Sowing Sunflowers

I’ve seen a lot of people adding the words #LoveWins to comments about the recent violent atrocities in the United States. But as I read the headlines every day about more violence, more injustice, and more oppression in this country and world, I’m unconvinced. It doesn’t seem that love is winning at all; it seems that hatred is winning.

This week, as I read the headlines from North Miami (and Munich and Kabul and Baghdad and the Ukraine), I couldn’t think of any words to write other than #HateWins. I tried to pray but I couldn’t find any words for that either, so I went to the only place where everything feels right in the world; my garden. And as I watered and weeded and breathed in the smells and sights of creation, I was reminded of the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

The line, “where there is hatred, let me sow love” was on repeat in my spirit, and as I gave pause to that phrase, I looked over at our newly bloomed sunflowers spotlighted by the setting sun.

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This year, I planted a row of sunflowers behind our garden beds. I read the instructions on the back of the packet, before digging my little trowel into the hard, weedy, soil of our backyard and sowing 12 tiny seeds. I regularly watered the ground where I had sowed the seeds and I watched and waited. It took weeks to be able to distinguish the sunflower seedlings from the abundant weeds that grow in our backyard, and months for them to show any signs of flowers blooming. Now, the plants are 4 feet high and the flowers that have bloomed are gorgeous. But it took time and work for the seeds I had sown to bear any fruit.

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This week, as I gaped at the golden blooms, I thought about what it means to sow love in this world where hatred has such deep roots. I thought about how fast the weeds grow in my garden, and how long it takes for the good things to bloom. And I thought about how gardening requires regular tending, watering, weeding, fertilizing, and learning.

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I’ve been gardening for four years, but I still have so much to learn. Each year, I kill some plants, prune some too harshly, miss warning signs of mold and harmful insects until it’s too late, and sometimes, there are conditions outside of my control that make growing challenging. But I keep gardening, because it’s worthwhile work. I know the same is true about me planting love (and I’ll add hope and justice) amidst hate. This is a messy, complicated, nuanced conversation and I know still have so much to learn. I don’t always go about this work in the best way, I don’t always say the right words, I miss opportunities, and I still have so many biases to uncover. But I will keep planting these seeds and learning from my mistakes, because the world, my country, and my city are not as they should be.

I believe that sowing love amidst hate in our world is going to take work – not the flashy, wordsmithy, often publicly recognized kind of work – I think it’s going to take a lot of quiet, small, humble, routine work – well, a lot of quiet, humble work for those of us in dominant culture. And I think the work will look different for each of us. Every gardener I know has their own methods and practices and yet they help things grow.

For me, sowing seeds of love currently looks like:

  1. Tilling up the soil in my own heart: Doing a deep dive into unpacking the privilege that I have as a white, middle class, straight, cisgendered, Christian person. I’m slowly rooting out my white fragility and unearthing the ways that white dominant culture has benefitted me. I believe that this ongoing self-education piece is critical for those of us who want to be about the work of justice and equity, especially for white people.
  2. Consulting master gardeners: Listening to experts at sowing seeds of love and justice – being sure that I’m listening to people of color as the experts, not just white people who like to talk about this. There’s room for a lot of expertise in the libraries of my heart and home (I’ve linked to a few white authors in this post), but I’m being extra mindful of who I’m listening to and reading these days – being mindful of who is telling whose stories. (Some of my favorite writers: Ta-Nehisi Coats, Michelle Alexander, Bryan Stevenson, Christena Cleveland, and Austin Channing)
  3. Planting seeds of love in my everyday life: Because of the continued violence, there are plenty of opportunities to engage in marches and vigils and lectures. But in addition to joining in these large demonstrations, I want to be intentional to continue this work in my everyday life so that this work becomes as habitual as watering my garden everyday. Currently, this looks like calling out bias, discrimination, and privilege when I hear it among friends and family and inviting them to do the same when they hear it from me, convening a book club in which I can read and unpack some of the feels that come with understanding white privilege and white dominant culture, and incorporating these dialogues more deeply into my work with teachers.

Each season, I learn better, more effective methods to grow and sustain my garden plants. I hope the same is true about my learning to plant love amidst hate. I’m not a master gardener; I don’t think I will ever be, not with vegetables, and certainly not with fighting for equity.

But I’m going to keep gardening. I’m going to keep tilling up the soil in my heart, uprooting deep and unconscious, big and small biases, I’m going to keep listening to master gardeners about what this work is and how I can join, and I’m going to keep planting seeds in my everyday life. Because this isn’t a social justice hobby garden. This is urgent – it’s literally life and death. I have friends who are fearful for their own and for the children’s lives. If I’m honest, I’m afraid for them, too. Love won’t win on its own.There will be more #Hate Wins, more Orlandos, Altons and Philandos and Dallases and Baton Rouges and Charles if nothing changes. I want love to win and I know that won’t happen unless we all pick up our trowels and dig in.

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Dark Night in the Woods

Sometime during the course of late night conversations sophomore year of college (which no doubt took place over greasy Dominoes pizza or handfuls of microwave popcorn), my girlfriends discovered that I had never been camping before.

That’s not entirely true. I had been sort of camping once before. My non-outdoorsy parents agreed to embark on a camping trip with family friends one summer but we bailed when the tents started buckling during a torrential downpour and we landed at a hotel.

IMG_9339So back to college: My gals decided that we should go on a fall camping trip to give me a proper first camping experience. The idea of camping didn’t seem awesome but the idea of missing out on time with my friends seemed less awesome, so I conceded. A few of the camping experts set to planning out supplies, meals, route, and campground while I took to planning my most outdoorsy-looking outfits (nailed it, right?).

Camping 2012One Friday after class, when the trip was planned out, we loaded up our old college cars and shipped off to The Gorge. I don’t remember what caused the delay; maybe someone couldn’t skip her last Friday class or we took too long packing (or posing for pictures of packing) or there was a traffic delay, but somehow we got to our parking site later than our resident camping experts had hoped and we were almost out of daylight. We loaded up our backs with big supply packs and set out on the long hike down into the gorge to our campground.

IMG_9338We had fewer headlamps than campers so the expert campwomen geared up, and us rookies lined up every other headlamp and kept close. Very shortly into our descent, we were in total darkness except for the light of the few headlamps. I was told to keep close, to not veer too far to the right or left (because of a drop off), and to trust my friends.

Two of the girls had grown up exploring and camping in the very woods we were slogging. They knew the path even in the dark. They wouldn’t let me and our other pals get hurt.

I trusted but I was uncomfortable. I wasn’t in control; I had no idea where I was, what was around me, and what was ahead of me. I didn’t even have charge over what I could see.

I trusted but I was fearful. No doubt my anxiety (i.e the ability to conjure up the grimmest of all possible scenarios) played out ugly scenes in my mind as we hiked in lightless silence.

I was reminded of this trip as I was reading treasured words of Amy Carmichael this week: “There can be no difficulty of travel that he does not understand. We are never alone as we penetrate the unknown. We cannot be lost there… He knoweth the way that I take… There is no darkness where He cannot find us.”

I’m feeling a lot these days like I did that dark night in the woods. I trust God, but I am uncomfortable with how little control I have. I trust God, but I am still fearful. My steps feel unsteady and I have little idea what is beside me or in front of me. I would really, really like to know what the woods look like. Walking in the dark is exhausting.

But I take solace in the knowledge that there is no darkness where He cannot find us and even more solace in the knowledge that He can see even when I cannot.

“Even the darkness will not be dark to You;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to You.” (Psalm 139:12)

IMG_9340We made it safely into the gorge that night and had a delicious dinner of steak and nearly raw potatoes. (Fire-roasted dinner takes time and hunger doesn’t breed patience). We set up our tents, roasted something sweet over the fire, learned how to pee in the woods, told ourselves that no bears or scary mountain people would attack us until we finally fell asleep.

When I woke up in the morning and emerged from my tent to the smell of pancakes over the fire, I couldn’t believe the view. We were deep in the heart of a beautiful valley, with autumn-toned trees decorating the canopy above. I looked up at the narrow, steep path we had trudged in the dark and thought that perhaps it was better that I hadn’t been able to see where I was walking. I thought perhaps the scary walk in the dark made the morning all the more beautiful.

Maybe one day, when this dark cancer trip ends, I will feel the same way.


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On Lamenting and Rejoicing

I’ve been camped out in the Psalms during the last few months. The Psalms are gritty, honest, and confusing, which resonates well with my current headspace on this cancer journey. During this Psalms Campout, I keep circling back to the 34th chapter. Because I keep returning to this chapter, I decided to read it every day this month, and every few days, a line gets stuck in my head that inevitably gets me thinking.

I will extol the Lord at all times;
His praise will always be on my lips.
I will glory in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the Lord with me;
let us exalt His name together.

Over the last few days, I’ve been turning the phrase “let the afflicted hear and rejoice” over and over in my head.

The concept of rejoicing in the midst of trials isn’t new to me cognitively. I was a Christian kid in the late 90’s who sang with a passion that I would trade my sorrows for the joy of the Lord. I’ve heard a lot of sermons throughout my decades as a Christ-follower about praising through pain. I’ve seen bumper stickers and Pinterest prints reminding me to “Choose Joy”.

But, as I’ve said before, cancer has tested all the varied theology I’ve been taught over the years, and this week, I’ve been asking myself “What does ‘rejoice’ really mean?” Which is probably getting at the deeper question: “Am I actually rejoicing in this [affliction] cancer?” Which then tugs at another question: “Can lamenting and rejoicing coexist?”

As I’ve mulled over the word ‘rejoice’ I recalled some verses I memorized as a child:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

Rejoice always. His praise will always be on my lips. Always – in every moment? Always – in every situation? Always – in every season?

I’ve been very intentional over the last 4 months to be honest about the awful. From the beginning of Adam’s diagnosis, I resolved to express anger, sadness, and fear without sugarcoating my feelings, or wrapping them up with a pretty faith-bow, which is part of why I’ve loved reading the Psalms so much. David, the author of most of the Psalms, was called “a man after God’s heart”, and he wrote some really honest, angry, vengeful stuff. David curses and David praises. David laments and David rejoices.

Some days, even now, rejoicing comes easy. Some days, in spite of an awful diagnosis and terrifying unknown, I remember God’s character, promises, and goodness and my soul [rather inexplicably] rejoices.

But some days, I hardly have the energy to roll out of bed, let alone set my heart on rejoicing. Some days, I don’t have words to pray, I can’t stop crying, and I’m anxious about everything. Some days, I don’t think my soul has the capacity to rejoice.

This week, as I’ve continued to ruminate over this concept of the afflicted rejoicing, I came across a new idea from Charles Spurgeon’s commentary on Psalm 34: “It is well when the soul feels its own inability adequately to glorify the LORD, and therefore, stirs up others to the gracious work.”

Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt His name together.

So rejoicing is a communal effort?

As I think about this, another verse I’ve committed to memory comes to mind, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15)

Mourning and rejoicing are tribal efforts… I like that.

I was raised in a Christian era that taught a lot about individual faith. We were taught to have “individual quiet times” and to cultivate our “personal relationships with Jesus.” We didn’t learn a lot about communal faith. With each year that passes, I become increasingly aware of the importance of and the need for communal relationships with Jesus. These past few months have been further evidence to me of the importance of that.

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It’s probably no coincidence that often on my lowest days, I receive reminders of God’s faithfulness on the doorstep, or in the mailbox, or through a text. On those days, when I can’t seem to rejoice, community often reminds me of reasons to rejoice. And when I don’t have my own reasons to rejoice, community has reminded me that life, goodness, and growth are happening all around me. Our people are welcoming children into their lives, falling in love, finding healing, and creating beautiful things.

And some days, community just sits and cries with me, and acknowledges the general crappiness of things, and that’s ok, too. Even in the mist of our own pain, community has reminded me that death, sickness, and sadness are happening all around me. Our people are saying goodbye to loved ones, struggling in relationships, battling disease, and searching for purpose.

I’m thankful for the stories of others, that intersect my own, that give me reasons to rejoice, when my own storyline is sad. And I’m grateful for the stories of others, that intersect my own, that offer perspective that my sad plot twist isn’t the only sad plot twist. I’m glad to be part of a community – a great cloud of witnesses – who remind me of the faithfulness of God in every season. Lamenting and rejoicing can coexist. Perhaps they coexist best in community.

Chemo-Sobby

Yesterday was Adam’s last day of chemotherapy.  Over the last ten weeks, Adam has had nearly 200 hours worth of chemo pumped into his body. It has been a grueling, tiring, challenging journey, and while his chapter with cancer isn’t done being written, yesterday was a turning point in the plot line.

The day seemed to creep by slower than most; for me, because of anticipation, and for Adam because of exhaustion. We watched them hook up the last bag of chemo to his IV pump and squeezed our hands together a little tighter.

I flashed back to a memory of the first day of chemo, when the first bag started dripping and the tears re-welled in my eyes. Last day tears are very different from first day tears. As the IV pump began beeping to let us know the chemo had all dripped out, an overwhelming sense of joy washed over us. We hugged the nurses who we have grown so fond of, we said goodbye to the receptionists who know us well by now, and we walked out of the chemo room.

And the sobs began.

Sobs inspired by how proud I am of my husband. Sobs of relief. Sobs because I’m tired.

We didn’t talk much on the way home. Adam is an internal processor and I wanted him to have space to take in the significance of the day. Quiet came easier for me because I was terrified that I would spill the beans about the secret waiting for him at home. I had kept this secret for a few weeks but the last few minutes felt unbearable.

Over the last few months in the chemo room, I had watched other patients announce it was their last day of treatment without much celebration or fanfare, and I decided that wouldn’t do for Adam. So I cooked up a little “Chemo Finish Line Party” at our house. I pitched the idea to a few friends and family and of course, because our people love us so well, they changed their work schedules and bus pickups to be there.

Adam and I turned onto our street and were met with an insanely joyous 15 minute party with dear ones lining our walkway to the streamer finish line. They had a medal, signs, sweatbands, and unlimited high fives. We toasted with gatorade and we hugged and then we broke up the party because chemo is exhausting.

A and E signs

Nat and Sarah Cheering

Gregg and Debbie Sign

Debbie and AdamGroup GivesHigh Fives

Crossing the Finish Line

To Adam

Brad and AdamCorey Robertson Hug

Today I’m less chemo-sobby and more thankful for our kemosabes – for the amazing people that have been our faithful sidekicks; especially during this chapter. We are incredibly blessed by the people who are cheering us on, caring for us, and continuing to trek this with us all over the world, all over the US, and all over Nashville. We’re raising our leftover gatorade shot glasses to you this morning.

Thanks to Karen McGee and Brad Harris for the gift of pictures so we can remember this day for a long, long time.

Gratitude and Grace (A Thanksgiving Post)

photo (1) 2I think sometimes it’s easier to be thankful in the midst of hard seasons than it is during the good ones. Maybe that’s just me.  No, it’s not just me.  At the very least, it’s me and the Native Americans and Pilgrims.

Regardless, I find myself so very thankful this Thanksgiving.

Maybe it’s because I’m more aware of everything; cancer has a way of rubbing you raw and making you sensitive in both good and bad ways. Maybe it’s because I’m more attuned to the fragility of life; cancer has a way of snapping you into savoring every moment. Maybe it’s because I’m more needy than I’ve ever been; cancer has a way of making you feel unorganized, weak, and totally off.

But in the midst of this raw, fragile, off state, I have seen so much beauty. Over the last few months, I have been in awe at the love, generosity, creativity, and grace of the people in our lives. Had it not been for the love of others, I feel I might have fallen apart. I might have fallen apart beneath the crushing weight of a terrible diagnosis, the pressure of working in the midst of caring, and the heaviness of the unknown.

And yet…  (Oh how I’m grateful for an “and yet”) God’s grace has shown up over and over in so many ways; mostly through the love and sacrifice of His people. I feel held together by our community – our community of friends past and present, near and far.

Our people have taken over so that we can just be.

Our people have cleaned our house (or hired people to clean our house), gone shopping for us, cooked for us, taken care of our yard, covered our garden with blankets to protect from frost, and scaled our house to clean our gutters.

Our people have given us treats so that our “just being” can be fun.

Our people have given us sweet treats (literally all the chocolate and candy), date nights, tv shows to binge watch, wine drop offs (let’s be honest, that one’s just for me), books to read, and video games to play.

Our people have been incredibly generous so we can be present without worry.

Our people have treated us to gift cards, amazon wish list items, warm blankets, No-Shave-November fundraisers, and donations to medical bills.

Our people have been present with us so we don’t feel alone.

Our people have come to visit at the hospital and our house (some have driven long distances to do that), they have played games with us, they have texted us and sent us an overwhelming number of cards and post cards and messages.

Our people have prayed for us faithfully.

Our people have formed an army that spans time zones and continents; filling God’s ears with words we don’t have and asking prayers we aren’t brave enough to pray.

We’ve had to start a grace journal to document all of the blessings because we never want to forget God’s goodness to us during this season. And really, in the midst of hard, God has been so good to us. I’m thankful that during this time, God’s love for us has been incredibly evident.

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I read this line in Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts this week, and it resonated with this season for us. “Thanksgiving – giving thanks in everything prepares the way that God might show us His fullest salvation in Christ. The act of sacrificing thank offerings to God – even for the bread and cup of cost, for cancer and crucifixion – this prepares the way for God to show us His fullest salvation from bitter, angry, resentful lives and from all sin that estranges us from Him.”

I can’t think of a better preparation for celebrating advent; for preparing for Christ’s coming, than to be thankful and to understand how Christ saves us daily. Praying that whether you find yourself in a season of hard, or a season of relative ease, that you are in a season of thankfulness.

For Those Who Have Asked “How Can I Help?”

The past two weeks have been a blur of emotions, appointments, medication management, and side effects. Everything has felt very new and very hard, and our normal has been incredibly interrupted.

Had it not been for other people holding us, I think we might have just fallen apart.

So many people have asked, “What can I do to help?” and have genuinely meant it – which is so humbling and appreciated. It has taken us a few days to begin to figure out what we need. We still don’t completely know, but we’re beginning to get a sense of that now that we are learning our temporary new normal.

A dear friend set up a website that will allow us to share how we need help. This site will be a way for us to update our people about prayer needs, praises, and practical needs. Feel free to check it out once in awhile or subscribe for updates. Some wonderful friends have taken the lead in coordinating our care: Meals, House/Yard management, and Fun. Feel free to look around the site and contact them if you want to sign on.

I don’t know about your dreams, but in my nightmares, nothing is good. The only reason the last two weeks haven’t been a full-blown nightmare is because of people loving us, caring for us, and checking on us. Our sweet people have brought glimmers of light into the darkest days and nights we have known.

Thank you for the emails, facebook comments & messages, cards, texts, gluten-free cupcake deliveries, videos of your kiddos cheering Adam on, yard-mowing, lunch deliveries, messages, Scriptures, puns, house cleaning, weird gifs, care packages, handmade love, Gatorade, chocolate, and sour patch kids. (Adam’s glucose test came back a little high today, I wonder why?)

Your love is a tangible reminder of God’s love for us. And as the days get harder, we will continue to appreciate you, our sweet people. We’ve started a Grace Journal to document all the ways we have been shown grace in these days. It is such an encouragement to us.

There are few things more intimidating than this diagnosis, but making sure that we are not having to walk this alone means the world to us. If you want to check out the site, go here. We love you. Thanks for continuing to hold us together.

Generosity in 2013

I love this thing that my friend, Alece started.  In place of New Year’s Resolutions, we pick one word that will define, grow, challenge, and inspire us for the new year.  Last year was my first year to pick my word, and I loved it.  Unlike resolutions of years passed, this word really was a prescription for growth, behavior, and learning for me.

My word for last year was generosity.

Let me tell you, it has been an amazing year!  I know, I know, I should have been blogging about this all year, sharing my journey of growth in generosity, but it’s tricky to blog about generosity.  How do you blog about sharing and sacrificing without bragging or over-sharing or taking the joy away from being generous in secret?  This year, I felt the tension of not letting my left hand know what my right hand was doing, so I didn’t talk a whole lot about this journey on the blog or outside the blog.  And I’m ok with that, I hope you are, too.

This year, I learned how to give with joy when I knew that there would be no reciprocity.

This year, I learned how to give when prompted by the Holy Spirit without doing budget calculations.

This year, I learned how to open up my home when it was dirty and messy and feel no shame.

This year, I saw God’s provision, that to be honest, was miraculous at times.  Apparently others were learning generosity this year, too, because we were the recipients of a whole lot of generosity.

This year, I became less entitled and more grateful through constant reminders that “my resources” aren’t really mine in the first place.

This year, I learned how to welcome generosity from others and feel grateful, not guilty.

Through generosity, I grew in openness, vulnerability, and joy.  I don’t think I can go back, either.  This year has been a beautiful journey. I’m excited to announce 2014’s word…  but not yet.  I’ll leave you hanging for a bit.  What about you, how was your year?  Have plans for your next year’s One Word?