If you don’t have anything nice to say 

Best not say anything at all. 

Some old idioms do have meaning and wisdom – don’t they?

And hey, I’m all about public discourse, enriching conversations, and working to find spaces for disagreement. However, when it comes to a person’s individual life, I have yet to figure out why it has become culturally “okay” to offer unsolicited commentaries.

I won’t dance around the elephant in the room – I am speaking specifically to my experience as a lesbian. I came out several years ago and even today continue to encounter pushback in the form of texts, Facebook messages, and the like from individuals who are affronted by my “choice” to be gay.

The most recent message just came a few weeks ago; a scathing, loaded message that, quite literally, was “a message from God” from the person who wrote it. Included in this long note was comments about the surprise and shock that came with realizing that I was gay, specifically that I was touting myself as both gay and Christian.

This person wrote, “I was once again surprised and devastated to see on one of your recent posts that you still consider yourself to be a Christian even though you’ve chosen a lifestyle of homosexuality. That is not possible, Heather. Please believe me that it is not my desire to preach to you: my utmost desire is to obey God in reaching out to you in love and truth, and I do so because I care for you as a person.”

Mhmmmm.

You can imagine I had lots of thoughts about this. One, I didn’t choose this identity. What I did choose to be was a Christian. Also, homosexuality is not a lifestyle. IT IS NOT OKAY TO SAY THIS. A lifestyle is how a person chooses to live (i.e. “a lavish lifestyle” would imply lots of vacations and luxury travel). It is problematic to assume that an LGBTQ+ person has a specific kind of lifestyle. LGBTQ+ people are not robots and certainly do not live in one particular kind of way.

And lastly, it is probably best not to make presumptions about my relationship with God OR how God sees me. Nobody can say this definitively. We are humans. I am tired of communities or individuals thinking that they have their market share on who or what God stands for. The entire premise of faith is that of mystery. Faith is expounding on certainty; it is finding solace in the inexplicable. Faith is trusting something bigger than yourself. Faith is vested in hope, love, and humanity. Yet, so many of these kinds of messages reek of self-righteousness, doctrine, and a prescribed kind of religion.

I wanted to share some other comments, words, questions, and conversations I have had to have in the last few years since coming out. Many of these have been so uncomfortable. And so, I write this with the hopes that if you do know someone struggling with their identity or someone who has already come out, please please – don’t ask them these questions. I’ve listed them below for reference.

Whatever you think about LGBTQ+ people, understand that your opinion does not carry more weight than the right for that person to exist. Their story is just as important as yours. It is tempting and often the norm to feel as though you MUST share what you think about a person’s life experience. Here’s the thing: you don’t.

All you need to do is listen. Hold space. Make no assumptions. Be curious (but respectful). Be open. 

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“Why can’t you change?”

This question assumes that a person a) should change or b) hasn’t already asked this question. I prayed at least a hundred times for God to change my identity. I wanted it so badly. I even tried to be straight. It doesn’t work. At one point, I even considered trying conversion/reparative therapy. The “therapy” works on a premise that having a non-conforming gender identity or same-sex attraction is a mental disorder. Conversion therapies are largely discredited by governing associations the psychological and psychiatric realm. Countless studies show that the therapy is ineffective and harmful.

But to the point – how would you feel if a core piece of your identity existed and someone asked why you couldn’t change that? Could you help that you were born with a particular skin color? Could you help what nationality you have?

It is offensive to postulate that a person must change to be “better” or accepted.

“Have you tried to pray or talk to God about this?”

See above. Yes. A million times.

LGBTQ+ individuals who also hold a faith tradition have likely explored this within a faith lens. It’s no wonder that many LGBTQ+ individuals leave or shift away from the church as an institution – if they are not welcome there, why would they go?

And after all, how do we know God hasn’t already created us as the people we are meant to be?

“But, Heather, it’s not possible to be both Christian and Gay.”

If you believe this, then fine. That’s your prerogative. However, your experience and understanding of faith and Christianity is bigger than you. Leave room for other ideas. Leave room for experiences you can’t necessarily understand. Christianity has not and could not look the same across the world. I am telling you – Christians in Rwanda do not look like Christians in the United States.

It would be important to then ask (to yourself), well, why do I believe this to be true? Why couldn’t a person have a different sexual identity and also be Christian?

Perhaps this will conjure up the six bible verses (known as the clobber passages) that mention this.

Is it possible the text was written for a different context? Is it possible that the writer could have been speaking to something else? It is possible that the text does not hold up today? I am not suggesting the answer to these questions, rather, these are the kinds of exploration a person who would make a statement about someone else’ faith should be asking themselves.

“You have so easily fallen into this lifestyle…carefully consider the choices you are making.”

To say that a person’s exploration and understanding of their sexual identity has been easy is ludicrous. More than anything, it’s also dangerous. According to the Trevor Project, LGB youth are 5 times more likely to consider suicide than heterosexual youth. That’s a big number. And, we’re talking about lives. We have to be more delicate than assuming the road for an LGBTQ+ person has been “easy.” It is anything but that. It breaks my heart to think about the isolation, anxiety, depression, fear, shame, and loss that comes with this process.

Stick by your person. It’s scary. They need you simply to love them, regardless of what you think.

“How do you know your gay?”

To that question, I can only ask: how do you know you are straight? Exactly. You just know.

I remember as a young girl thinking I was different because I wasn’t attracted to boys the way others were. I pretended, and of course I can objectively recognize a man’s beauty, but I was not drawn to it the way I felt I was supposed to be. I know I am gay because I am attracted to women. In the same way, I know I am a vegetarian because I don’t eat meat. I know that I have green eyes because I was born with them. Much of what makes us us, isn’t easily extracted with explanations. It just is. 

“Maybe you just haven’t met the right guy.”

Oh boy. I tried being straight for a number of years. I believed this. I thought that maybe I just hadn’t met the right one. And so, I went on a dating blitz and had dinner with boys from all over the place (Denver, Centennial, Parker, etc.) I dated some more seriously. And trust me when I say, it was not a fit. Even when I met someone who was everything I would want on paper, when it came closer to physical intimacy (or really, any intimacy at all), I balked big time. It felt so, so wrong. This is not about meeting the right man, it is about knowing which gender is the one I am attracted to.

______________

NOTE:

Full transparency: this was hard to write.

It is hard to revisit these painful wounds that I have experienced. Yet, when they keep happening, I know it’s then time to say something. I still struggle the residual impact of coming out. I wrestle with anxiety and shame. I fear I am doing something wrong, sometimes. But I am happy to say, that BECAUSE of my faith and trust in God (and myself) I know who I am is good. I know I am worthy. I know I am loved. No matter what questions or words come my way, this truth cannot be altered.

Thank you for reading. Keep spreading love.

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Lez Plan a Wedding – Part I

I am flying back from one of the most beautiful, genuine, and enjoyable weddings that I have been to in quite some time. This wedding ceremony and reception was for my dear friend Ali (college roommate, friend, and field hockey teammate) and her long-time partner and love, Mike. The wedding took place in Connecticut, near the shore, against a stunning backdrop of water, clear skies, and a perfectly crisp fall evening.

Better yet, to celebrate this momentous occasion, many of our college friends were able to attend. Reunions like this are some of the best – we get to celebrate love while also feeling the love all around too. I laughed, danced, chatted, took photos, and felt an ease that is familiar when you are with people that you have known for a really long time. We cried happy tears when we saw Ali in her dress and celebrated when the announcement finally came: husband and wife!

As I fly back home to Denver and reflect on a weekend full of emotion, friends, and love, I cannot help but think about Chelsea and I, as we move forward and continue to plan for our own wedding in 2019. Sure, it is next year. And sure, it is not until August. However, for anyone that has planned something of this size, you know that logistics, details, and everything in between has to be discussed far in advance.

Chelsea and I have been engaged for a while – in many ways, this has made the engagement seasons have its own place (which I highly recommend). We did not jump into planning and dates and dresses. Yet, now that we have turned the corner of a double engagement, it is time to get to the books. And so, we have.

Chelsea and I have at least 10 excel sheets with information – everything from guest names, vendor ideas, budget items, and timelines that we have carefully curated from a variety of existing resources. What is unique, though, is that we are planning a wedding that does not fit a traditional mold. I mean, after all, we are two women and inherently, that creates difference (good difference, without question). Because of this, in many ways we are able to re-define how and what we do. And more than that, because there are few “models” for what an LGBTQ+ wedding entails, we are free to integrate old (or new) traditions as we wish and to re-think what a wedding even has to be. Let’s be real – that’s kind of awesome.

What exactly does that mean? Well, below are a few questions we have received here and there as we have jumped head-on into this adventure. This is only the beginning and I look forward to writing more about this journey of preparing for marriage and eventually, becoming Mrs. & Mrs. Oglesby.

Who asks who?

We had a double engagement. That means that we each proposed to one another at different times. However, for couples that are looking to get engaged, you can literally come up with any combination. Maybe only one person asks. Maybe both ask at the same time. Who knows! There are many variations and I think it is about what reflects the couple and what feels right.

Are you doing your bachelorette parties together? Your bridal shower?

When there are two brides, you have the opportunity to shift and explore distinctive ways to celebrate the upcoming nuptials. Chelsea and I decided early on that we did want to do a bridal shower together, however, we wanted to keep our bachelorette parties separate. We want the space to be with our friends separately while also joining together important women in our life, too. We look forward to planning these in the coming year.

Are you both wearing dresses?

Yes. Is it always that way for lesbians? No. Of course not. Anything we do is not necessarily the “lesbian way” to do it. Just like how opposite gender couples do not reflect ALL of that kind of relationship, the same goes for us too.

How in the world do you organize a bridal party?

Rule of thumb: invite the people you love to stand with you on your wedding day. Instead of thinking about bridal parties as composed of only a group of bridesmaids and a group of groomsmen, we see our bridal party as simply our bride tribe. The gender shouldn’t matter. For us, it doesn’t. We’ve chosen our most important friends – male and female – to stand with us during the ceremony and to dance with us afterwards. For us, this idea of community and inclusivity is what guides us.

Who walks you down the aisle?

Again, the important thing is that someone important, meaningful, and supportive is the person that escorts you into the ceremony. For Chelsea and me, this will be each of our dads.

We know that this is not always the case for couples – particularly LGBTQ+ couples that are not supported by their parents – and so another alternative is to walk each other down the aisle or to walk yourself, too. If there is a person that means that much to you, then of course, you can ask them as well.

What about the vows thing?

In addition to writing our own vows, we’re also planning to incorporate recited vows that we’ll say together. We like the idea of adding our own creativity while also making a sacred commitment.

However, LGBTQ+ couples can also use traditional liturgy – if they want. I think this is less common, but it does happen. Again, it’s about what feels right and reflects the sentiment and heart of the couple.

What do you do about non-affirming guests?

Ah, this is tricky. We are still diving into this, but Chelsea and I DO know that we want our day to feel full of love, acceptance, merriment, and joy. It will be absolutely essential for us to surround ourselves with people who love us for us. Should individuals feel uncomfortable attending a lesbian wedding, then it’s worth a conversation about whether to attend our not. We want a peaceful, blissful day, one that is not tainted with differing opinions, ideas, or thoughts about the sanctity of our relationship.

Do you have to follow all the typical wedding traditions or protocol?

So, while we’re early in the wedding planning process there are some traditions we already know that we will not be integrating into the ceremony or reception. These include the bouquet toss and garter toss. We don’t find these traditions to be particularly relevant – both from a gender and modern perspective. Also, we are definitely not planning a seating chart. The main reason we don’t want to do this? We feel like people should sit where they want to sit. We want our families and friends to feel open to connecting and meeting, and so a more fluid seating chart may help us get there.

However, there are some wonderful, traditional aspects of weddings that we plan on adding to our day. As we both have immensely important people that won’t be with us (i.e. some of our grandparents) we want to make sure we can honor their presence and influence on our lives. We’ll be having an empty chair and hopefully photographs in certain places to remind us of their life and memory. Additionally, we’ll absolutely be doing a first dance with one another and dancing with our dads. Both of these symbolic acts represent a transition in our lives and we feel that it’s important to call attention to. It might look different, but we are eager to explore the options that come with these acts.

Our wedding planning is really just beginning. To say that I am ecstatic is a major understatement. There is no other human that I would rather spend my life with. So, planning all of this with her is just a total bonus.

 

A Guide to Rollerblading in Denver

“You could even be a rollerblading unicorn.” – Dan Howell

Last summer, in 2016, I made a lot of changes in my life – intentionally.

I moved to a neighborhood where I knew I could walk to get ice cream (one of life’s essentials), where I could be closer to work, and namely, where I could be near the happenings of Denver. I also tried a new team sport, rugby, and joined a new church, too. I made these decisions and changes because I was in a season of deep knowing that if I was going to live the life I wanted, I had to move toward it. It was my responsibility, I recognized, to articulate and pursue what I desired, and that I could absolutely trust God to do the rest. Being brave in the thick of unknowns is one of the most devoted acts of faith, I think.

So, I did these things and, most importantly, bought my first pair of rollerblades since I was, like, 10. Sports Authority had filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy and was going out of business. Thus, they had incredible sales and deals that you wouldn’t have been able to find elsewhere. While perusing the store, my mom and stumbled upon a really nice pair of blades – knee pads, elbow pads, and wrist guards – all for $70. It was a steal.

I had started dreaming about rollerblading again when, while in Rwanda, I stopped at a rural bus stop and saw a gentleman energetically serving cool fruit juices in a blue tub, while on blades. I smiled, gasped, and knew then that yes! I wanted to blade again. When I was young, I played roller hockey with my brother and friends any opportunity I could get. Rollerblading had made me feel strong and free, and I knew that I wanted this again.

So, for the last 1 ½ years, I have been cruising around Denver in my gear, happily and enthusiastically rollerblading. Chelsea has joined me a lot this last year, and it has been a joy to share the experience with her. Rollerblading is amazing for a lot of reasons. It’s refreshing. It’s fun. And, it works nearly every muscle of your body. It is a kind of sport that challenges the parts of your body to be in perfect synchronization with one another.

If you also are intrigued about the idea of suiting up in blades and helmets, here’s a quick overview of what you need to know.

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  1. Get a reliable pair of rollerblade It is essential to identify what exactly you want the blades for because there are better blades for racing, for indoor skating, and for recreational use. This link has exceptional recommendations. For me, I knew that I wanted to skate outdoors (no racing) so I could simply enjoy the views and have an alternative way of getting exercise. For this purpose, K2 has proven to be an excellent brand of skates.
  2. Before committing to a long ride, practice! If you haven’t skated in a while, you will feel a bit strange and a whole lot of awkward on your skates. Definitely try to get comfortable with your skates before heading over to a park and showing off your skills.
  3. For the love, wear safety gear. This should be self-explanatory, but PLEASE wear a helmet. I often to see bladers cruising along in jean shorts, with their hair down, and with no helmet. Sometimes they even have a boombox on their shoulder (and no, it’s not 1992). This gives me the heebie-jeebies. Blading can be dangerous because at times, there are unidentified objects in the road (like twigs) that you can trip over and land face first. Be safe. Wear a helmet.
  4. Scope out good routes. Denver has a good selection of recreational paths for rollerblading. Without question, my go-to-choice is Washington Park. The inner loop is 2.1 miles, all with relatively good pavement. There are sections where the cement and asphalt is particularly “groovy” (and not in a good way) so that causes some extra strain on your feet. Washington Park has also recently redesigned the paths (don’t get me started) so it can be kind of confusing where the lanes go. The big rule of thumb: pedestrians have the right of way. You should always blade closer to the right, only passing on the left when necessary. Other great routes include Sloan’s Lake and the Cherry Creek Trail. City Park looks like a viable option, but I would be a bit hesitant for the lack of connection of some of the pavement. I would walk any route first, before committing to rollerblade on it. This gives you a better sense of the terrain.
  5. Bring water (and snacks). Blading works your legs (like woah). Make sure you stay energized and hydrated to keep your body strong while on the trail.
  6. Dont listen to music while on skates. I used to listen to my podcasts and blade at the same time. However, I’ve almost been hit by cyclists because I couldn’t hear the background noises of what was happening around me. So, this is a good safety measure that ensures you are aware of all that is passing by you.
  7. Keep your blades in your car with all of your other gear. You never know when you might want to go blading. I keep my stuff in a large bag in my trunk so that if it happens to be a gorgeous day and I’m driving by the park, I have the option to blade. This is also nice so you don’t always have to move your blades in and out of your house.

Have fun with your skates, the sunshine, and the invigorating experience of blading in Denver.

Enjoy the ride.

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A Letter to You, Grandma.

Dear Grandma Genevra,

Sometimes, I imagine you were here still.

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I think about the walks we would take; the honest conversations we would have; the mere joy of the company we would keep. We became close even when I was so very young, but somehow, I think you saw the woman I would be, long before I have become that woman.

That makes me miss you more.

When I think of you, I think of home.

Your home – the one with stale smells of summer lining narrow, beige hallways. The one that was held together by the loose hinges of the faded black door. When opened, between the cluttered garage and crammed foyer, it never failed to screech, announcing our arrival haphazardly. The six floors of your duplex mesmerized my imagination; I could ride the elliptical in the basement; play Oregon Trail in the computer room; smell coffee in the dining area; watch Care Bears in the living room; and try on your array of shoes in your bedroom. You kept that hot pink-striped comforter for enough years on your bed that it began to smell of you; like freshly picked sunflowers with a hint of lavender.

Your home was aged, like a vintage wine. Chips, dings, and stonewashed colors signaled that the walls, wood floors, and pillars had all been well-worn. With life. Good life. Always, and even still, scruffy places with “character” are far more comforting than the sleek, untainted, modern, and untouched lines that are “cutting edge”. Maybe that’s why I like Goodwill so much.

You never needed to invite us in or cautiously encourage us to “make ourselves at home” – it was an understanding – we were home. With you, we were always in.

Without hesitation, we often bounced with our full backpacks to your retro pea-green refrigerator for a snack. Sometimes, in the corner, moldy cheese would be hardened from insufficient closing of the package. I’d bite into the cheddar anyway. You’d store your diet cokes here too, bringing one, two, or sometimes three for our visits to one of Aurora’s many libraries.

You know you taught me to love reading, right?

From Mia Hamm biographies, to stories on the Civil Rights, and re-readings of anything by Laura Ingalls Wilder, you spurred us to explore and to ask questions. You revealed to us the beauty of libraries, the glory of the Dewey decimal system, and the benefits of unlimited check-out privileges. Even if Lance and I came bearing ten books each, you hardly batted an eye.

Before Garry would return home from his work in the oil industry, we would nibble on ripe, red delicious apples and watch Oprah. She was our favorite. The round, mahogany kitchen table, adjacent to your numerous potted plants, held Oprah magazines stacked on TIME Magazines with bills to be paid chaotically scattered about. The caller ID box for incoming phone calls was buried somewhere here, too. By no means were you an organized woman. But, what you lacked in tidiness was made up for in gritty devotion. So for that, thanks.

Every Wednesday, you cooked us slightly burnt grilled cheese. Then, Lance, you, and I would scurry to your room to explore further our library treasures and bounty. As a young girl, merely five or six, I demanded that when sharing your bed, you were, “not to cross your line,” and stay on your “side” of the bed. I know you found this hilarious. Especially since I would often end up cuddling with you anyway.

You didn’t stop having us over to spend the night. Not when we entered middle school, and not when mom and dad divorced.

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The openness of your heart –and your space – propelled me to be a woman that continues to seek out safety in community and place. I recognize it, largely because you impressed upon me, at an early age, what it means to invest in safe places for people. Thank you for that, too. It took me a long time to realize what you and Garry did for Lance and I all those years.

Space. Breathing room. Curiosity.

You were my angel then, as my family split a part, as you are my angel now.

 *

How can this be? Angels can’t live here.

When you entered long-term “rehab” at the nursing facility, I stepped inside and instantly recoiled. A woman of tenacity and feistiness, I couldn’t imagine your confines to be so limiting. Residents roamed the halls idly, often so heavily medicated that reality had slipped far away from them.

I continued to note the same softness of your skin, the deep blue kindness of your eyes. Yet, your movements slowed, your voice stopped, and multiple sclerosis slowly took you away.

Eight long years of that hellish nightmare.

Occasionally, when I would visit the nursing home during my nights off from Dairy Queen, you would choke on your own spit from laughing too hard. Other times, you barely moved and stared at the wall without the slightest glance my way. I hated these times. I hated them because I knew you were inside your body, but your physical armor had worn away. It was frustrating, confusing, and painful. You didn’t deserve that kind of suffering, grandma. I don’t know why things happen the way they do, but I know that your life was no less important, valued, or meaningful because of the way you ended your years. If anything, your battle with M.S. exemplified the depth of sacrifice and power in what it means to be a woman.

I love being a woman because of you.

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You battled the illness valiantly and I swore that I would never forget the woman who taught me to feed the ducks, pursue kindness, and be myself. I would cast a wide net with my memories, holding them together like gold, honoring all of the ways in which you touched my life.

Now, if I close my eyes, I see you.

But –

More than that, I feel you. In my bones, in my soul, there is still you, cheering me on.

I read a quote the other day in a book that reminded me of you. It reminded me of how you lived out your life, boldly embracing exactly the woman you came to be – even after deep pain in your life.

“Growing up is an unbecoming. My healing has been a peeling away of costume after costume until here I am, still and naked and unashamed before God, stripped down to my real identity. I have unbecome. And now I stand: warrior.” – Glennon Doyle Melton, “Love Warrior

As the words came off the pages, I smiled. Tears poured out of me, without enough time to even attempt to stop them.

I vividly recall the authentic way you presented yourself to the world. I am your granddaughter, and so perhaps my perspective was flawed, but I knew then, as I know now, that your authenticity was genuine and powerful. It’s taken all of my 27 years and just now I feel I am beginning to tear away at the presentation of myself to the world and disclosing the real me inside.

Perhaps I’ve grown up, but you know her, the me that has always been.

You shaped her.

*

It’s been five years since you passed away and each year I reflect on you and your life, desperate to hold the roll of memories that play over and over again, like an old movie on a projector screen.

On the day of your death, I was sitting by kerosene lamp in my host family’s home in Rwanda. Dad called and gently told me, “she’s gone.”

From a small East African village, flashes of you at soccer games, birthdays, and Christmas filled my brain like a water-hose that could not be turned off. Strolls in downtown Denver, road-trips to Chicago, mountain summits, stories on trains…

I said very little to Mama and Papa. As their hands rubbed my back, I sobbed. I mourned. In that little green house, I grieved the loss of my warrior. What I’ve learned since then, in these five years, is that your presence has been unyielding.

You inspired Lance in his rock bottom.

You comforted me in deep heartache.

You remained steadfast proof of what love actually is. What it requires of us. And what it calls us to.

To love is to know.

And, you knew me deeply, even as a young girl. I think you would be proud, today.

I also think you would challenge me to commit to being a warrior, a bulldog, a whatever, never compromising my value as a human-being. I think you would love me for exactly who I am, and so, when it’s scary to be honest about myself, your comfort propels me forward.

Lance has a daughter now – with your name. She smiles, and smiles, and smiles. Her sassiness, sweetness, and amiability remind me, once again, that you are here.

I love you, and I miss you every day.

Always,

Heather

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Queen of Katwe

A not-so-secret secret: I’m a total sucker for biographical sports dramas. Especially when they showcase the triumph of an underdog.

Case and point? During my senior season of field hockey at Hendrix, each player on the team wrote an inspirational quote of their choosing on a large piece of tape. Then, almost ceremoniously, each of us shared our selected pieces of wisdom and pasted the piece of tape on the flat-side of our sticks. We did this so that in moments requiring rugged grittiness – like in the last quarter of the game, in overtime, or in the final sprint for a goal – would have some kind of tangible marker for inspiration.

With little hesitation, I used a quote from Coach Bill Yoast in Remember the Titans: Leave no doubt!”

Remember the Titans – and films like it – are my jam.

So, earlier this summer, when I first saw the trailer for Queen of Katwe, to no surprise, I immediately put the release date in my google calendar. Lupita Nyong’o? Chess? Uganda? I’m so there.

With salted popcorn in hand, I saw Queen of Katwe on Monday and it was hardly what I expected it to be. Certainly, the story-line included soft spots about the rise of Phiona Mutesi’s chess game, queuing all the inspirational music and all the cheers. Throughout the story, chess is used as a larger metaphor for life. One of the Phion’as team members, when teaching Phiona how to play, says, “…in chess, the small one can become the big one.”

However, unlike a lot of Disney (or sports) films, the deepening of the story wasn’t hinged upon the sport and the victor’s success.

In actuality, the film showcased Phiona – a rising Chess champion from a poor community, Katwe, in Uganda – and the plethora of moving parts in her life. True to many communities in East Africa, the life of an individual is never just their own. Phiona’s success became her communities’ success, too. On the flip-side, her and her families’ struggles, at times, seemed insurmountable.

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I ached for the determination of Phiona’s mother, Harriet, as she struggled to find any kind of income for the family. When Phiona’s brother is in an accident, the family is soon after forced into eviction from their home. Scenes show the family walking the roads, homeless, and it’s impossible to ignore the injustices that people face every, single day. As Phiona’s story unfolds and she begins to attend chess sessions, Phiona’s sister leaves her family so that she can pursue a relationship with a man that will take care of her – until she gets pregnant. The particular challenges of being a woman, too, come to light, and it’s hard to process and fully capture in the allotted time.

Frankly, for the duration of the 2-hour show, I was a mess. Dabbing my eyes with a handful of tissues, I hadn’t quite expected the emotional, visceral reaction I had.

You see, by writing and producing a movie that focused not only a sports champion, but the tensions of their background, home life, and family, larger issues like poverty, racism, and opportunity come to the fore-front. That’s a really, really important thing to be done.

There are poignant moments, like when Phiona’s mom, Harriet, slowly acquiesces to the idea that her daughter has a chance for success. To show her support, she sells valuable fabric that she kept from her own mother so her daughter can purchase petrol for reading chess books with light when night arrives.

Another riveting scene occurs when a notorious East African rain storm devastates Phiona’s home. They have no roof and water rushes in, pulling the soil, dirt, and their belongings together like an after-thought.

The director of the film, Mira Nair, is an Indian-American woman (living part-time in Uganda) who decided to adapt the film after making a documentary about Robert Katende, Phiona’s chess coach and sports director for a local ministry. I found her portrayal of Katwe intriguing because it was neither denigrating nor romantic. Refreshing, considering Africa-focused media tends to err on one side or the other.

Sure, sports movies present some kind of climatic issue, but typically, it’s resolvable. In Queen of Katwe, though, the issues raised are pressing issues of justice. They don’t have easy answers, and yet, it’s incredibly important to consider, think about, and move to discussion and action by them.

I thought of my girls in Rwanda, who struggle frequently with the notion of where to be.

Robert Katende: [to Phiona] Sometimes the place you are used to is not the place you belong. You belong where you believe you belong. Where is that for you?

Should the girls pursue their academics with all their rigor, hoping to find a way to university? Or, do they return home to take care of their family?

Sometimes, these are the kinds of choices that are mutually exclusive, even when they shouldn’t be.

Brokenness isn’t just over there, though. Injustice has a lot of different faces. We can’t assume that viewing injustice (say, extreme poverty, for example) in Queen of Katwe is non-existent in our “world.”

Our “world” might instead be wracked with income inequity, systemic racism, or limitations on civic freedoms.It might be a wrong-doing from a neighbor. A difficulty in your family.

What I liked best about Queen of Katwe was its unapologetic look at the complications of families, success, mobility, and hope.

Additionally, it re-calibrated my heart, back again to what is important in life. I think we all need a steady reminder of this from time to time.

Check out the movie, when you can. You won’t be disappointed.

teeth-cleaning, life-giving, kind-of conversations.

Naturally, I was late for my bi-annual dentist appointment. Wrongly assuming I was some sort of a traffic god, I gave myself three minutes for a 15-minute drive. Slightly frazzled, I walked through doors that I have walked through since I was a little girl.

Dr. Long has been my dentist – well, forever.He’s a good one but it’s kind of always like this:

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He gave me a retainer, helped me get my braces in tip-top shape, fixed a chipped tooth, and most times, cleaned my altogether decent teeth.

Escorted back by the hygienist, the tension was palpable due to my late arrival.

To mitigate this, I quickly commented, “I’m really sorry for being late.”

Nothing. Except for the whining of the ultrasonic cleaning instruments that dentists frequently use. What a pleasant background noise.

Great. Now the woman about to clean my teeth with a razor sharp tartar scraper is less than enthused because of my tardiness. Less than ideal.I really, I mean really, need to work on being on time to things.

Delicately but without much sympathy, she put the bib around my neck so that the spit, toothpaste, and general dentistry-grossness didn’t get all over my shirt.

She was still silent.

Quick! Say something! I couldn’t think of anything.

She nudged first, “So, how has your summer been?”

I paused. Answer with grace. Grace, kindness, grace, enthusiasm, and still more grace.

“Well, first of all, I can’t believe we are nearing the end. It’s kind of crazy. I’ve been working and doing some trips around the country. Trying to have as many outdoor adventures as I can. It’s been a good summer. What about you?”

She told me about her big move into a suburban community from her previous home of 16 years on a southeastern Colorado farm.

We bonded over the mutual experience of boxes and settling into a new neighborhood. She softened, and told me about her upcoming anniversary – her wedding one – honoring 15 years of marriage.

I’m always about asking the deeper, thicker, molasses-heavy kind of questions, so I posed, “Did you change a lot in those years? With your spouse, I mean?”

“Of course I did. You – we – always will. I got married late. 36. I had resigned to the idea that I had been blessed with the gift of singleness. Just when I gave it up, like a boomerang, it came back to me.”

“I guess you never know, right?”

“Exactly. That’s exactly it. I kind of think that the right thing will always happen. We just have to be willing to loosen our grip and you know. Let it go, I guess.”

With crumbs of plaque resting idly between the crevices of my teeth, I moved my tongue to ask the next question that had popped into my mind –

“Are you a Christian?”

Her eyebrows pointed downwards quickly in a bit of shock, disbelief, and uncertainty. Mostly, suspicion. What business did I – a patient – have asking in the middle of a cleaning appointment?

I asked because her spirit, sentiment, and largely, her vocabulary choice ruminated and dabbled slightly in Christianese you often hear in the church. The “gift of singleness” is an idea or phrase I’ve only heard in that context and so, frankly, I just had to ask. As usual, my curiosity got the best of me.

She laughed hesitantly and looked at me like I was no more than 10 years of age.

“Aww, you’re cute.”

Wait! No! I’m not about to whip out the bridge to Jesus or some device or tool to convert you to a particular brand of faith! Literally, she just struck me as someone who was probably deeply spiritual.

“So – let me tell you first. I don’t like that question – “

I interrupted her.

“It’s the wrong question. I don’t ask that of you because you have to fit in that label, necessarily, I ask because you seem like you know God. From the way you are talking. I should ask, something like, do you know God?

“I’m a seeker. I’ve been seeking my entire life. I go to church, I take part in bible studies, and I desperately want to know God. But, Christianity carries a lot of meaning that I’m not sure I can also carry that word with me. It’s full of hate, honestly, and that really scares me.”

Totally fair. And, she didn’t have to explain all of that, but she did. And honestly, I understood exactly what she meant. I got it.

“I struggle all the time. There’s “Christians” who live lives full of malice, judgment, and narrow-minded ideologies. There’s also “non-Christians” who are revolutionizing communities for positive movements. What I’m trying to say, I think, is that it’s essential to love what God loves. Faith is an active part of life. It’s more than what you label yourself. It’s how you are living.”

“Yes! That’s it!”

She softly, much more openly, laughed again and mumbled that I was “adorable.”

“How old are you again – 27?”

“Yes.”

“Oh for heavens sake! You are a baby. Just a baby. Are you dating anyone?”

“No, not right now.”

“Well, no rush. Like I said, it all happens for a reason. Don’t give up.”

I gargled, spit, and smiled. My front row of teeth were now sparkly clean – glowing from the removed coffee stains of the past year.

The best advice I have read is that everyone is our teacher. Thus, if everyone is our teacher, then certainly, that should (and can, and will) include dental hygienists.

My teeth are smoother, cleaner, and my love for authenticity in in the world is a little higher, too.

Own what you are. Share it. Listen to others. Even from a dentists’ chair.

I love living a life of faith because it presents an opportunity to reclaim the identities placed upon us. I’m a Christian. And I’m so, so ridiculously imperfect as a human. But, I also choose to believe God loves me exactly for who I am. He created me, after all. If you start believing this – really, fully, in your bones believing – than it becomes less scary to function in this world.

My authenticity was made good on a cross. Label or not – that cannot be taken.

Perhaps we can consider what it would look like to reclaim this word “Christianity” – so that instead of being seen for the hatred played out in the world, people would instead find a faith rooted and made right in love.

That’s what I think about when I sit in a dentist office. That’s why life is so cool.

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