give me the courage to not look away

I’m reeling, still, from the attack in Orlando this past weekend. I’m watching my friends try to process and somehow respond what happened on my Facebook feed, freshly heart-broken at so many posts. It has been especially hard to see the responses from my LGBTQ friends, for whom this attack is so deeply personal. I mourn with them from the outside, and I wish I could do something to make it better, something to help. I wish that I could write something powerful enough to shift the tide of discourse here and around the world so that we–as a global, inter-religious community–no longer say the words that breed the hate and violence. But all I can do is grieve and cast out my small voice and hope that it means something to someone, somewhere.

This is how I always feel in these moments when the ongoing crises of our time reach a fever pitch and burst out in violence. I struggle to process. I don’t know what to do. Everything seems so hopeless, and no one has any answers–no answers for why, no answers for what to change to make things better. I don’t have any answers. These days, it seems like massive outbreaks of violence happen so frequently that we have become inured to it. We shake our heads, we whisper a prayer, and then we turn away. It is at once too horrible to watch and too common to keep our attention.

In these moments, I have found myself uttering a simple prayer: Lord, make me brave enough not to look away. I whisper it to myself when my newsfeed fills up with images of violence, devastation, and death, when the pain of others threatens to upend my own comfort. I don’t want to read the stories of Syrian refugees around the world. I don’t want to see the faces of victims of police brutality. I don’t want to see the weeping families and friends of the Pulse victims. I want to turn it off, to look away because it is uncomfortable and disquieting.

But I have come to believe that we need to be uncomfortable in these moments. There is, I think, something both deeply human and intensely sacred about allowing someone else’s suffering to enter in. To carry another person’s (or people’s) pain in your heart, to grasp onto whatever small corner of that burden you can hold and share in carrying it, to allow yourself to be changed by it, to remember–I’m not sure that there is anything we do that is more holy than this.

In a country that is obsessed with individualism and in a political atmosphere in which we eagerly lob the rhetoric of “us versus them” like hand grenades at an enemy camp, this is what radical love looks like. This is what peacemaking looks like. We bear witness to one another’s pain. We listen. We share in the burden of suffering. We don’t look away.

Because when we turn away from others’ suffering, we delegitimize it. We say that their pain doesn’t matter because it’s not my pain. We stay comfortable, and that’s a problem because comfort doesn’t prompt us to action. Comfort makes it easy for us to stay out of the fray and let others worry about questions of justice and what should be done to change things.

As I’ve been writing this, I’ve been thinking about the so-called “great commandment,” in which Jesus says to love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22: 36-40). I think we sometimes interpret that second part along the lines of the “golden rule”: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Think about what you want, in other words, and do that for others. That’s a fine rule, but I think when Jesus says to love our neighbors as ourselves, it’s deeper than that. I think it means, at least in part, for us to make space within ourselves to allow the other person in. I think it means to allow another’s pain and suffering to enter in. It means knowing that I am not exempted from shouldering my share of the burden of life and humanity and sorrow and horror, even when it’s not mine. It means not looking away.

Lord, make me brave enough not to look away. Lord make me bold enough to act justly and act for justice in a broken world.

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sacred [electronic] spaces

Lately I’ve been thinking about some electronic spaces that have become sacred spaces for me. There’s a lot of blog posts and publications floating around the internet (perhaps ironically–I often see them posted to Facebook) decrying social media as the downfall of real connections and meaningful relationships. They cite studies that show a decrease in general happiness that corresponds with increased screen time. They remind people that their thousands of Facebook friends and Twitter followers are not really their friends. They admonish people to have real-time, real-life relationships.

They’re not wrong. We all need people that we can spend time with in person. We need friends who we can go do things with. We need people who can encourage us face to face, and laugh with us, and explore with us. That’s all true. Electronically-mediated relationships are not a substitute for local relationships. I can say from experience that they cannot alleviate the slow soul crush of loneliness, or the emptiness of isolation.

But I can also say they make it easier to bear. My first year here in Atlanta, when I felt so desperately lonely and had a hard time forging relationships of any kind, Facebook and text messaging were lifelines for me. It’s hard for me to describe just how much it meant to me every time someone posted on my wall, sent me a message, texted, emailed. Even though I was struggling here, it helped to know that there were people who loved me and cared about me and missed me, even if they were all a thousand miles away. It helps still.

On Facebook, I’m part of a message chain with my four closest friends from college (one is also from high school). We’ve been chatting pretty regularly for a few years now. Every few weeks or so, one of us will pop into the message chain, asking how everyone else is doing and often sharing either a joy or a struggle. Usually a struggle. We encourage each other and pray for each other. We also often lament the fact that we don’t live closer together. But it’s so special for all of us to have this space–imperfect though it is–that is safe and comfortable and bright. These relationships are sacred, and this space that allows us to not just stay in contact but to continue to be a part of each others’ lives in spite of the fact that we all haven’t lived in the same place in about 10 years. These brave, kind, faithful, funny, encouraging women have been making my life better and making me better for my entire adult life, and I will be forever grateful for the electronic space that that keeps them close.

I also have an email chain with a life-long friend (or close enough–we’ve been friends since we were 4). We titled it Code Teal, because when we were in middle school we spend so. many. hours talking on the phone, and mine was a teal cordless that I picked out because I was 12. And since we were 12, everything was a crisis. Now, everything is not a crisis, but Code Teal emails are where we share our struggles with each other and offer our support. It’s the things we would talk about if we lived in the same city and could go grab coffee. But we haven’t lived in the same city since we were 15. We weren’t always close since her family moved away, because back then it was hard to keep track of people. We were still paying for long distance phone calls, for crying out loud, and email was basically a new technology. But Facebook allowed us reconnect as young adults, and now we use email because both of us tend to write at length. Even when we passed notes in middle school, they were several pages long. And again, email isn’t ideal, but it’s a space that I’m grateful for.

I’ve got a couple of friends that I text with regularly too, and those spaces are also sacred to me. Even when it’s just a few words, “The foliage is beautiful today. Wish you were here!” or “How’s you prospectus going? Can I help?” these messages are absolutely priceless to me. Taking the time to remember me and check in, to let me know that I’m loved and not alone. To share with me when they’re having a hard time. It’s beautiful. It’s sacred.

And the truth is that even if I had more friends here than I could handle, none of them would replace a single one of the these women whom I interact with almost exclusively through electronic environments. Social media and other technologies have their drawbacks; there’s no question about that. They’re not ideal, and they’re not perfect, and they’re no substitute for being physically present with people. But they can also be valuable, sacred spaces of meaningful connection and deep, life-sustaining friendships. For that, I am grateful.

hanging in there

I guess I’m writing this more for myself than anyone else, but I felt compelled to publish it here.

I’m having a hard time. Just generally, in life. This has been true for a while now. A little over three years specifically. And one thing that I’ve learned about myself is that it’s difficult for me to admit when I’m having a hard time, and to allow myself to accept that I’m having a hard time. I always catch myself thinking that I have no right to call my life hard when there are so many other people suffering from exponentially worse circumstances than I am. And that is absolutely true. But what is also true is that knowing my hard time isn’t the hardest time possible doesn’t make it stop being hard.

Recently, my gastroenterologist told me that because my illness is caused by stress, I can expect it to continue until I’ve finished school and found a job. On the one hand, that’s not surprising. On the other, though, it is a pretty disappointing prognosis. Not the worst prognosis, of course, but not what I wanted to hear either. And in the weeks since then, I have been having lots of trouble with my appetite. I’m back to eating because I have to, even though I would really rather not.

So I’ve been reflecting on how hard life is with an illness. See, even as I type that, I find myself cringing a little, as if I’m not allowed to recognize that this is an illness, even if I have to see a specialist about it, because it’s not the worst. It’s like I’m not supposed to be having a hard time because I don’t always feel sick, and it doesn’t always disrupt my life in big ways. But it does disrupt my life in a lot of little ways, and that adds up.

Being sick makes everything harder than it should be. Like eating. Eating shouldn’t be hard, but it is. Every meal, every day. I have to find things that I can eat. I have to eat when I don’t want to. I have to keep eating the same meals that I am so tired of because they’re safe. Sometimes I have to deal with problems if I unwittingly eat something I shouldn’t, or if my body decides that something I eat all the time is suddenly not okay. I have to resist the temptation to eat things that I do want but know will mess me up. I have to eat at the right times because even if I don’t have an appetite, it will cause problems if I wait too long. And if I eat too close to bedtime, that’s a problem too.

And exercising is hard. Choosing to exercise when I don’t feel well, when my stomach is upset, when my throat and chest are burning with reflux–that’s not easy. But I also know that if I wait until I feel well, I’ll be almost entirely sedentary.

And sleeping. I’ve always been a terrible sleeper, so I don’t know if this connects to my illness specifically or if it’s just stress and anxiety that are causing problems. But sleeping shouldn’t be hard work. It is for me. The process of getting myself to sleep is often exhausting–just not in the way that leads to a peaceful rest.

It’s emotionally draining, eating and sleeping and keeping going. Add taking care of the dog, keeping the house clean and maintained, working, trying to make do on a tight budget, and having a hard time with my prospectus. I’m struggling. My doctor told me to do what I can to manage my stress. He said (and it was more caring than it might sound) to try not to sweat the small stuff. It’s probably good advice and I’m trying to be more conscious of letting things go. I even downloaded a meditation app to try to redirect my mental state when I’m worked up.

But the trouble is, how do I identify what the small stuff is when everything feels big? When even going to sleep at night is a struggle? When eating a meal is an exercise in self-discipline? I keep trying to find some area of my life that easy, something that doesn’t require any discipline or courage or emotional fortitude to do, and it’s increasingly difficult to find anything that fits that bill. Even the things I do that I consider self-care, things that improve the quality of my life like horseback riding and climbing, even those things aren’t easy. I feel like everything I do costs me something, emotionally or mentally, and I’m running a deficit these days. I’ve forgotten what it feels like to thrive.

What I’ve learned though this, my first experience with chronic illness, or what I am learning, is that sometimes success doesn’t look the way I thought it would. Sometimes success looks like hanging in there. Sometimes courage looks like resignation. Sometimes the best I can expect from myself is to not give up. I’ve learned–and this is terribly hard for me–that the best I can do is a conditional statement; my best three years ago was in many ways better than my best today. And–this is maybe the most important thing–I’ve learned to be kinder to myself and to others, because sometimes doing everything you can doesn’t look very impressive.

Erring on the side of love

A big thing happened this morning. The US Supreme Court ruled that all states must license and recognize same-sex marriage. Many of my friends are celebrating this, some because it means that they will have the right to marry now. And I’m celebrating too.

But I’m also holding my breath and waiting for the backlash to start. I’m waiting for the Christians to speak out in anger, to appeal, to condemn. It’s certainly coming—that (hopefully small) tide of blog posts and articles that will wash over my Facebook newsfeed. I’m battening down the hatches for the ones explaining why marriage should be defined as one man with one woman. The ones proclaiming that Christianity is under attack in this country. The ones that willfully forget that while their target may be a court ruling, the shrapnel of their vitriol wounds real people. I’m prepared for the thoughtless reposts, for the Bible verses proffered with no context or insight, for the logical fallacies, for the trite arguments.

I support the legalization of same-sex marriage because I want this country to live up to its own standards. If we believe in the Constitution, if we believe in the ideals of liberty, autonomy, and especially religious freedom, banning same-sex marriage is wrong. As my brilliant roommate, Grace, argues in a blog post from a few years ago, this is a legal issue in our country, not a moral one. Whether an individual disagrees with homosexuality from a religious or moral perspective is a personal choice, one that should have no bearing on legislation.

But I support the ruling for another reason as well. I support it because I want to be like Jesus. Not the draconian, legalistic, right-wing, politically-conservative Jesus that gets conjured up so often in these sorts of debates. I want to be like the Jesus of the Bible, who loved the sinners and the disenfranchised, who had no condemnation for the woman caught in adultery, whose harsh and difficult words were consistently aimed only at the religious elite. Jesus never said a word about homosexuality, but He said a lot of words about love and caring for our neighbors.

I haven’t spent anytime studying the theology of homosexuality. I know that there are lots of arguments that claim it to be sin, and others argue that it isn’t. Frankly, I don’t really care. It’s not a question I feel like I need to be “right” about. I’m not really sure how to find the “right” answer anyway. The older I get, the more I believe that a life of faith is a life of muddling through. It’s a life of guessing and hoping and crying out for mercy and falling on grace. Of always being off kilter, of always trying but never quite finding balance. Of chasing a mystery over uncertain terrain. We all spend our days working out our own salvation with fear and trembling.

So there’s little that I feel sure about anymore, but the theology of love seems to me unambiguous. I am certain that God deeply, unwavering, unconditionally loves every person in the LGBT community. I am certain that He calls us to love one another deeply, unwaveringly, unconditionally. For me, today, love looks like supporting legislation that reminds us that homosexuality does not negate humanity or forfeit the need for dignity or the right to be recognized as a fully-equal member of society.

I’ve seen the hashtag #lovewins floating around in response to the ruling. But love didn’t win in the courtroom. That was a legal victory. Rationality won. Logic won. Our most dearly-held American values won. To me, love doesn’t win in the courtroom, or even at the altar. Love wins when we remember to love one another as God has loved us. And that’s a self-sacrificial love, the kind that lays aside personal comfort for the sake of another. Whether this ruling is “right” or not, I know that love is never wrong. So if I’m going to err, I’ll err on the side of love.

Smearacha

Blackberries_on_bushThere is an Irish word that means abounding in blackberries: smearacha.

This is one of the things I love about the Irish language; it seems at it’s roots to have a natural poetics. Perhaps this is just my outsider’s perspective. Perhaps all languages seem more poetic than the one that has always been mundane on your own tongue. But Irish seems meant to be beautiful before utilitarian. I have wondered sometimes if this is why Ireland has produced a disproportionate number of excellent writers for such a small place, though I am certain that this is my romantic imagination rather than any real causality.

Smearacha.

I think of this word when summer berries are in season and I buy carton after carton because I cannot get enough of the sweet, sometimes tart burst of juice that means summer. I love all kinds of berries, but blackberries are my favorite, especially when they are perfectly ripe and have a deep, settled, edgeless sweetness. Unlike other, tarter berries, like raspberries, the blackberry softens into ripeness with no need to prove itself by shocking your taste buds. It tastes like shade and cool breezes and lingering twilights dotted by fireflies.

It tastes like Grandmother’s house.

When we were young, Grandmother kept what seemed to me an extravagant garden, bursting with lively green vegetables, tall corn, sprawling squash and melons. And somewhere near what I imagined to be the center was a huge blackberry bush, briared and reaching, nestled into the sandy earth.

In the summer when we would visit, Grandmother would arm my brother and me with tomato-red plastic buckets with slender metal handles—which once had contained a gallon of Gandy’s ice cream—and send us out to the garden with instructions to pick only the ripest berries. So out we would go, our erst-while ice cream buckets swinging in our hands, our bare feet burning in the sun-baked dirt as it squeezed up between our toes and covered us in a layer of West Texas dust. And we would harvest as many of the dark purple berries as we could find, never quite avoiding the briars, occasionally consulting over the ripeness of one, marveling at the size of another, and sampling some of our selections.

But not many, because these berries were meant for better things—homemade jams and cobblers served warm with homemade ice cream (or Gandy’s out of the bright red buckets)! Grandmother always knew the best things to do with our berries, beginning with a bowl of granulated sugar which she would set out on the table. We would roll our berries in the sugar, one at a time, until they were just lightly coated in tiny crystals stained purple from the juice. And then we would pop them into our mouths, sun-ripened and sugar sweetened—better than any candy.

And now every year when they come into season, I buy my blackberries at the grocery store—a poor substitute—and select the best, the most perfectly ripened berry. And as I bite into it, I close my eyes and remember hot summer days and the cool shade from the big tree in Grandmother’s backyard, bottle-fed calves sucking my small hands, walking the narrow rail around Grandmother’s herb garden like a balance beam, the sound of Grandad’s tenor voice leading hymns at church, fresh green beans snapped outside in the long evenings, delicious smells at all times from Grandmother’s kitchen, the sharp tug of briars against my arms, Grandmother’s hands rolling dark berries in a small bowl of glistening white sugar…

A childhood abounding in blackberries.

[Writing this post reminded me of a lovely poem by Seamus Heaney called “Blackberry Picking,” which you can read here.]

Mamaw

My Mamaw died this morning. Peacefully, it seems, and many years later than we expected. She had been in assisted living and then at a nursing home for I forget how many years now, living with dementia. I was never close to her, and my memories of her are split between pleasant and unpleasant. If I had known this word as a child, I would have described her as brusque. When I saw her last in May, she didn’t know who I was or who my mom was, but we expected that.

My Mamaw died this morning and I don’t know how I feel about it. Or how I should feel. The truth is that my life will go on exactly the same as it has the past many years. Nothing has changed. Except that the whole world has shifted a little, or tilted. Like it did last summer when my uncle Max, Mamaw’s oldest son, died. No one told her; she would not have known who he was. In less than a year, the fabric of my life has contracted twice. My family has quietly shrunk.

And I’m in Georgia, a thousand miles away, unsure of how to feel or whether I can afford the time to go home for the funeral, or whether I can afford not to go. I didn’t make it home for Uncle Max this summer, and I have wished often that I could have made a different choice. Either way, life will not wait patiently on pause while I work out how I feel, and what I should feel, and deal with maybe a little guilt over not being able to say with any certainty that I am sad. I still have to grade papers. I still have to prep to teach my class. I still have to read for exams. I still have to show up.

And I don’t know what to say, either. I tried to write a Facebook post, but it seemed weird and wrong somehow to say, “My Mamaw died and I don’t know how to feel.” It seemed impossible to reduce into a status update her moment of passing and my emotional stasis. So I came here instead, I suppose hoping that more words would make things more clear, or easier, or comprehensible, or something. I’m not sure it has.

There are two memories of my Mamaw that I have cherished for years.

The first was after I got my first horse, Tigger. Mom sent Mamaw a photo in the mail, and the next time we came to visit, Tigger’s photo was up on Mamaw’s refrigerator. It wasn’t much, but at that time, nothing in the world was more important to me that that horse, and it meant a lot to me that Mamaw cared about him too. I felt like she was proud of me.

The second happened sometime when I was in college. We were in Midland visiting, and Mamaw was asking me about college. She sat in her floral-upholstered easy chair, the one that had been in the same place in her living room as far back as I could remember, which sat even then next to the empty, gray chair that had been my Grandad’s. She listened to me talk about school. And then she announced that she had gotten a full scholarship to college when she graduated high school, but she didn’t go. “That’s when I met your grandad,” she said. And then, with a faraway look in her eyes and a slight, secretive smile playing at her lips, she quietly declared, “He was my Waterloo.” It was the only time I remember hearing her speak of her youth (she wasn’t much for story-telling), and it was the only glimpse I ever had into her life beyond what I knew of it through my own experience. It felt like a gift. It still does.

And one more memory, from my visit with her in May. My mom and I were talking to her, trying to explain who we were, and my mom said that I had come all the way from Georgia to Texas to see her. She looked at us and said, “I wish I was in Texas.” Mom said, “You are. This nursing home is in Texas,” to which Mamaw simply said, “No.” We let it go and laughed about it later. I’m thinking about that now, as I’m also wishing that I were in Texas and not so very far away from my family.

 

So, about 2014.

So I haven’t blogged in a long time. I’m not sorry. I couldn’t find my way to words that would hold up to how things were going. I couldn’t find the time to try to write. A few times, I thought I had something to say, but then I could never really muster the emotional energy to say them.

But here I am now in the quiet and reflective space between semesters, between years, and I guess it’s time for my grudging annual attempt to sort through the past year and think about the next one. Usually, the effect has been that I remember the past year more fondly, but I don’t think that will be the case this time. I think, though, that the effort will be worthwhile.

To say that this has been a hard year is to be excruciatingly reserved. It feels more accurate to say that it’s been my worst year–ever–although in truth all of my years in Atlanta have been so difficult that it’s hard to pick one out from the tangle and say that it’s worse than the others. You see, this is why I haven’t blogged. Just living this year has been hard enough; trying to transmute my experiences into language and derive some meaning from them was too much.

Melodramatic enough? Well, here’s what this year looked like for me.

2014 was the year that started out numb. Going through the motions. Wondering if I would ever feel passionate about anything again. Wondering if I would ever feel content or happy again, instead of just blank. At the time, I attributed it primarily to burn out (which I wrote about in my last post), which was probably part of it, but I think it was more likely a hold-over from the previous, difficult year and a half. At any rate, I sort of snapped out of that in time for a short breather before the next thing.

Because 2014 was the year that I learned about living with someone dealing with depression. Around the end of April, just as the semester was ending, the bottom fell out for my brave, amazing roommate, Grace. Grace, who made my life so much better when she moved to Atlanta and who has become one of my best friends. Grace has dealt with depression in the past, and although she can recognize now that this particular episode was a slow burn coming on for a while, it blindsided us both at the time. Grace got the meds she needed, and began slowly to recover and heal, but for both of us depression colored the rest of the year in bleak tones.

2014 was also the year of the sleepless summer. Not really sleepless–I did sleep some. But almost every night I had trouble going to sleep and/or woke up around 2:30 and had trouble going back to sleep. Nothing I did seemed to help, even prescription sleep aids. It took me all summer to work out a ritual routine that usually allowed me to go to sleep and stay asleep. Mostly this was due to compounding stress–see the previous paragraph, and add to it trying to read for comprehensive exams and worrying over repairs needed for the house. But then the insomnia added to the stress, and slowed down my ability to read which also increased the stress, so I ended up in a feedback loop of stress that I couldn’t find my way out of.

2014 was also the year my Uncle Max succumbed to cancer, and I couldn’t deal with the stress of unexpected travel and didn’t make it back to Texas for the funeral.

2014 was the year Grace and I road-tripped to Boston, where I promptly developed debilitating nausea on our first day there. To add insult to injury, I was halfway through my glorious and favorite banana-stuffed French toast at Zaftig’s when it started. I couldn’t even finish the dish I had waited a year to enjoy. Worse than that, I couldn’t enjoy my trip, although I had ample opportunity to be so grateful to the Gibsons and Lollars, who graciously hosted us and were so kind. Our last day there, I was well enough to get out and even managed to eat a cannoli. I’m glad we went. I’m glad I got to see a few friends and spend some time in the city I love so dearly. But what I desperately wanted was a time of renewal and refreshment, and instead I got nausea.

Which turned out to be chronic. 2014 was the year in which I spent about three months nauseated most of the time. What happened in Boston was the start of a pattern–4 or 5 days of nausea followed by a day or two of feeling okay, rinse and repeat. Or maybe 2 or 3 days on and one off. It wasn’t really a pattern, exactly, but those okay days would make me think that maybe I didn’t need to see a doctor. It took me about a month to decide that I did, in fact, need to make an appointment. The doc and I both thought that my problem was related to reflux, so I tried a course of Prilosec and a restricted diet. It helped some, but not enough, so the doc referred me to a gastroenterologist who showed mercy and prescribed both a reflux medicine and anti-nausea pills and continuing the restricted diet. He also scheduled an endoscopy, which revealed that I have gastritis, inflamation of the stomach lining–not so bad, really. It should clear up eventually. So 2014 is the year of gastritis.

And so it was also the year of dietary restrictions that make eating hard, especially when traveling, and a lack of appetite that makes eating a chore rather than something I enjoy.

2014 was also the year of counseling. The first doc I saw about my stomach suggested that stress could be a factor and I should look into counseling. And since I knew with certainty that stress was a major factor for me, and had been since I moved to Atlanta, I decided to follow up on that. And counseling was hard, but really helpful. I wish I had gone sooner.

So, yeah. Reflecting on the last year is kind of rough. My counselor helped me to acknowledge how hard the year had been, how hard it was to feel sick, how stressful it was for that sickness to impede my progress toward my exams. Also, how bad I am at sharing with others when I’m having a hard time. But honestly, I don’t have a lot of practice at it. I can recognize as I look at this list just how very blessed I am to say that this might be my worst year ever. This. What a charmed life I’ve had that this list is what makes a year the worst. It doesn’t really take the sting out of the year to say that, but it feels important to remember it.

And this year wasn’t all bad. 2014 was also the year that I stopped feeling lonely all the time in Atlanta, thanks to Grace. I have been consistently glad she was here, even with depression. My life is so much richer with her in it, and I’m grateful for her presence and her friendship.

It was the year I found the perfect barn for me to ride at, with the perfect riding instructor for me. 2014 is the year I started learning to jump with horses. The year that I remembered how it felt when I was kid and riding was new and precious and a sanctuary. This year, riding was a much needed sanctuary again, and most of my happy moments from the year were spent at the barn, in the saddle, getting to know fellow horse-lovers and some special horses.

And 2014 was also the year when Grace and I started rock climbing. We’re pretty lucky to live about 10 minutes from the biggest indoor rock gym in the US, and we’ve loved climbing. We haven’t tackled the big walls yet–it just seems like so much is involved in getting certified to belay and putting on harnesses and all that. Plus, one of us (me) has a fear of heights that makes the big walls look less appealing. Bouldering is our game. We climb the short walls (15 feet? 16? something like that) surrounded by crash mats. We do a lot of routes in a session, relax on the cushy mats between climbs, chat with other amiable climbers, sing along to classic rock favorites playing over the gym speakers. We have a good time. And it’s an exercise that feels good, mind and body. I love how strong my hands and arms are getting, and how finishing a particularly hard route makes me feel like I can do anything.

And maybe most importantly, 2014 was the year that I had opportunities to appreciate the support of communities. Lots of times, I send out distress messages to my closest group of friends from college asking for prayers and was so grateful for their generous responses, and when they shared their struggles as well. Lots of times I sent ridiculous, long, sometimes angsty emails to Hilary, who always received them and responded graciously (but we saw each other through the difficulties of elementary and middle school, so we’ve been in the angst trenches together for a long time). And my goodness, my parents, who took half of their vacation to come and help me fix things in the house and who told me over and over that they love me and they’re proud of me. Also this was the year when Grace and I really started to settle in and develop a sense of community in our incredible church family. And my year ended surrounded by some of my best friends and also some new friends in a wonderful, peaceful New Year’s celebration that almost made 2014 seem not so bad.

There have been some great moments this year. But for the first time I can remember, the good moments don’t tip the scale. I have this list of good things, this four-point list that I’ve been reciting to myself for weeks now to try and shift my feelings about the year. I’m deeply, profoundly grateful for the good moments and even more grateful for the good people in my life this year. But it doesn’t tip the scale. Last year I was hopeful that 2014 was going to be better. I felt like things were going to get easier, and I was wrong about that. This year I’m not sure what’s in store. I’m more hopeful now than I was a couple of weeks ago, but it’s a tentative and fragile hope. What I am sure of is that whatever comes, I’ll get through it. I read an article recently that argued that life is less like a heroic tale than it is like a comedy–not because life is always funny, but rather because comedies feature characters who just sort of muddle through and manage to survive their circumstances by luck or accident. That’s what I have in mind for 2015–no grand plans or lofty expectations. But I’ll muddle through. Maybe it will even be funny sometimes.