The Black Dress

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I wore black to my second wedding.

I wasn’t trying to make some kind of statement that I was damaged goods because I was getting married a second time after a divorce. I had been looking at maternity wedding dresses on ebay, but buying a dress to wear one time seemed like an extravagance we could ill afford at the time. Besides, we hadn’t picked out a wedding date, so there was no rush to find something that I could wear.

Part of my hesitancy was that the wedding felt strange to me.

It was going to be completely different from my first wedding. This time I was pregnant. This time I was marrying someone who not long ago had been someone else’s husband. This time I wasn’t going to be surrounded by family and friends. There wouldn’t be a minister. There wouldn’t be music. There wouldn’t be toasts. There wouldn’t be dancing or bubbles or glasses clinking to make us kiss.

It was just going to be us in a courtroom. At the very least, I wanted a new dress. Some small token that would mark the day as special. 

We finally decided yes, we would marry in the next two months. Sometime before the baby arrived, because we wanted both of his parents to share his name. With teaching and time with the kids, finding a few hours to get a license and a judge was hard, so we figured we would split it up. Go get the license one day, and then actually do the ceremony at another time. The license was good for 60 days, so we had time. I could still order a dress. It would be okay. The day could still be special.

I got home from work and sat down to eat lunch with Rich. We talked about our day and started to make plans to head downtown to get the license, and then he asked, “Do you just want to go ahead and get married today?”

And despite all of my hesitations because of the differences between this wedding and my first, I knew that I didn’t want to wait any longer to be his wife. I was in love with this man, and I didn’t want to wait another day to be married to him.

Our families weren’t with us, but they all sent congratulations and love to us. There wasn’t music, but as we shared with our friends in a Facebook group, they sent us videos of all of the terrible and fantastic music they had chosen for their weddings. There wasn’t a minister, but the judge was kind and the witnesses took our picture with my phone during the ceremony. There weren’t guests, but our tiny son who was just starting to make his presence known squirmed contentedly in my womb.

As I looked through my closet, trying to find something to wear, I pulled out a black dress. It wasn’t new, or something that I didn’t wear often. It was actually a frequent part of my wardrobe. Which was part of why I chose it.

Whenever I would put on this black dress, I would remember the vows that I made, I would remember the way that Rich looked into my eyes and promised himself to me, and how I did the same for him.

That dress was not what made the day special, but instead, the day made my black dress special.

Wedding picture

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ALS, the #IceBucketChallenge, and laughing in the face of tears

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ALS has been all up in my face the past few weeks. It feels weird that something I heard about rarely before my mom’s diagnosis is now something that I can’t stop hearing about.

A few nights ago, I broke down in Rich’s arms. Elliott’s death in some ways eclipsed my mom’s and there is still grieving to do for her that I’ve clearly neglected. But all of the videos asking people to donate to various ALS foundations while talking about the devastating effects that are a result of this disease – it finally got to me.

In the months after my mom got her diagnosis, she began developing a YouTube playlist that she watched regularly. Most were songs that were there as an encouragement through the darkness, but there were at least a few on the list that were there simply to make her laugh. They didn’t offer any kind of inspiration or spiritual help. They were just funny.

As time went by and the disease progressed so. very. fast. her laptop was never far away. Even when it became almost impossible to understand what she was saying, she could point to the computer and we could watch through her playlist. Whether it was a Kmart commercial telling us that we could all ship our pants or Mandisa’s Good Morning, we could sit together and smile.

I’ve watched the Ice Bucket Challenge and I’ve had mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I love seeing ALS being brought into the public eye. I love that people are becoming more aware of this disease and the way that it impacts lives. I love that people are donating to help fund ALS research (at the time of this writing, the amount raised is over $70 million). I love seeing people from all over the political and social spectrum coming together to support this cause.

I struggled with the sense of levity surrounding the challenge. I remembered watching her cry as my oldest played the trumpet for her, knowing that she wouldn’t get to see any future performances outside of her home. I thought about the time that I got off of the phone with her and texted my sister to tell her I had been unable to decipher anything in our conversation. My thoughts drifted to sitting beside my mom, watching her slowly write, in a handwriting that barely resembled her lovely script, “I hope you girls never get this terrible disease.”

It was hard for me see people laughing in the context of raising awareness for something that caused us so little laughter. It felt wrong to laugh about anything related to ALS at all. ALS is all tears. 

But as I scrolled through YouTube, finding some of my favorite celebrities and watching their challenges, I couldn’t help but laugh. And I thought about my mom’s own YouTube list and the laughter that it brought her, even in the midst of her tears.

And that is what the Ice Bucket Challenge has reminded me. Yes, this is a frightening, debilitating, terrible disease. It steals motor function, voice, breath, life.

But it is not what has to define ALS sufferers. They are more than their disease. After diagnosis, my mom continued to volunteer at the nursing home where she had worked for years. During her therapy, she encouraged the others in her group. She laughed as long as she could, then she smiled as long as she could. And in her last lucid moments, she held each of us in her eyes and told us she was ready to go.

As she was drifting out of consciousness for the last time, she kept raising her right hand. We speculated that she was raising it to greet her dad or her aunt or any of the others who had gone before her. Maybe she was raising it in praise as she was seeing the beauty on the other side.

As we sat with her with our tears, I wonder now if she was just slapping her leg with laughter. 

 

(Here I am with 5 of the kids after the Ice Bucket Challenge that we did this week. We had a lot of laughter with this, and I think that’s not simply okay, but GOOD. You can see our video here.)

Ice Bucket Challenge

Stuff I’ve Been Reading #11

Here’s to the weekend! And to good reading! Here are some of my favorite things from the week.

  • We cannot close our eyes to the place of racism in the case of Ferguson. Joe Hendren showcased that by compiling a number of racist quotes from a GoFundMe page that was set up to make donations to Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen.
  • One of the most clear posts about how the police have treated the citizens of Ferguson over the past 2 weeks was put together by Slate. It is a great timeline to see how things have de-evolved since the shooting of Michael Brown.
  • Shawn Smucker wrote about how he can address some of the larger issues at play in Ferguson in his own hometown. Something each of us can think about.
  • I loved this cartoon about the nature of patriarchy in the Church that David Hayward drew this week.
  • In the midst of a lot of hard things, I loved this little slice of beauty from the beach, brought to us by my friend Tamara Lunardo.
  • This week I finally downloaded Thomas Was Alone and started playing. It is, as it says in the description, a game about friendship and jumping, and it is absolutely beautiful. But the soundtrack is also fantastic writing music. If you’re looking for something new to listen to, definitely check out David Housden’s soundtrack.

What have you read/written/watched/listened to this week that moved you? Link it up in the comments!

Morning Prayers

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Another day begins
stretching its arms up
to brush away the dark.

In the morning let me know your love, O Lord.

New mercies and joy arrive each day.
Some mornings
new mercies look like a cup coffee;
joy like fresh fruit on my cereal.

In the morning let me know your love, O Lord.

I confess my sins
to rows of crocheted stitches,
knowing they reserve judgment
only for miscounts and bad gauge.

In the morning let me know your love, O Lord.

Today I pray for peace to be known,
for voices to be heard,
for humility to reign.

In the morning let me know your love, O Lord.

You say,
“The prayers of the righteous availeth much.”
I hope that the prayers
of the unrighteous
availeth at least a little.

In the morning let me know your love, O Lord.

It’s Time to Learn About Your #AmericanGod

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Our Great Big American God

Last year I met Matthew Paul Turner for breakfast and he was telling me about his new book, Our Great Big American God. I loved having the opportunity to sit across from him, sipping coffee, listening to him talk about this project that he was so excited about. It was fascinating to hear just a few snippets of ways that America has shaped the God narrative.

Having a chance to read the final project was absolutely thrilling. Matthew has put together a great book, detailing the ways that we here in America, from the Puritans right up to today’s celebrity pastors, have molded God to fit the packaging that we need him to conform to. All of us like to talk about picking and choosing how we read the Bible and how the OTHER guys do it, but not us, and Matthew tackles that head on in his new book.

I have loved Matthew’s voice since I first read Hear No Evil years ago, and while this book is obviously different from his memoirs, it still includes the wit and humor that I love about his writing. I love that he believes passionately and yet holds to those beliefs lightly. Our Great Big American God is a fantastic example of this kind of writing and this way of thinking.

Regardless of your beliefs about the existence of God, or your relationship to America, this is an informative and important book. We have all of us contributed to God’s story here in America, and Matthew shows us how.

Check out Our Great Big American God by Matthew Paul Turner.

How Music Saved My Faith (Over and Over)

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(This post is part of the synchroblog “What Saved Your Faith?” hosted by Ed Cyzewski to celebrate the release of his new book, “A Christian Survival Guide.” Get the book free today only!)

Fridays were chapel day at the private school I attended in elementary school. We would gather by grade in the church’s sanctuary, Pastor Barry would give a short message, and we would sing songs. We would sing different hymns we had learned, songs about the books of the Bible. I would sing along with all of them, few ever really connecting with my heart. But every now and again, we could talk Mrs. Montag into singing Pass It On, and then I would sing not just with my lips, but with my heart. I knew that there was something more than just words and melody happening in that moment. There was a hint of the Divine, showing me the path to a faith that went beyond piggy-backing on the faith of my parents to something that was truly my own.

We would sing “It only takes a spark to get a fire going.” That melody was a spark.

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Renea told me that the best place to play in all of the music department was the stairwell. She was able to secure a key from one of the professors so we could get in well after the building was locked down for the night. We rolled one of the pianos from a practice room and carefully put it under the stairs in that perfect echo chamber. She brought her saxophone with her, and the two of us began to play. We didn’t decide on a key or a tempo or a melodic idea – we just started playing and found our way to one another.

In the middle of the night, our church was that stairwell; our hymns, an improvised jumble of notes and rhythms that spoke of longing, of peace, of joy. We shared our hearts with one another in a way that was sacred. In the midst of the questions surrounding my faith during my college years, I found holiness in the music of a dirty hallway.

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I had been in front of an audience many times before, but on this day it was different. Music had been tainted for a season. I had been told that my enjoyment of playing was idolatry, that I was too full of pride to worship with music. These condemnations shook my faith. They felt in conflict with what I believed about worshiping with my whole heart, but the critics seemed so sure.

So as I stepped onto the stage at this new church, I was nervous for the first time in a long time. Could I play these songs of my faith and mean them? Or was that faith so damaged that cynicism was all I could manage?

As my hands touched the keys for the first time in too many months, that same spark that had ignited in my young heart was fanned into a flame once again.

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What saved your faith? Write a blog post answering that question and then visit this post at Ed Cyzewski’s blog to learn how you can join the synchroblog or to read additional posts to celebrate the release of Ed’s book A Christian Survival Guide.

Stuff I’ve Been Reading #10

It’s been quite a week. Lots going on, lots of it not so great. I hope that some of the links here add to some thoughtful dialogue for the remainder of your weekend.

  • This piece by Greg Howard is one of my favorite pieces on the situation that occurred this week in Ferguson and what it means in the greater discussion about race in America.
  • I also deeply appreciated this piece by Mia McKenzie of Black Girl Dangerous detailing some of the ways that we allow ourselves to be distracted when a black person is killed by the police. (At least five unarmed black men have been killed by police THIS MONTH. This isn’t something we can ignore.)
  • Two of my friends have written important books about history and race. Andi Cumbo-Floyd wrote a book called The Slaves Have Names about her family’s relationship with slavery and the removal of personhood through the loss of names. Jennifer Luitwieler wrote a historical fiction about the Tulsa riots in 1921 in her novel Seven Days In May. As we learn more about the past, the better choices we can make in the future.
  • My dear friend Sonny Lemmons shared about his own struggle with depression in the wake of Robin Williams’s suicide.
  • I also appreciated this post by Jennifer Luitwieler reminding us that depression affects everyone, not just celebrities.
  • If you struggle with depression, please know that you’re not alone. If nothing else, I’m around & you can hit me up on Twitter or Facebook and we can talk. Seriously.
  • And because this was a really heavy SIBR post, here’s a video that made me giggle a lot this week. I love the Gregory Brothers.

What have you read/written/watched/listened to this week that moved you? Link it up in the comments!

#Ferguson and Healing Our Nation

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I AM A MAN

Last night I watched the hashtag #Ferguson scroll through my Twitter feed until the wee hours. It’s still scrolling this morning, making it hard for me to tear myself away from social media for the time needed to write this.

I saw the live feed I was watching get turned off. I read stories of  reporters being arrested and detained. I watched and saw pictures of tear gas released on protestors, of police advancing on crowds like an army.

The situation in Ferguson and the death of Michael Brown are horrible, but they are highlighting violence against the African American community that has been occurring in our country for hundreds of years. People of color being beaten, mocked, shot, murdered. 

Through nearly all of my time as a Christian, I have heard that our nation needs to be healed, and inspirational pictures with 2 Chronicles 7:14 make their way across my Facebook feed. It tends to be loudest whenever elections are near, because everyone knows that if we could just replace THEIR guy in charge with OUR guy in charge, everything will be so much better. More godly, more just, more moral.

The other time the Chronicles passage tends to rear up is in times of great national strife, as we are seeing now. Pleas are being made for Christians to “pray and seek God’s face.” We are to urge people to “turn from their wicked ways.” And then we give lists of ways to pray and lists of wicked ways from which everyone should be turning. We’ll rattle off our pet sins and find ways to relate them to what is happening in Ferguson.

The part of the verse that I never see addressed is the very first admonishment.

“Humble yourselves.”

Humility is significantly less sexy than calling for people to turn from sin. Humility doesn’t have a soapbox or a high horse. Humility doesn’t get to lecture.

Humility listens. And listens some more. And then thinks about what is being said without immediately responding.

Humility is not defensive and combative.

Humility gives up power and privilege.

Humility asks rather than tells.

Humility raises hands rather than guns.

What is beautiful is that when we put on humility, we begin go see change. We stop seeing people as enemies because we see our common humanity. We hear more and we fear less.

When we humble ourselves, we begin to heal our relationships, and in turn, our nation begins to heal.

 

Photo credit: @zellieimani

Moving, Humanized

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As I mentioned last week, I am writing again over at A Deeper Story. I am profoundly grateful for the grace of all of the editors there, particularly senior editor Nish Weiseth. They could have asked me to leave permanently, but instead, they offered me time to regroup and then offered a spot as a writer.

I’m writing today about the various moves that I’ve had over the past 12 months.

The first time I moved in the past twelve months, I was alone. Sifting through years of memories isn’t easy to do by yourself. When a marriage dissolves, what stays and what goes? Some things are easy. I could sort out my clothes and books. Pictures of people or events that only had special meaning to me. Items that had been given specifically to me as gifts. But some things were less simple. Dishes that had been my grandmother’s, but that the family used? Movies that we bought together but that I liked more? Pictures of the kids as babies? The wedding album that celebrated a marriage that I was ending, but that I couldn’t erase?

Alone, I put items of significance into garbage bags, making it feel like I was a thief, cleaning out a home not of valuables like electronics or jewels, but of treasured memories. Tears stung my eyes as I packed up one life to move on to another.

I was sure about my decision, but in that moment, I felt a strong sense of loneliness. I was the one leaving, but I felt abandoned, not fully human.

Head over to Deeper Story to read more.

I don’t want therapy (but I’m going to get it)

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Recently someone asked me if I was talking to anyone about all of the losses that I’ve experienced in the past year. I told them that I was kind of processing on my own, but that I was planning on seeing someone once things got into a normal pattern around here with the kids back in school and all of that.

But the truth is, I don’t really want to go to therapy.

I don’t want to talk to a counselor, because I don’t want to have to say some of the ugly things that are inside of me out loud. I don’t want to talk about the things that led to the end of my first marriage. I don’t want to talk about the regrets I feel about my mom’s death and the year leading up to that. I don’t want to talk about how hard it is to look for a new church. I sure as hell don’t want to talk about how guilty I feel about Elliott’s death.

I write about a lot of personal things here, but I hold a lot back as well. There are feelings and events that are just too intense to write about publicly, things that I need to work through with a trained professional. I know what a lot of them are, but rolling those thoughts around in my brain is far different than actually speaking them out loud.

Today we lost an amazing actor to suicide. Robin Williams managed to blend humor and drama in a way that very few actors are able to achieve. His death is tragic not only because we are losing a gifted artist, but because he felt so alone that he was unable to go on. Someone who was loved by millions still felt worthless, still felt like he had nothing to offer. And rather than seeking help, he took his own life.

This thought, asking for help, is frightening to me. Sharing ugliness on that level is scary. Being honest about failure is never easy, even if that failure is only in your mind.

But honesty is where we find healing. Truth is where we find freedom. 

The truth is, you and I have value. Robin Williams was unable to recognize his value, and he took his life. His loved ones deserved better, and he certainly deserved better.

It’s the same for us. It’s the same for me. I have value. I am loved. I am not alone.

And tomorrow I’m going to call to set up an appointment with a therapist. 

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