We Can’t Handle the Truth

I have been thinking about truth a lot lately. What is it? Who defines it? What does it look like?

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Let’s start with an easy one. It is true that water has a freezing point of 32 degrees Fahrenheit, so most people define 32 degrees as “freezing”. Freezing, however, means different things to different people based on the climate in which they live. What feels “freezing” to a New Yorker is going to differ from what feels “freezing” to a Floridian. Here in Florida, people panic and bring out the long johns for anything under 70 degrees Fahrenheit. This is completely ridiculous to the man or woman in Chicago or New York who is digging their car out from under piles of snow when the temperatures are registering below zero degrees.

So who is right? What defines freezing? Is it relative to where the person claiming to be frozen lives geographically? I claim to be “freezing” in our apartment when the thermostat is set below 75, but my husband will be sweating bullets at the same temperature. If we are both correct in our experience of the temperature, given our different biological composition and levels of comfort, then where is the absolute measure for “freezing”?

That is an easy example, and one most of us would not contest. We would just say “you do you” and move on in that situation. But what about when the question relates to morality, faith (gulp!), or even politics (double gulp!)?

Where is the truth when we all come from different walks of life, different neurobiological frameworks, different geographic locations, different values, different levels of education, different parents, different belief systems, and different generations?

For me, the question has shifted from just being about “What is true?” to including “When is it ok to be different?” The danger in this is assuming there is no absolute truth and that we are all free to pursue whatever seems true to each person in the moment. This is one of the questions that is raised consistently throughout the plot line of the television show The Good Place. In the show, Kristen Bell plays Eleanor Shellstrop, a selfish, morally ambiguous American woman who is killed by a Viagra truck while attempting to retrieve a ginormous bottle of margarita mix after cursing out an environmentalist at the grocery store. While the twists and turns of the show are hilarious, the question that seems to thread through every episode is “What is right and what is wrong, and who gets to decide?”

If each person is permitted to decide what is right and true based on their own preferences and beliefs, then the world turns to total anarchy because each person is operating from his or her own personal definition of truth. However, if there is some form of absolute truth and certain moral codes to which we are all held, then there is a standard for how people treat themselves and each other.

So what is true? In the 1992 film A Few Good Men, Tom Cruise plays a young military attorney who relentlessly interrogates Jack Nicholson in regards to a decision made regarding the death of a U.S. marine at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. During the heated courtroom scene, Cruise demands the truth from Nicholson, to which Nicholson shouts “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH”. Nicholson proceeds to explain that no one, including Cruise, could understand what he has done because they do not know what he knows and have not seen what he has seen.

Maybe there is some truth to Nicholson’s famous line. Maybe none of us can handle the truth. We all want to be in the right. We all want to do what is best according to our own beliefs and experiences. I believe there is an absolute truth, but I am not sure our human minds are capable of completely grasping it on this side of eternity.

I will never forget my first day in grad school. One of the professors and heads of the program took out a large piece of glass with a beautiful scenery painted on it. He described the glass as Eden, a picture of all that is true and beautiful and right and good. Then he wrapped the glass painting in a garbage bag, took out a hammer, and smashed it. He proceeded to remove shards and pieces from the bag, explaining that all of the great philosophers and psychologists throughout the millennia each had a piece of what was a greater work of art. Socrates had one, Aristotle had one, Plato, Epicurus, right up to Freud, Jung, and hundreds of others. Even if we were able to reunite every piece, there would still be cracks and we would not have a perfect picture of what the picture originally communicated.

By now my conservative Christian friends are probably shouting at the computer. “Lindsey, the answer is Jesus!” And yes, I do still believe that. I don’t believe that any one denomination or one translation of the Bible can claim to have it all right. I do believe that absolute truth stems from the one who created the universe (God) and that the Creator sent his son (Jesus), who is also a part of God, to take on human flesh and human tendencies to live a perfect and blameless life so that he could be sacrificed to atone for the sins of all men and women. I believe we can’t earn forgiveness. I do believe in grace, the idea that not one of us deserves what we receive from the Lord (eternal life and forgiveness). And this believe shapes my understanding of truth and how I am to treat the people around me. If I have been forgiven for my numerous and heinous sins, then it stands to reason that everyone else around me as been forgiven as well, so why should I treat anyone differently from anyone else? Shouldn’t I treat all people with kindness, dignity, respect, and love?

“But what about the [fill in the blank here with any noun other than Christian]?” Guess what…they deserve love and kindness and dignity and respect as well!

“But what about the [fill in the blank with mildly racist/sexist/homophobic slur or term]?” They deserve love and kindness and dignity and respect, too!

Look, I don’t have a grasp on absolute truth. I have some ideas. I think we will ALL be surprised when we die and meet our Maker. But I also know that each person I encounter along the way is coming from a different set of life experiences and, therefore, a different set of beliefs about the world and the people in it.

What if the truth is this: that each of us, regardless of who we are or what we believe, is called to treat every other person, regardless of who they are or what they believe, with kindness, love, dignity, and respect? Worst case scenario is that we find out we were wrong all along. Best case scenario is that people start treating people like people, and the world becomes a kinder, lovelier, more dignified, and more respectable place.

If that is the case, maybe the truth isn’t so hard to handle after all.

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Let’s Start with Sorry

It’s 10:00am on Tuesday, December 4 and I am eating enchiladas for breakfast and making lists on lists about lists. I thought I had the flu but I am pretty sure it’s been a combo of starting a new sleep medicine, stress, the constant weather changes, and lack of self care. I have hit my coffee limit for the day (curbing it to two cups as we attempt to get pregnant again), the cat is flailing around on the floor with a fitted sheet that I have washed but refuse to fold and put away, and I need to start working soon but I just can’t bring myself to change out of fox pajamas and into functioning adult clothes. Let’s just say, it’s been a day so far.

Kevin

Every year, I tell myself that I am not going to get caught up in the holiday commercialism and get stressed out over all the things that don’t matter, and every year I fail. We are four days into the month of all-things-Christmas and I am irritable, nauseous, tired from lack of sleep, and anxious. My husband says I am cranky, distant, and unfocused. I don’t disagree with him.

In an effort to recalibrate my heart and reset my brain, I started the She Reads Truth 2018 Advent Study. It’s Day Four, and I am already stressed about “doing it right”, which completely defeats the purpose of doing it in the first place. What is it about The Most Wonderful Time of the Year that brings so much unrest for me? I know thousands of other people have asked this question and written about it in an effort to come up with yet another stress-free solution to offer others, but I need a place to process what it is for me that makes the month of December so difficult to enjoy.

All of this really hit me in two separate moments over the last twelve hours. First, I received a text from a friend confirming plans we had made but that I had failed to mark on the calendar. She was forgiving when I told her I had botched the timing, but her last text said, “That’s ok! It’s such a busy time of year.” Ugh. That one hit me hard. She didn’t say anything wrong. In fact, she was being incredibly kind and generous by forgiving my mistake. What hit me like a punch to the gut was the fact that I had, once again, let my tendency to over-promise and under-deliver ruin plans with some people I truly enjoy.

The second moment of realization came with opening the She Reads Truth Advent Guide website. Quite simply, the first line of each day’s reading says, “Open your Bible.” If someone has actively sought out an Advent reading guide to intentionally experience the anticipation of Jesus’ birth during the Christmas season, opening the Bible should requite nothing more than common sense. I, however, really needed this simple instruction. In the chaos of my brain, I needed the reminder to do the seemingly obvious. This made me both sad and relieved. I felt sad that I needed a black and white reminder to do what should require no instruction, and I felt relief that someone anticipated my need for stating the obvious. I must not be the only one who needs help focusing on the task at hand if someone else thought to include it as the opening line of text.

Before I launch into a laundry list of more things I “should do” in order to amend the errors of my ways, I am going to focus on doing the two things that tend to work best when attempting to reorient my heart and mind: apologize and be grateful.

I want to apologize. Acknowledging my shortcomings and confessing them to those who have been affected is a practice that grounds and humbles me. It reminds me that my words and actions impact other people.  I intend to apologize to those who have been the unwilling recipients of my irritability, lack of intentionality, and unkept promises. Any apology without action is empty, so I hope to follow those confessions with intentional change so that I don’t continue to engage in the same offensive behaviors.

I also want to be grateful. Another grounding practice to free up my cluttered head and heart, I find gratitude to be a game changer. I can’t always change my circumstances, but I can always change my perspective, and gratitude is a good perspective-changer. I don’t adhere to the blanket “fake it ’til you make it” approach to gratitude. Sometimes we do have to practice an action before the heart follows suit, but that involves an intentional choice as opposed to the white-knuckling so many of us adopt when trying to change our habits or behaviors.

So in the midst of all of the temptation to be busier, do more, be more, live up to imaginary expectations, make more plans, not let people down, decorate, purchase, please, delight, worship, read, sleep, cook, and everything else, I hope I can remember to focus on just two things: apologize (i.e. take responsibility for my words and actions) and be grateful (in an authentic and honest way).

Maybe, just maybe, focusing on those two things will bring me to freely enjoy this Christmas season.

The Trial of Man

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I was sitting in an IKEA chair inside of a make-shift office built out of cardboard when the decision was made to proceed with confirming Brett M. Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court Justice. I was about half way through a long day meeting with the global staff of a large anti-slavery NGO and I didn’t have any phone service or WiFi. I knew big things were happening in the world around me, but I had no access to the current events as they were unfolding.

My heart was so conflicted. I wanted to be physically, mentally, and emotionally present with the person sitting across from me, but I also wanted to know what was happening to our country. I wanted to watch the testimonies and read the articles and sift through the information just to attempt to reach some sort of understanding of what was going down. I had to wait to do those things, and I have now had a few opportunities over the last few days to educate myself and catch up on all that has happened.

I believe Christine Ford. I believe her testimony. I believe that she had no intention of creating a media circus or uprooting anyone’s family.

I also believe Brett Kavanaugh. I believe that he either doesn’t remember or thinks he did not commit the assault of which he was accused.

I grieve for Dr. Ford and her family. I grieve for Judge Kavanaugh and his family. I also grieve for the broken systems under which we operate as a country, knowing that change may never come.

I think what people failed to realize over the last few weeks is that this was not a trial to prove whether a man assaulted a woman or not. As best as I understand the data, this was a hearing to bring information to light and to confirm or deny the integrity of the man nominated for a seat as a Supreme Court Judge. There was nothing for anyone to win in this situation. Either Judge Kavanaugh would be found capable of serving, or he would not.

Maybe I believe Dr. Ford because I am biased from my own experiences. In my early twenties, I too attended a small gathering at a friend’s house. I drank alcohol, hung out in the living room with friends and acquaintances, and then went upstairs to my friend’s sister’s room, since she was out of town, to sleep because I did not want to drive home while intoxicated. I woke up after some time to find a young man I had known for years in the bed with me, and he was attempting to remove my clothes and make sexual advances. I asked him to stop, and he did not. I pushed him off of me and I ran into the nearest bathroom. I locked the door and did not come out until I knew the guy was gone.

Maybe I believe Dr. Ford because she had nothing to gain from coming forward. I don’t think she is part of some large-scale, left-wing conspiracy to take down the Republican party. She has nothing to gain and everything to lose by being forced into the spotlight.

Maybe I believe Judge Kavanaugh because he wants to protect his wife and daughters from this whole crazy thing. I don’t think he was acting when he said he didn’t assault Dr. Ford. Whether he didn’t do it or he doesn’t remember, I don’t know. It’s not my place to judge the Judge, or anyone else for that matter.

Maybe I believe Judge Kavanaugh because I don’t believe all men are rapists. I don’t believe all men are sex addicts or porn fiends or predators. I married a really good man who respects me, honors women, and is now hyper-aware of where and how he stands in an elevator because he doesn’t want to brush against someone and have it be mistaken as assault.

I was recently in an EMDR therapy session addressing some lingering issues from a past abusive relationship. My therapist asked me to name the thing that was still clutching parts of myself and would not let go. I named that thing Fear. At the end of the session, he said one very simple and profound thing: “Fear doesn’t protect us from harm.”

Fear is what I hear in all of the testimonies and articles and blogs and asinine social media posts. Fear is what I see in the media and in the news. Women are afraid of being judged or ignored. Men are afraid of being accused. The Right is afraid of the Left. The Left is afraid of the Right. People are afraid of losing their jobs, their families, their homes, and their livelihoods. Fear is controlling our culture, and protecting us from nothing. Fear is turning us against each other and will kill us all if we let it. We can’t let fear win.

I don’t want my future children to live in fear. I want them to be aware of reality, to be educated about the world, and to move through life with a certain freedom knowing that when bad things happen, and bad things will happen, that they will be loved and believed and cared for and known. I am not afraid of who is right and who is wrong. I do fear what will happen if we keep judging each other without empathy, compassion, or hope that people will start treating others the way they want to be treated.

That young man who attacked me is married now. He may have kids. I don’t know. He probably doesn’t remember what happened that night. He was drunk and high, and he knows I was mad at him for quite some time and that I would not let myself be in the same places at the same time for several years. If I confronted him with that information today, he would probably be very confused. I can tell you almost every detail about that night, that room, and the day that followed. That’s how trauma works on the brain. If he were to run for public office, I don’t know if I would say anything or not. He assaulted me some 15 years ago, and I don’t know what his heart is like now. Maybe I would send a confidential letter to the powers that be, maybe I wouldn’t. I guess I just don’t know until I am in that situation.

I believe all people, regardless of gender or position, should be held accountable for their actions. I have long heard stories of men and women in our nation’s Capitol who take advantage of, assault, and manipulate others. This should not be normalized or accepted. We need systemic change to ensure that no one is vulnerable to physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological abuse.

This is a situation in which no one wins. My hope is that individually, we as people treat people like people. My hope is that systemically, we protect those who are vulnerable to harm, care for those who have been harmed, and hold accountable those who have inflicted harm.

We don’t need another trial of man. We need a culture of empathy, grace, and compassion.

The Gospel of Doubt

I am in the process of developing some healthier habits that will actually stick and become routine over time. I have a pretty sweet night time regimen (we should have bought stock in whatever company produces Dr. Teals Epsom Salt Soak) but my morning routine has been lagging for quite some time. I used to be that girl who could wake up at 5:00am and hit the gym before work. I don’t know that girl anymore and I have no idea where she went. Then I became that girl who could sleep until 9:50 if I didn’t have to be at the office until 10:00. That girl disappeared when I got married and suddenly another human could judge me for my slacking. Since my schedule varies by day, I am working on waking up at a consistent time and doing something active rather than depending on a pot of coffee to get my heart beating at a normal rate.

So I started walking in the mornings. I am able to fit the walk in just before the Central Florida heat starts to rival the center of a volcano. I used to listen to an upbeat playlist during my walk, but then I realized that I was literally walking in a circle repeatedly while singing to myself and that felt really weird. So I started listening to various podcasts in order to feel more productive. I love The New Activist, but I needed something to supplement it. I tried Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History and while the podcast is incredible, Mr. Gladwell’s voice made me feel so relaxed I just wanted to crawl back in bed and let him speak lullabies. So I started on the TEDTalks podcast under the society and culture theme. I was intrigued by the title of a talk given by Casey Gerald back in May 2016, so I gave it a whirl and now I can’t stop listening to it.

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Casey Gerald, TEDTalks May 2016

Mr. Gerald graduated from Harvard Business School in 2014 and founded the non-profit organization MBAs Across America. A few years later, Gerald put himself out of business by making his business model free to anyone who wants to do the hard work of reinventing the American business culture.

So what does Mr. Gerald’s success have to do with my feeble attempts to maintain a healthy lifestyle? Nothing, other than I have spent many hours walking around the pond in our neighborhood doubting myself and everything I stand for, and that is what Casey Gerald’s gospel is all about. For most of my life, I have been taught – either implicitly or explicitly – that doubt equals lack of faith. If I doubt something I must not believe in it. There seems to be an undercurrent of fear that runs through any large institution which discourages people from doubting, because any questioning of the system must mean the system will fall.

I used to think doubting was dangerous. If I doubt my faith, does that mean I am not a Christian? If I doubt my purpose in life, does that mean I am doing something wrong? If I doubt my boss, does that mean I am not a team player? If I doubt the ingredients in a hot dog, does that mean I shouldn’t eat it?

Gerald poetically describes the night of December 31, 1999 when many of us wondered if the world would truly end at midnight. He was in a Baptist church with his grandmother, and had been taught that he better get right because Jesus was coming at midnight and he didn’t want to be left behind. Gerald recounts his fear, disappointment, confusion, and hurt when midnight passed and he found himself on the sofa watching Peter Jennings countdown the new year in three different time zones. In a matter of moments, everything Casey Gerald believed came crashing down around him, and he didn’t know that his doubt wouldn’t kill him.

“But there, on that night, I did not stop believing. I just believed a new thing. That it was possible not to believe. It was possible the answers I had were wrong, the questions themselves were wrong, and now where there was once a mountain of certitude, there was, running right down to its foundation, a spring of doubt.”

After graduating from Harvard university and returning home only to be held up at gunpoint, he learned that the best education in the country couldn’t save him from harm. After taking a job with Lehman Brothers in 2008, he learned that a job at the best investment firm in the country couldn’t spare him from failure. After landing a spot in Barack Obama’s White House, he learned that a President he lad longed for would not ensure a grand future or provide all of the answers to life’s problems. Gerald learned what happens when we make gods of the things that begin to hold us captive over time.

“But over and over again, midnight struck, and I opened my eyes to see that all these gods were dead. And from that graveyard I began to search once more, not because I was brave but because I knew that I would either believe or I would die.”

Like Mr. Gerald, I tend to find myself at the crossroads of belief and death on a daily basis. Not a physical death, but a moral, emotional, and spiritual death that seems far more terrifying to me than reaching a biological end. When I stand at that intersection, with doubt riding on my back, I have a choice: I can choose to believe, or I can choose to stop fighting. If I keep walking towards belief, doubt goes with me. And that’s ok. It is ok to be afraid. It’s ok to ask questions. It’s ok to be not so sure. I believe that walking with doubt is the crux of faith. For me, doubt is nothing but a healthy wrestling that usually brings me to a stronger faith than I had before I entered the ring.

I have to believe, even in the midst of all of my doubts. Questioning one brick, like Gerald says, does not shake the whole foundation. In fact, it may improve the entire structure.

“The gospel of doubt does not ask that you stop believing. It asks that you believe a new thing: that it is possible not to believe. It is possible the answers we have are wrong. It is possible the questions themselves are wrong. The gospel of doubt means that it is possible that we are wrong, because it raises the question, ‘Why, with all the power that we hold in our hands, why are people still suffering so bad?”

When I face failure or start to doubt the things I hold so dear, my new belief says, “Keep fighting. Don’t give up. Ask a different question. Listen for a different response.” Fear and doubt and courage and faith are all closely related and they usually travel together. Like the great 20th Century philosopher John Wayne once said, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”

The Magic In Me

It happened slowly. I never thought I would be one of THOSE people. I never imagined that I would be the person who needed my fix and would start to go into withdrawal if the space between visits went too long. But then I moved to Florida, and it became harder to resist. People offered it for free. Opportunities and temptation rose up everywhere. And then my husband gained free access to it it any time, offering it freely.

Of course, I am talking about Disney World.

Magic Kingdom

Photo Cred: Megan Wasneechak

Since I grew up in Memphis, Disney World was just a magical place far away that required a long drive, a lot of money, and a week off from school to visit. Only the truly blessed got to go to Disney World. My parents took me when I was 4 but I don’t remember much of the trip. We had family in South Florida and my mom was pregnant with my brother and I am sure I had a blast, but I only know that from the pictures. My parents took us again when Sam and I were about 8 and 12, respectively, because our cousin was getting married in Sarasota. I remember that trip and it was a blast. Crawling through “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” with my brother and gawking at Indiana Jones escaping from the huge ball still stick in my brain. I had the chance to visit The Mouse again as a high schooler with a church choir tour of the Southeast. That trip was fun as well, but I mostly remember it as time spent pining after a guy I had a crush on and trying to figure out how to get him to ask me out. (Side Note: You could not pay me enough to go back and be a teenager again.)

By the time I moved to Orlando in 2012, I thought Disney was cool but it was even more expensive than it has been in 1987 and I cried every time I had to drive further than five miles in Orlando traffic, so The Happiest Place on Earth wasn’t really on my radar…until someone took me to Epcot Food and Wine Festival.

Epcot? Really? As a kid I remember Epcot being the boring park where I had to learn about things. It turns out that when you become an adult, people will take your money and give you food and drinks from all over the world and bands play cool music and you can relive your middle school glory days with hundreds of other people and there are fireworks and tons of coffee mugs to buy! Disney is so cool!

Tim and I purchased Florida Resident Annual Passes when we were dating. We were both on a budget, we needed affordable date nights, and we had both enjoyed Disney as kids. We thought it would be a fun way to do something fun, get to know each other, and see how much we REALLY liked spending that much time together. (I will never forget going to Disney with my brother a few years ago. He noted that Disney World would be the best place to get to know someone because you would see how they handle money, stress, heat, long days, ignorance, crowds, decision making, and the ability to have fun.)

I hate to ruin it for those of you who don’t live in Florida, but when you live in this state you can go to Disney an unlimited amount times during the year for about $30 a month. You can also take in your own food and drinks, so Disney days turn out to be pretty cost effective unless you don’t live in Florida and you have to spend your life savings staying in an on-property resort, purchasing tickets and overpriced Mickey-shaped-foods. People do it all the time.

My point, however, is this: Disney truly is magical, but I don’t know why. Maybe it is because there are people hired to keep the parks meticulously clean. Maybe it is because there are also people paid to call me “princess” when I walk into a store. Maybe it is because 90% of my childhood is wrapped up in one place and I get so drunk on nostalgia I think I need to move into Cinderella’s Castle just to soak it all in. (My favorite Disney movie as a kid was Old Yeller, but they don’t make rides out of killing old dogs so I’ll settle for Little Mermaid, which was the first movie I saw in theaters.) I remember watching an old VHS tape of a musical tour through Disney on repeat with my cousins until we broke the tape. I was completely fascinated by the dancing ghosts in Haunted Mansion and knew I had to see them in person one day. I am STILL fascinated by those ghosts and I am 35 years old and totally understand how the technology works. Pineapple Dole Whip sends me to the restroom for hours but I still crave it. The line for Peter Pan’s Flight is always long and smells like body odor and diapers and stale rain, but I stand in it forever to feel like I am flying over Neverland for a total of three minutes. Where else in the world (other than Disney in other countries) do we pay extravagant amounts of money to sweat our nards off for hours only to enjoy a 180 second thrill?

I don’t get it, but I fall for it every time. Last weekend I went to Magic Kingdom with my friend, Megan, and we stayed for the newish fireworks show. The old routine has been replaced with a stunning mixture of pyrotechnics, image projections, music mashups, lasers, and flying humans and I just really needed a fix. Did I know we would be smashed up against sweaty strangers for at least an hour when the show is over? Sure. But that didn’t matter. For 18 minutes, I was a 6 year old girl singing along to every song, mouth open, eyes bugged out, and heart exploding. For 18 minutes, every man, woman, and child around me looked just as stupid as I did. There were people of all ages, sizes, ethnicities, languages, religions, orientations, and backgrounds all staring at the same mesmerizing display, completely intoxicated by the message that dreams really do come true.

And you know what? I am ok with it. I am ok with the whole thing. Yes, sometimes I wonder how many children we could feed with the money spent on Disney parking profits alone. But I don’t dictate how other people spend their money, and I am fortunate enough to go to Disney for free. If given the chance, I think we would all trade a few bucks to feel weightless, childlike, uninhibited, and magical even for 18 minutes.

My inner socialist gets that this is all irrational and a bit irresponsible, but put me in front of a stunning pyrotechnics extravaganza set to the music of my childhood and a mouse shaped ice cream bar in my hand, and I forget about everything else in the world.

I guess the magic lies in the ability to transcend anxiety, fear, cultural differences, rationality, and maybe even reality, even if just for a few moments. I think I am just happy I still have a little magic left in me in spite of my cynicism.

Why Am I Still Fat? And Other Stupid Questions

After a few months of being in a “reading dry spell”, I have finally found my literary mojo and am quickly making my way through some of the books that have been lying dormant in my Kindle or next to our desk for the last six months or so. I love to read, but sometimes it requires a focus that I just don’t possess during different phases of life.

I recently read a beautiful book titled The Ragged Edge of Night by Olivia Hawker. If you are into history, historical fiction, WWII stories, true stories, well written stories, love stories, war stories, or any combination of those things, you will love this book. After having my faith in humanity somewhat restored through the lens of a family redeemed in the crucible of war, I opted to read something a little more frivolous.

Fat Suit

Next, I started Fat Girl Walking by Brittany Gibbons. I had never heard of Brittany before stumbling across this book, but now I feel like I know her well. A little too well, in fact. She writes like I think, which is a little jarring. This book is the memoir of a woman who has been overweight for most of her life and she writes about how that has affected everything from her grade school days to her relationship with her parents to her sex life. I started reading this book because I thought it would be funny, but Gibbons’ personal experiences are hitting a little too close to home for me. Maybe that is why I am hammering away at the keyboard at 12:21am, silently yelling at the cat while my husband snores in the next room,  knowing I will be miserable tomorrow because my normal bedtime is a strict 9:30. I now find myself in a mental vortex of memories, questions, and doubts that can only be present when someone else’s courage to honest has pricked my own sense of vulnerability.

Like me, Gibbons uses sharp-witted humor to deliver difficult truths about who she is and how she learned to cope with the messiness of life. She writes about how her family used food to cope with stress and how she found comfort in salty, fatty, sugary treats when her parents were spiraling or her peers were taking punches at her in the cafeteria. I relate to this all too well.

At this point in the story, most authors, especially female authors, go on to tell you about how they found the one thing that worked for them and got them out of their food-induced shame coma. I’ve read countless books and blogs by women who struggled with their weight and body image from grade school through adulthood, only to find the thing – a therapist, a program, a lifestyle change, a team, a group, a retreat – that helped them overcome their addiction to food and emotional eating and drop the 75 pounds for good and lead a totally different life. These people inspire other people, and I am all for it. I thought I would be one of those people, too. Gibbons takes a different route though, and oddly enough I find myself more motivated by her honesty than by the success of all the other people who seem to have figured this thing out and discovered their healthier selves.

At 35 years old, I thought I would have a few more things figured out in life than I currently do. I thought I would understand politics. I thought I would be able to add up the total of groceries in my head without being completely shocked when the cashier told me the total. I thought I would own a car that was less than 10 years old. I thought I would have at least one kid. I thought I would be maintaining my “goal weight” and running 5Ks on the regular. I thought I would have overcome my fear of clowns. I thought I would have been to Paris. I thought I would stop losing my car keys every day.

Sometimes these thoughts manifest as what I like to call “other stupid questions”. I know we tell kids that there is no such thing as a stupid question, but I am starting to think that is a lie used to reduce shame and encourage healthy curiosity. As an adult, I find myself asking a lot of stupid questions. And when I say stupid, it is not a judgment call on the questioner. I call them “stupid questions” because they are questions I ask when I already know the answer, yet I still attempt to find a different answer because I don’t like the one that is true. For example: Should I leave my car windows cracked to keep my car from getting so hot? No, dummy. You live in Central Florida where it rains every day between 3:00 and 6:00pm and every time you crack your windows, the inside of your car gets soaked. Yet, I press the button…

Ms. Gibbons’ book has forced me to face my longest running stupid question, the big one (no pun intended). Why am I still fat? Well, there are lots reasons for that and none of them require the IQ of a rocket scientist. If you look at my childhood class photos, it is easy to see that I was several inches taller and wider than all of my other classmates. I was never going to be the thinnest girl in the room. Even when I was playing multiple team sports, dancing, and doing all the other things kids are supposed to do, I was just larger than the other girls. My doctors started telling me from a young age that I needed to eat less, exercise more, and work harder to “be healthy”. (True story: an endocrinologist once told me if I just ate sugar-free Jell-O and danced by myself in my room, I would lose enough weight to be healthy.)

When I quit playing sports and ate bagels, ramen noodles, and pasta every day for meals, I gained a lot of weight. When I went to college and drank a lot of beer and kamikaze shots and ate pizza and Mexican food and fries around the clock, I gained more weight. When I took a prescription weight loss pill, stopped eating, and exercised 2-3 hours a day, I lost a bunch of weight. When I quit doing those things, I gained weight. When I got really stressed out and went back to obsessive workouts, I lost weight. When I picked up swimming again and kept a food journal, I maintained a healthy weight. When I graduated from grad school and couldn’t afford to buy food and gas in the same week, I gained a ton of weight. When a friend stepped in and helped me navigate a healthy weight loss program and lifestyle changes, I lost a bunch of weight. When I couldn’t afford to maintain the program, and worked four jobs and got married, I gained weight. When I was diagnosed with an autoimmune thyroid disease and given some tools to manage it, I lost some weight. When I got pregnant and had a miscarriage and we were living off of a $40/week grocery budget and I was depressed, I gained more weight.

So, the answer to my stupid question is there somewhere in the midst of genetics, body type, family history, poor coping skills, lack of awareness, poor life choices, extremist thinking, unforeseeable circumstances, denial, hopelessness, and exhaustion. I know the answers. Asking the same question forty different ways is still going to produce the same results. So why am I still asking?

I am starting to think that there are lessons in this life we think we have learned, only to learn we have no idea. Ok, that may be a little too meta. Let me rephrase: no one has this thing “figured out”. Everyone has a that one thing that they are still asking “Why am I still [fill in the blank]?” Why haven’t I figured this out yet? When will my ducks be in a row?

I don’t know what your big question is, but I do know that most of us fail to do for ourselves what all good counselors do for their clients: they identify the question BEHIND the question. See, when I ask myself or my doctor or anyone who will listen “Why am I still fat?” what I am really asking is “Am I a failure?” The question has very little to do with my weight and everything to do with how I see myself when I take stock of my life. It’s a shame-based question, and shame-based questions can only produce shame-based answers, unless someone we trust as the courage to help us ask the real questions in life: Am I a failure? Am I loved? Am I worth loving? Am I wanted? Am I enough? Am I too much?

Most of us don’t ask these questions because they are just too scary and they require too much vulnerability. We (myself included) want to know how to be “fixed”, but we don’t want to know how to be healed, which would require looking at the root issues that plague us all if we sit in silence long enough.

Maybe I am “still fat” because I have not learned to love myself regardless of my size. I still base my worthiness and lovableness on a three digit number that haunts my dreams and waking moments. Maybe the grand answer to this whole question isn’t another program, but an honest wrestling with what I believe about myself when I look in the mirror.

My fear in sharing this is that I will receive a ton of messages from people telling me what worked for them in the weight loss category. Please don’t do that. I am not sharing to get answers. I am sharing to help others ask the real question: Am I lovable even if I never “get it right”? Am I worthy of care, love, and relationship even if I never get my ducks in a row? Maybe my worth isn’t dependent on my weight. Maybe my husband isn’t a liar when he calls me beautiful. Maybe, on this long road to health, I will learn that I am worthy of love at any stage of life.

I guess my big question isn’t a stupid question at all as long as it leads me to closer to realizing that I don’t need to hustle for my worthiness. I guess that means your questions aren’t stupid, either.

The Gospel According to Cardi B

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I recently turned 35, and I have to admit I am feeling every bit of that age and more. With each passing year, I feel a little more disconnected from all of the things that I used to find important such as the newest music, the latest trends, and whatever is new on the interwebs. I find more and more comfort in the things I know I enjoy – old songs, familiar movies, previously read books, etc. My weekly escape involves catching up on Tonight Show episodes and watching Jimmy Fallon interview people I have never heard of who make movies and music I will probably never seek out on my own. (Side note: I have also been introduced to amazing new artists via Jimmy Fallon. Nathaniel Rateliff and the Nightsweats, anyone??)

A couple of months ago, I tried to sit through an interview with a young woman named Cardi B. I didn’t know who she was and I couldn’t understand anything she was saying. Then she kicked into a high-pitched tongue roll and I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I wrote her off as another lame YouTube sensation and switched to a different episode. Cardi B came back into my life yesterday through my friend “Grace”. Some of you may remember my friend Grace. We met in jail nearly two years ago and have remained friends in spite of our extensive differences. Grace is Middle Eastern, formerly a prostitute, and currently works as an exotic dancer and escort since she has been unable to obtain more reliable employment since getting out of jail (and not for lack of trying, I promise you).

Grace and I talk on the phone or FaceTime a few times a week, but we have not been able to hang out in quite some time so I asked if I could pick her up yesterday and take her to Disney World for a few hours just to catch up and be silly. I hung out at Grace’s house for a little while, trying to convince her that underwear wouldn’t pass for clothing at the world’s most family-friendly theme park, and she made fun of me for being old and dressing like a nun. On the 45 minute drive to Magic Kingdom, Grace caught me up on all that had been happening in life. She’s had it pretty rough. She is a beautiful, intelligent, quick-witted young woman but people, men and women included, treat her like trash. Even in jogging pants, a black t-shirt, and no make up, men were staring at her backside (which is not accentuated or enhanced) as we walked through the park and women were giving her dirty looks.

I don’t think Grace noticed the stares and sneers – she was too busy showing me something on Instagram or laughing at something ridiculous – but I noticed, and it made me angry. I may have given quite a few fathers/husbands the stink eye while they leered at Grace while standing next to their own wives and children.

But this is Grace’s life. It’s all she has ever known, really. People aren’t being sleezy; they are just being people. Her bar of expectations for others is pretty low, and understandably so.

After three hours of sweating, sharing a turkey leg, walking through the mazes of people, and getting soaked on Splash Mountain, we decided it was time to call it a day, plus she had to work that night. When we got in the car, Grace grabbed my phone and started playing her favorite songs on YouTube for me. I received more mockery for not knowing what is hot right now. Grace played this song, and told me I wasn’t allowed to “get in my feelings” aka get emotional. Artist NF sings, “I wish somebody would have told me/If you want love/you gonna have to go through the pain/If you want love/You gonna have to learn how to change/If you want trust/You gonna have to give some away/If you want love”

I watched her close her eyes and sing along with a sense of ownership and pain I’ve never seen before. All my friend knows is use and abuse. All my friend wants is love.

Then she started playing this song by Cardi B. I rolled my eyes and said, “Ugh this woman gets on my NERVES!” and Grace looked at me and said, “Look, just listen to the words. This is my story.”

“Look, they gave a b*** two options: strippin’ or lose
Used to dance in a club right across from my school
I said “dance” not “f***”, don’t get it confused
Had to set the record straight ’cause b*****s love to assume
Mama couldn’t give it to me, had to get it at Sue’s
Lord only knows how I got in those shoes
I was covered in dollars, now I’m drippin’ in jewels
A b**** play with my money? Might as well spit in my food
B****s hated my guts, now they swear we was cool
Went from makin’ tuna sandwiches to makin’ the news
I started speakin’ my mind and tripled my views
Real b***, only thing fake is the boobs

It hurt to watch and listen Grace spew out each word, on beat, with so much force and ferocity that could only come from someone who has lived those words. This is her life. This is what she knows. She listens to “that crap” religiously but it’s what speaks her truth.

Grace played a few more songs for me before I dropped her off at home, and all of them had the same theme: I tried to make something of myself, I got abused or deceived or knocked down, so I made myself impenetrable and now watch me come back and win this thing called life.

The message in Grace’s music wasn’t any different than the message in the Florence + The Machine songs I listened to the rest of the way home, but Grace’s music is “offensive” because of all of the language and sex references.

If you strip down Grace’s music to the message and what is actually being said, it is the gospel according to those who suffer. It is the anthem of anyone who has been deeply hurt in this life. Whether we put Mary Kay on our faces or dollar bills and condoms on our nightstands, most of us are aching to love and be loved.

The word “gospel” means “a set or principle of beliefs”. We all have a gospel. Whether it be the Gospel of Christ, the gospel of money, the gospel of others’ approval, the gospel of success, or the gospel of beat-them-before-they-beat-you, each of us lives by some driving force. I guess, when it comes down to it, we align with the teacher or prophet who is able to connect to our own experiences. And for Grace, that teacher is a flamboyant, hard souled rapper who may look like a clown but speaks a lot of truth.

Broken For You

The Weeping Woman

The Weeping Woman by Pablo Picasso

Every once in a while, I get to do something that is truly remarkable. I am surprised people let me do it. I am definitely not qualified. But every few weeks I show up, sign in, and walk up to the front of the church when it is time to do so, and I do this thing that always reminds me just how broken I am.

I get to serve communion at church sometimes and every time I do it, I feel very emotional for a few days afterwards. Growing up, communion was only served by priests or deacons – older men who were holier than the rest of us and had the authority to administer blessings and sacraments and prayers for the people. The way I learned it, communion was best served by people who didn’t have broken parts.

But that’s not me. I am full of broken parts and pieces. I have no right to be telling other people that they are forgiven of their sins, but I do it because someone else did it for me. Every few weeks, I get to stand in a large room with dimmed lights and beautiful music playing while I hold two clear wine glasses and a basket of broken bread pieces. One glass is marked with the words “wine” and the other is full of grape juice. Dozens of people – people I don’t know – stand in a line and come forward one by one. They take a piece a bread, and I look them in the eye and say, “The body of Christ, broken for you.” Then they dip their piece of bread in either the wine or the juice and I get to say, “The blood of Christ, shed for you.”

Most people don’t look at me when they take communion, but that is ok. Communion is an intimate moment and sometimes people don’t want to be seen. I get that. I have sat in the back of church before and prayed no one would talk to me. I just want people to know that they are seen, and loved, just as they are and not as they think they should be. I am here today because people looked at me when I did not want to be seen.

While ruminating on this thought, I recently watched the movie Same Kind of Different As Me. I read the book years ago and I delayed seeing the movie because sometimes people butcher good books with movies. If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book yet, I highly recommended either or both. The movie is on Netflix, so it is easily accessible. In the movie, Djimon Hounsou brilliantly portrays a homeless man named Denver Moore who allows himself to be befriended by a wealthy white family. When Denver visits an art museum for the first time, he encounters the Picasso painting I posted above. The painting is called “The Weeping Woman” and Denver looks at it thoughtfully and says, “Looks to me that he done broke that lady apart then tried to put her back together again but got her all messed up. Course that makes you look at her different than you would if she looked real. You can see what she’s really like from the inside, not just the outside.”

We may all look different on the outside – some smooth, some rough – but we all have broken pieces. The first time I ever served communion was in jail. I only did it because it needed to be done. I was the one leading the services at the time, and there was not a pastor present, so I just went for it. I didn’t know that it would become a regular thing, or that I would start serving once a month or so at our own church campus. The only reason I agreed to serve communion in the first place was because I knew that I was a very broken person who wanted to tell other broken people that someone had died for them.

Just as Denver pointed out when he saw the Picasso painting, we all see people differently when we see their broken pieces. The broken parts let us see each other on the inside. It’s in the broken bits that we really get to meet each other, to tell and hear our stories, and to see just what was so important that a man had to be murdered over us, for our sakes.

I love communion, but when I serve it I am reminded of just how broken I am. I am reminded that I am not fit to wash the feet of the people who line up to be served, and that Jesus loves me in my unfittedness.

I guess that’s what being broken is all about. Jesus broke for us, so that we can be broken for each other, so that we can love each other in our brokenness.

The Root of All Evil

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I used to believe that money truly was the root of all evil. I have always been afraid of money, of its power, and the pain it is capable of inflicting on so many lives. It wasn’t until six years ago that I was forced to face my fear of money. In the Spring of 2012, I applied for graduate school at the Master of Arts in Counseling program at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. After researching and applying to several schools, I chose RTS Orlando because of its curriculum, professors, reputation, and professionalism. If I was going to go back to school and start a whole new career path at age 30, I was going to do it at the best place and with the best people I could find.

Months before I was accepted to the program, I let go of my Midtown Memphis apartment with the best porch view of Idlewild Presbyterian Church (church bells and morning coffee make magic for the soul) and moved in with my parents. I worked full time in sales and marketing and part-time as an overnight nanny for three kids. I didn’t find out that I would be accepted to the counseling program for another four months, but I prepared as if I was already moving to Orlando.

In my preparations, I quickly realized that I had no means with which to pay tuition. It was a two year program, and tuition alone would be about $25,000. I had saved up about $2,000. I knew I would also need a place to live, books, gas, car maintenance, food, and there were many academic fees that needed to be paid along the way as well. In short, I realized that I could not afford to go, and I didn’t know what to do.

Logically, I knew this meant I should wait a year or two and save up more money or take out a loan with hefty interest rates. Spiritually and emotionally, I knew that I needed to be in school at that place and at that time. I just didn’t know how to make the pieces come together. Some people said, “Well, it’s just not meant to be”, but others said, “Well, it looks like you need help.” Several people in my church community encouraged me to make my need known and raise the necessary financial support so that I could go back to school and become a mental health counselor.

I didn’t want to ask for help. I hate asking for help. Asking for help means admitting I can’t do something on my own and it makes me feel weak, embarrassed, and ashamed. I don’t even like to ask my husband to do the dishes because the thought of asking for help – even when it is related to basic home care – ignites a feeling of strangulation and intense anxiety in my body. I am used to fending for myself. I am well versed in autonomy. Asking for help just feels counterintuitive to my very being. (This is partially why we are back in marriage counseling again.)

Raising support to go back to school was a two year process that stripped me of all I thought I knew about money and my relationship with money. I had no idea that I was so afraid of money. I was afraid of people who had it, because then surely they would abuse it. I was afraid of people who didn’t have it, because surely they would abuse others to get it. I wanted to ignite a world wide barter system so we could all just go back to doing things the old fashioned way – two sheep for that donkey, please! Four rows of summer squash for an iPhone 8! Six hours of babysitting for 2 hours at the spa, madame!

But that isn’t how our current economy works. For two years, I depended on the generosity of others to eat, sleep with a roof over my head, go to school, and use my car. I never knew how much money would come in from month to month, and I lived very frugally. In fact, I rented a room in a house with an 80 year old couple. We pretty much shared everything except for the bed. I paid them $300 a month for a room in a safe neighborhood, a place to do my laundry, a partially-shared bathroom, little privacy, and the occasional opportunity to reset the WiFi for the whole house.

I never really knew how I was going to get from one month to another, but God provided through the generosity of others throughout the entire process. I would love to tell you that I learned how to trust God and others in the process and not stress about my daily needs, but apparently I still have some lessons to learn.

Since Tim lost his job immediately after our honeymoon, we faced severe financial stress together for a period of 14 months, and we are just now coming out of that strain. Living off of $20,000 for the last year has wreaked total havoc on our credit scores and our confidence in making financial decisions. (It infuriates me how otherwise good, hard working people are judged solely on a three digit number, but that is another story for another day.) Now that we are moving into a place where we are able to pay our bills, tithe regularly, build some savings, and even do things like eat out every so often, I find myself afraid of having it all ripped away. I am afraid of not having money, and I am afraid of having money. I have learned that money, in itself, is not evil at all. In fact, it is a very useful tool that makes living life in America in 2018 pretty necessary.

When Tim received his job offer, and we started to calculate our new budget based on what would be coming in, my husband lead us in asking one question together: Once our bills are paid and needs are met, who needs this? Who needs this money more than we do? We have been on the receiving end of the generosity of others when it was needed most. How can we pay that forward?

If money were evil, we wouldn’t be asking these questions. I have come to learn that money isn’t evil. The love of money is what kills relationships, tears apart families, and turns men and women into monsters. We could lose everything we have again tomorrow, and it would be painful, but I know we would be ok. We have each other, and we have people around us who care for our well being. No amount of money can replace that.

Queer Eye for Every Guy

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Fifteen years ago, a show came out on television that had some people balking, some people celebrating, and a lot of people laughing. It was called Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and it was all the rage in many circles. It was 2003 and I was a freshman in college, so most of my television obsessions included Desperate Housewives, American Idol, Grey’s Anatomy, Will & Grace, The OC, Law and Order SVU, and let us not forget to honor the last season of Friends. Binge watching didn’t exist then (Get this, kids: There was no streaming because we still had to plug our desk top computers into the wall to get internet. FaceBook wasn’t even invented yet!) so many times we would all plan watch parties at someone’s house and over-imbibe while shouting harsh criticisms of Marissa Cooper’s poor life choices at the television.

I remember watching an episode here and there of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, but it wasn’t my favorite show. If I am being truly honest, I would stop on it while channel surfing, enjoy a few good laughs, and then move on with my day. At that time, the show seemed like a big deal because it highlighted five openly gay men on television who said and did stereotypically gay things, so it seemed funny. I didn’t watch the show to empathize with people who were different than I was; I watched it to laugh at what the funny gay men said.

Fast forward to today. I am turning 35 years old this month, I don’t watch a lot of television, and I haven’t had cable in nearly 10 years, so when I want to sit down and watch a show, I am going to be pretty intentional about it. I have a laundry list of shows and movies people have told me to watch, and maybe one day I will actually put a dent in that list. A few people had suggested I check out the reboot of Queer Eye, so I added it to my mental list, but didn’t prioritize it. I didn’t have anything against it, I just thought it was another kitschy feaux-reality show designed to make people laugh at “the silly gay men”. I am not really a fan of shows that mock people just for the sake of mocking people (The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, every single survival-themed show, etc.).

I could not have been more wrong. So many people started asking if I had watched the show, telling me that it is not what it used to be and that it features really important conversations that need to be happening in mainstream culture. Now that caught my attention! I was hooked within the first episode. The “Fab 5”, or the hosts and core cast members of the show, are five really unique, insightful, intelligent, compassionate men who want to help people become healthier versions of themselves. (I confess, Jonathan is REALLY extra and sometimes gives me a migraine, but his heart is good and his grooming advice is solid.)

During the first episode, the Fab 5 visit a man who could very well be my own father. I was crying within 10 minutes of the show starting. Tom, the man being transformed, is a 60ish year old Georgia “good ol’ boy” who lives alone, eats at the same Mexican restaurant every day, wears the same grungy t-shirt, cargo shorts, pulled up white tube socks, and orthopedic shoes every day, is overweight, has a mangled mess of beard and facial hair, has lupus with bad flare ups, and all he wants in life is to win back the love of his life so that he doesn’t have to face life alone. Tom is an ultra-conservative, redneck type who does not stray from his comfort zone. His friends nominated him for the show because it hurt them to watch their friend – a generous man with a kind heart – isolate himself and physically start to fall apart.

I was so nervous when the Fab 5 pulled up. I was convinced that they would come in, gay guns blazing, tear the guy’s life apart, and shred his confidence to bits. I COULD NOT HAVE BEEN MORE WRONG. They entered this man’s home with respect, extended him endless dignity, wept with him over his lost love and loneliness, asked him about the disease that wrecks his confidence, kindly inquired about his diet and lifestyle, and asked him what HE wanted out of this experience.

Over the course of a few days, the Fab 5 took Tom to stores that were affordable for HIM, found a grooming routine that worked for HIM, and helped him do the things HE wanted to do to improve his overall health and wellbeing. Antoni, the Food and Wine specialist on the cast, taught Tom how to make healthier versions of his favorite foods as opposed to telling him he just needs to change his whole life. Tears were welling up in my eyes during the entire show.

I am almost finished with season one, and am in awe of the honest and raw conversations that the Fab 5 have with the men they are transforming. They talk about family discord, faith, death, the tension between the Christian church and homosexuality, the tension between police officers and black men, divorce, parenting, hope, grief, shame, body issues, cultural issues, and so much more. And they hold these conversations in a way that are vulnerable, true, impactful, and transformative for all parties involved.

With all of the junk that is on television (like most of the shows I used to watch), why aren’t there more shows that highlight what is actually happening in human hearts and lives? Where aren’t there other shows that teach us how to have really scary conversations without hurting each other or creating more polarization? For me, Queer Eye has very little to do with sexuality or fashion or grooming tips. It has EVERYTHING to do with people treating other people with dignity, which is so rare right now in any context of life.

In church yesterday we sang a song called Open Up, and it made me think, “How different would the world be right now if we all did just that: open up?”

May your love cause us to open up
Cause us to open up our hearts
May your light cause us to shine so bright
That we bring hope into the dark 

Regardless of what political ideologies we align with, how we describe ourselves, where we call home, how much money we have, what faith we do or do not practice, where our kids go to school, where we give or don’t give our money, whether we use turn signals or not, or who we do or do not agree with, my prayer is what we all – myself included – learn to open up and have hard conversations that matter while extending dignity to others.