from, through, to

Last month, Our Bible App officially launched.

I first learned about the development of Our Bible App after Chelsea attended the Gay Christian Conference in 2017 (now Q Christian Fellowship) and learned about the project. The creator, Crystal Cheatham, was looking for devotional writers.

On a whim, I submitted a devotional and low and behold, it got published.

Our Bible App is a “progressive worship and meditation experience” that offers multiple bible translations and additional podcasts, video, and writings from pro-LGBTQ+ individuals and advocates for interfaith inclusivity. You can download it here, and is available in Android or Apple format.

The mission of Our Bible App is broad; the app “…supports the belief that spirituality is a spectrum and that faith is a journey. At its core, the holy text was written to be inclusive of all of God’s creation especially those on the margins.” The goal of the resource is to “untangle the binds that Christian colonizers have spread across the globe over hundreds of years.”

That’s huge. And, I’m grateful to have some small, teeny, tiny part. I’ve included my devotional below (titled “from, through, to“), but if you are interested in learning more about this work, you can read about it in Sojourners and via PBS.

Cheers.


 

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from   

A closeted woman, I carried the secret of my sexual identity for over 15 years until my aunt bluntly probed during a late, wine-infused Thanksgiving evening, “are you gay?”

The world stood still. I froze. I knew. “Yeah, yeah. I mean, yes, I’m gay.”

In the aftermath of her asking, however, I wasn’t yet ready to fully “come out.” Yet, though my journey ofopenness began here, I was still so far removed from any ounce of a freedom to be me.

I was stuck on one repeated worry, “what would God think?”

Though I could verbalize my gayness, living life openly (and liberated from fear) would take a lot more time – and perhaps a lot more conversation (wine included).

The taste of freedom for my half-opened gayness lasted one week. Then, like a tidal wave absorbing each grain of the sand, I fled from the truth, using the following year to try and “fix myself.” I tried believing that being gay was wrong and in a twisted expression of love, that my faithfulness for God could be conveyed through a path of righteousness – shame and doubt as the main forms of transport.

Denial worked, to a point, until I came upon the intensity and depth of the gospel. Instead of ignoring questions about who I was and how I was created, I began to ask them to God. I slowly sought to remove the voices of my head, the sound of religiosity flowing from my past, and to hear only the voice of the Divine. I could be vulnerable – not necessarily yet for others, but first, for God and for myself.

The gospel is a story of God’s people returning to who they were made to be. Our God does not desire or expect us to hide from Him; that “god” is a man-made, offensive, and manipulated version of who God is. God is wide, vast, loving, and able to exist within tensions and complexities that we can hardly grasp. This God re-writes the narrative that humans are only evil, malicious, and sinful people. God made us in His image[1], and hence, there are fragments of His character everywhere.

A return to God is less about a perfection of righteousness, and more about the righteousness that comes from Him, God. God created us as free, open, and genuine humans. When it comes to our identity this is even more pressing: if we are unable to see that all of us come from God then how can we celebrate the lives we have been called to?

My aunt always assured me that “God makes no mistakes” and until I explored, acknowledged, and celebrated my whole identity, especially being gay, I was unable to proclaim that indeed, I was no mistake. I’m not; my roots and origins are abundantly from God.

What God wanted, was me to be me. For me to live as His daughter, unashamed and copiously open to His love. When we are released of living into the shell of someone else, we are free. We are given grace. Like our identity, this is from Him. My prayer is that we can receive it.

through

If all things, including our identity are from Him (God), then all things are also through Him.

Being a Christian who also happens to be lesbian is hard.

“Coming out” was arduous not because of the brave boldness that is required with others, but because an internal transformation of integrated identities is needed in asserting who you are.

Internal transformation shifts attitudes of fear to celebration. This kind of transformation occurs through Christ, the Messiah, that is God who meets us in human form. Repeatedly, I had to remind myself that as a woman, I was enough. I was wonderfully adequate. I did not have to change because an ideology or institution was telling me that I had to. I returned to the question, “what does God want?”

To live authentically with unyielding love for God and others – that’s the answer.

When I finally came out – to myself, most notably – I did not accomplish this through my own abilities. Christ’s love was flowing and alive in me. I could accept myself because I knew I was safe, and wholly loved with God. Christ infused belief and hope through me and brought me on a path I did not expect. I could be Christian. And, also, I could be gay.

to

Accepting each part of our identity is our life’s work.

We never stop this process. As we take a broader look at our existence, our lives become testaments and offerings back to God himself. Not religious sacrifice, but of loving, genuine devotion and gratitude.

When I reconfirmed to the world that I loved Christ (and that I was gay) I began to have conversations I never could have anticipated. People reached out to me, thanking me for my sincerity, and in turn, shared the deep corners of themselves that they had previously hid. I met someone new. I healed from a broken heart.

When we allow our identities (all of them) to stitch together and form one, unique, diverse fabric, we are presenting ourselves wholly to Christ. God can admire the work that has been done, the beautiful blending of His fingerprints and our choices, and know that are made to exude, proclaim, and propel love forward.

Let us bring our identities from God, through God, and to God, with hearts full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control and all good fruits that remind the world that being gay and being Christian are just one parts of a diverse fabric of God’s people.

[1] Genesis 1:27

a new kind of church

Edith Windsor, 88, passed away last week and honestly, my heart broke a little.

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Edith Windsor.

Born in 1929 in Philadelphia, amidst the tumbleweeds, dirt, and turbulence of the Great Depression, she entered her young teenage years in the midst of World War II, and then “came of age” in the 1950’s and 60’s when the United States was thick in the Civil Rights Movement.

From the very beginning, her existence lived and breathed history. She was whip smart, too, having earned a Master’s Degree from NYU in Mathematics and worked at IBM, eventually becoming a computer programmer.

Edith Windsor was (and is) an icon in the LGBT+ community; she was the lead plaintiff in the landmark case United States vs. Windsor that ultimately overturned section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) (defining the term “spouse” as only applied for marriages between a man and a woman), a landmark victory for the same-sex marriage movement in the United States.

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Edith, following the ruling in United States vs. Windsor

Windsor’s journey started in 2009 when her spouse, Thea Spyer, died of complications from multiple sclerosis. Because they had married in Canada, the marriage was not recognized in the United States because of DOMA. Ultimately, she was forced to pay an excruciating amount of estate taxes, and knowing this was unfair and inequitable, she filed suit. Because of this case, beginning in 2015, the highest court in the land granted gays and lesbians the right to marry the people they love. Rainbow flags flooded the streets everywhere across our nation; again, our Constitution found a way to deliver on the promise that we set forth so long ago: all (men) are created equal.

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Photo Courtesy of John Pavlovitz Blog.

Edith’s legacy is etched in stone and it will not soon be forgotten. At her eulogy, the Rabbi Amy B. Ehrilch noted, “…Her legacy is one of love, and the right we now have to marry the people we love…to have love as your legacy in life, and in law, is an everlasting blessing.”

Not knowing the nature of her last days, I cannot be sure if she knew of The Nashville Statement or any of the subsequent releases of mass statements for (or against) members of the LGBT+ community. If she had, I am sure it left her saddened and confused.

When The Nashville Statement was initially released, concurrent with Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, the first thought I had was: why now? What’s the point? I mean, hello, we have a city nearly underwater and instead of using our energies to support them by whatever means possible, we think it is necessary to draw the line between us and them? Really?

That was even before I read the statement.

In a week of fragility, I avoided reading what I was told was a document of ignorance, judgement, and division. Curiosity won me over, as it usually does, and I found myself reading this particular Evangelical Christian Statement of Faith or “manifesto” sponsored by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Word after word, in the 14 statements put forth (with each statement including both an affirmation and denial), it was as though a large line was drawn between “right” and “wrong” and unquestionably, I was left to think I was wrong simply because of who I am.

Article 7, for example declares, “We DENY that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.”

 

Article 8, continues, “We AFFIRM that people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful lie pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ, as they, like all Christians, walk in purity of life. We DENY that sexual attraction for the same sex is part of the natural goodness of God’s original creation, or that it puts a person outside the hope of the gospel.”

 These statements, peppered with fancy language might sound kind to some, but let me tell you, these words aren’t “kind.” These words are telling me – and others – that our understanding of self (and identity) is not supported by God. That’s heartbreaking. Plain and simple. Additionally, I have major issues with the signers of this document choosing sexual orientation and sexual identity, above many other things (think: war, death, violence, hate) as the main markers of “ruin.” Of all the things.

Woefully, what I think is forgotten when mass paragraphs of rhetoric are released is the fact that when we are talking about this, we are talking about people. You know, human beings. The Nashville Statement defaces the humanity of the “issue” and, at least in me, pressed and prodded a trigger of doubt of who I was and the wondering if God could really love me. Revisiting this shadow of doubt every so often is tremendously painful. I spent years in this space, and when it lurks and creeps back into my life, it takes every ounce of faith to scream and shout, “No!”

Which is why I was immensely relieved, in light of The Nashville Statement, that there were a handful of other statements – largely from church leaders from around the country – that stood in defense and in love for LGBT+ people. As I read through the Christians United Statement, I saw my pastor’s name at the bottom of the document with hundreds of others.

Michael Hidalgo, Denver Community Church.

Exhaling more deeply than I had all day, I let the tears of relief come to my eyes.

We’re not alone, I thought.

I felt a lot of things, but the most important one was gratitude. Beyond any doubt, I am grateful that I am a part of an inclusive, welcoming, and loving community. I am grateful that the faith community I choose to take part in prioritizes unity over uniformity. Denver Community Church (DCC), though an inclusive church, does not maintain a church body where everyone thinks the same thing on LGBT+ related issues. However, as church body, they stand in defense of us, believing that everyone has a right to be loved – namely, a right to take part in the aged tradition of pursuing a God that created us, loves us, and chooses us (all of us). In my wildest dreams, I could not have imagined a faith community quite like this. Loving Jesus in this way, in this lens, allows me to know him better, to know myself better, and to know others better, too.

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Denver Community Church, Uptown.

I came out (officially) in 2016, one year after DOMA “was dead” and same-sex marriage became legal. This is important because “coming out” is different than it was 20 years ago; hell, it’s different than it was 200 years ago. Culturally, we’ve come a long way, and it is common to find many who acknowledge the level of safety and acceptance that exists in the fabric of our society.

I am a beneficiary of this. I inherited this. I got damn lucky.

With these ever-pressing cultural shifts, there is an opportunity for a new narrative for the church, and for LGBT+ people. This is not a case of the church adopting the mainstream culture, instead, I think it is actually a chance for the church to pursue love – whatever the cost. When Jesus tells us to follow him, to really follow him – and leave everything behind – I think that is what he’s talking about. It’s not just about our things – it’s about our assumptions, our preconceived notions, even our own ideologies. When we surrender these for a chance to love (and learn more about the people around us) crazy, crazy (good) things can happen.

Traditionally and historically, church communities have stood as pillars of “righteousness” and have rejected the idea that people could (and would) be gay.

That’s putting it lightly; gay people have been pushed to conversion therapies; gay people have been embarrassed and abused, and perhaps most frequently, their attendance has not been welcomed. The church, if anything, should be home to those who are rejected. Why on earth, have we tolerated, allowed, and permitted (implicitly or not) the church to be the rejecter?

What if churches – and perhaps, all faith communities for that matter – recognized that humanity is most beautiful because of its diversity. Because of its colors, ethnicities, genders, and orientations.

At DCC recently, Pastor Hidalgo pointed out a perspective on Genesis that he had studied from a Jewish Rabbi. This Rabbi presented a unique lens to view what God was creating in Genesis and at the time of creation; in verses 11-25, the first chapter of the Bible details the type or kinds of vegetation, light, and creatures that were being made. But, when it came to humans, in verses 26-28, there was not the same, parallel language of categories. Simply, there was, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them…” This is about humanity and the vastness by which God has created us.

Now, more than ever, churches have a chance to re-write oppression and judgements of the past; we can be reconciling communities; we can open our doors; we can change.

Changing the narrative from rejection to welcoming requires commitment, time, and resilience. There are a lot of stakes; money, leadership, opinions, and ideologies. People will disagree. People might even leave. However, the formation of the church was just like this: progressive, radical, and hinged upon what? Love. Tell me Jesus wouldn’t say the same thing.

What if the church reclaimed the story?

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There is so much room for reconciliation that I can hardly wait to see what the rest of my years bring. Maybe it will be at DCC, or maybe it will be elsewhere, but I intend the rest of my life to seek these sacred spaces: the ones where both Christianity and inclusivity can thrive. It’s here, I think, where we’ll know a deeper part of Jesus.

We can move the needle toward love and it is this pursuit that is what life is really about.

“Love is bigger than you think.”

When I was 13, I bore witness to the death of my great-grandmother.

Slowly, she curled up into herself in those last moments. She was in her late 80’s and so her wrinkly, dry skin held her together like an old leather saddle left in the sun on horseback. Her last breath was ragged and soft. I touched her hand before her soul departed, perhaps hoping to hold onto the last piece of life she could give to the world around her. There were numerous family members circling her bed, including my own grandmother who would pass away a few years later. The air smelt still, pungent, and sad. I felt stuck; I couldn’t look, but I also wasn’t able to look away. I knew this woman, she was family after all, but I did not know her well. So, my heart grieved her life with a kind of distance that is both awkward and strange.

It was the first time that I had seen life leave a human being.

It was a haunting moment.

It was humbling too, reminding me that despite the pervasive differences soaked in the human experience, all of us must wrestle and reconcile the inevitability of our mortality. That is a weighty topic for a young teenager, but in many ways, I was ready to engage with it. I asked (and journaled) about my own life. What would I stand for? What was my purpose? If my life would end someday, what would I want people to remember?

If nothing else, I knew then that life was precious.

*

Three weeks ago, I had to face the reality of death again, but in a very different context.

As I’ve become an adult, I have learned that death, though bringing about the same outcome, looks different in the life of each person. Some individuals, like my great-grandmother, die in hospice of old age. Other deaths come more unexpectedly, through accidents or painful diseases. Other times, a person suffers for long periods of time, unsure when the end of their life may come.

As it happened, I was visiting a friend and professional contact of whom I had connected upon launching the Denver location of The Women’s Bakery in January 2015.

We laughed more than we talked when we first met, and I knew she would be a positive resource for me as I began to build my professional life back in Denver. With more than 20 years of experience in the legal arenas of business and finance and active involvement for women’s issues in the community, I respected her insights, opinions, and ideas. As 2016 unfolded, we met three times: all for wine. Over deep red merlot and cabernet sauvignon, this woman shed light on what her life had been like and how she had woven her career into the other areas that life offers us.

There was no wine during my most recent visit.

This woman had cancer and she was dying.

Months ago, after we sipped wine on a summer afternoon in the urban enclaves in one of Denver’s trendy neighborhoods, I emailed her about getting together again. Radio silence ensued. Eventually, she responded to my emails and invited me to her mother’s home, where she was now staying, to talk.

I knew it was serious when I saw the long, lingering tubes at the front of the house, connecting to a plethora of oxygen tanks. I knew it was serious when I saw that all her long, bold, red hair had fallen out. I knew that this woman would not continue to live when she looked me in the eyes and admitted to herself and the world that her battle would be coming to an end.

I sat on a chair across from her, silently praying that I would be able to show her all the love, comfort, and dignity that I possibly could. I was scared.

We spoke for 49 minutes.

“I’m so sorry this is happening. How are you getting through this?” I meekly asked.

“Friends. Family. Normal things. I am trying to stay connected as I can. It keeps me grounded. And since the diagnosis, I have been able to talk more openly with people in my life than I have in years.”

Her diagnosis was just a couple of months ago. And, the most recent CAT scans told their own story: she would be dying soon.

Wow. Why do you think that is? How can you feel free to talk with people in your life like that?”

She hesitated, but only for a moment.

“It’s about healing. And there’s been a lot of it. Take my mom. We didn’t talk for years. And with this, we have reconciled and acknowledged where we have both been wrong over the years. Situations like this bring experiences like that about.”

In an effort for true empathy, I mentioned a difficult conversation I had coming up with some people in my own family.

“If you don’t mind me asking, what is it about?”

I told her the truth. I told her everything.

And she smiled. Slowly. And then, she spoke words that I can still hear echo softly in my heart,

“Be patient. Love well. You are being exactly who you are supposed to be. But remember the journey you have traveled in this experience – others must take it too. Remember to have compassion on those that may not understand. You’ll see. Love is bigger than you think.”

I nodded. I felt encouraged. I was relieved.

I handed her an old black cardigan and a reading light.

She pushed me further in conversation.

“You are a woman of faith. Have you always loved Jesus?”

I was honest about that too.

“I’ve been a Christian for a while. 10 years, maybe. But only in the last couple of years have I understood what it is to be free of the rigidity and system of religion. I didn’t know that loving God was inherently a relationship. But when I knew that I was free from perfection, acceptance, and proof of worth because of Jesus’ love, my life changed. When I discovered that knowing God is far more of a relationship, I began to be free of my own fears.”

She seemed to agree willingly and quickly, “Fear. I think religious systems promote this more than anything. And let’s be real, we all probably need a savior. From fear, and, I think, from ourselves.”

I pursed my lips in soft agreement.

“You’re right. That’s the crazy thing; modeling a life like Jesus is far more radical than a lot of churches like to admit. Recognizing the impact of real, living grace is powerful. It’s not about following a set of rules. It’s a changing of heart. It’s a transforming of a mind. Jesus has provided me the freedom to love God, myself, and others. I can’t really describe it.”

I must have described it well enough.

One week before her death she sent me a short email.

“Dear Heather, thanks!  I also wanted to let you know that I consider our conversation to be the time I accepted Jesus as my savior!  Like I said, we all need one.  I already treasure our friendship!”

My mouth dropped and I cried.

*

I took her wisdom as I’ve entered difficult and important conversations in this season. I’ve held tightly to her word: compassion. It’s a word that has been repeated to me, time and time again, and so I suppose that’s what I’m learning: compassion creates pathways for healing and growth. It’s painful, but my, it’s necessary.

I learned of her death while driving late last Friday afternoon into the southern range of the Rocky Mountains. I pulled over. I exited my car, holding on the ledge for balance, and breathed in the chilly air with a new kind of heaviness.

Death had taken her early. Still, she left me (and I presume many others) with advice and hope to keep going.

We never know what life might teach us. We don’t know what death can teach us, either.

What I do know is that each person on this planet, friend, enemy, foe, colleague, neighbor, or the annoyingly slow driver ahead of us can teach us something. We are all teachers. We are all students.

I miss this friend of mine. I miss her quirky-sassy attitude. I mourn all the lives that are lost early. And I hope, fiercely hope, that we don’t take for granted the people around us for this very reason. As I learned when I was 13, life is fragile. Beautifully fragile. May we see it, and may we know it.

Eat Together Anyway

Anxiously awaiting four (yes, you read that correctly) different thanksgiving gatherings over the holiday, I wrote a simple prayer in my journal.

Writing my prayers with paper and ink, for me, gives them fullness because in writing, there is an ease in both articulation and authenticity. With little effort, my hopes, fears, anxieties, desires, concerns, and thoughts rise from my soul and I know what it is I want to speak to God.

Plus, being a vegetarian on a holiday with excessive amounts of turkey calls for extra kinds of prayers (kidding, kind of).

I want to share this prayer with you.

Lord, thank you for this day.

I give thanks for a time we can remember, reflect, and cultivate gratitude.

I recognize that this space is holy. Humble me Lord, and let me honor that today.

I thank you for the humans I will sit with today. Cousins, aunts, step-uncles, family friends, grandparents, dogs, and mom, and dad, too.

We sit and eat with our people whom have both celebrated and hurt us; With our people whom have inspired and disappointed us; With our people whom have defended and accused us; With our people whom have loved and left us.

We are sinners and we are saints. And so am I.

I ask, Jesus, that this day of gratitude looms larger than philosophical, political, and worldview differences.

We eat together anyway and God, that’s the real gift.

Jesus, bring your mercy and bring your peace. Extend it where I may fall short. Thank you, Jesus, for this life.

I love you, this day, and I love this life, too. Amen.

This might be shocking (insert sarcasm here), but I’m actually not an expert on prayer. I don’t know for certain how it works. I think that’s what makes the whole faith process miraculous; we don’t know precisely when, or how, God enters these conversations, but without a doubt, He is there.

I think prayer is a revealing of self before God. Which, seems funny, because God already knows us. Still, like the exchanged vulnerabilities in any relationship we have in our life, it’s our responsibility to reveal the cracks in our perfectly manicured presentation of self and share who we are. Like, for real.

That’s why I think prayer is powerful and, I think it’s why prayer works, too.

As we toss away the layers before God, we also do so with other people. We become ourselves. And with time, we become more comfortable with that, inviting and allowing God’s grace to change us. We’re imperfect (and so are other people), and my goodness, that’s literally okay.

The table of Thanksgiving offers us this opportunity to not only empathize with the imperfection of ourselves and others, but to celebrate the goodness, beauty, and loveliness of ourselves and others, too. No matter the brokenness, the victory, the celebration, or the heartache, we’ll eat together anyway.  

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We’ll eat together even as we talk about religion, politics, money, sex, or the 2016 election. 

We’ll eat together even if not everyone in our family can be there.

We’ll eat together even when someone drinks too much and says something insensitive.

We’ll eat together even if a loved one refuses to accept another for who they are.

We’ll eat together even if forgiveness has yet to be offered, received, or accepted.

We’ll eat together even as family members begin counseling to save their marriage.

We’ll eat together even if someone continues to work far too much.

We will eat together anyway because we are family and these are our people.

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I’m grateful to have this – knowing full well that there are many individuals roaming streets, dumpsters, and shelters, with no place to go.

I’m thankful to have a home and these traditions that have come long before me.

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I’m thankful for this year, because without it, I don’ think I would be able to celebrate love, community, Jesus, perseverance, hope, freedom, and maturity the way that I can now.

I am thankful because it is the love of Christ that allows me to see this world bent towards justice and light and courage.

2016 was not good – for many (think: Syria, the death of Muhammad Ali, the Zika outbreak, racial tensions in the U.S., Brexit, etc.). John Oliver even talked about it being the worst year ever. Historians don’t necessarily agree, but we can all recognize: this year wasn’t the best.

Yet, I’m propelled, encouraged, and inspired to continue to seek all that we give thanks for: community, hope, love.

Our job is to seek, promote, and allow these things to come before the standing world order of power, greed, money, self-focus, and all of the sin that runs rampant to de-throne a different kind of kingdom that Jesus speaks so heavily about.

Until then, as we strive towards this, we give thanks and work that much harder – together.

We can give thanks because we are not alone in these pursuits.

As an addendum to my prayer, I wrote the following words in my journal from a book by Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, of House for All Sinner & Saints,

“It is next to impossible in isolation to manufacture the beautiful, radical grace that flows from the heart of God to God’s broken and blessed humanity.

As human beings, there are many things we can create for ourselves: entertainment, stories, pain, toothpaste, maybe even positive self-talk. But it is difficult to create things thing that frees us from the bondage of self. We cannot create for ourselves God’s word of grace. We must tell it to each other. It’s a terribly inconvenient and oftentimes uncomfortable way for things to happen. Were we able to receive the word of God through pious, private devotion – through quiet personal time with God – the Christian life would be far less messy.

But, as Paul tells us, faith comes through hearing, and hearing implies having someone right there doing the telling…Sometimes, I believe that God’s word of grace can also come through simple, imperfect everyday human love.”

Accidental Saints, Nadia Bolz-Weber

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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solidarity

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, which among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…

The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.

With every headline of violence, bombs and gunshots; with each story of continued injustice; with repeated syllables of hateful rhetoric, my heart breaks all over again.

Last month, on a visit to Washington D.C., I had the opportunity to touch the glass that protects the foundational documents of our country: the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights. My fingerprints left a stain and smudge; layered over thousands of other visitors who did the very same thing.

I peered closely in the dim lighting to catch the words: all men are created equal

Sighing heavily, I wonder what power our words still have.

We hang our hats on freedom, and yet can’t swallow the idea of equality.

We raise the colors of red, white, and blue but become squeamish when we talk about the reality that #blacklivesmatter.

Diversity is welcome – but only if we can put a quota on categories and markers – as if a “token” individual for a given race is the solution to acknowledging the prevalence of power structures built and ingrained into the fabrics of our systems.

to live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong..png

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, National Mall, Washington D.C. 2016

Tears fall heavy tonight as I remember the simultaneous power and confusion I felt when I saw the documents that laid the so-called “foundations” of our country. How have we gotten so far off track?

Tears come unceasingly as I think about the families of people who have died – throughout our history – because of who they are.

I cry because though slavery has ended we are perpetuating slavery by another name.

We are killing each other.

I’ve held no gun, but there is blood on my hands.

For any injustice I have left unsaid; for times I have been a recipient of white privilege without even the smallest inkling of recognition; and for the assumptions I have at times built in my own mind about who people are because of the identities they carry –

I’m sorry.

My mom tells a story from when I was just 2 and visiting in the waiting room of a pediatric office. We walked inside and as we sat down, I looked across the way and saw another child, around my same age.

With glee, curiosity, and enthusiasm, I shouted to my mother,

“Look! A chocolate baby!”

I don’t tell this story because it’s endearing; I tell it because even as a young girl, I could see a difference and acknowledge it.

The difference isn’t necessarily the problem: it’s the reaction to it.

Blackness is something to be celebrated; a legacy of men, women, and groups of people advocating for necessary, mandated rights to be free in our country. It is an identity, one full of roots, history, and culture that is permeated with strength and the tradition of overcoming adversity. And yet, “to be black” in America today is not something I can even begin to wrestle with. “Black” is a socially-based racial term, used loosely and accepting the separation of equality that it brings.

Yes, uphold diversity, but do not diversify the value, respect, and civil rights that each person holds individually and collectively. 

It’s not as if being white isn’t an identity too, but understand that “being white” has been the norm for human societies since the beginning of existence. To “celebrate” whiteness is a lot like cheering for a proverbial NFL team that wins the Super bowl every, single year. It’s the norm and our society structure is built to support this.

As I grew into a young woman in my late teens and early 20’s, I would literally lose myself in books about social movements – especially the Civil Rights of the 50’s & 60’s. I cared far more about Rosa Parks than I ever did about the Spice Girls.

And when I began to become educated, not just in school, but in life and in my faith, I learned about the real oppression happening to other races outside of being “white.”

I saw it, I watched it, and I grew increasingly sickened by it.

To this day, Divine and I often talk about her skin color specifically; she was told on many occasions in her life that she was “ugly” because of her dark skin and that her beauty would never come from her physical appearance.

“To be white,” she once said to me while visiting her family in Rwanda, “is to hold many treasures and coins to life.”

When you hear something like that, you can’t help but examine your own fixed position in the world. You wonder, “why, why was I born like this?”

God has a plan, they say, and though we must live in the tension of not knowing everything, it’s true that we are in the places, times, and seasons for a reason.

So, why don’t we speak truth? Why don’t we take a stand? Why don’t we do the hard thing and look in the mirror, seeking our own bias and positions of power that we may have missed before?

I firmly, and resiliently believe that God does not stand for racial segregation, oppression, violence, separation, and hate. More than that, I think the same is true for anyone – for any living, breathing, human life. Yes, all lives matter, but we can’t acknowledge that fully until everyone – I mean, everyone – obtains real, living equality.

No more lip service. It’s time to stand in solidarity. It’s time to speak truth.

I have committed myself to retracting myself from this endowed, inherited legacy of privilege. It’s sticky. It’s messy. I don’t always know how to weave myself out.

But I will not stop.
I cannot stop.

Jesus’ greatest command was love. Our country’s greatest command was equality.

Can’t we strive for these together? Can we, together, recognize our brothers and sisters in the communities we live within?

Jesus,

Forgive our ignorance. Forgive our disunity. Forgive our separations.

I pray for peace. The kind of peace that trespasses all understanding – the kind of peace that can only heal these kinds of wounds.

Please, please, please come. Make this stop. Please. Make it stop.

We love you. I love you. 

Amen.

stones of help.

The intensity, growth, and pervasiveness of Denver traffic is becoming more and more noticeable these days. Ask anyone. Commuter or not, the thickness of cars – sitting idly, bumper to bumper – is a vision you will find more frequently along the two-lane routes of Downing into RiNo; from the re-gentrified enclaves of LoHi into 16th Street; or even from the curvy highways connecting Aurora to the rest of the metro area.

The recent buzz within the last year of Denver as the fastest growing city in the United States is palpable. From packed restaurants, saturated realty markets, and jammed high-ways, you can sense the growth within each segment of life here.

We – Ebenezer and I – were sitting in his car on the way to work earlier last week fighting this very traffic. Bless his heart, particularly being a new friend of mine, he had offered to help get me to the office in Denver while I waited for news on what exactly went wrong with my broken-down Honda the week prior.

As we sat in between stop-lights and construction stops, “small talk” quickly became irrelevant; for whatever reason, the breaking-down of barriers in communication is eased with open (or closed) roads and a window with a view. As we mingled in conversations ranging from cross-cultural mishaps (he’s from Liberia and now lives in Aurora), faith ideologies, and intrinsic motivations for why people do what they do, he asked me some very important questions –

“But, Heather, why do you believe what you believe? Where do you think that has come from?

I smiled and smirked my lips nearly simultaneously, recognizing immediately the wisdom from which he asked those questions. It was clear to me that through his own life story and experiences, he’d realized an important, central truth: our lives, perspectives, values, passions, and beliefs are deeply engrained from the environments we grow up in.

He then said, “What if we did know everything…could you, or anyone, really handle that?”

I took a moment of pause. These were important questions. Big questions. Necessary questions.

“No, I really don’t think we could. I think the power of our worldview rests when we recognize how wide, how deep, and how limited our experiences actually are in the context of the world and in the context of something larger than humanity itself. This is powerful, actually, because our humility enables constant learning, constant growth, and a constant desire for truth. Our humility leaves room for God.”

In that moment, I actually admitted it – it was better to trust God with life, purpose, and our stories, than it was to pretend as if we knew it all.

By “all” I mean a perfected doctrine; I mean practiced explanations for all the of pain, suffering, grief, war, hurt, and hell that we see on the earth; and I mean also how God has managed to be a creator, a father, the great “I Am”, and the redeemer. Just to name a few.

You see, the beauty of Christianity is that at its best, it doesn’t have to be a “religion”. It doesn’t have to a perfect order of things to do to please God. Christianity is about liberation – it’s about a God who loves and saves. We don’t find God. He finds us. That’s why we don’t have to have it all together. Or have all the answers. Or live life as religious zealots.

We’re free by grace – and that’s what we can “hang our hat on.”

This is a tall-order, however. If I believe this, than I must be willing to let God direct my life. If I stand by this, I must be willing to be vulnerable enough to accept how God has created me – and others. If I submit to the reality and truth of God’s sovereignty, than I can trust that my life is so infused with grace and love that I can do the impossible. We all have “impossible” things in our life; but what if we could actually do them?

I think, well, I know, this is what Ebenezer was getting at. He told me later that his car (the one we were conversing in) is named “Anaya,” meaning admire God. As for his name, Ebenezer is a Hebrew name that is directly from the Bible. Samuel, in preparation for battle against the Philistines, sets up a rock that is referred to as “Ebenezer.”

Thus, the name means “rock” or “stone of help.”

I’ll need every “stone of help” I can get in order to continue recognizing the power of humility in our day-to-day lives. I sense it in my work; I sense it in my relationships; I sense it in where my life is headed. I don’t know a lot of things. I do know, however, the bedrock of my faith – that is, God loves me. And there’s really nothing I can do about that.

That’s a pretty cool conclusion to reach at merely 7:35am on a Tuesday morning – traffic or not. Good thing there would be more coffee. Always, more coffee.

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Skies

pretty spring skies on morning commutes to Denver.