This world. This place. This life.


Don’t imagine me drowning

So much of what I read about parenting young children focuses on how overwhelming it is. And it is.

But I’m grateful for every blog post that helps me remember the love and joy Willa brings to my life.

Because the truth is, even though I’m flailing around in the water, I’m not drowning. I’m learning to swim.

So I want to ask you—please, don’t imagine me drowning.

No matter how exhausted I may feel, I parent from a place of privilege. We can afford to have me care for Willa full-time, and I have outlets for the not-mama parts of my brain. For lunch today, Willa will eat ground lamb, butternut squash, zucchini, homemade yogurt, organic rice cereal, and quinoa; it takes a privileged amount of bandwidth to pull that off. Do I need support? You bet. But let’s save the lifeguards’ attention for those who really are drowning.


I have never done work which demanded so much of my creativity. All day long, every day, one problem-solving opportunity after another comes my way. Every solution lasts only until Willa’s next growth spurt. She keeps me on my toes, and I’ve never felt so alive. Who knew that “helping” with the laundry could begin at eight months? Or that it would be so much fun?


When you imagine me drowning, I imagine myself drowning, and I lose faith in myself. I focus on what’s hard, rather than imagining what’s possible. Liesl and I spent long months agonizing about taking a road trip with Willa, because we were afraid of how hard it might be. Will it be hard? Yes. No doubt about it. But I want to raise a daughter who faces challenges with courage and determination, with a sparkle of anticipation in her eyes. And if I want to do that, I have to model courage, not fear.

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Choose your kiln

I suck at self-directed change.

I’ve fallen off more bandwagons than I care to count.

I’ve broken so many New Year’s resolutions that I just don’t make them anymore.

When I see a blog post that promises me change in six easy steps, I roll my eyes and move on.

But by any measure, the trajectory of my life includes dramatic changes. I’m a Jersey girl living in Alaska. I was a fundamentalist kid, and now I’m a non-theistic Unitarian Universalist.

How did these changes happen?

I chose life experiences that changed me.

kilnPick any metaphor you’d like—a kiln, a crucible, a glacier, a forest fire—there are forces that will apply pressure to us from the outside, changing us in lasting ways.

For me, it has been: attending college and seminary; working as a minister; choosing a relationship with Liesl; moving to Alaska; adopting our dog, Brady; writing the Interdependent Web; and becoming Willa’s mother.

Next month we’re headed off on an open-ended adventure. It’s daunting—and it will change us.

I’m counting on that. Liesl and I need something to change us, because we’re really stuck—and we’re tired of it.

We’re putting ourselves in a kiln for a few months. Then we’ll open the door, and see how we’ve changed.

Are you tired of being stuck?

Choose your kiln—or your crucible, glacier, or forest fire.

Make it something big.

Make it something that will change you from the outside, in.


Photo by bptakoma, used under a Creative Commons attribution license.


Finding courage

Yesterday’s Zero to Hero assignment was to comment on three blogs; today’s assignment is to write a blog post based on one of those comments.

I’m still thinking about “Michael Sam’s Necessary Moment,” written by Holly Anderson on Grantland.  I keep thinking about this:

“Telling the world I’m gay is nothing,” Sam said, . . . comparing coming out to harrowing moments he experienced growing up—more moments of heartbreak than any one human being should have to shoulder.

I commented, “So often people find courage to do something daunting by having faced far worse.”

Since then I’ve been thinking about the hard things I’ve done that give me courage—and strength—to continue to make difficult but necessary choices.

Here are the highlights of my list:

  • Coming out to myself, and to my family
  • Becoming a minister—when I was raised to believe clergy were wrong, as were women in church leadership
  • Making the long journey from my childhood faith to life as a non-theist Unitarian Universalist
  • Moving to Alaska, and living here for almost nine years (and counting)
  • Choosing to recommit to ministry, and completing the long process of transferring from the Presbyterian Church (USA) to the UUA
  • Giving birth to my first child, at age 42, without pain meds

Liesl and I have hard choices to make. Where do we want to live? What kind of work are we looking for? Does Liesl want to stay in aviation? What kind of ministry do I feel called to? And how do we factor Willa’s wellbeing into where we live and what we do for work?

It’s daunting to think about pulling up stakes and starting over. But it helps to remember what we’ve already done.


Stories we tell about ourselves

Eighteen years ago, after my first year of seminary, I served as camp chaplain at Johnsonburg in northern New Jersey. It was the first of two internships I would complete.

I was part of a small group of senior staff. At the beginning of the summer, a few days before the counselors arrived for training, the six of us gathered at Johnsonburg for our own training, including team-building exercises.

The only thing I remember was the ropes course. I remember because I failed.

It’s a story I’ve told about myself for eighteen years.

One of the first obstacles—maybe even the very first—was a cargo net that stretched up the side of a tree, and the goal was to climb the net.

I tried, but I didn’t have enough strength in my arms, and I was very afraid. In tears, I gave up.

I thought about that story a lot in the months leading up to Willa’s birth. I wanted to give birth without meds, but I had no confidence in my ability to do so.

I kept imagining myself giving up.

But circumstances didn’t give me a choice. The contractions came so fast and furious that there’s no way an anesthesiologist would have gotten me still enough to put a needle in my spine.

And I did it.

With grit and determination, I wrestled sweet Willa from my body, without a drop of pain meds.

A few weeks later, I told Ruth, a friend and colleague, about the ropes course, and how I’d been afraid of my weakness and cowardice.

“How long ago was that?” she asked.

I did some quick math. “About eighteen years,” I said.

“Well, you’re not the same person anymore, are you? And now you have a new story to tell yourself,” she said.

Yes, I do. And now when I’m afraid, feeling daunted by a task, large or small, I remember: I gave birth. I can do this. I can do anything.



Living with a Good Samaritan

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.

Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”

–Luke 10:30-35

We were on our way to the airport. Our flight was scheduled to leave in a few hours––the one that would take us to the East Coast for my interview with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee.

I’m always uptight before we fly, and I was even more so that night, with my interview looming.

We were driving south on Spenard Road after a delicious pre-flight dinner at Ray’s Place. I was driving, and at about 9 p.m. it was dark out.

Mid-conversation Liesl said, “Hey––that guy’s getting beat up––right by the bus stop.”

I have to admit that my first thought was not wanting to miss our flight.

“Pull over,” Liesl said as we got closer to the incident. By the time I pulled to the curb––still in my lane––the assailant had left, leaving only the victim.

Liesl had called 911, and was describing the incident to the dispatcher.  She rolled down her window.  “Are you OK?” she asked.  He mumbled something.  “Do you want to talk to the police? I’ve got them on the phone.”  He said, “Oh, no, it’s OK, I know that guy, he always picks on me.”

I have to admit that I was feeling distracted by the fact that I was blocking traffic. I could feel the pressure of headlights on my bumper, and expected honking at any moment.

“What’s your name?” Liesl asked, passing along the dispatcher’s request.  Believe it or not, his last name was Love.

When we could see that he wasn’t seriously hurt, and with assurances that the police were coming, we drove off.

“I don’t care if he was drunk,” Liesl said.  “That’s no excuse to beat someone up.  I can’t believe that whole bus full of people saw that happen, and no one did anything.”

I didn’t tell her that, had I been alone, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. And if I had noticed, I’m not sure that I would have stopped.

That’s how it is for some of us.  By temperament and training, we’re more likely to “pass by on the other side.”

Some people are content to stay that way, but I’m not.  I’m really glad that I live with a justice-seeking, courageous Good Samaritan who’s teaching me to notice, and to act.

Image by Tim Green, used under a Creative Commons Attribution License.