her sermon on John 12:20-26, Dr. Nancy Bedford had exhorted us to look for Jesus in resistance to the “worldly” ways of empire and to follow in Jesus’ paradoxical and life-giving way. And even earlier in the day, thousands of teenagers had peacefully left their classrooms and demanded gun law reform, even in the midst of adults’ reprimands. Peace is not easy.

The Christian call to practice peace in the midst of what Jesus calls “the world” – the network of power centers that rule through military and economic might – is not new. The American worship of war and weapons is not the first imperial force Christians have had to contend with. When Jesus said the words “Peace be with you” in his resurrection appearances, he was offering a peace that flew in the face of Rome’s militarized “Pax Romana,” which ruled through subjugation and false security. Christ invites us into his radical peace, and it is not peace of passivity or of resignation. It is an active peace that reaches out in the midst of fear and violence and says, “I see Christ’s presence in you. I extend Jesus to you. I have chosen to give my life for your well-being.”

The later news that the report of an active shooter had been hoax does not change the poignancy of our passing the peace nor the world’s need for our witness. We still live in a profoundly broken world. We live in a world where, as my colleague Alexa points out, it was reasonable and likely for us to believe that someone had obtained a gun, shot their girlfriend, and intended to do further harm with it.  We live in a world where others have had to go through a similar experience, whether hiding in their schools from a gun or in their neighborhoods from a bomb.  We live in a world where violence is a punchline.

For all these reasons and more, Christ continues to call us to give our lives for the cause of peace that passes all understanding. Perhaps that is why we pass the peace every Sunday – to turn this ancient liturgy into muscle memory, so that our practice of peace will always be stronger than the world’s way of violence.

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Saint Brigid’s Feast

Today is the feast of Saint Brigid, an Irish leader and legend whom I have claimed as my own patron saint. She shares a name with the Gaelic mother goddess and a feast day with the Celtic festival of Imbolc, a day to celebrate spring’s first stirrings in the belly. She was said to be born in the threshold of a door and indeed has bridged the Celtic and Christian traditions. She was born on February 1 as both the daughter of a slave and a nobleman, and as she grew, she was known for her generous compassion for the poor. Once she was granted her freedom, she founded a double monastery at Kildare, where she began not only a farm and a convent, but also schools for metallurgy and script illumination. The story goes that when she asked for land to build her abbey, the King of Leinster grudgingly said she could have whatever land could be covered by her cloak. So she had her friends take a corner each of her cloak, and it miraculously expanded to cover the whole tract of land she desired, which included an oak grove and a holy well. This has led to the practice of laying out a piece of cloth on the eve of her feast day to receive blessing.

Image result for saint brigidSaint Brigid’s cross, which has been used as a symbol of protection in Ireland, was said to have been created when she calmly wove reeds at the bedside of a dying pagan king. When he asked what it was, she used the cross to convert him to belief in Christ. Echoing elements of the pagan legends, she is said to have lit a sacred fire at her monastery which was never to be put out. She is the patron saint of dairymaids and metallurgists, of midwives and scholars, of thresholds and of fire and of Ireland itself.

I wrote these hymn lyrics last year during my celebration of the feast.


 

Sung to the tune LAND OF REST (The Faith We Sing 2241)

We celebrate on Brigid’s day

a feast to call the spring.

We wait with hearts flung open wide

for stirrings change will bring.

 

We spread a cloth to claim a space

where healing waters flow;

we spark a fire to kindle hope

for light and warmth to grow.

 

We stand between the old and new,

the thresholds of our days.

We learn to love the in between,

to walk in Brigid’s ways.

Of Music and Mochi

Despite the wind’s wintery bite, Wednesday was a day of hygge (that newly ubiquitous Danish word), permeated by an inner sense of coziness and capped with little moments of happiness.

One of my favorite parts, appropriately, was listening to an album by a group called the Danish String Quartet. I first came across their music in NPR’s Tiny Desk concert series, and in a break from the quartet’s usual classical fare, they played their own arrangements of Danish folk songs. I fell in love. And then I did somersaults of joy when I discovered they had not one but two albums of such musical bliss.

As I was driving home from work Wednesday, I had their album Last Leaf blasting (can one blast string quartet folk music?) and I watched the pink sky mellow into dusk. (I also watched the road, of course, so don’t worry.) The track “Shine You No More,” which I have heard innumerable times now, blew me away once again and set my feet itching to dance. I heard in the “Unst Boat Song” the sorrow and joy and longing of 100 lives, and it invites you to write your own experiences into the music, too, whatever they are that day.

Music like this buoys my spirit when gray January settles in. It reminds me of the life that pulses even in the quietest moments and celebrates the softness and introspection of winter.

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Before I tell this next vignette, I have to share a secret, burgeoning desire I’ve harbored for the last several years: I really, really wanted to try mochi ice cream, the sweet cream and rice-cake frozen treat invented in Japan and made popular in the States in recent years. However, as someone who is sensitive to milk and always has been and probably always will be, I assumed that tasting this delight would forever be beyond my reach. Vegan ice cream there may be, but vegan mochi? It seemed unlikely. When I would see freezers of mochi  in the grocery isle and hear them calling my name, I would sadly turn away and inwardly bemoan my dairy-free fate.

So you can imagine my delight when my roommate Jess informed me in passing that not only was there vegan mochi, but it came in GREEN TEA FLAVOR, which was, just as secretly, the flavor I had always wanted to try. So I bought some on my way home, practically bouncing gleefully through the grocery store isles.

After dinner, I opened up the freezer to inaugurate the beginning of a beautiful mochi-filled life and have some for desert. I invited Jess to try one with me, and before we ate, she bumped her mochi to mine as if we were clinking champaign glasses. I took my first bite.

Reader, it was heavenly. It was everything I could ask for and more.

The world is often a frightening, overwhelming place, and we have so much work we are called to do. Small joys like music and mochi cannot change these facts, but they can help gird us through our fallow, restful months and teach us to keep wondering at the world.

“No, you may not hold my hand, Philip!” And Other Things I Was Too Afraid to Say (Or #YesAllWomen, #NotOkay, and #MeToo)

Phrase #1 “Those boys are bothering me.”

When I was in 1st grade, I rode a county bus that picked up students from kindergarten to 12th grade. My seat was the third on the left, and I shared it with my friend Staci. At some point during the year, some troublemaker middle-schoolers were moved to the very front seat where our bus driver could keep an eye on them. Because of the mirror directly above the driver’s seat, these boys could also keep an eye on me, and, though I’m not entirely sure why, they decided that their newest diversion would be tormenting me from several seats ahead. “Little girl, little girl …” they would begin in mock-high voices as soon as I had claimed my seat on the bus, ogling at me through the mirror. “Look in the mirror, little girl.” I suppose they wanted me to look in the mirror because it was, under the observation of the bus driver, the only way they could exert their control and superiority over me. To this day, I wish I had cheesily smiled up at them through the mirror and then shrugged—that I had somehow shown that they didn’t have the power to make me feel small. But they did have that power. Instead, I hung my head and stared at my feet, refusing to look even remotely in the mirror’s direction. The bus driver asked me once if they were bothering me, but I didn’t want to be a problem. And if she had to ask, I wasn’t sure she could understand just how much they were bothering me.

Each day, Staci would join me in my seat, I’d mumble to her, “They’re doing it again,” and be grateful for her company. I never told anyone but Staci about it. For some reason I felt embarrassed and guilty about their behavior, as if I was the cause, not the victim.   Until the bus driver finally moved them again, I truly felt like a very small, very powerless “little girl.”

Phrase #2 “You are very kind, but I’ve really spent about as much time with you as I can manage.”

It was my freshman year of college, my first year of adulthood, and my first real foray into the world of dates and rejecting them properly. I can’t be sure Jeremiah was asking me out, but I do believe he was trying. I don’t remember if this was before or after the time he awkwardly stood in my room engaging me in conversation while I waited for him to leave, or before or after the time I literally had to kick him out of my room because it was past dorm visiting hours. But he asked to eat dinner with me, and I told him that I was busy that night—instead of, as was called for in each situation, saying, “You really are very kind, but you can’t take a hint. I’m done now. I’ve really spent about as much time with you as I can manage. Please leave me alone.” He meant no harm, but his obliviousness to my body language and even my verbal language erased my own desires, and if he didn’t understand these boundaries, what other boundaries could he cross? I was afraid that outright rejection would leave me exposed. So I gave an excuse and hoped he wouldn’t feel cheated out of something I owed him.

Phrase #3 “You think you’re being clever, but actually you are living into a misogynist narrative that does not become you.”

I was writing a paper—probably for my Philosophy of Gender class—about the stereotype of the over-emotional woman or some similar thing. I first decided to write the paper because of an exchange with a male friend in which, after expressing incredulity that I get in bad moods, he said finally, “Oh, well, of course you have bad moods; you’re a woman.” That, it seemed, explained everything.

Whenever I brought up the paper topic with my male friends, they would typically respond with a quip like, “the stereotype?!?” Of course implying that the over-emotional woman was no stereotype at all but verifiable fact. I would simply grimace and move on, but I used their responses as fodder for my paper. It was always disconcerting, though; my otherwise kind, enlightened, respectful male friends had no difficulty perpetuating the idea that women are more emotional than men and that this emotion is something problematic. I felt angry and dismissed, but also sad. They were stunting me, yes, but also themselves.

Phrase #4 “Our mutual existence in physical space does not give you ownership over my body!!!!”

So I probably wouldn’t have shouted that exact phrase. And perhaps it should have been expletive-laden for extra effect.

I was in Berlin, slightly jet-lagged and mildly culture-shocked, walking down a sidewalk at dusk. My two female companions and I were attempting to take up only the polite amount of sidewalk, but it was difficult with the myriad outdoor seating, recycling bins, and ornamental trees that shared the walkways. Some young men came whizzing from behind on their bikes, passing us on the left. One of them reached out and slapped my rear as he sped by. I didn’t say anything—not to the swiftly speeding boys, not to my companions, not to anyone, ever. I immediately assumed that I had been in the wrong in some way—that I’d been taking up too much of the sidewalk or walking on the wrong side. Somehow I convinced myself that my actions gave a random stranger the right to touch me. Even if I had been doing something problematic, which I wasn’t (sidewalks are for walking and roads are for biking, friends), my body and the space it inhabits is still my own. I wasn’t the one transgressing boundaries—the young man was. But it’s taken me a decade to come to that conclusion; so many other voices suggested otherwise.

Phrase #5 “No, you may not hold my hand, Philip!”

I was once again in Europe, this time in Paris, taking in the sights on a solo journey. One sunny afternoon, I walked down the Champs Elysee toward the Louvre, intent on getting in line for the museum’s weekly free evening. As I shuffled up a pair of steps, someone spoke to me, in French, and I responded, in my best but broken French, that I did not, in fact, speak French. The gentleman then switched to English, asking an innocuous question about where I had gotten my shoes. It seemed like such an innocent and normal question, and the conversation that followed was in the same normal-sounding vein.

It wasn’t until we got closer to the Louvre that things began to feel “off” with my new acquaintance Philip. His questions were more prying, his tone was more insistent. He invited me to come with him on a tour of the city. Internally I said, “Hell, no,” and externally I politely declined. He was persistent, saying I could go the Louvre any old time. I told him I really needed to get in line. He said it was much too early—the museum didn’t open for an hour. I didn’t know how to argue with him; I hadn’t learned how to say phrase #2 yet. For some reason, not offending him was more important than my wellbeing—or, perhaps, not offending him seemed paramount to my wellbeing. I finally agreed to sit with him on a bench in a nearby public courtyard until it was closer to opening time.

As we walked past the growing, snaking line, he grabbed my hand. Everything in me froze; I didn’t want to hold his hand. I didn’t even want to be talking with him. I didn’t want him anywhere near me. But something inside me was paralyzed. Instead of saying “no,” or forcefully—or even gently—extracting my hand, I felt I needed to justify my movement somehow. So I pulled my hand away to open my water bottle. I then kept my hands on my purse.

After we sat on the bench, his sentences and body language became halting, unsure, agitated. He talked for 20 minutes straight about everything and the kitchen sink. I nodded along and tried to summon up the courage to interrupt him. Finally, I told him that it had been lovely talking with him, but I really had to get in that line. He hung his head and said I must not have enjoyed myself if I wanted to leave. I don’t know if he bought my lies, but I had finally had enough. The frustration that might have propelled me to yell out, “You may not hold my hand, Philip!” won out over the politeness that had silently withdrawn my hand, and I said and abrupt goodbye and walked swiftly back the Louvre. My common sense had kept me from doing anything dangerous, but my fear of upsetting Philip kept me from living into my own agency. It felt like a living example of the phrase, “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

Phrase #6 “Why don’t you respect my own authority?”

I got on a Chicago city bus with two other young women connected to the campus ministry I was working for. We sat near the back where there were more seats since we were waiting for two young men to join us. A man we did not know came to the back of the bus and sat among us. He asked us if we had anything to eat and then laughed. He tried to engage us all in rather condescending conversation—we all felt uncomfortable. I rolled my eyes at one of my companions, but I didn’t ask him to leave. I didn’t know what he would do if we asked him to leave.

Finally, our male friends joined us, coming to the back section of seats. The creepy man immediately jumped up and said, “Oh, I didn’t know you were with them.” In his mind, he now saw that we were already claimed by a man, and, because of that other man’s presence, creepy man now had no right to be there. I felt both demeaned and livid. And though I was glad the creepy man left us alone, I wanted him to respect us for ourselves, not for any supposed male authority over us.

Phrase #7 “Stop!”

I actually did say this one.

I was in the Grand Bazaar in Turkey, and we had to enter a tremendous press of people to get through to the other side of the street. It was a pedestrian traffic jam such as I have never seen. Bodies pressed against bodies, everyone trying to push their way through, a whole seething mess of humanity. Suddenly, one of my female travel companions came up to me and said, “Someone just groped my breast.” Her eyes were wide and terrified. I pulled her under my arm and tried to push through faster. Then I felt someone grab and squeeze my own rear end. I whirled around and pushed the person directly behind me. “Stop!” I yelled, not caring if this person spoke English. My tone would speak for me. He didn’t respond in any way, didn’t look at me, just stared at the ground. I was shaking. And I didn’t stop shaking all day.

As a group that night, we all sat together in one of our rooms and talked about what had happened. We talked about sexual assault and sexism, and I felt better for the conversation and discussion. Holding things in had made me feel less vulnerable initially, but sharing the experience eventually made me feel held in my pain and righteous in my anger.

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I am not a timid person. I’ve been told more times than I can count that I am confident, even sometimes intimidating. My parents taught me that being female did not change what I could and could not do. I have surrounded myself with strong, loving, and encouraging people. I generally feel powerful enough to make choices that ensure my own safety. But somehow, in the midst of all this, I absorbed the cultural messages which said that any discomfort, pain, or embarrassment I experience at the hands of a man is my own fault, that to speak up for my own desires is to be too abrasive, and that a man’s agency is more important than my own. I have learned to keep silent, to keep the peace, to keep a man’s pride intact. I have learned to be afraid of using my voice.

I refuse to be afraid any longer. Some of these instances were minor. Some feel more pressing. None were life threatening, at least not in the traditional sense. But all of them threaten my life in that they each contain a moment when my existence was deemed less valuable because it was a female existence. Each experience on its own might not add up to much. But put together, along with countless other micro- and macro-aggressions against women, these moments threaten to silence and dehumanize me. I wish that I had been empowered to speak each of these phrases when the occasion called, but it is my choice now to speak up and speak loudly, until every woman’s voice is freed and heard.

Eating salad during a heart attack

Today was a particularly busy day for me, laden with layers of anxiety and prefaced by a restless sleep. So, as I sipped my jasmine tea this morning, I turned my thoughts to gratitude. I listed the things I was thankful for: the capacity to do the work required of me, a dedicated team of co-workers, helpful and understanding roommates, a fantastic new apartment to move into—I mentally moved through my schedule, thanking God for the aspects of my life that made each part of my day possible. And after just a few more tastes of tea, the miracle happened: I felt better. My stress level fell and my face slipped more naturally into a smile.

I have heard the benefits of gratitude touted by everyone from my mom to the Dalai Lama, and while I believed them, I often thought that maybe I just wasn’t grateful enough. Creating lists of things I was thankful for hasn’t really had an effect on my overall mood, except perhaps to make me feel guilty for feeling bad because look at all these things I have to be thankful for!!!! That is, until this morning.

I could think up a variety of theories to explain why my gratitude list was so helpful today, but a likely candidate is that my depression is the most under control I believe it has ever been in my adult life. Gratitude is often upheld as an important antidote to depression, and while I do believe it is a necessary practice, I don’t know how effective it is against a severe depressive episode.

Practicing gratitude might be a little like eating a nourishing salad—it is undoubtedly beneficial to your health, but it’s not going to do you much good when you’re having a heart attack. Sure, eating a salad during a heart attack probably isn’t going to make things worse, and most assuredly eating a diet rich in nutritious vegetables will contribute to your heart’s overall health. But when you are experiencing the acute distress of a heart attack, you need specialized medical attention before eating a salad will have a noticeable effect on your general wellbeing.

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Now that the acute distress of my severe depression has been lifted through a network of interventions, gratitude can take its full place as a meaningful practice to maintain my mental health. In moments of stress, being thankful releases my being’s innate healing capacity and connects me to God’s renewing presence. I’m glad I practiced gratitude in the midst of my hardest depression—you don’t stop eating salad just because you discover you have a blocked artery, after all. But I’m also delighted that, when my health is strong, being thankful can actually make a marked difference to my experience of the day.

So be ever thankful, my friends. But also be ever mindful of the webs of care you might need to hold you up and help you to flourish. If you’re having a heart attack, don’t beat yourself up because your salad consumption isn’t making a difference. Get the immediate help you need, and then keep eating all the salad you want.

This, too, shall pass

I recently found myself in a bout of happiness.

It was the little-things brand of happiness: when you look at the evergreen outside, you smile. Instead of tiredly avoiding conversation, you get excited to see your friends and acquaintances. You accomplish something, maybe even something small like checking your email without falling down an internet rabbit hole, and you feel truly accomplished. A cup of tea warms more than your body. Soft socks feel soothing. A phone-call with your family leaves you grateful rather than homesick. You dance to music because you feel so good you need to move. You can’t stop smiling. And sometimes, you don’t need a reason at all – you are just happy.

But I’ve got the pronouns wrong – it’s me that’s been feeling this. don’t need a reason at all – I am just happy. What a gift. About halfway through the first day of my first “bout,” when I found myself smiling at the sun coming through my window and laughing because I was so relieved at how easy it was to smile, I said something that may, at first, seem counter-productive or a little cynical. “This, too, shall pass,” I told myself. “This won’t last forever.”

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Usually those are words I reserve for my heaviest moments, the ones that sit on my back and breathe down my neck, or the starkest moments, the ones that suck all the color out of the world and flatten it. “This, too, shall pass,” I say. To give myself hope. “This won’t last forever.” You will make it through to the other side.

But this impermanence is no less true of a smile than it is of a sigh. And while acknowledging that fact may sound defeatist or ungrateful, for me, it was just the opposite.

This, too, shall pass. So don’t worry about holding on and making it last forever. Simply receive the moment as a gift.

This, too, shall pass. Embrace this moment for all it’s worth because it only lasts for a heartbeat.

This, too, shall pass. Because all things pass. Because you are alive – a dynamic being. To live is to breathe in and out, to be happy, to be sad, to love, to hurt, to laugh, to sob, to embrace, to push away.

This, too, shall pass. You are not required to keep yourself locked in this one place, this one experience. You will feel sad again. And that does not mean you will have have failed. It simply means you are alive. You are not required to feel happy indefinitely.

English speakers have been attempting to sort out the difference between “happiness” and “joy” for as long as English has been a language. And people have sought to understand the concepts long before that. Is one a feeling and one a way of being?  Can you have joy without happiness? Happiness without joy? What does it mean to be joyful if you’re not happy? What does joy mean in the first place?

A few weeks ago I was at the Calvin Worship Symposium, attending a seminar called “Prophetic Lament” in which writers and pastors discussed the necessity of lament in our spiritual practices. One panel member, Danjuma Gibson, talked about the tendency to hurry out of spaces of grief and pain. “But I’m not sure that lament is the opposite of joy,” he said. “I see it as a particular embodiment of joy.” He went on to define joy as “the divine, eternal conviction that, no matter what, I am somebody in God’s creation.” For Gibson, joy is confidence in the existence of my relationship to the Creator and God’s good creation, the faith that I am alive and breathing and beloved. Lament, he said, when rooted in this conviction – this faith, this joy – is the choice to make my place in the world known and heard. Heard by God – and heard by myself.

Happiness, with this definition of joy, is actually not so different from lament. Happiness is also the choice to make my place in the world known and heard. Depression tends to take away my capacity to understand my place in the world and to lift up my voice in any kind of meaningful way. It numbs me. The lifting of depression opens my capacity for all kinds of feelings.

When both happiness and lament are rooted in joy, in the faith of my being beloved by God, I don’t have worry about the passing of any particular emotion. These, too, will pass, even as the conviction of my place in God’s creation remains the same. My bout of happiness did come to an end and was replaced with a gloomy, tired couple of days. But the gloomy days ended, too, and I am smiling at small things once again.

And this, too, will pass. But what a gift this being alive thing is.

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Bike!

I’m totally overwhelmed. By what’s happening in our nation, by where it seems to be leading, by the increasing need to step up and act. I am also convinced that in the midst of this fight for justice, we must continue to celebrate the big and small things that bring joy and beauty into our lives. We must re-member, re-constitute, the goodness of God we have experienced in our communities. So I do that today – with this update on my bike.

This past October, after I had the great misfortune of having my bike stolen, I had the great privilege of being supported and held by so many of you all. My Words for Wheels project was an attempt to trade written works for bike-buying funds (and if you have not yet received your written piece – fear not! It is coming!), and it was a rather successful venture, mostly because you all are a fantastic community.

I wanted to get the replacement bike before winter weather set in, so at the beginning of November, I brought home (and subsequently rode endlessly) this beauty:

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May I present Lucy Pevensie, my bicycle extraordinaire.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Death and Life and 2016

I’d been thinking about writing on my depression experience for a long time, but small voices that sit behind my ears would whisper, “People will just think you want attention,” or “Folks will think less of you,” or “You are making this all such a bigger deal than it is.” I am silencing those voices to make room for my own, a voice that is raw and unpolished and a little afraid.

If we had a day for every time someone said 2016 has been a terrible year, we probably could make several new complete years. And in many ways, it has been a spectacularly awful year. The cultural atmosphere the U.S. election produced (or that produced the election) has been poisonous to breathe. We’ve felt helpless in the face of countless injustices: climate change, the war in Syria, systemic racism, etc. Illness has tried to pin down loved ones, and many of my friends have grappled with the death of someone close. I’ve cried about the future of the world during 2016 more than any other time I can remember.

And yet. Without diminishing the devastation and fear and righteous indignation that we feel, I want to note that, for me, personally, 2016 has not been a spectacularly awful year. In fact, it has been a year of miraculous hope and healing.

I’ve been struggling with depression since I was a teenager. It has come and gone over the years, swelling less like a tide and more like a tsunami, creeping up unexpectedly and then suddenly swamping everything, leaving me gasping for air and clutching for something to hold onto.

The summer of 2015 saw my slow decent into the strongest depressive episode I have known. (I touched on my experience briefly in my yogurt post.) At first, I felt numbed to beauty – I couldn’t notice the flickering sunshine on waving leaves anymore. Then, I couldn’t get up the energy to clean, to cook, to eat. I desperately wanted company, but I didn’t have it in me to reach out and connect. Every morning and evening as I lay in bed, it felt like a great weight settled on my chest, a weight that pressed at every loss and pain I’d ever experienced and pushed at the cracks until rivers of tears broke through. I felt like I was viewing the world through a pane of glass, never able to participate, never able to shake the endless fatigue, never able to come fully alive. I saw little hope for the future—for my own life or for the planet as a whole.

At the beginning of 2016, things had gone from bad to worse. Some nights I would be seized by an overwhelming terror. Lying on my bed and staring at the dark ceiling, I would stuff my hands into my mouth to keep from screaming, my body both shaken by silent tears and paralyzed by the gripping fear that, if I moved one inch, I would do something rash about the persistent thought that my life was just not worth living anymore. I felt like a deep pit was sucking the bones from my body, was draining me dry, was emptying me of everything good and beautiful. I wasn’t sure I had the energy to fight it.

But I couldn’t find the words to say anything to those I loved; I didn’t know how to ask for help. I believed those little voices that told me if I spoke up I would be a problem, a burden, an annoyance, an attention-seeking fraud. My worth was tied to my productivity and to my outward positive attitude, and with everything inside myself crumbling down, I worked to keep those outer walls propped up as long as I could.

When I began taking medication, it took off some of the edge, but it brought with it the side-effect of a crippling anxiety, a can’t-catch-my-breath worry that shellacked and veneered the deep existential fear already sitting in my middle. I kept trying everything I knew that was supposed to help. But still the foggy days wore on, and I thought this might be how I would live the rest of my life. I alternately railed at God for letting this disease take control of my life and begged God to release me from its hold.

I’m not exactly sure what it was that brought about the change. Winter ended. That always helps, at least a little. I had my medication changed. I stopped eating sugar for a while. I finished my last full-time graduate school semester, and the unrelenting pace of the previous years slowed. I moved into the neighborhood where my faith community was. All the stars aligned, and the fear that life would always be a battle against the gravity of a black hole slowly receded. Hope grew like a dandelion in a sidewalk crack—not beautiful, not lush or fragrant, but miraculous all the same.

In the past months, I have felt myself come back to life. I have laughed genuinely with friends. I have danced to music across my apartment for no other reason than I wanted to. I have reveled in the beauty of a distant mountain and of a tiny leaf. I’ve made yogurt and cookies. I’ve biked across the city breathing encouraging words to my working muscles. I’ve cried for a while and then felt a little better and lighter when I finished. I’ve made things with my hands and cooked real meals for my body. I’ve imagined a future for myself. Or futures. The paths are wide.

I am ending 2016 miles away from where I began it. I am still afraid, but not of myself. I am still grieving losses, but not without experiences of small joys and celebrations. I am still worried about the future, both personal and global, but (most days) I feel empowered to participate in it and not just let it happen. I still get lonely and homesick and unsure, but I am learning to shatter the walls I’ve built around myself and to recognize that, at the very least, we can all be lonely and homesick and unsure together. I still get angry at God for things that have happened, but every time I yell and rail I am a little more assured that God is open enough to hold whatever I hand Her.

So as 2016 looks to be ending with little hope, I offer this small, personal story of redemption. The change was not instantaneous. It wasn’t something I could entirely control. And it is not complete. Which is, perhaps, the biggest miracle: I am unfinished and growing. I end this year dynamically and vibrantly alive, even in my saddest moments, and where there is life, there is hope. My personal experience certainly doesn’t change the enormity of the challenges we face walking into 2017. But maybe my story can give you strength for the journey ahead—because we are alive. We are a whole garden of dandelions cracking the sidewalk, and we don’t enter this new year alone.

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Partners in Prayer

Are you looking for an Advent study that takes seriously the call to “prepare the way” for God’s justice and reign on earth? In this year’s “Partners in Prayer” devotional, young Christian leaders from various backgrounds and walks of life write about the future that is emerging in this generation and the incarnation of God’s presence in the marginalized places of our world. I had the honor of editing and writing for this devotional during the last Advent season, and its stories, reflections, and prayers reveal the transformative, justice-seeking hope of Jesus’ coming.

Find the devotional here.

Let Justice Roll Down!

Today at seminary we are doing service of sending for those going to North Dakota and prayer for justice for the situation there.  I wrote this litany for our worship time together, drawing on Joel 2, Amos 5, and Isaiah 35.

Blow the trumpet at Standing Rock!

Sound the alarm on God’s holy prairie!

Let justice roll down like waters!

Let righteousness flow like an ever-living stream!

God stands against the dark, greedy snake of the pipeline,

God stands with those who protect the waterways.

Let justice roll down like waters!

For those who live on the Standing Rock reservation,

And for all native lives who have been dismissed and erased,

We pray for strengthened hearts and voices

And release from oppression.

Let justice roll down like waters!

For those who stand at the front lines,

Who put their bodies between greed and life,

We pray for warmth and light,

For protection and power.

Let justice roll down like waters!

For those from among us who leave today,

Who go to stand beside the water protectors,

We pray for a spirit of wonder

And a witness of truth.

Let justice roll down like waters!

For those who send their hearts on the journey

And protect the water from afar,

We pray for creative vision

And empowered solidarity.

Let justice roll down like waters!

For those who stand behind the pipeline,

For investors and CEO’s and law enforcement,

We pray for the in-breaking of your Holy Spirit

And a repentance that leads to abundant life for all your Creation.

Let justice roll down like waters!

God our Living Water,

Strengthen the weak hands,

And make firm the feeble knees.

Say to those who are of a fearful heart,

“Be strong, do not fear!”

Let justice roll down like waters!

With singing and shouts of joy,

Set us on your Holy Way.

Pour out your Spirit on all flesh,

And teach us to dream of your reign together.

Let justice roll down like waters!

And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream!

And all God’s people said: Amen.