My mind is pretty jumbly. It sometimes helps if I write things down. I could do that in a paper journal — but then I’ve done that eleventy times before. If you need a journal that is nearly empty but for the first 7 or 8 pages, I’m your girl. So, maybe this kind of journaling will be better for me, OR maybe I’ll forget how to log in and leave this journal in the same pattern of the others…
When Sage was maybe a middle schooler, she brought home a new word. I don’t know how she had found the word, but when she told me about it, her eyes were so alive with fascination…and maybe relief.
She said she never knew there was a word for something her imagination had dwelt upon for hours on end – over months and years. She said she had always looked at the person standing in front of us in the line at the grocery store and thought, “They have a whole life just like mine. They have friends and maybe siblings. They have ideas and dreams about what they want to do, and they have people and circumstances in their lives that help them get there – or stand in their way. They go to school or work and there are parts of their days they like and don’t like. Their life is as complicated and full of people and relationships as mine is.”
It happened to me a little bit today while I was at my friend, Daniel’s, installation as the pastor of a congregation about an hour and a half away from where I live. He started working there a couple months ago, but today was an official installation service.
Daniel asked me to preside at the Lord’s Table during the service of installation. As I drove toward his church today, I thought about what an honor it was to have been asked to lead in this way, how much I miss having him nearby to have lunch and study the biblical text each week, how it would be nice to see his amazing family today.
When I arrived at the church and found the room where the pastors were putting on their robes, Daniel smiled when he saw me. I’m sure I smiled, too, and we hugged hello.
Then another pastor came in, another friend who was leading a different part of the service. Daniel smiled when he saw him, and they hugged hello. Soon, the room was filled with maybe 10 pastors, all of whom made Daniel smile. One of them was his mother.
And I thought to myself how wonderful it was for him to have so many people who love him in his company on this important and holy day.
Then, we moved to a hallway just outside the worship space, and the choir was lined up ready to go in before the line of pastors would enter. And the choir members greeted Daniel, and he smiled a warm, honest smile.
As we processed in, singing a hymn, walking down the center aisle and taking our places in the front row, we walked past row after row of people who had come to bear witness to his installation. Teenagers and tiny kids, middle aged folks and those certainly in their 80s and 90s. They were at the beginning of their relationships with him, and some of them were surely already trusting him with their worries, their dreams.
I thought about the people in my congregation, and how much I love them. I thought about how my life as their pastor is just rich with our relationships! With some, I have shared serious and scary moments in their lives. With some, I have hysterically funny memories. Daniel just left a congregation full of those relationships, and he is beginning that same journey with these folks at his new church.
After worship, there was a reception where people mingled. Every person I met said something like, “We just love Pastor Daniel. He is exactly what we need here.” And I thought, “That’s precisely how I feel about him.”
And while I felt sad to drive away because Tuesday will come, and I won’t be meeting him for study and lunch, I felt mostly amazed at the ways God knits us all together. I felt mostly astonished as God offered me a tiny glimpse of the ways Spirit is stitching Daniel’s life together with more relationships and laughter. I felt mostly grateful that love is not finite, that there is enough love-thread to stitch and keep stitching us one to another every single day.
Today, I am in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina at a women’s retreat just filled with love and light and hope and sisterhood.
Today, I am reading accounts of demonstrations at the University of Virginia wherein members of the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and Alt-Right carried torches and shouted declarations of white supremacy.
So, I don’t know what to do.
God called me to the mountains months ago when I registered for this retreat. I read Rachel Held Evans’ book in preparation for her to lead us in some study and prayer while we are here. I paid a little extra, so I could have my own room, so I might experience a weekend of reflection more than conversation. I signed up for a workshop on using liturgical art in worship because our council discussed that as a goal at our retreat in March. So, this weekend is about me: as a woman, as a pastor, as a mom whose nest is emptying this week, as a sometimes weary child of God.
But people are carrying torches and quoting Hitler in Virginia.
I’ve been crying about it. And, honestly, I am angry at the timing. I’m angry that my retreat for centering myself before a busy fall and for slowing way down for 48 hours has been invaded by violence and hatred…and that exceedingly familiar feeling of helplessness in the face of enormous problems that have layers and colors and textures far beyond the reach and power of my life.
That voice in your head asking, “Why didn’t she just turn off her phone for the retreat?” It’s in my head, too. But, I didn’t, so here I am.
That other voice in your head whisper, “Uh, her anger right now is ridiculous…how about a little anger that the KKK is assembling AT ALL, not that they are assembling during her retreat.” It’s in my head, too. I promise. It happens that I am captive to sin and cannot free myself, so imbalance and preposterous priorities are commonplace. Writing about them helps run a highlighter across them, so I can notice them better: this time…and the next.
So, here is what God did with this mess today.
First, my God brought me to breakfast with two women who are pastors in the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), and the conversation in our little cloister of three women who long to follow Jesus included confession of times we have not welcomed people well, times we have be terrified to speak and act for justice. Maybe it was because we don’t know each other that confession came easily; maybe it is because we are tired of not confessing things that embarrass us as pastors who are called to work for peace and justice in all the world. Cate and Becca were my pastors this morning; and I suppose I was theirs.
Next, my God brought me to a book study where we broke into groups of four to discuss the ways we have experienced death and resurrection in our lives. We talked about life in the military where every move is a death of some sort. We shared our pain that our children reject the faith we hold so dear. We told of acts of unexpected grace we had received in ways we still carry in our pockets, pulling them out when we need to be reminded of our call to do the same for others. And we were reminded that this grace thing has already gotten out of hand. “Grace got out of hand the moment the God of the universe hung on a Roman cross and with outstretched hands looked out upon those who had hung him there and declared, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Searching for Sunday, page 40)
Then, God and I went to a workshop about liturgical art, and the leader, Lisle Gwynn Garrity used Brene Brown’s 10 Guideposts to Wholehearted Living while offering us the opportunity to play with art and be sanctified in the process. Together, my eight new sisters and I relinquished the messages from others that we are
not artistic or not artistic enough or there must be a better way or she is doing it better than me. We picked up oil pastels and drew our love and light and hope onto that cambric. Our gentle teacher offered us Brene Brown’s words and silence and tender music to coax us along this path. And after a few minutes, she would invite us to move to the seat to our left and add to that which our sisters had drawn. In the end, our fingers and palms were smudged with oil pastels, the cambric was exquisite, and I felt braver to be the woman God designed me to be.
Then, my God and I walked past the ducks on the lake and under the trees which couldn’t be
greener to get lunch in a room full of a few hundred women who had just been to one workshop or another…and I told God I hoped they all felt a little braver at lunch than they did at breakfast.
Then, we checked my schedule again – because my memory is not as good as God’s – and went off to the afternoon workshop where the facilitator used Brene Brown’s work in Daring Greatly to help us identify our top three values. That was the easy part (though it was far from easy). The hard part was this question: What behaviors you do engage in when you have lost sight of each of your three values?
So, God and I talked with the three women at our table about snapping at our children and gossiping about friends and numbing ourselves with food or alcohol or shopping or busyness. We confessed that our fear is debilitating at times. And we remembered how it feels when we have been brave and dared to speak truth to power or cross the threshold of a WeightWatchers center or told our adult child it’s time for rehab.
And God smiled when we remembered our strength.
So, today, I am not in Virginia. I’d like to be there with my clerical collar on, linked arm-in-arm with my sisters and brothers who are there standing and singing against hate. Also, I am terrified to be there with my clerical collar on, linked arm-in-arm with my sisters and brothers who are there standing and singing against hate. So, there’s that.
Today, I’m not in Virginia with my collar.
Today, I’m in Montreat with my sisters. We are learning (remembering) to be creatively, prayerfully, sacredly alive. We are praying and singing for God’s kingdom to reign. We are remembering our strength. And we’ll need our strength to muster courage when we are afraid, to link arms and sing against hate in our various lives when we leave here.
After I wrote the paragraphs above, I went to our evening session where Rachel Held Evans opened our evening by declaring that white supremacy pervades the systems and institutions of our nation, and the church is no exception…and that hatred, oppression, and declaring oneself better than any other human in the world is in direct opposition to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And 400 people applauded. And applauded. And applauded.
Some of us shouted, “Amen.” Some of us whispered it. For Rachel had spoken our collective confession.
I am a pastor in the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). Most pastors in my tradition don’t choose the biblical text from which we will preach each week; we use a lectionary, a calendar of texts.
Some use the Narrative Lectionary which has us reading through the story of God and God’s people…as a story. It has longer passages each week, and you pick up next week where you left off today, so you get a sense of the narrative of God’s action in the world. The Narrative Lectionary is a four-year cycle of readings. When you reach the end of it – start again! It’s been four years, and God has something new to say and new people who are listening.
Most use the Revised Common Lectionary which has us reading (mostly) through one of the gospels – and a few other texts from various parts of the Bible which work to help us better understand the gospel reading for that day. The Revised Common Lectionary is a three-year cycle of readings.
Year A, we read through the Gospel According to Matthew – and some coordinated readings.
Year B, we read through the Gospel According to Mark – and other readings.
Year C, we read through the Gospel According to Luke – and other readings.
And St. John’s gospel gets lots of focus sprinkled throughout in all three years.
And some pastors in our tradition create their own lectionaries. For example, I once attended a church where we used the Gospel According to Luke all year, we didn’t insert any of St. John’s gospel where the RCL does. Other pastors do sermon series preaching and various other patterns for proclaiming who God is and what God has done in Jesus.
That’s a very long way to get to this: I use the Revised Common Lectionary. I mean I really use it. I have only been a pastor for 4 years, so I am not tired of the three-year cycle of readings, and I have a gut feeling that I should not be the person choosing the text for the week. So, I really do like using the RCL. I nearly never stray from it.
We are smack dab in the middle of St. Matthew’s gospel. We are in chapter 13 right now, and Jesus has a lot to say to the Pharisees who are furious that he is healing on the Sabbath and such. He uses lots of language about punishment and the fiery furnace and people gnashing their teeth in agony and suffering. It’s hard to hear. I know that we are sinful, and God is righteous. I know the wages of sin really are death, but sometimes in the middle of this gospel, I feel a bit desperate.
This week, the focus for our Wednesday evening time of worship and study is Christmas. We have something called Chrismons, symbols of Christ which hang like ornaments on a tree. This week, we’ll study the meanings of them, where those meanings are found in scripture, and how to make one. We will surely sing some Christmas hymns and tell the Christmas story.
As I sat to do some preparation for Wednesday evening, remembering the meaning of all the symbols, looking up some of Jesus’ names in scripture, and thumbing through the hymnal to choose a few Christmas hymns, I felt relaxed. As I sang through a few verses, I noticed that gentle feeling of familiarity settling around me. One of the joys of Christmas is hearing the first few notes of a hymns and thinking, “Oh, I love this one!”
It felt so different from last Sunday morning when I read from the pulpit that all evildoers will be collected and thrown into the furnace of fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. The poetry of Christmas hymns works to wrap words around the mystery of the ways God loves the world. And while St. Matthew certainly reveals God’s love to us in the ministry, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – it’s sometimes a hard road following Jesus around Galilee.
So, this lectionary preacher decided that we will tell the Christmas story this Sunday in worship (for not all our folks come out for the mid-week classes). And, maybe since I never change the lectionary texts, I came here to write about it and process it, making sure it’s a good idea.
I guess Spirit is telling me in many and varied ways that it is always good to tell the story of God’s choice to “move into the neighborhood” as Eugene Peterson puts it. Surely, we need always to keep in focus the miracle and mystery of the choices God makes to be in relationship with us. The story of God’s birth is one of those choices.
In the midst of the language of punishment and gnashing of teeth, can you imagine Love growing in Mary’s womb in order to be born into this world ~ in order to teach us about Love? I think we need to imagine it again – in the middle of our journey through St. Matthew’s gospel. We need to peer into the manger to see the gentle way Love shows up.
Now, please join me in turning to hymn #283, Oh Come, All Ye Faithful.
After we sing, please wash your hands and come to the table where sugar cookies and icing is ready for you to make creative and delicious symbols of God’s love. (Now, you bigger ones be sure to help the littler ones among us.)
I have a dear friend who makes “10 Things…” lists. I always enjoy reading them. Here’s one from the last few weeks of my life.
Sometimes you get an invitation to a new adventure, which only serves to help you know you prefer this current adventure.
Sometimes it takes a serious fall that could have been serious-er to help you know how much you really like being alive. And “there’s a million things I haven’t done. Just you wait. Just you wait.”
Sometimes it takes a severe allergic reaction affecting your arms, legs, and neck to help you have a dose of real empathy for those who have uncomfortable and embarrassing skin conditions all the time. Seriously, Friends, some of your friends/family/clients/students/teachers with psoriasis and eczema and such are wearing long sleeves in the heart of the summer because they feel like lepers. I have found myself wanting to wear a shirt at the grocery store that reads: It’s an allergic reaction. It’s not contagious. It even affected my work, as I had planned to visit some homebound folk today, but didn’t want them to worry – since many of them have compromised health and cannot afford any type of exposure to illness. I will simply go in a few days when my rash has cleared up, but those with chronic skin conditions regularly have to offer explanations and wear those sleeves as best they can.
Sometimes you agree to be the chaplain at Music Week at a summer camp of hundreds of musical children and adults, and it helps you remember how sacred are rhythm, melody, harmony, and silence – and that you worship a creative, endlessly interesting God.
Sometimes you agree to be the chaplain at Music Week, and it bubbles to the surface one of the embarrassing and difficult conflicts within our congregations:
we want the finest of musicians serving in our midst
some of the finest musicians are gay
This means in our holy community, we have people offering their exquisite gifts to and for us in the name of Jesus. It means that very often, when we sing our favorite hymn, and our spirits are lifted to and through the thin spaces between earth and heaven, the fingers, brain, feet, voice, and creativity that offer us that moment are possessed by a gay person. So, Christ’s Church has a choice: accept the giver and the gift in the same breath of gratitude, or tell Jesus we do not like the way he gives us his gifts. We do not get to have it both ways. We cannot say, “Thank you for the music. It has restored my soul. The musician, however, is broken.”
Sometimes you rack up plenty enough emergency room, urgent care, and bloodwork bills to reach your out-of-pocket limit for the year, so you start thinking of all the things you have ignored or not got tested when advised to do so. And you feel every minute of your 48 years…and you are not sure you want to know what all those tests reveal. But, in the very next breath – maybe before the first breath is complete – you are just so grateful for health insurance and an HRA account and a job that tosses money in that account just for taking health assessments online. So, you dial the phone and make the first long-neglected appointment.
Sometimes you watch your daughter just start adulting, and when you get really quiet and totally honest, you admit that you are not nervous about her moving out next month. She’s doing great. She’ll do great. She’s stronger than you will ever be, and you pray that her strength doesn’t have to be tested quite so brightly as yours has. When you imagine her as an elementary school teacher, you feel such relief that there will be a couple dozen kids every year who get her light, strength, creativity, artistry, and intellect. They are luckier.
Sometimes you look at the calendar and you see it’s only 88 days until your son stands at the foot of a cross, holding his Love’s hands, promising to participate wholly in a holy relationship until death. He’s already got one year under his belt of teaching high school special ed math in the heart of Balitmore. (When you told someone about him and his job, the person said, “There are givers and takers: he’s a giver.”) He’s more than you expected in so many ways. His creativity and kindness match his spooky-smart-intellect, and his hunger for justice drives him.
Sometimes you confess to your financial planner that you know loads of other adults manage all their bills and savings and such like champs. They make budgets and stick to them. They don’t always underestimate how much money or time things will take. Some of them even just keep lots of details in their heads, like which bills come quarterly, and what the password to that account you only access when it’s tax season in order to download/upload some documents for your tax preparer. You know people do that (and you are pretty sure he’s nodding because he is one of those people…which is a great trait for a financial planner, after all), but you confess that it is difficult for you, so you have lists and calendars. And when the computer with that information froze and crashed one day many months ago, it completely derailed the quazi-system you had going. Sometimes you share all that mess with your finance guy, and you are getting kind of teary with all that vulnerability…and he offers some really helpful help. And it feels like you are talking to God-in-Skin, helping the helpless.
Sometimes your Mom watches your life with a tumble down the stairs, concussion, and scalp-staples, followed closely by a freak allergic reaction, all wound up in two weeks at camp: a week with your middle schoolers and a week with the musicians. She asks which day this week she can come and help you catch up on laundry and cleaning bathrooms and such. She asks this because she knows you. She knows how you get behind in things. And how it makes you feel ashamed – because, ya know, lots of adults just manage all those things. So, when she calls to ask when she can come, you don’t say, “Oh, no. You don’t have to do that. I’ll get it done.” You say, “Is Friday good?” And you look to heaven and whisper, “Thanks.”
Sunday evening, I came home, tossed my keys in the bowl, put my purse in my purse-place, had my phone in one hand and a drink in the other as I went downstairs to let the dogs out. After taking 2 stairs, I tripped/slipped somehow and tumbled the rest of the way down 4 or 5 stairs to the tile floor, where I proceeded to split my scalp open.
I knew right away that I had hurt myself quite badly, so I dialed 911.
Actually, I dialed the 9, but I couldn’t remember the rest of it. I thought, “It’s like the terrorist attack in New York with the planes and the buildings.” And somewhere from a quiet corner of my frightened and panicking brain, I found this phrase: nine-eleven. So, I dialed two ones and hit the phone icon to connect me with some help.
I didn’t know his name was Matt at first. First, we established that I was, indeed, hurt and needed help right away. As I spoke with him, I got a towel from the linen closet and held it to the back of my head to try to stop the bleeding. I told him I was starting to feel pretty woozy. He calmly asked me to go unlock the front door, then lie down if I thought I might pass out…so the emergency team could get to me, and I wouldn’t fall again.
I told him I thought maybe I’d go wait for my heroes out in a chair on the front porch and just hold this towel to my head. That way, if I did pass out, they would find me right away. He asked if I would like him to stay on the phone until they arrived. I told him that would be really helpful, and I asked his name. He said, “Miss Jennifer, my name is Matt.” I said, “Hi Matt. I’m glad to meet you, and I’m really grateful for your help.” He said, “I’m glad to meet you, too, and we are going to get you the help you need.” Sitting there, bleeding profusely, feeling not at all sure I would stay conscious, I felt safe with Matt’s reassurance. This is the work of the gospel, to sit with those who are suffering, offering them hope. Matt preached a quiet, calm, and gentle sermon from his seat in some Guilford County Emergency Dispatch office somewhere miles away from my front porch. I told him how concerned I was about getting a hold of my daughter who was at work. He asked for her number and dialed it. He connected me to it, so I could talk with her, but she didn’t answer while she was still on her shift. I told him I’d try to text her, but my vision was pretty blurry to be able to see to text.
Then I heard the music of sirens. I told Matt, “I hear them!” And he said, “I’ll stay with you until they are standing in front of you.”
I said, “They are turning onto my street!” I was flooded with relief that they would find me while I was still conscious.
Five or six people hopped out of that fire engine and ambulance. Each one had a job. I was pretty distracted by the man with the blood pressure cuff and finger monitor, not to mention the man who was taking the towel off my head, but the man standing in front of me wanted my attention. He was so kind and kept asking me to look at him and answer his questions. He was wondering if I knew what time it was, had I lost consciousness? I answered his questions, and he discerned that I had not. He said I had done a great job of putting pressure on my wound, but I had a goose egg on the back of my head about the size of his fist. He made the decision that I would go to the hospital – and likely get some stitches.
And here’s the part that makes me cry when I remember it: It was 10:20, and my angel daughter would be home from work by about 10:40. My house looked like a crime scene, and I could not have her walk in there and find all that blood and me gone. I just kept saying over and over that I had to get a hold of my daughter. By then, I had a massive bandage wrapped all the way around my head, so my glasses didn’t fit on my face. An EMT held them to my face, so I could peck out a text to my girl telling her that I promised I was okay, that there was a lot of blood, but I was okay. That I would be at the hospital getting some stitches.
The man who had been interviewing me earlier asked if he could go in my house and get my keys and purse, then lock it up. He asked if my dogs were okay. I said they were and that my daughter would be home shortly to tend to them. He brought me my purse and keys, told me how beautiful my dogs are, and made sure my house was locked.
The only other time I have ever ridden in an ambulance was when I was 20 years old, dating an EMT, and he drove me home from work in it one day. I’m quite sure he was not supposed to do that, though.
This time was very different. Riding backward in any car at any time ever would make me carsick. So, riding backward after having sustained a head injury…well, it was not a great trip to the hospital, but we made it there quickly.
Maybe someday I’ll want to write about my experience in the hospital. It was horrible and beautiful, with many small sermons preached to me by the quick and assured decisions and actions of kind and capable nurses and orderlies and technicians and such. And one sustained sermon preached by my faithful daughter who sat by my side and has more strength than I will ever be able to muster. But, tonight, it’s important to me to write down what it felt like to be rescued. I have been rescued (by my parents) from lousy circumstances, but I don’t ever remember needing literally to be rescued by medical personnel.
Something has shifted within me.
Language is not liquid enough to move in and through all the ways I am grateful. As a matter of fact, in order to write them down, I have to acknowledge what could have been had I not been so lucky. And I’m not ready to go there, yet.
For now, I have deep oceans of gratitude for Matt and his team of superheroes and my daughter…none of whom were wearing capes.
All my adult life, I have read articles about health, weight loss, exercise, changing your habits, and whatever else might apply to my health. Loads of those articles are written by people who have made significant changes in their lives, and nearly all of them started out pretty sure they would never be able to change.
They say ridiculous things like: “I just have a slice of sweet watermelon if I’m craving a piece of cake,” and “If I am craving something crunchy, instead of chips, I just eat a handful of baby carrots!”
Oh, I think when I was younger, I thought maybe those things would work. But, then I bought a bag of baby carrots…and they were nothing like chips. Not for one second or in any way at all were they like chips. They tasted like water…and left my fingers wet. You know what chips do? They taste like salt and fat…and they leave my fingers orange (because the two best chips ever are Doritos and Cheetos). Those carrots were pretty good dipped in ranch, but then I learned that for all the calories I was spending on ranch, I could just eat the chips!
I have also read this sentence just shy of one million times: “When I stopped eating refined sugar, my taste buds adjusted, and fruit was decadently sweet enough to satisfy my sugar cravings; I don’t even crave my evening bowl of ice cream anymore.”
While I believed them that drastically reducing their sugar intake would give their taste buds a break from the ever-present sweetness of sodas and candy and other sugary things – and make less sweet things taste sweeter, I just didn’t believe that they were being authentic about not craving ice cream. Rather, I thought they were being disciplined.
Well, here are the ridiculous and authentic things I have uttered this week, causing my daughter, Sage, to call me out as “one of those people who say those things.”
Upon receiving the apple juice box that came with my hamburger happy meal, I said with delight, “Oh! This is going to be like drinking a soda!” When nearly all you drink is water (and unsweetened tea), apple juice is super sweet. It’s true. My taste buds will tell you it’s true. I’ll try not to tell you, though…unless you have clicked on this blog, then I’ll tell you because we are talking about this Whole 30 journey. But, if I’m at a fast food joint with you, I will not tell you that apple juice is just as good as soda. I promise.
While I was doing paperwork and munching on pistachios, I said, “Geez. These are so good. These salt and pepper ones are like eating chips!” To which Sage said, “Liar.” And through my laughter, I said, “No really! You have to taste the salt and pepper ones!” And she said, “Mom. I believe you that they are good. I do not believe you that it’s like you are eating potato chips.” You, Gentle Reader, don’t have to believe me about how perfectly satisfying these particular pistachios are. Drive yourself to Costco and pick up a bag. The bag is huge – which is good because you will eat a lot of them. And you might think they are as good as chips!
This afternoon, I stood at the kitchen counter, eating cherries and spitting the seeds into the compost bowl, and thought, “These are so delicious! They are sweet and perfect…and more addicting than candy.” I was only talking to myself. I was not being silly or even having a conversation with Sage. It was an authentic thought: these cherries are better than candy.
So, here’s the thing. Until you experience some things, they are only talk. Until you own them yourself, they lie beyond what you can imagine is true. That’s why it was so annoying to me when people said or wrote things like this.
Before I did Whole 30 – and the subsequent weeks of experimentation – I was absolutely sure I would be unable to quit sugar. (I’m not quitting sugar altogether, but that’s another conversation.) I couldn’t really even picture it. The first thing I did every morning was make a big mug of tea with a huge scoop of sweetened condensed milk in it. The first thing I did was give my tongue some (a lot of) sugar. And I did not stop refueling my sugar tank until I went to bed. So, hearing someone say that natural things like fruit can meet our physical need for sweet things…I guess it made me feel weak, like I was broken somehow, with no control over my sugar consumption.
So, I made lots of jokes about it.
But, in my gut I knew those jokes were stand-ins for courage.
And THAT’S what I think Whole 30 takes. Courage.
What if those people who annoyed me with their watermelon-instead-of-cake talk were actually bearing witness to something I needed to hear? What if even while I was rolling my eyes at them, my ears were hearing some things 48 and I would need down the road? What if those people I secretly (or not so secretly) judged as ridiculous were just being authentic in ways that would bring me courage someday down the line?
So, maybe the question is: How does one find the balance between being that preachy person who just sounds like she is bragging…and bearing witness to a new truth you didn’t know you had the courage to learn?
I continue to learn a lot about my body, since I decided that my reintroduction process would be lengthy. Roughly, it has looked like this:
5 days of Whole 30 + Dairy: I didn’t have any health troubles with dairy. It didn’t affect my sleep, my arthritis, nor did I have any of those lactose intolerance symptoms people often report.
5 days of Whole 30 + Grains: My sleep and arthritis seemed to be fine, and I didn’t have any of the gluten intolerance symptoms.
5 days of Whole 30 + Sugar: BAM! Had one sleepless night and some swelling in my hands. Also discovered that I have very little power to be consume sugar in moderation.
Give me a little…I’ll take more, please. I paid close attention to how I use sugar. My habit has been to use a heaping teaspoon of sugar in my large cup of tea. And not having used sugar in my tea for 40 days, it was striking to me when I scooped up all that sugar on my spoon. It occurred to me that I have no idea how much sugar that is, so I measured it. And it’s easily 2 teaspoons, but nearly a tablespoon. Huh. Learning, learning, always learning.
5 days of Whole 30 + Nothin’: Just back on the Whole 30 program to reset before I did some more experimentation. In those 15 days of dairy, grains, and sugar, I gained back nearly all the weight I had lost. That was super disheartening, but it was a great lesson. There is no way that I ate thousands and thousands of extra calories that would add up to 7 pounds of gained weight. But, it’s entirely possible probable that those foods caused inflammation and water retention which accounted for most of the weight gain. This was proven when I lost all the weight again during 5 days of pure Whole 30. The only way I lost all that weight was if it was water and inflammation.
5 days of Whole 30 + Sugar 2.0: Tried sugar again (without dairy or grains, so no ice cream or cookies – just hard candies and sugar in my tea and sugar added to the fruit sorbet I made…sigh…and some soda). My sleep was affected, and my hands hurt. It also seemed I had more headaches, but I didn’t really keep notes on that, so I’m not sure.
So, my understanding is that our bodies process carbs (grains) into sugars, also. Therefore, having pinpointed regular sugar as an inflammation trigger, I’m wondering about grains. So, I’m now in the middle of…
5 days of Whole 30 + Grains 2.0: So far, I’ve had some sushi which has rice in it and croutons on my otherwise Whole 30 salad. I think I’ll have a sandwich for dinner with the whole wheat bread I bought. I’m trying hard to only add grains, not sugar…so nearly all cereals are out, and I don’t like oatmeal without some brown sugar in it, so that doesn’t really work. I’m trying to find a nutritional pattern that I can actually enjoy. And I won’t enjoy oatmeal without sugar…at least not now, but my tastes are changing.
Two years ago, I was lying with my neck resting in the crook of a shampoo bowl, and the stylist was noting how quickly my hair grows. We had just cut it short 5 weeks ago, and it was already in need of getting shaped back up. It hit me then that I get my hair cut off an inch or less at a time – many times a year. What if I didn’t? What if I just didn’t go in for a haircut for…a while? How long would this stuff get? And how long would it take?
I guess I knew right then that I would be growing it out to give it away. It just struck me as the most absurd thing that I have quick growing, thick hair I keep throwing away a little bit at a time, and there are others who have lost their hair who long for what I have. (I feel the same way about giving blood. My body just makes the stuff. It doesn’t cost me anything to make it. And other people need it, so sharing it makes simple sense.)
Growing out a short haircut with loads of layers wasn’t really fun, but once it got to be chin length, I went in and had it shaped nicely with some long layers that I could let grow out. I had a trim every 3 or 4 months to remove dead ends and shape it up a bit – always telling the stylist about my plan, so she would honor my desire to keep as much length as we could while still keeping it healthy.
My daughter has long, thick, strong hair, so I asked her about caring for it. She told me how to keep it healthy, and I stayed away from using heat on it most of the time, didn’t wash it every day, used a good conditioner, got hair ties that didn’t pull or damage.
And the most interesting feeling grew: I was a hair surrogate!
Now, I considered being a surrogate mother when I was younger. I loved pregnancy and delivery. My body did it well, recovered well from it, too. So, I really did consider it. That’s not how life worked out, though. I just never want anyone who reads this to think that I can for one minute equate growing my hair with growing a baby. Conceiving and growing a human with all the physical and emotional ramifications of that AND the process of handing that child to his/her parents? Absolutely no comparison to not getting a haircut.
Except in one way: I knew the whole time I was doing it for someone else.
When I was sick of it and wanted to cut it last summer, I thought about the child who would get the wig made of my hair. If I gave up, would she have to wait just a little longer?
When I felt like coloring it just for the fun of it, I remembered that Wigs for Kids only takes undyed hair.
When I thought about cutting it…and just starting again another year, I remembered that the rules require that only 25% of the hairs can be gray. I meet that standard right now, but likely not in the coming years.
When I wanted to straighten it, I considered the split ends and damage I was doing – and knew it might render my hair unusable if they have to trim off too much when they get it.
When I kind of liked the length, but really wanted some layers in it so styling would be more fun…you get the idea.
Another feeling grew, too. As I researched the various programs for giving your hair away, I learned a lot about the process. How the hair is boiled and bleached and prepped in lots of different ways, how it takes about 6 donations to make one wig, how Wigs for Kids puts the wig on the child and lets her get a haircut in the style she wants.
So, that meant my donation was reliant on 5 other people going through with the years of growing, caring, waiting…and then cutting and donating. I started wondering who they were. I wondered if they were tired of long hair, too. Or did they LOVE having it long, but chose to donate it because it was just the right thing to do. Were they planning it all along, like I was? Or were they like my friend, “Ginger of Luxurious, Strong, Straight Hair” who was at a huge gathering of Lutheran Youth in Detroit and plunked herself in the chair at the Donate Your Hair booth?
I felt connected to those 5 strangers as I grew my hair. And today,
as I walked in to Great Clips (that’s the company that donates to Wigs for Kids – and also, I am not a big spender on haircuts that I need ALL THE TIME), I wondered about my 5 hair-donation-siblings. Had they already sent in their donation? Was I the first of the 6 of us?
We put my hair in 5 twelve-inch ponytails, to keep as much length as possible for the donation. (Gathering it all into one ponytail would mean losing the length around my face for the donation and keeping hair I didn’t need for my new style.)
Apparently, gout is a kind of arthritis, but it is gnarly. People who consume too much uric acid or have bodies which don’t process uric acid well – we get gout. We also get kidney stones, which is awesome. I know that because my dad is great at making kidney stones, so it is not a surprise that we are uric acid twinsies. Anyway, gout’s main symptom is deep and sometimes out-of-nowhere pain. Its usual home is in the joint where the big toe meets the foot, but it is generous with its pain and allows it to radiate throughout the foot – and even up the legs.
I have not seen a doctor about this because my old doctor was a not nice guy, so I requested a new doctor…and she can see me mid-July. (sigh) So, it’s up to Dr. Jennifer to diagnose herself. Today, out-of-nowhere, I was plastered to the sofa, unable to talk or listen because of a shooting pain in my big toe joint. I did not bump it or even bend it prior to the pain.
Knowing what I now know about how food affects my arthritis (and sleep!), I googled “foods to avoid if you have gout” and discovered that sugar, caffeine, fried foods, beef, alcohol, refined carbs, processed food, and a few others are on the “avoid this” list for gout. Well, that’s pretty much Whole 30, now isn’t it?!
I have been adding in dairy (no problem), grains (no problem), and now sugar (uh, problem). I have had sugar in my diet for two days, and I am not good at moderation. I allowed myself a soda, and now there are four empty cans by the sink, headed to the recycle bin! Imagine what my body is doing right now – trying to process all this refined sugar after 40 days without any!
So, it’s back to Whole 30 for me tomorrow. I shopped, chopped, cleaned, cooked, portioned, and prepared my way through this evening, so I can go back to work tomorrow ready for Whole 30 eating again. Egg cups with broccoli, onion, and Whole 30 compliant sausage for the morning, and lots of veggies chopped and ready to eat all day.
I’m actually looking forward to it. My stomach has been distended and uncomfortable since I started eating sugar a couple days ago. I’m ready to drink gallons of water and unsweetened (decaffeinated) tea to keep hydrated and flush my system.
Here’s the empowering part:
I know that I can do Whole 30. I’ve done really well on it. This time around, I can simply say, “Yah, I better give up sugar altogether since I seem to have no control over it, and it’s likely causing gout flare ups.” That’s a very new power of mine. Just 6 weeks ago, I was sure I couldn’t possibly make it through Whole 30. I was wrong. Boom. Capable Woman reporting for duty, ready to manage my health.
Whenever I’m on vacation, I get to choose where to worship on Sunday morning. Sometimes, if I’m in town I worship in a nearby town at a church where a friend of mine is the pastor. Sometimes, I worship here in High Point at the Episcopal or United Methodist congregations near me. Last night, I wondered if I might drive the 75 minutes to worship with my parents.
But, this morning I woke up and sneezed my fool head off! Not sure if it was allergies or a cold, I decided not to bring a potential cold to a local congregation. And I’ve heard people tell me many, many times that they don’t go to church because they find God in nature, or they don’t like to be around lots of people, or…they watch a preacher on TV. Well, I don’t have regular television, but I do have the internet, so I decided to try worshiping at home today.
Now, my task list for today (besides worship) was to install a fence, plant 6 shrubs, and transplant a bunch of potted plants.
So, before the sun got too hot, I went out and started working on the fence. The work is always slow for me because I’m not adept at this kind of work. Inevitably, I forget I need (or can’t find) a tool. I spend a LOT of time measuring things many times, so I don’t screw something up. And…now that Roxy and Eleanor live here, it’s like working with a toddler under my feet!
As I set up my work, I thought about how in worship, we begin with confession and forgiveness. So, as I made my way around my shed just loaded with things that I use only occasionally, I confessed that I spend money on things I don’t really need, that my comfort and convenience get my money far more readily than a stranger with a hungry tummy or a sick child who needs medicine or a single mom who can’t pay her bills. And as I measured out where the fence posts would be and drove stakes into the ground, carving into the earth, digging up grass that had grown there, I confessed that my use of fossil fuels in my car and in the truck that delivers my Amazon Prime items means I am complicit in the call for more resources. And if those who are building dangerous and leaking pipelines (like the Dakota Access Pipeline) which threaten our water supply didn’t have customers like me, they wouldn’t be carving into the earth in dangerous ways. And as I knelt in the sun, my muscles already feeling weak with only a few minutes of work behind them, I confessed that I do not care for my body as I should. I do not move it and keep it strong, even when I know it is important and faithful.
Since I am the one who pronounces God’s forgiveness after our confession on a Sunday morning, I stood up and looked around my yard, thinking about declaring myself forgiven. Then a breeze picked up, blowing my hair across my face, and I knew just what to do. I walked over to the stone birdbath which rests on an old stump. It was shimmeringly full today because of the powerful rainstorm that blew through here last night. Reaching out my hand, I saw the dirt under my fingernails as I dipped my God-made fingers into that God-made water and smeared a barely muddy cross on my God-made forehead. And in that moment, I remembered that God didn’t make the cross; we did. God showed up to love us, and we fashioned him a cross for making us admit we weren’t loving each other well. And God did not punish us for such a savage thing. God forgave us. Because God is in the business of forgiving and never grows weary of forgiving me. This, I believe.
Because I am not physically strong, and because I get over-heated oddly easily, I committed myself to taking frequent breaks to come inside, cool off (lying on my tile floor is fantastic for that), drink lots of water, and remember to eat well.
On my first break, I decided to find a sermon. So, I scrolled through Facebook to find a friend’s church with a link to their service. I watched Facebook Live from Pilgrim Lutheran in Lexington, SC. And what do you know, the pastor said that we need the church, that Jesus prayed we would all be one…together. Even though it is inconvenient and frustrating and not always efficient – we need each other in order to be Christ’s church. On the day I decided to do church alone, the sermon I randomly chose to hear reminded me that I need the church, and the church needs me.
I spent the rest of the day in and out of the sun, working hard, resting, petting my dogs, telling my dogs to move out of the way, accomplishing an important task, and remembering that I’m a capable woman. The fence posts are in, and the fencing will go up tomorrow. I didn’t plant the shrubs because I called my dad for some advice, and the suggestion he made means waiting to plant the shrubs until we do some other work in that area.
I sang a little – because we always sing in worship.
I ate fresh strawberries and blueberries from my garden, and while it was not Holy Communion of bread and wine with my sisters and brothers in Christ, it absolutely was a provision from God growing right there in my backyard.
So, I had church on my own today. It was fine. But in 7 days, I get to worship with my beautiful congregation – and that’s better.
Scroll down if you want to see my very helpful dogs being very helpful.