The same image has come unbidden to my mind every day this past week:
I am either in the basket of a hot air balloon or, more oddly, I AM the basket of a hot air balloon. My perspective is downward. I'm just a few feet off the ground, which is not too alarming, but the ropes that should tether me safely to it have come loose.
Am I floating away? Am I trying to land? I'm not sure, but I know instinctively that the ropes should not be untied. I need them to serve as tethers; I need them to keep me connected to the ground.
I spent the first part of this Friday night past in despondency. Nothing much had happened, but the weight of two weeks' worth of bad news piled upon bad news finally took its toll. Jeff Sessions had been revealed as the attorney general in the cabinet of the president-elect. All I knew about him was what I remembered from an article written a month before in which he, a United States senator, declared that a man grabbing a woman's genitals wasn't really sexual assault.
When my husband came home I was sitting at the table with my head in my hands.
"I feel dead inside." I declared, still staring at the table. "Of course what he said doesn't matter to the next president. How could that kind of statement matter to a man who actually assaulted women? How can we live in a world where such a man will be the next president? How is that is even possible"
Matt rubbed my shoulder and listened as I continued to speak, up to the point where I said, "Everything seems upside down to me. I feel lost." At that, he gave me some badly needed straight talk that helped pull me out of my gloom:
"Of course you feel lost. You've been stuck in the house all week being blasted with Donald Trump news on Facebook. You need to get out and connect with real people again."
And with that, he helped me make dinner and I started to come back to life.
I know what the first rope is, the first truth that will tether me and keep me grounded in a season that frequently sends me reeling: Call it community or something else, I--we--were created for real life lived with the real, flesh-and-blood people in our homes, our streets, with those we see at school and places of worship, in the grocery store and at the bank.
Reductivism is tempting and all too possible in online engagement: my family, friends and colleagues become the sum of their opinions and images.
I become the sum of my opinions and images.
Real life is less particular, less intense; opinions are but one sliver of the complex pie of shared existence. That which connects us--food, children, weather, holidays--that is the stuff that dominates our days and unites flesh-and-blood neighbours and friends with each other.
I can see myself again in the balloon, looking down, taking hold of a rope: flesh-and-blood, rooted existence in this space and this time. Here I am. Here are my people. Here is my place. And it is good.
I tie the rope to the ground.
I began reading Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland a few weeks ago. I found a mint-condition copy at a thrift store and bought it because my daughter loves the shorter version we have in the house, and because it seemed odd that I had never read the original before.
I'm finding it a serendipitous guidebook, as classic fiction often is for me. All that Alice knows must be altered, to make way for the wisdom necessary to navigate the strange Wonderland world. This is a world where a girl can fall hundreds or thousands of feet and not be harmed, where rabbits talk and worry about punctuality. It is precisely in the bizarre that Alice discovers her bravery, bravery she hopes to take with her back to her real home in the real world.
Speaking the truth has become an act of bravery for me. It doesn't feel like it initially, but it always does afterward. Speaking the truth about sexual assault. Speaking the truth about PTSD. Speaking the truth about God intersecting with my life (or me intersecting with His, as it's probably more accurate to say). Speaking about the first two subjects, necessary as it feels at the time, gets paid for afterwards by me and, to a degree, my family. There is a reason "spilling your guts" is so appropriate an idiom for the act.
But it does something else, and this relates to community, too. Throughout this past year I have had people who have experienced similar events--sexual assault, faith displacement, PTSD--reach out to me. Sometimes they share what they have experienced; sometimes it is as simple as, "you helped me put my story into words." That, far more than the act of writing, helps heal what is broken within me. When people reach out to me, I reach back--and when we join hands (metaphorically or physically) something inside whispers, "Yes. Good. This is the way it is supposed to be."
I am looking down again at the ground, one rope tied and the remaining three corners of the basket rocking dangerously in the wind. I throw down a second rope and someone--I cannot see who--tethers it to the ground for me.
I will keep choosing to speak the truth. I will not give into cowardice. I will not appease and please through silence and whimsy.
I will tell the truth. And so, the second rope is tied.
On Sunday morning, Matt woke up fighting a bit of the cold that my children have all passed around to each other.
"I don't want to go to church today," he said as he reached into the cupboard for his coffee mug.
"It's Christ the King Sunday!" I exclaimed. "I would DIE if I didn't go to church today."
"That's the difference between you and me," he responded flatly.
"No," I said. "It's a sign that I'm getting well."
This is the year of all years that I know, deep in my bones, that I need a calendar to live by beyond the political one of primaries and debates and elections. Hope pushes for involvement in those things, but it does not rise from them (nor should we expect it to).
I need to live by the calendar I have followed since I became an adult 19 years ago: the calendar that begins with the anticipation of the birth of Christ and ends with his crowning as King of the Universe. I need a reality rooted in God-become-human, in power prefaced and encased in humility. I desperately need the eternal Christ child in the manger to remind me the bluster and fear-mongering of kings (and president-elects) is not forever. I need to journey with the Holy Family to Egypt to remember that, whatever policies are enacted in the future, God knows what it is to be a refugee and calls us to welcome Him through welcoming others.
I need the once-and-always proclamation promise of Peace on Earth. And I need it, as the song goes, to begin in me.
This then, is the third rope: the ancient way of telling time through stories, good stories, of God and His people. This holding onto Good News that began with a good God creating a good world and that will, in His time, end with the full redemption and healing of that world. I don't demand that everyone sees it in exactly the same way, but for me, at this time, holding onto the Good News is what will keep me alive; it's what will keep me upright. The Good News is what will keep me from being utterly displaced by an era that is unfamiliar and yet all-too-familiar.
So I tie it, firmly, tightly, and let myself be drawn steadier and closer to the ground.
Once a month in my congregation (and every week or day in many others), we celebrate Eucharist (Thanksgiving); a meal instituted by Christ of bread and wine. In my faith tradition, we call this meal a means of grace; a way in which God feeds and nourishes not only our bodies but our spirits.
Eucharist, Communion, the Lord's Supper: these are all names for the same meal, based on the same Good story recorded in all four of the Books that describe the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is my favourite part of worship, both as a leader and as an in-the-pew participant. The last part of the liturgy that I would say as the leader was this strange line: "Drink this cup, in remembrance that Christ's blood was shed for you, and be thankful."
Thankfulness and gratitude, are central to the Eucharist, and they are central to the life of faith. But gratitude is a grounding practice both for those at home in a faith and those who make their home outside of one. It forces us to account for the good in addition to the bad. Thankfulness is the recognition that there are gifts we have been given and enjoy--gifts of people or health or work or the beauty of the day.
As a culture, we North Americans have a whole day set aside for an annual practice of gratitude, of thanksgiving. But that isn't the only time available to practice it, nor is it best to save it for just once a year.
When I came home this morning, my four-year-old neighbour greeted me with laughing and pointing--not at me, but at the sun, which we in Vancouver see too rarely.
"The sun is out, the sun is out!" he exclaimed joyfully.
I'm sure I knew that subconsciously, but I hadn't factored it in with my long list of things to do. But here was my neighbour, pointing and calling me to look. So I did. I set my bag of groceries down on the stairs and turned to look with him at the face of the sun. It was covered by white clouds, but the light was streaming through and touching both of us as we looked.
These things, gratitude and thanksgiving, will be my fourth rope, tying me not only to the ground but to God (Whom Tillich wisely titled "The Ground of Being.") I know gratitude can happen outside of God, but for me it happens now to Him, in concert with Him and the creation in which He has set me and those I love. I lost my ability to practice God-directed gratitude when I lost my ability to read the Scriptures. But it has come back, and I no longer have to limit my thoughts to the good things that happen. I can be thankful for them. With a smidge of panic (as comes whenever I consciously connect things to religious obligation). But I can be grateful. Thank God.
I am looking down again, in the balloon. The wind is gentle, barely blowing. I reach down and easily and firmly tie the fourth and final rope to the ground. Gratitude. Thanksgiving.
Still in the balloon. Still looking downwards.
I am aware that, just outside my field of vision, nothing has changed. What is uncertain remains uncertain. What is terrifying remains terrifying.
But if and when I look beyond me at a world that is good but breaking, a world that even now breaks hearts and bodies and sends nations into disarray--I will look with eyes open and with the strength and stability of the four things that anchor me in place: the flesh-and-blood people in my life; the truth I will continue to speak; the Stories that I know and shape my life around; and gratitude for the good that I know will arise.
It is enough.
It will be well.
A blessing for you, and for me:
May we find our footholds in what is good, and right and true
That we may not fear
Or grow over-weary,
But rather be glad,
And even, on occasion, rejoice.
This post is an expansion on an entry in my journal, written in a low season of my life following a soul-crushing miscarriage. May it be a word of courage and encouragement for those who need it.
Went for a walk.
Looked for God at a waterfall.
Heard Him in the damp, ancient forest
of trees with half-stretched
broken branches, covered in
I walked until I felt compelled to stop in front of one old tree in particular. And heard,
"This is you, Kadee."
I notice the tree's branches,
their frenetic, top-to-bottom reaching out.
There is no fruit. It provides no shade.
What good is there in a tree like this?
"It stands," I hear.
"Just stand, Kadee."
But is it good enough just to stand?
"You are good enough. Just stand."
Psalm 1 has a line that I returned to often after my father died:
[S]he shall be like a tree planted by streams of water,
that bears its fruit in season.
Maybe this isn't a season to bear fruit.
Maybe it is enough just to stand.
If God says it's true, it must be so.
A blessing for you, and for me:
If you can run, may you run with strength and speed.
If you can walk, may you walk with dignity and purpose.
If you can stand, may you stand in confident trust that it is enough.
And if you can only crawl, sit, or lie down,
May you, in so doing, partake in the Divine dignity of weakness.
And though we long with you for the gift of strength,
I rise up even now and call you blessed.
Here is something I didn't see coming: I didn't anticipate what it would be like to admit publicly I had been sexually assaulted in the context of a larger national conversation on the subject, and then have friends and family vote for an admitted sexual assaulter.
I knew, of course, that it would happen. But I didn't know what it would do to my heart.
I didn't expect that it would feel like dementors circled me and sucked all hope out of the air in the early morning hours of November 9. (Yes, I know that dementors aren't real. But sometimes it feels like they are.)
I didn't know that I would feel betrayed by my people, the white American evangelicals, 81% of whom voted for an admitted sexual assaulter (among other things; and God Almighty, what a long, terrible list of other things!)
I didn't know that the voice so recently returned to me would scream for hiding and protection and safety again in the wake of the election; to sit out the next four years safely and silently here in Canada, ignoring what is happening in the country of my birth and around the world.
I didn't know silence would be so tempting after finding the courage to speak. How could I?
But now I know. And I have faced and rejected the temptation to quiet down and go away.
I have faced and rejected (thought failing sometimes) the temptation to simply keep the peace and ignore what remains troubling and disturbing about this New (i.e. Very Old) World in which we live. A world in which naming misogyny and xenophobia and racism is treated as whining, and denouncing those things earns one the title of "poor loser." A world in which riots are rightly denounced while attacks in and on churches and schools and human beings are minimized or ignored.
I have faced and rejected the temptation to give into the safety of despair and turn away from noisy, irritating, painful hope.
No. It is in hope that I want to live. It is in hope, and its twin sisters, faith and love that I, as a person of faith, am called to live. And in this new season of knowing that all is not well, hope will continue to require work on my part and on all of our parts.
Hope requires turning away from the temptation to despair and cowardice. Hope requires turning away from the temptation to demean and withdraw from those who voted differently than me, especially those who share my faith. It is hope, not optimism, that is necessary in these days. Hope, not cheery naivetè must remain the oxygen of the brokenhearted and the inspiration of the weary.
As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes, "Optimism is the belief that things will get better. Hope is the belief that, if we work hard enough, we can make things better. Between them lies all the difference in the world. Optimism is a passive virtue, hope an active one. It needs no courage, only a certain naiveté, to be an optimist. It needs a great deal of courage to have hope."
Well then, may God give me courage, for I. Will. Live. In. HOPE.
In hope, I will work for a future that is just, not the savage now that elevates the rights of those of a particular skin colour, orientation, religion or gender. I will speak when that future clearly remains to be realized. And I will rejoice when it seems to break through.
In hope, I will live into a Kingdom where it is the poor and the mourning and the broken who are declared blessed instead of reviled as losers and whiners. I will speak when that Kingdom is rejected for a kingdom of the mighty being right because of their might. And I will celebrate when that Kingdom advances in peaceful victory.
In hope, I will live into a Kingdom of grace and mercy and humility and love, where, as Mother Mary sang, "God casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly."
In hope, I will reach out my hand out in friendship to those who disagree with me, even though it may be slapped away or spit upon. (God help me. God help us all. That is the part I dread most.)
And I will screw up sometimes. I will fail at love and I will give up hope and then grasp it again. And I'll probably irritate people (no, definitely will! Kadee, shut up already about Donald Trump!). And I'll probably be a Debbie Downer or, I flatter myself, Gandalf Stormcrow (no, definitely will!) and get muted or blocked or ignored, even by people I love and people who love me.
But thank God, so much of what used to keep me silent--the agony I put myself through because of what others think of me and my words--has been crucified and buried. And may it lie dead, amen and amen.
I expect to be hurt, and I expect to be ignored. And I expect myself to tell the truth anyhow.
Because hope. And only hope.
A blessing for you, and for me:
Be brave, beloved:
Use the voices God has given you to speak the truth, and to speak it in love.
Live courageously in hope, clinging to faith tinged by hope,
And I will do the same, with His help.
Note: This post was originally an entry in my personal journal, written less than two months after I went on medical leave and about a month after I started running per my doctor's recommendation. It is about running. It is also about much more than running.
Every time I run, I have the same memory play in my head as I start to get in my stride: when I was in grade 4 or 5 and the only girl to volunteer to run the 800 meters at our annual track meet.
A few years earlier I had been declared the fastest girl in class after a race around the field for P.E. For some reason I thought I was still fast enough, and that running 800 meters would be no problem for me.
It's strange how much I remember about that race. I remember my dad telling me I needed to be practicing in the weeks before, couch potato that I was. I remember him telling me that I needed to start out slow, or I wouldn't have enough energy to speed ahead and win at the end. I agreed to his wisdom, eventually.
But on the race day itself, the need to prove myself quickly voided Dad's good wisdom. As we were lined up, another, older girl talked to the boy from my school running in the race ahead of me. "Who's running the 800?" she asked. He nodded in my direction, and she sized me up She had permed hair and cool accessories, and an athlete's solid build. I was skinny and awkward and had thin, straight hair (anathema in the late '80's, early 90's).
"Is she any good?"
The boy shrugged his shoulders and somehow (I don't remember if in words or whispers) informed Miss Amazing that I was the only one who had volunteered, and thus the only one running from our school who had not qualified by trying out.
By the time we were lined up, it was desperately hot outside and I was equally desperate to prove to everyone that I deserved to be there. So when the "Go!" was given, I set off in a blaze of speed, ahead of Miss Amazing.
But only for a moment. Very quickly I could feel that it would be all I could do to finish the race--winning would be the least of my concerns. As we made the first round, I saw my dad parked with his work truck on the other side of the school fence, watching me race.
I knew I was going to disappoint him. I had not practiced, and I had not paced myself. I was going to lose, and badly. Which, of course, I did. I believe I came in dead last, which was bad enough, but I was so exhausted that I fell on the ground after crossing the finish line, panting and sweating and in agony. I looked to my best friend for sympathy, but she just looked horrified and mostly embarrassed.
Looking back, I have so much compassion for that little girl, alone and in last place, heaving on the ground. If Dad stayed, I don't remember it. If anyone came to help me, I don't remember it. The only funny thing I remember--and this can't be right, but I'll say it anyway--is my foster brother running the boys' 800 right after me and not only winning by a long shot but doing so after initially missing a turn and having to backtrack to the right course for the race.
Whenever I run now and am tempted to race ahead to look faster--more fit, more worthy of respect and admiration--I think of my Dad by his truck, watching and saying, "Slow down or you'll have nothing left at the end." I have to tune out the lifetime of other voices that say THIS moment, THIS impression is what you must kill yourself for.
Run the long race. Listen to your body. Pace yourself. Slow down.
Words to live by, if I've ever heard any. And now, finally, I am learning to listen to them.