My Sweet Experience, re-visit

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Yes, it’s gushy, but since I just saw Dr. Sugar yesterday, and since he rescued me when I had a significant flare while I was in Utah last week, I decided it was time to polish this post from March 2018 and share the gushing one more time, in June 2019.

As a new volunteer for Patient and Family Centered Care at the University of Michigan, I have been asked to share part of my story at Kellogg Eye Center to a group of new Kellogg employees.What has my patient experience been like? Since I am more accustomed to writing than to speaking, I thought I’d share what I plan to say here.

In the summer of 2012, while my family and I were living in St. Louis, MO, I started experiencing joint pain.I had been, up until that time, a full-time teacher, school administrator, mother of four, and…

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Can we talk?

Would you be willing to join me for some tea? (Black, green, chai, or oolong?)

Where should we meet? (Your place? mine? someplace else?)

Can we chat? (Or are you worried that I have an agenda, an ulterior motive, a covert plan?)

What would you be willing to discuss? The weather? Your family? Faith? Politics? (Even if if it’s threatening rain, divorce, doubt, or scandal?)

Do any of those topics make you uncomfortable? Why? (Is it because life is messy and fragile and broken and complicated?)

Are you willing to discuss them anyway? (Even the stuff that makes your chest tight, your eyes brim, your pits sweat?)

What are you afraid of? Aren’t we just humans sitting at a table? Aren’t we merely considering the exchange of words? Do my questions have the power to cause you to reconsider your stance, dismantle your ideology, or change your heart? (Is it possible that I might judge you or disagree with you or find even more ways to question you?)

Is that frightening to consider? (What’s the worst that could happen?)

Shall we pause so that we can both imagine the worst?

How bad could it be?

That bad?

Or is it possible that it might actually turn out well? (That we might connect, agree, learn, or grow?)

Is it it possible that I’ve been where you are or that you’ve been where I am? (Could it be that we might find communion in the sharing of our tears?)

Might we find solace, compassion, confirmation, or challenge? (Can I picture your hand on my shoulder? Our heads bowed to think? to pray?)

If I ask you to explain the way you think or what you believe, don’t I provide you an opportunity to articulate your why? Isn’t that a chance for you to find clarity? Isn’t it a way for you to speak into my thoughts? My beliefs? Isn’t it an avenue for you to draw closer to me and shape my course?

Should I be afraid? Will your words push against my words? will they stick out their elbows and struggle to find room? Or will I clear a space on the couch, reposition some pillows, and invite them to take up space? (Will I draw back? Will I lean in? Will I do both? Will I run away?)

Am I too afraid of the impact you might have on me? Am I scared I might lose my way? Do I trust enough that I invite you to walk beside me? (Or am I more comfortable walking alone, protecting myself from your questions, your statements, your judgments?)

Will we meander? Will we get off course? Will we find our way back? (Or will we discover a mountain path, a sandy beach, a patch of shade?)

Would you be willing to join me and find out?

Can you see us — you and I? As we pour our tea, take a sip, and linger? as we pause and hear our thoughts?

Who will speak first? Will you? Will I?

Will we start off safe? (How’s work going? Do you have summer plans?)

Or will we dive right in? (What should we do about the environment? How can we improve the experience of people of color in America? Are you feeling secure about your retirement planning?)

What if we discover that we disagree? (about guns or education or gay marriage or abortion or immigration?)

Is your pulse racing? Did I go to far?

Should we stick to grocery prices? favorite books? or family trips?

Or can I ask how your health is since your recent diagnosis? if the divorce is final? if your kid is still sober?

Can we go there?

Are you willing?

Can I pour you a cup of tea?

Can we come out of our corners, put down our arguments, open our hearts, and listen to one another? Can we consider our thoughts, weigh our words, and speak in ways that are kind?

Can we begin to see that even though we have differences, we are not enemies, but fellow sojourners, companions, friends?

What difference could that make?

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:27

Confessions of an English Teacher, numero uno, revisit

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I am dusting off this post from August 2014in celebration of the 1000 English teachers I’m reading with now — June 2019.

My students have helped me keep my secret for years — I’m not really the best English teacher. It’s true. They correct my grammar almost as much as I correct theirs. I misspell words, even on the board! And, to be honest, I always have to look up the correct usage of lie and lay.  

I mean I have the credentials and everything — a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in English. I was even magna cum whatever both times. I love English. I love literature. I love words. I’m just not a big fan of rules. 

(I know, I know — obviously.)

What I love about language, actually, is its fluidity, its malleability. I love the way meaning changes over time and according to circumstance. I…

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Sorbet before Lunch, revisit

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This post, written in June of 2017, is being edited in June 2019, on the heels of a week away with my husband, as I sit in a hotel room I’m sharing with the roomie I met two years ago. This is a pattern I’ve enjoyed repeating.

So much is jangling around inside my head this morning. Over three weeks ago my husband and I left on a two-week vacation — we slipped away to an undisclosed location where no one recognizes us so we could begin to recognize one another again. We spent hours together, just the two of us. It was quiet; it was restful; it was lovely. At the end of the two weeks, I jetted off, instead of coming straight home, to a week of AP English Literature Exam scoring with hundreds of strangers. Inside of those three weeks, I read a couple of books and…

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How hard can it be?

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First written in February 2018, this post further examines the topic from Righting the Course. I’ve cleaned it up for you here in May 2019.

It sounds pretty easy. I mean, it’s really just one independent clause. I’ve read it, or heard it read, certainly dozens of times in my life.  In my mind, I see Jesus peacefully walking along a dirt path, probably next to the Sea of Galilee, wind blowing through his hair, gazing lovingly toward his hearers. His voice is gentle, as though he’s giving the simplest of invitations, “repent and believe the gospel.”

How hard can it be to 1) repent, and 2) believe the gospel?

Pretty darn hard it turns out.

I have spent a fair amount of time writing about repentance. It’s such an archaic sounding word, isn’t it? Kind of King James-ish, if you ask me. Why in the world would I use a word like 

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Can I ask you a question?, re-visit

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This post, written in February of this year and tweaked just a bit for you here, unpacks my journey from telling to asking –a practice which informs my most recent post, Of passing laws and changing behavior.

I have an adult student with some cognitive challenges who has been learning how to read for as long as I’ve known her; the process moves very slowly. Each word is a labor, and ‘Kelly’ is on her own time table. She will work hard for a few minutes and then take a break to sing or tell a “knock, knock” joke. When she wanders off topic, it can be challenging to recapture her attention, but I’ve found a pretty reliable way to re-engage her. I sit quietly with my hand raised, student style.

She soon sees my hand, points at me, and says, “Yes, Kristin?”

I say, “Can I ask you…

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Tell Me Your Story, re-visit

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This post, written in January 2018, further examines the assumptions we make about one another — assumptions that can prevent connection. I repost it here in the wake of this week’s post, Of Reality and Social Media.

I am a hypocrite.

Although I have stood on my soapbox pointing out injustices and crying out for equity, I am a prejudiced person. I’m racist. I’m classist. I’m sexist. I’ll judge a person based on one Facebook status or incriminate a whole group of people for their stance on whether they think athletes should stand for the National Anthem or not. I’ll sort you into a category so fast, it’ll make your head spin.

It’s embarrassing, actually.

I’ve lived my professional life encouraging students to write narratives – to tell their stories of defining life moments — their parents’ divorce, the death of a sibling, a betrayal of friendship, a proclamation of…

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Of Reality and Social Media

’tis the season of social media celebration, is it not?

If you’ve scrolled through Facebook or Instagram in the last few weeks you’ve seen photos of families posed in their Easter best, grads celebrating in caps and gowns, and smiling moms lauded as nothing short of perfection.

How you doin’?

I’m feeling kind of shitty, if I’m going to be honest.

I mean, yes, I love seeing all these photos, I really do.

I am happy for ya’all.

I am.

But am I the only one who is tempted to compare my life’s reality with the curated perfection often portrayed on social media?

Am I the only one who needs to talk myself back into the world of reality saying things like, “What a lovely photo. How great that they were able to capture it! Surely their lives are full of all kinds of ups and downs, and they managed to capture an up.”

I have to remind myself that I, too, recently posted a smiling family photo that reflects just a moment, not the totality of our reality. We take a photo and post it on a day where we all managed to get dressed, comb our hair, and gather ourselves in the same location. We don’t post one on all the other days when we are in yoga pants lying on our couches watching Netflix and trying to find the motivation to be productive.

We post the miraculous moments when things are as they should be — when family is together, when babies are well, when friends reunite, and when we are celebrating life.

We don’t post ourselves trudging through the grocery store at 11pm trying to find an “item to share” for the work party the next day. We don’t share our stories of hair loss and psoriasis. We don’t post when our families experience brokenness, or betrayal, or heartbreak. Nobody wants to see all that.

But when I’m scrolling, I forget that, and I start to imagine that the photos reflect the full lived experience of the people in them:

The mother holding her newborn spends 24 hours a day gazing lovingly at a blissful bundle swaddled sweetly in her arms.

The capped and gowned graduate is always photo-ready — hair coiffed, make-up air-brushed, and outfit fresh and pressed.

The family hugged up and smiling never experiences conflict — rather they live in bliss and harmony seven days a week.

And when I’m looking at images in that way, I begin to compare my life to their lives, and I start feeling shitty.

Why do these people look so polished? How do they have such happy lives? Why don’t they struggle like we do? Where is their hurt? Where is their brokenness?

I don’t imagine the same mother, pajama-clad, hair flying, as she runs to the crying baby in the middle of the night. Or the college student, sleep-deprived and underfed, stumbling into the final exam, barely earning enough points to pass. Or the members of that family shouting at each other, ignoring one another, or crying, each alone in separate rooms.

Because we don’t post that stuff.

We post images like this:

Me with my dad and my godmother on Mother’s Day

Not this:

Me, blogging right now.

We want to show the beautiful, the picture-perfect, not the raw, unfiltered, reality of our flawed humanity.

But, let me assure you, behind every curated photo — every moment of celebration, every coiffed ‘do, and stylish dress — is struggle, conflict, challenge, and disappointment. We are all broken. Even those who appear near-perfect.

Perhaps that’s the reason we love social media so much — we love to show the world that, “see it’s not so bad after all!” We might be a walking hot mess six days of the week, but on the seventh we managed to pull it together, and we wanted photographic proof that it happened.

When I scroll through social media with that mindset — acknowledging that my feed reflects exceptional moments — I am able to smile and celebrate with the people in the photos. Good for you, Miss Winston for getting your Master’s degree! Congratulations, Emily on running a 5K with your family! Way to go, Tiger, for shooting that turkey! You did it! Hooray!

You’re all doing a great job. I know things aren’t always as great as they are in your photos, but I’m glad you occasionally get moments that are good enough to commemorate with a photo shared on social media.

For those of you who haven’t had a photo-worthy moment in a while — and I know you are out there — it’s ok to take a vacation from social media for a while. If you just can’t see one more perfectly posed image, walk away — delete the app for a while, be kind to yourself. It’s ok to sit on the couch with your hair uncombed and your teeth unbrushed, especially if the brokenness is too palpable, too fresh, too tender. Watch some Great British Baking Show, read Ann Voskamp or David Sedaris, listen to Lauren Daigle or Stevie Wonder, lean in, cry, write some words, take a bath, get some rest.

The season of shittiness will shift and you will have another day of celebration, and we’ll be watching for it. We’ll laugh with you, we’ll cry tears of joy and celebration, we’ll click ‘like’ or ‘love’, and we’ll clap our hands.

In the mean time, if you want somebody to come sit on your couch with you–eating potato chips and flicking the crumbs off your chest — reach out. Plenty of us are willing to come into the swamp with you. And, who knows, maybe we’ll take a moment to post a picture.

a time to weep, a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;”

Ecclesiasties 3:4

Reflections on Life as a High School Teacher, re-visit

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This post, first written in May 2015 is one of my most read — probably because my Lutheran North people love me almost as much as I love them.

One year ago today I said goodbye to my life as a high school teacher. I graded the last exam, entered the final grade, hugged a dozen or more kids, packed up my desk, and moved on.

Sniff!

No, I’m not crying. Really, I’m fine.

Sniff!

Over the past couple of weeks, former colleagues and students have been posting milestones on Facebook — the last week of classes, prom, senior assembly, baccalaureate, etc. I’ve been smiling as I view updates and click ‘like’ on dozens of pictures each day. And, I’ve been feeling a dull ache in my chest. I miss that part of my life!

Don’t get me wrong — where I am now is where I am supposed to be!…

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Re-member

I was sitting in a church in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts with a community I’ve visited several times before. It’s a group of mismatched broken people who gather each week to hear the message that they are beloved of God — every one of them.

They come in dresses and jeans, sweatpants and suits, walking unassisted or rolling in wheelchairs, all ages, various races, and every socio-economic background.

Their journeys are varied, but all have found their way to a humble basement gathering — and the love is palpable. Smiles and hugs for all who enter — whether they arrive early, on time, or halfway through the service. Strangers and friends slide over to make room.

Songs are sung in English and Spanish simultaneously. Prayers are written in traditional and modern forms, side by side. I am invited to “pray and sing using language that is meaningful” for me. The voices join in a beautiful cacophony.

A children’s message is delivered to the two children present, and since they are timid to come forward, two grown men make the first move, and sit at the feet of the woman giving the message, and everyone participates. “Does anyone know how to say ‘I love you’ in a different language,” she asks. And the adults in the room respond in Spanish and French, in German and Basque, and sign language.

The pastor’s message reminds those present that the community as a whole experienced trauma not too many years ago when its main sanctuary was destroyed by fire. And, in this season of Easter, she tells the story of the traumatized disciples who had witnessed their friend, their mentor, their leader be killed in front of their eyes. She reminds us that though we, like the disciples, have been traumatized, we have been loved.

Each broken person in the basement of the yet un-repaired building has been loved — held, watched, and supported through the healing.

She recalls Peter and the disciples shortly after Jesus’ resurrection, who, seeing that their lives of walking with Jesus in the flesh were over, resorted to muscle memory — throwing out nets and pulling in nothing.

And after a long night of futility, Jesus meets them on the beach, and tells these professional fishermen to throw their nets out on the other side of the boat — not the side that they’d been trained to throw out on, not the one they knew to be most fruitful, but a different side.

He was telling them, the pastor said, to try a different way. Don’t go back to what you were doing before; you’ve been changed. Do things a different way.

Don’t go back to what was; move forward into what is.

And the broken in the basement room — me among them — leaned in. Our scars are still visible. We are rebuilding strength, but the images of trauma remain. We long to be whole, to have our weak and jangling limbs strengthened. We long to walk, even run.

The pastor cast her vision of restoration, of finishing the repairs of the sanctuary, of creating a space of healing for the community, of opening doors where others who are mismatched and broken can find love. She painted a picture of not going back to what was, but moving forward into what is.

And the broken in the room could see the image of doors flung open, of throngs flowing in, of scarred hands put to good use.

When the disciples tried the different way– throwing their nets on the unfamiliar side –they pulled in so many fish that the nets could barely hold them. They dragged their haul to where Jesus was waiting with a fire, ready to cook them breakfast after their long night. And while they were there, Jesus asked Peter, “do you love me?” Peter was offended — “you know that I love you!” And Jesus answered, and I’m paraphrasing here, “then don’t go back to your old life, man, you’ve been transformed. Spread the love that has been lavished upon you. Feed my sheep.”

The pastor held a loaf of bread in her hands and broke it in two saying, “Jesus said, this is my body, broken for you. Do this to remember me. Re-member me.”

We are not simply remembering that Jesus took bread, broke it, and gave it to His disciples. We are not only nostalgic for the time that he walked on the earth. We are not just focusing on His work on the Cross. We are also joining in His work of putting His body back together, of restoring, of healing, of re-membering.

That’s the work of Jesus. He re-members the broken who he calls to re-member his broken body — to pull it back together — to open the doors to the broken, offer them something to eat and invite them to join in the work of re-membering the broken.

It’s pretty simple, actually.

If you have been broken, and haven’t we all, remember that you have also been loved — even in that brokenness. You have been carried, and seen, and possibly even restored.

If you have or if you are on the journey, lift your gaze. Don’t go back to what you were doing before, but look around. You are likely walking beside the wounded — those who are limping and gasping and longing to be seen and restored. They yearn to be re-membered. Open your arms to them, welcome them in. Feed His sheep.

We won’t all do this work in a building in Jamaica Plain — although I can imagine a thriving ministry growing out of those ashes. Some of us will use our broken bodies in our work places, in our cities, in our churches, and among our friends. The broken are all around us. Let’s do our best to feed His sheep and re-member His body.

You are a Savior
And You take brokenness aside
And make it beautiful”

All Sons and Daughters, “Brokenness Aside”