When A Community Has Cancer

photoHere I am.

And I’ve been real quiet haven’t I?

I’ve been real quiet because I’ve been real hurting and I haven’t known how to quantify the real pain into real words. Because she called me on a Saturday when the biggest winter blizzard in decades was blowing over our heads and through her intuitive tears told me she had found a lump in her breast. And just like that my heart fell down to the floor because this is the girl whose soul is stitched into my rib bones and we share every little atom of life – raising our boys side-by-side, telling each other secrets, supporting and struggling and sticking together in spite of all the things that life can hurl at a person and when she gets scared? My God, if I don’t know the feeling like it’s manifesting right inside my own skin. So we prayed together across phone wires, saying the “please God, no” and hanging onto hope for benign, taking deep breaths like we were starving for them.

But, something in her must’ve known.

Yes, I think she knew. Because less then a month, a mammogram and biopsy later that mass she felt in her breast was cancer, additionally tested and found “aggressive”. She’s only 36 and it hurts so big for me to witness this. All I want is for her to get over here and pour out her pain into my hands so I can press it against my chest and run all the way to the far side of the earth, throw that hurt off the edge and watch it plummet headlong towards some bottomless abyss. But that is just my imagination talking and I’m left with a slow walk back to reality and that thing I wanted to fling is a lead burden filling up my limbs, making me be heavy all over. A part of me feels like it would be easier to go through cancer myself then watch how this fire will make her burn. I would do it, you know. I would absorb every microscopic bit of disease to spare her the months of agony – chemo, surgery, radiation and the whole sweeping panorama of side effects. Lord knows I can’t do that. But she did give us the key to her surviving and thriving when 30 of us circled around her as a community to lay prayer-hands on her face and hair and neck and spine and arms and fingers and blue jeans – we covered all the spaces and couldn’t get close enough this time and we told her that for better of for worse *WE* have cancer and it’s an honor and privilege to be trusted with her daily care. We’re gonna stick our fingers in her veins and tie our blood tighter together and just you wait and watch what we can do because we’re standing arm in arm like a ferocious and united human shield around her body. Watch us wear her burden on our backs and stare down this death-maker duel-style while we move and rhythm ourselves all the way in the opposite spirit of it. And by “opposite spirit”, I mean: as a people we’re gonna show this disease what it really means to be alive.

photoAlso: I want you to know something else about this lady; what kind of woman she is and why I wish you could look at her in the midst of the mess and sorrow. Because I’ve never known anyone who digs into life deeper so she can stand taller and reach higher and spread her arms and heart wider and every tough situation I’ve seen her go through? Well, she has just come out so shining, with Kingdom glory on her face and wisdom beaming from stem to stern and compassion extending to the tips of all her digits. And before she ever knew she had cancer, the Spirit whispered the word JOY over her year, told her it would be the lens by which she would see anything in the coming days (how timely and crazy is that?) and my own ears have heard the words from her lips again and again these past weeks: “I choose JOY”.

Would you pray with us? Maybe just a tiny inhale and exhale filled with good and God-full intention would be enough on your part. Or, more then just that if you are so inclined. Her name is Jen, but we know her as Liberty . . . So maybe your prayer could be for her freedom from all this some day.

 

I Am An Alchemist

Screen shot 2013-03-03 at 10.43.36 PMPsst . . . Would you harness all your extra energetic atoms and come close in here for a moment? I want to tell you a special little something . . .

For 32 years I’ve been walking around the sun and with every turn about the calendar I’ve learned that I’m unfurling into more of who I was born to be; discovering dots, connecting threads, sketching ideas, chasing the Spirit around all the places so I can ask him all the questions all the time – just for the joy of scribbling what I hear on the scratchpad of my soul and I’m sure I get to keep all the whispered secrets harbored safe within me for at least (or no less then) eternity.

Get this: I’m still learning new things about myself and some might find this strange and others entirely refreshing, but lately I’ve been rolling the air between the tips of my fingers just so I can touch what nothing-molecules feel like. I’m every which way bent on not missing a single ordinary thing because I recently discovered that I am, by nature, an alchemist.

What’s that you say?

Alchemist: A person who uses any magical power or process of transmuting a common substance, usually of little value, into a substance of great value.

Screen shot 2013-03-03 at 10.44.41 PMHmmm . . . I wonder WHO the original alchemist was and is and is to come? You must know that I’m thinking now of that long ago dust-spread being woven and shaped into humanity by the magical breath of The Great Alchemist. And I’m thinking of every redemption story I’ve ever heard and all the tales of burned-down ashes turning towards raised-up beauty because that one true Alchemist spoke the magic-wielding words of value and love. I just can’t escape this urge to be under the tutelage of such wonder. So, I touch the air with the flesh of my hands and imagine it’s worth so much more then I often remember, this element I take for granted just as often as my next breath.

Alchemy, I think, is nothing if not the noticing of the practically un-noticeable. And by practicing noticement, the magic of value and love is infused into the most common of substances until they become, to the beholder, a substance of great value. Glory be! Who knew you could get giddy like this and watch the daily drudgery and typical times go by, rich and filled full with amazement.

Screen shot 2013-03-03 at 10.44.08 PMIn related news, I wrote this prayer in my journal a few weeks back and it speaks volumes of the place God has seduced me to: “A quiet and reverent good morning I would speak to You now . . . with rest and love and fullness in my heart. I’m breathing You in like a mystic, slowing all my molecules to look like miracles. They are miracles and I would remember today that You are holy and wholly, absolutely other. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear and a heart to understand just one or two unfathomable mysteries . . . Would You let me touch the connections between this world and Your pulsing beat? Related: I want to drink You, every bit that I can. Is that possible? To sink into the celestial abyss? Right here in all my ordinary days? By the way, I love . . . I LOVE my ordinary days. You have built me for this, changed me to reflect the mysticism of the mundane and I am grateful, but more so: content. I am content. My God. Miracles never cease. Picking up scattered scraps of paper, filling a million cups with milk, doing the kitchen dance over a pot of simmering soup . . . I am content and AMEN I say to that.”

Now you know a little something more about the heart that beats inside my body and next time I go about making God-seed declarations, I’m gonna tell you why I am, by nature, also an anthropologist. In the meantime, I was wondering (and it would rock my world) if you wouldn’t mind sharing with me something about yourself? It could be a photo or a paragraph or a prayer or a link to a blog post – anything! What is something you are - regardless of whether you’ve been validated by man or certified by any institution? The anthropologist in me longs to know the inherent you and desires to see how we all intersect and connect in this beautiful interlocking circle of Kingdom contribution.

When A Cross-Dresser Meets An Off-Key Kumbayah

Screen shot 2013-02-17 at 12.02.08 AMI quit all service-related activities this past summer when I burned out.

And I haven’t been back at them since.

But the thing is, when you go too long with your heart-values being unrequited, something different—but equally damaging—happens: your heart starts to choke on your own values because they just keep sitting there, stacking up inside you.

Until they come so high you can nearly taste them crawling inch by inch up the back of your throat, suffocating you for their need to be released.

So it was no surprise to walk into Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry at butt-early o’clock on Saturday and feel like I could breathe again. I had come home. Home, I tell you. A place so familiar I can smell it in my sleep, with sounds and sights cascading dreamily through me like a favorite childhood memory – maybe the one where I sit on the counter in our growing-up kitchen, sneaking dough and keeping my mama company while she makes my favorite cookies. Comfort, contentment, intimacy, warmth down to my little white feet, that’s what flooded over my body when I travelled across the threshold of that church-basement pantry.

I’ve said it before and I’ll I say it again: there is never a greater sense of belonging then in this space, where my soul is catapulted to the center of an unwashed, undignified sea of quirky people. I love the loud-mouths, the misfits, the skin colors and wrinkle patterns. I love the offending scents, bad language and indecent behavior. I love the spectrum and volume of energy buzzing and pinging from wall to wall, the graceless chaos of pushing and shoving. I love the reluctant acceptance and show of community. I love the joy that still comes when someone starts yelling at me because I can’t understand the name he mumbles at the registration table. All this—even much more—and I feel like I’m the opportunist who found herself in heaven because she already chose to die.

Jay-Z and Kanye were wrong, you know. There IS church in the wild and I find it every time I’m there in that jungle of battered humanity, where I am chief of all the rabble-ish creatures. But, for absolutely dead damn certain the finest part of the whole [rethink] church service that morning was the moment when a lively cross-dressed man (complete with giant gold hoop earrings) flaunted in and started serenading the crowd at the very height of his off-key lungs. Round and around and around he would weave himself slowly through all the food-seeking bodies with an open hymn book in hand, singing song after song. He was so LOUD y’all, but in my estimation this man seemed like he represented The Glue that stuck all us kids together that day . . . not only did his off-color character invite you to come just as you are with all the strangeness and skeletons you stand up under, but because the first song he belted forth was none other then Kumbayah – the tune “originally associated with human and spiritual unity, closeness and compassion”. The whole eccentric event made me want to whoop and dance and grin as wide as the lousy limitations of my face would allow. And my spirit was so stretched with colliding and ricocheting sensations, the feeling you might have when something shamelessly pure and indescribably right and incandescently beautiful rises from an unseen place and expands your chest with all the good things. Bursting, I have heard it called before.

I am bursting. And all the craziness and Kumbayah singing doesn’t stop me from pausing within the bedlam just to inhale him, my Jesus. Pausing and breathing and shutting my eyes for only a moment and I can see his figure moving around the earthbound bodies in that fluid way – touching shoulders, bathing feet, bending close for every hug, delivering that celestial-sized smile he’s famous for . . . You see? The reason I go is selfish, really. I just want to be close to Jesus and remember who he is [especially] during this Lent season. Not only is he all over every person I smell and touch and serve, but his Spirit is also whorling between every piece of food and flesh. I mean, you literally and certainly CAN’T miss him. Of all the reasons for dragging my arse out of bed on a Saturday morning, that one is the absolute best.

{Image: SOURCE}

What Makes Me Insane

Screen shot 2013-02-04 at 1.59.33 PMDo you know what I would like to will tell you today? I would like to will tell you that my heart [literally] burns a [metaphorical] hole right through my chest in reckless response to all the pressing and painful needs scarring our globe (I wish to God I could be a part of relieving every single one). I can’t watch the news because whatever affliction my little eyes see and whatever sorrow my little ears hear always ends up with my little spirit getting ground down to powder, my little arms feeling bereft, my little love going unrequited, my peaceful little home seeming like too great a gift for me to bear and  . . . etc. etc.

We saw Les Miserable and I poured like a full-on faucet afterward, closing my shaking-self in our bathroom with “I Dreamed A Dream” on my headphones, desperately sobbing for hours. It isn’t hard for me to go to the shadow spots of any city whenever I close the lids on my soul-windows. Or slip inside the skin of a 10-year-old slave girl and feel at least a fragment of her fractures. But this time I swear to you that the whole oppressed and hurting world was wrapped around my body and crying for help right in the crook of my neck and I just had this burden that wouldn’t let go until my emotional reservoir had totally dried up of all the tears and all the prayers it had to give. The whole torrential episode felt like a Hoover-size dam had broken through and flooded every one of my arteries and atoms – very exhausting and un-civilized. Not to mention the groaning and keening that I worked so hard to keep behind my clenched teeth. I kept thinking that I couldn’t let this barbaric sound out of my throat because Lord knows how thin our old walls are and how close the neighbors live and the last thing I needed was for next-door Jimmy to think I was a premium candidate for the insane asylum. I would do anything sometimes for a piece of land big enough where no one else on the earth could hear what sounds want to come rushing from me. I would go out to that land and yell my lungs out against whatever sky happened to be hung up in the atmosphere that day. Seriously, that’s what my prayers look like sometimes – like someone has lost their freakin’ mind. My kids and my husband are used to it, thank God. Austin tells me it’s one of his favorite things about me, which is another way of saying that I married exactly the right person to compliment who I was made to be.

Please, someone tell me that God also made them this kind of “special”? Anyone else have a heart knit inside them that is just too big for their britches, let alone their bodies?

Anyone?

This passionate nature makes me shiver sometimes, but no matter how hard I try? I can’t stop feeling the way I do. Nor can I hide from it, regardless of the vulnerability that manifests on the inside or the embarrassment that flushes my skin on the outside. When I stop being me, the bad guy eats my soul for an early afternoon snack.

(And now that I’ve exposed myself, just like . . . affirm me or something, okay? :))

All that to say: Several weeks ago the Mr. and I watched  a movie from our “Instant Play” list on Netflix titled The Whistleblower, starring Rachel Weisz and Monica Bellucci. The movie documents the true story of a lady cop from Lincoln, Nebraska who took a job with the United Nations International Police in post-war Bosnia. During her time there as a peacekeeper she unintentionally uncovers a wide-scale sex slavery trafficking ring – only then to learn that most of her male colleagues at the U.N. were complicit in the trade. They, in turn, threaten her every which way to Sunday as a way of scaring her into keeping a lid on their illicit activities. She – fierce woman, hear her roar! – chooses to air her findings regardless of all the warnings and blackmail, even survives a number of death attempts while trying to get her information to the someone with enough authority to shut down the flesh-buying insanity. She loses her job, but was still able to get her evidence to the BBC, who consequently went public with the information.
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What I didn’t tell you about the movie was how horrifying it was. Dark. Dirty. Brutal. Maybe if we had discerned from the preview that the depiction of this story was going to be so violently graphic in nature – enough to make me physically ill – we would have opted against it? Either way, let me tell you something:

I’ve been intimately acquainted with the anti-slavery conversation for the past 13 years. One of my closest friends co-founded LOVE146. I am not unaware of the tales of tragedy (and triumph). This movie wasn’t telling me something I hadn’t already heard about in some form or fashion. And yet, I crawled my broken heart into our safe and cozy bed that night like I discovered this atrocity for the first time, again. Weeping all over the IKEA sheets and overwhelmed down to my middle-class toes by the anguish in this world (a world where slavery is illegal in every country, but has more people “owned” then any other period of history), I dropped my forehead to Austin’s shoulder and we prayed together and the tear-filled words that left my heart were simple and fervent: “God, if there is one more thing I can do to help? Show me.”

When a weight comes, I have learned the sustainable power of offering myself to do just “one more thing”. Sometimes “one more thing” is praying until the heaviness lifts. Sometimes “one more thing” is starting a movement. Sometimes “one more thing” is sharing more of the resources we have. Sometimes “one more thing” is:

The very next morning I woke up to a Facebook message from my friend Laura Parker asking me if I would be interested in “blogging for abolition” on behalf of their non-profit, The Exodus Road - an organization that fights modern day slavery.

Let me tell you that I barely thought once before saying “YES”. Because what better way could I spend my free time? I can’t pound the pavement or storm SE Asia at the moment (although, in my imagination I’m always the girl drop-kicking all the bad guys and rescuing all the every-bodies that need freeing). There’s not a lot I can do besides give money, beat the sky with my prayers and use my words. Formerly, I was mostly active with the first two. And now, here I am asking you if you would you take a long, good look at The Exodus Road? Watch their videos and read their blog? Get to know their grassroots-kind-of-hearts? Maybe getting involved in their movement through time, money, prayers (or some other creative way) can be a “one more thing” for you, too? If everybody in the entire free world did just one more thing, I wonder . . .

Also, you can follow them on Facebook HERE.

 

Photo Source : Annah Kaden

What I Know [And Don't Know] About Hell

Screen shot 2013-01-03 at 10.46.02 AMLet me tell you what I don’t know about hell:

I don’t know if this hell the Good Book tells us about is a literal place or a metaphorical mystery; an eternal torment or temporal purgatory. I don’t know if there will be blackness and brimstone, flesh-eating flames, teeth-gnashing, weeping or loneliness big enough to block every kind of light. I don’t know if it’s none of those things at all, or something totally other and unfathomable. You won’t see me stomping my foot down or dying on a hill of hell-certainty. I am okay with not knowing or “landing” because I believe unequivocally in God’s goodness (mercy and justice). How that ends up being defined, I can’t imagine from within the confines of my finite mind. So, can I gently ask you to spare me your scriptures? I revere, honor and take each one very seriously, but I’ve already pondered every hell-related text you could speak my way. And I’ve heard the verse-backed-arguments for and against this point-of-hell-view or that point-of-hell-view and neither is the actual point I’m looking for. Because anyone can reinforce their arguments with carefully selected Bible-lines, hmm? And additionally claim that God directly confirmed their beliefs through the Spirit during last Sunday’s quiet-time – an old Christian trick, often used for the purpose of proving ourselves “right” about something.

(This isn’t to say that I don’t have my leanings or understandings or [indefinite] beliefs about life on the other side of the grave for the [un]believer, cause I do. But that is for another post perhaps . . . or, not. Because I just said that wasn’t the point for me, eh?)

Let me tell you what I do know about hell . . .

It’s getting hot over at Deeper Story where this post continues! Join me there?!

 

{image VIA weheartit}