Becoming Bethany

Observations on becoming and being

Category: Uncategorized

Peaches & Summer Solstice

FullSizeRenderOne of the more hipster things I do is follow a peach orchard on Instagram. It started when I stumbled across them searching for peach desserts (my favorite kind!). I don’t do Pinterest but regularly scroll Instagram for meal ideas based on a #ingredient. (I know that whole sentence was gag-level millennial but no apologies.) At first I was drawn in by their beautifully photographed recipe ideas but before I knew it, I was fully invested in their peach crop’s performance. Are there enough blossoms? When will the first fruit go to market? Will the peaches last through July this year?

Living in Los Angeles, I am pretty out of touch with seasons. Aside from our annual rainy January, it’s always summer, almost summer, or just been summer. Our produce comes from Mexico and Washington and even further places so I have access to almost any fruit or vegetable I want at almost any time of year. Without meaning to, my peach orchard follow became a window into the seasons of growing and harvest and rest that I do not experience but quickly became comically invested in.

I think we are all looking for ways to mark the passing of time. As children, it was your grade in school or birthday party. As adults, it is whatever job we had at a certain time, or person we were dating, or how old the baby was. It’s easy to mock all the “social media holidays” – Pi Day, Siblings Day, Star Wars Day, etc. But I think there is a reason they work so well for marketing. We want a moment, a space to stop to commemorate the things that are important to us and bring us joy, even if it’s something as simple as the discovery of pi or our love of a pop cultural phenomenon.

This summer I have been acutely aware of the lengthening and then shortening of daylight. I think it has something to do with the fact that I am taking public transportation and getting used to a new work schedule. I notice how bright the sun is in the morning walking to my metro stop and how long the shadows are as my metro train makes it way through East Los Angeles in the warm evening.

On the summer solstice this year, I felt a tightening in my chest when I realized the days will start getting shorter again. Was I grieving daylight? Or just suddenly aware of how short the days and years are becoming? Time seems to be moving too fast and too slow at the same time and sometimes I want to just sit down and push the pause button until I can gather my wits about me.

The blessing and curse of time is that we cannot control or alter it. The earth continues its revolutions around the sun at roughly the same pace it has since the beginning of time. I don’t want to waste the precious days and years I amgiven. I want to live them as fully and intentionally as I can. On the bad days when I am most tempted to just rush and get them over with, I am trying to learn to breathe and live through them. I am trying to learn to look for and savor that one glimpse of beauty I find in the phrase of a song or the orange of the trumpet-flowers crawling up the side of my apartment building.

I don’t feel silly about celebrating National Friendship Day or the first day of Autumn or any of the other days we have designated to mark the passing of time and our love of something. And when the peach orchard in Georgia has a particularly good harvest, I celebrate. Life is just too short and too long to not celebrate joy where we find it.

P.S. National Peach Pie Day is August 24 this year if you want to celebrate with me!

The End of Missing?

When I woke this morning, I couldn’t remember what it feels like to be held. This may sound odd but for the past three years, upon waking, I have retained the cozy feeling of being held even though there is no one there. At first, it really bothered me and made the loneliness all the more stark. For the first several months, I would wake up and cry until the feeling subsided. But then, I just accepted it. For some reason, my sleeping self believed I wasn’t alone in bed and I let the feeling linger as I slowly woke up. It has been one of the longest remaining phantom sensations so it surprised me this morning when it just wasn’t there. And I wondered if this is what the end of missing feels like – nothing.

I have wondered when the end of missing would come. Different resources I read about divorce suggested different amounts of time for recovery – a few months, one year, two years, half the amount of time you were married. (When I heard that statistic, it made me ache for the people in my divorce recovery support group who had been married 20+ years and maybe a little more grateful for my own situation.) I wondered how these time frames were calculated and how recovery was defined. There just seems like too many variables to come up with a tidy formula.

Mostly I wondered what it would feel like and how I would know when I was “over” my divorce. At the beginning of our separation, it felt unimaginable to ever not miss him and our life together. Coming up with a picture of my life without him in it was nearly impossible. It looked like one of those photos where someone has taken scissors and cut a figure out. The empty spot is so immediately obvious and clearly defined, it’s almost like the person is still there. But as with all processes, slowly the empty space in the picture next to me got hazier and less clearly defined. Other people and interests edged into that spot until it became less stark and definite but still I noticed the hole – even if others did not.

My ex-husband cheerily reported to me three months after our separation how much better his life was without me. That he felt happier, more purposeful, and more himself than he had in years. It sounded like a vitamin or medicine commercial that ends with the tagline: “Divorce – it cures what ails you!” In that moment, with the phone clenched tightly to my ear, I simultaneously hated him and was jealous of him. Is that what “recovered” feels like – happier? more “myself”? When would that happen for me?

Three years later and I still don’t know if I am happier or more purposeful post-divorce. I think probably not but that was never really my hope in the first place. I hoped for healing and it has been a slow process and one I can sometimes barely discern in myself. But I do know I am healing and have tried to celebrate the healing where I see it. Is today just another step in healing? If so, I am disappointed. I want something more than nothing on the other side of missing.

This morning as I stumbled into the kitchen for a glass of water, conflicted about whether I felt more or less happy about this new (lack-of) sensation, the first thing I noticed were the huge peonies sitting on the dining table. My roommate brought them home three days ago and we have watched in amazement as they have opened wider and wider wondering where these flowers find even more petals to add to their already full display. Last night I joked that the peonies may just swallow our apartment whole and then we would live in a fragrant soft pink wonderworld like some character from Thumbelina. (There are definitely worse fates.)

As I stood there drinking my water and staring at those peonies that will not quit growing, I felt peace. If the end of missing feels like nothing right now, that’s ok. But it also does not mean it will stay that way. Just like everything about this healing process, I am sure I will continue to be surprised at the way it progresses. If I have not found something on the other side of missing, I am not done growing and changing. I am holding out hope that somehow, some way, my life will keep opening up wider until the beauty I so desperately want to see in my story is revealed. I hope when that time comes, I will be able to just stand in amazement.

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Some People Say

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The rocks where we used to sit by the sea and steal kisses in the dark are covered over by land now. They moved the coastline further out so it’s a longer walk to the sea and it’s hard not to try and find an analogy somewhere in there.

Some people say, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” But then would this ache be in my heart? This longing for a love I knew or thought I knew?

My mother asks the question that mothers the world over ask, “Is there anyone you’re even a little interested in?”

I laugh and remember the last time she asked me that question – years ago, right before that great big love walked into my life unexpectedly.

My answer then was, “No. I think I will probably be single.” And then a long rambling something about a career and a calling and not having room for something else.

My answer now is, “I don’t even know anyone to be interested in.” And then I stop talking because I do not know what else to say.

It’s actually true that I don’t know that many eligible single men but it’s also true that I don’t know if I know how to be interested.

What do you do when you get more than you ever wanted or asked for and then have it snatched away? It still doesn’t make sense and it’s hard to place in my understanding of life and who I am and how I’m living.

Some people also say, “It was too good to be true.” And everything within me fights against that saying because if something is good, isn’t it also true?

I think of seasons and how hard it is to imagine summer in winter and winter in summer. When you are cold, you cannot imagine ever feeling hot again. My imagination was not big enough to predict the romance I lived and I do not know if it is big enough now either.

Some say the love I lived was never real. Some say that love was true for me but not for him. And some nod their heads thoughtfully and say, “Maybe you lived something that was real and true – even if only for the brief time it was possible.”

I listen to each analysis quietly and nod – agreeing and disagreeing with each in turn.  And mostly I say (and write over and over again), “Life is a beautiful mystery – full of unexpected joys and sorrows – and all we can do it is live it the best we can.”

God bless those who always find the sea and land right where they left them. And God bless those of us who find the coastline a constant ebb and flow.

Lent and Desire

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“Now for the invasive questions – are you sexually active?”

“No. Uh. Not currently.”

“Date of last sexual encounter?”

I always wonder which questions are the non-invasive questions at the doctor’s office. Even just running through my basic medical history reveals a lot about me. And that’s not even getting into my parents’ or grandparents’ histories. Our bodies carry history and memories. I wonder if doctors are curious about the emotional side of those physical histories or if they see so many people that it becomes uninteresting. I think I would make a terrible doctor because I would want to hear the story behind each and every injury, surgery, allergy, and disease.

“Are you considering pregnancy?”

I knew this question was coming. It always follows closely on the heels of the sexual status questions. But I’m still not really prepared for it.

“I don’t know. Maybe. No plans right now but maybe someday.”

I think about the ways I have responded to that question at different times in my life and I feel further from having an answer than ever.

“Ok. No worries. You still have time. It’s just helpful to know as we review your hormonal and adrenal test results.”

I know I’m only a few years away from getting the “it’s probably now or never” speech. On the heels of my divorce, the Beverly Hills doctor I used to see asked me (at the tender age of 28) if I was interested in information on freezing eggs as it was the “ideal time.” I politely declined the pamphlet while silently horrified at the idea and that it was being offered to me. (No offense to those who choose this route – it’s just not for me.)

My new doctor ended the visit asking if I had any additional concerns and I wondered for a minute how thorough of an answer she wanted before deciding to stick with a strictly health related answer. I left the doctor’s office a little sad and a little more aware of my mortality but that’s not unusual for me. What felt different this time was the heightened awareness of really how little control we have over our lives especially when it comes to getting what we want out of it.

I think I used to believe a cultural narrative that tells us if we want something, all we need to do is go out and get it. Never mind if we have the skills or resources or education, all of that can be remedied if we just want something hard enough. In this worldview, wanting and desire only exist as an impetus to get us to where we need to be. If we do not get what we want, it is because we did not work hard enough (or in religious circles “pray hard enough”) or maybe because we did not actually want it that much in the first place.

Part of the reason for Lent is to remind ourselves of wanting and desire. Denying ourselves something we don’t usually think twice about reaching for (chocolate, wine, Netflix, Facebook, etc) triggers an awareness of longing and desire. I used to feel embarrassed by how hard Lent is for me. Giving up an occasional bowl of ice cream seems like it should not make me as aware of longing as it does. But the truth is, eating ice cream is pleasurable and it is readily available and so if I want it, I take it. It is a desire (however simple) easily satisfied, so why deal with the suffering (however unpainful) of the desire?

Of course my wanting for ice cream is minuscule in comparison with the things I really deep down desire. And Lent makes me aware of those deep down desires in a way that is acutely painful. I am intentionally giving up some of my easy satisfactions and allowing myself to experience even the simplest “suffering” that comes with self-denial. Somehow that opens up my heart to reveal all of the wants and desires I would rather ignore than experience. It makes me aware of all the things I want that I do not know how to get – or maybe are not mine to take?

Perhaps there are some people that really just need to want more or work harder and their desires would be fulfilled. But I think for most of us, we want things that we do not know how to get or cannot get for ourselves. We want to be cured of a chronic disease. We want to be less stressed. We want to feel happy in a lasting way. We want to be safe. We want a partner or children or both. We want to see peace in the world. We want to see justice served. We want to be loved. We want a comfortable standard of living. We want to be smarter or stronger or prettier or all of the above. We want a job that’s fulfilling. We want to rest. We want to be respected.

We do what we can to reach those desires – some of us giving all of our resources (time, money, emotional energy, physical energy, etc) to fulfill those desires – but how many of us actually have all of our wants truly satisfied? I would venture none. And I don’t believe that that’s because everyone is a failure at living.

What if wanting and desire do not exist simply to get us to what we “should” have? What if we want and desire to open up our hearts a little wider? To help us be more aware of our need – for one another, for God, for a community? To make us more aware of our smallness in this great big universe and walk more humbly?

I think of everything I want and what I know of what my parents want and my grandparents want and my great-grandparents wanted. I think of the line of desire leading all the way back to a garden with everything – where every wish could be fulfilled – and still there was wanting. What they wanted seemed like a really good thing – to know more and be more like God. But rather than letting their desire to be like God lead them closer to God, they tried to take an easier path – reach for the quick fix and easy satisfaction. I do not know what first experiencing sin was like but I wonder if it felt like the deep down suffering of desire – desires that will never be satisfied.

I do not have answers. I do not know which of the truly good things I (or you) desire will be fulfilled. I do not always know which desires to pursue or how “hard” I should try to make them happen. Honestly, sometimes I do not even know what I really want – it can feel like an endless sense of not enough. There is so much that feels outside my control and that is scary but also I think good. Believing I can make everything I want happen would not be healthy for me and I think would steal some of the adventure and unexpected pleasures out of living.

I was sad walking out the doctor’s office because she was asking me (however clinically) about things that I think I really want but do not know if I will get. I do not know if they are desires that will be fulfilled. My prayer this Lent is that these unfulfilled desires are not making me bitter or cynical or worn out with wanting but that these desires are moving me closer to God and my community. I pray that my heart is being enlarged in the waiting and the wanting.

Radical Acts

I spend my third post-divorce Valentine’s Day pondering how incredible love is and how much I have experienced in my life. I am amazed at how we can attempt love over and over again. How often that love is overlooked, disregarded, and even outright rejected. How often our hearts are broken and mended. Still we keep loving and looking to be loved.

In a dim dance hall, I stand alone and listen to people tell their stories of broken hearts and I am seriously in awe of each of the storytellers and the little glimpses of their hearts they share. They are each just so stunningly beautiful and reveal flashes of gold however rough and unpolished. Some of the stories make me laugh and some cause my throat to catch and one or two make my cheeks wet with tears but each is so fully and magically human that I am afraid to breathe too loudly and break the spell.

The couples in the room and on the street walking back to their cars holding one another close do not make me jealous. They make me hope and they make me celebrate. And I silently cheer each one, “You are doing it! You are brave and courageous and doing hard work! And you have found something sacred. Bravo! I hope your love does the work in you it is meant to do. May you be fuller and richer than before you encountered it.”

* * *

I am driving with my sisters back from a day in the mountains and we are catching up on podcasts. This one from On Being was next on the playlist and it was an interesting discussion but the last 10 minutes shook off my drowsiness and made me lean forward to not miss a word:

“I feel that trust is something of a radical act. And I go to great efforts to trust the people around me…For me, it’s a rewarding way to live. That doesn’t mean that people haven’t disappointed me and broken my trust. But it tends — when that happens to me, it tends to be in situations where I never would have anticipated it. And I feel like this does come back to the question of fear. I think there’s some people who feel that nurturing their own fear will be a balm against danger. If you just feel fearful enough and often enough, you’ll save yourself from the dangers of the world. And I don’t think that’s true. I think you get hurt either way…So you either you get to live as a suspicious, wary person, paranoid, who gets hurt, or you get to live as someone who trusts other people and gets hurt.”

“Yes!” My heart and mind shout together.

And I think about how closely tied love and trust are. How we would not have any human connection or relationships or even really conversations without daring love and trust even in small amounts. How the more we risk, the more we have to gain. Or lose. But even in the times of losing, aren’t we somehow gaining? In the giving trust and love, don’t our hearts grow – if we let them? If my choices are to live closed and suspicious or open and vulnerable, I don’t know that I even really have a choice. Even more than the fear of heartbreak, I am afraid of living a small life.

* * *

I get to watch one of my heroes at work and it is inspiring. She asks big questions but leaves so much room for answers that the air feels warm, generous, and inviting. She knows how to create space to probe the biggest questions of life through art, science, philosophy, and religion that allows the interviewee to speak honestly but also not frighten the listener. It is a skill that few have and one that is beautiful and also a little unnerving to observe in action.

She asks the artist why he does what he does. He answers that the work of an artist is to dig deep and uncover Truth. He explains, “Each artist is finding their own way to clean the glass to look toward something.” He goes on to say that each artist is looking for something and by sharing their art, they are inviting the viewer to look for it too. And the humility is that maybe the viewer will find something you could not find yourself.

Cleaning the glass. Making things clearer. And trusting the viewer to see what you are pointing that glass toward – maybe even more clearly than you did?

* * *

All of this feels like grace. Stepping heart-first out into the unknown and leaving the space for whatever might happen. Venturing love and trust and sharing your view of the world and waiting for others to respond however they will. It is a radical act because it is the greatest adventure and the greatest risk and one we are living every day.

Valentines


I have been thinking a lot about love lately – what it looks like, feels like, lives like. There are so many ways we can both give and receive love, as well as withhold and reject love from others and even from ourselves. Three years ago I believed I had lost my one chance at a Great Love and that love was over for me. I was told I was unloved and unwanted and I believed it. But that could not have been further from the truth and when I look for love in my life today, I am overwhelmed by all the places I see it and know it. So in honor of Love and St. Valentine, I am sharing a few of my love notes publicly today. 

To my parents whose love for me I have never once doubted. Thank you for patiently and consistently reminding me that you love me simply because I am yours. For reiterating whenever I forget, that as tempted as I am to believe it, there is nothing I can do to make you love me more or less. Thank you for demonstrating over and over again what it looks like to love sacrificially without expectation of acknowledgement or reward. The depth of your love for others challenges and inspires me everyday. I love you both too.

To my grandparents who have cared for and supported me since before I can remember. You have encouraged my growth and education in every way you possibly could. I can only hope to grow up to be as generous and loving as you each are. I love you all and I feel incredibly blessed to get to have five grandparents!

To my sisters and brothers who have been my most faithful and loyal friends. I am incredibly grateful you are my tribe and that I can always call on you. I cherish that we can both laugh and cry together, that we can argue and also snuggle. I love that we have shared weird and wonderful experiences that very few other people can relate to – it makes our bond extra special. It is one of my deep joys to watch you become even more the amazing people you each are. I am inspired by the beautiful ways you each love – me, each other, your friends, your loves, and even strangers. I love each of you so deeply and I am so proud of who you all are that it hurts sometimes.

To my new niece/nephew. Little one, you are already teaching me so much about love because we all adore you and we haven’t even met you yet. You have done nothing and you are already so deeply loved just because you are.

To the friends who know how much I love words and gift them to me through texts, messages, Facebook comments, emails, handwritten notes, works of art, jewelry, and more. Each word you give is treasured and makes me feel so loved. Your encouragement has kept my heart warm on more than one cold day.

To the friends who know the surest way to my heart is through a good conversation and call me up or meet me for coffee to share their thoughts on the latest film, podcast, news article, or social media phenomenon. The friends who share their epiphanies on life and love and relationships. The friends who let me rant when I need to and also engage me in dialogue, all the while trying to find our way to Truth and Beauty. Thank you for believing in and loving the Logos with me. I often reflect on those conversations for years afterwards.

To old friends that I may not see often or interact with very much anymore, I am so thankful you have been part of my life. I hold our memories dear and still feel the love of the months or years we spent exploring the world together.

To new friends that I am just beginning to get to know. I’m grateful and excited to be part of your life – for as long or short a time as our paths may cross!

To my friends’ parents and my parents’ friends who have shown me parent love even when I am not really your daughter. Thank you for accepting me into your family’s life and pouring into my life. I am more and more grateful all the time that I had the privilege of experiencing love in other families in addition to my own. It helps the world look a little less scary and a little more loving.

To the friends I have lived with. Thank you for cooking me meals and eating the meals I cook. Thanks for letting me be alone when I need to and letting me dance around the living room when I need to and reminding me to sleep when I need to. Thank you for letting me share a home with you and letting me be myself at my most personal and exposed. I have been pretty lucky with roommates and I am grateful for each of you.

To the friends who remind me to laugh and play – I need you. I often forget to do this on my own. Thank you for making space for me to be silly and foolish. To the friends who can make me giggle until my stomach hurts, you help make life feel full to overflowing.

To my couple friends who have stayed my friends even after I was no longer half of a couple, thank you. You helped me feel like I had not lost my whole life when I lost a spouse. And watching you continue to love and support each other as partners helps me keep believing in committed romantic love. Let me know how I can continue to support your relationships even as a single person.

To my parent friends who have invited me into their children’s lives, it is an honor. Watching you become who you are as parents is beautiful and miraculous. Holding and reading books to and getting to know the little people you are loving and raising brings me so much hope and joy.

To the friends who have just sat with me in hard times while I cried knowing that sometimes there are no words or answers or solutions. The friends who have so gently held the pieces of my broken heart in their hands when I didn’t know if it could ever be put back together again. Thank you for showing me love at my weakest and ugliest and not looking away from my tear and snot streaked face. You have each taught me (and keep teaching me) so much about friendship love and I love you too.

My heart is full. It is full with each of you. Happy Valentine’s Day, dear ones!

Home

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This is the written version of a piece I shared at a storytelling event last year.

When my friend Hannah announced that the theme for this storytelling event was Home and told me I had to tell a story, I got nervous. You see, I have a lot of stories but I also have a somewhat conflicted relationship with Home.

It’s not that I had a bad home life growing up. If I know anything, it’s that my parents love me and my seven siblings. And we all love them and each other too.

It’s not that I don’t like homes or have anything against homemaking. While some little girls daydream about their future weddings, I spent a my time imagining what I wanted my grown-up home to look like one day. I always imagined it big with a huge attic to read in on rainy days and a giant yard where I would spend every sunny day hosting parties and entertaining friends.

So it’s not the idea of home that I am conflicted with. It’s mostly that I don’t know where my home is and I feel like a lot of my life has been spent looking for it.

By the time I was 18, I had lived in 10 different cities in 4 different countries and I think 18 different houses. In each of the houses we lived in my mother worked really hard to make them feel like home and many of them did. But I was always aware that I was not Home. For one thing, I was a TCK (a third culture kid). For much of my formative years, I was not living in my parents’ home culture (first culture). We were not immigrants to the culture we were living in (second culture). Instead my siblings and I and many of the kids we grew up with formed our own culture (third culture). (And as any TCK is quick to note. one of the most famous TCKs of all is President Barak Obama.) As exotic as all of this sounds, the point is that I didn’t even have a “home culture”.

One of the first chapter books my dad read to me when I was little was “The Little House in the Big Woods”. The first book in the Little House on the Prairie series. Almost all of the books in the series are named after where the family was living at the time. And even though they moved often in Laura Ingalls’ young life, they never seemed to doubt that they belonged where they lived. (Which is actually a whole other conversation about colonialism and American settlers and whether any of that land really belonged to them. But anyway…)

In high school, I (along with everyone else who was in high school in 2001 when The Fellowship of the Ring movie came out) read the Lord of the Rings series for the first time. And to many of my nerd friends’ surprise, my favorite book in the series was “The Hobbit”. I loved Bilbo Baggins. I completely understood why he just wanted to stay in his cozy hobbit hole. But I also related to his sense of accomplishment for going out, having an adventure, finding treasure, killing a dragon and then coming back home again.

In college, I read “The Odyssey” and was riveted. (I think I read an abridged version in a high school literature class but it didn’t really stick with me the same way.) I realized the story is not so much about all of the adventures Odysseus had along his arduous journey but the fact that he was just trying to get home. (Or at least that’s how he tells the story. He did spend a really long time “stuck” at that sexy witch’s house.) His journey ends not once he has fought off his wife’s suitors and reclaimed his large mansion as his own. But it ends once he is back in his elderly father’s arms. That is when he has arrived Home.

After college, I moved back to Istanbul, Turkey because it felt the most like home to me of all of the places I had lived. And it was 2008 while America was in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. (An economic depression ironically brought on by problems in the housing market.) So I was happy to claim my “citizen of the world” card and live in a place where the economy was still humming along and there were jobs to be had.

My boyfriend at the time followed me there and proposed to me in a historic Byzantine church – once the home of Eastern Christianity. We got married in LA and with Odysseus in mind, as his wedding gift I gave him a brass compass inscribed with the words, “May you ever, always find your way home.” We decided to return to Istanbul for our first year of marriage because once again, it felt the most like home. And really, we had both decided that we felt like home to each other. I thought that from then on wherever he was would be my Home and I loved how romantic that all was.

After we had been married a year, we felt like maybe it was time to live on more than just love so we moved back to LA to actually pursue careers and build a physical home. I hoped that maybe I would finally have a little bit of the home I had always wanted. I now had my own little family and soon I would have my own house that we would make sure was large enough to have people over all the time and we would have the best dinners and gatherings.

Unfortunately that beautiful dream was short-lived. Though both of our careers flourished, our home plans did not. Just 3 and a half years after our wedding, my husband announced our marriage was over by moving everything he owned out of our little apartment. It still strikes me as more than a little poetic that the way I found out I was getting divorced was by discovering an empty home. It was and is confusing and sad but that is a much longer story for another time.

While I tried to figure out what to do next, I was welcomed into the new home of a dear single friend. She had just bought it the week before I moved in and the roommate she had lined up had backed out at the last minute so there was a place for me. I loved watching her set-up her home those first few months I was living there. It may seem an odd thing to find comforting as my own home was crumbling but it felt very hopeful and forward-looking and I needed hope wherever I could find it in those months.

I eventually got a cute apartment with my longtime best friend. Its selling point was the huge front patio where we could host parties. And we made it home in the extremely feminine way that only a house inhabited by two women can be. There are flowers and pastel colors throughout. There are teacups in the bookshelf and books in the china cabinet and as many potted plants as we can keep alive. It is not the house I always imagined or the way I imagined it but it is home for now in the way the many houses my mom made feel like home when I was growing up also did.

Last year I returned to Istanbul for a visit. It was the first time I had visited since my divorce and before I went, I was a little nervous about what it would feel like. There were parts of it that were hard and parts of it that were beautiful and there were parts of it that still feel like home. But there have also been a lot of changes since I called that city home.

The political and social climate has shifted dramatically in the 5 years since I lived there and much of the country is in an existential crisis searching for a new understanding of their home. Meanwhile, Turkey has become a temporary home for millions of Iraqi and Syrian refugees who have lost their own homes and will probably never get them back. The whole country now feels like they are all looking for an elusive home together. And that felt familiar and well, relatable.

I know it has become a Christian cliche to say and hear, “This world is not our home.” And unfortunately I think too often that phrase is used to dismiss rather than deal with injustice and pain and brokenness. But it is also true. I think in many ways, we are all searching for home. And I am sure I am not the only one who feels like I haven’t found it yet.

If all of those stories I loved taught me anything, it’s that a desire and yearning for home is deep in each of us. Maybe some of us find it in this world and some of us may not but we are all looking for it. And there is something about that that is encouraging.

Super Bowl Sunday

I knew he was sad. I had known for a few months. We had talked about it until he was tired of talking and I was just tired. I tried everything I knew to cheer him up – his favorite food, shows, friends, activities, hobbies. Anything and everything I knew brought him joy I tried to encourage. I stopped nagging about the things I knew annoyed him – vacuuming and dishes and laundry. I could do them if it would help him feel happier again. I tried to just focus on the essentials – health and well-being and connection. But I was getting sad too. You can only carry another’s sadness for so long before it starts to seep into your skin too. We were both working hard – at work and love and health – and we were both tired.

I kept telling myself: Just keep going – a little longer. He finally had normal working hours and weekends. He was about to get a raise. Maybe we could move to a part of town where his commute wouldn’t be so taxing. Spring was coming soon and it would be warmer and the light would stay out longer. And we were already planning our summer getaway to one of our favorite places. Peace and nature and beauty and time for just the two of us was only a few months away. Just keep going. Only a little longer I would tell myself.

That afternoon was a relief. I had been away working for almost two weeks straight and I was spent. I needed a little attention and care myself. Snuggled into his side on the plush sofa for a whole three hours was exactly what the doctor ordered. I asked him to explain each play of the game. By this point I had watched enough football with him to understand the rules but I knew he loved teaching and I knew he loved the game. Mostly college football he would remind me. “There is no excitement in the pros – it’s all just a machine at that level.” Between you and me, I just wanted to listen to his gentle voice for a couple hours. Honestly, I could have listened to his voice forever.

His arm squeezed me tighter when he laughed at a commercial or yelled at a play. I felt like he was pulling into his joy and excitement and it strengthened me and made my heart glad. It was one of the first things I discovered about marriage that I loved – that you can experience someone else’s joy for something that you have no personal feelings about. Marriage had nearly doubled the things I enjoyed and I couldn’t believe it but somehow an occasional sports game had made it onto that list too.

We were not alone. His whole family was there – eating and talking and laughing and yelling at the referees too. But in that corner of the sofa, I felt like I had my whole world right next to me and it was so peaceful. It felt like home in that warm belonging way that only home can feel. Another’s sadness can seep in through your skin but so can their love. I don’t remember the game or who won. I don’t even remember who played. But those several hours of quiet joy and deepest contentment remain one of my fondest memories.

The odd part of this whole story is that that was one of the last Sundays I ever spent with him. About ten days later I would come home to our apartment and find out that he had gone to find his peace and joy and love and home somewhere else. I always hope that he has found it.

Love is Risky

After I heard about the 7 Nation Immigration Ban on Friday evening, I experienced a swirl of thoughts and emotions. I knew I needed to write about it but I wasn’t sure where to start.

I thought about writing about how highly guests are honored in those 7 nations and how the insult we are messaging is much stronger than just political. How I have experienced Middle Eastern hospitality over and over again and how much it has taught me about opening my home to guests and even strangers.

I thought about telling the story of the sweet young couple (he a high school science teacher and she a school counselor) who I tutored for the TOEFL, helped navigate Ivy League University websites, and proofread their application essays. The couple who each wanted to get PhDs in Education in the USA so they could return and help reform the school system in their own country. The couple who brought me a cake when they were accepted (on their own merit!) to at least one of the Ivies they applied to but were ultimately denied visas to attend. I thought about telling this story just to illustrate that US visas are some of the most difficult in the world to receive.

I thought about simply publishing the facts of how difficult it is to obtain a US visa, how rigorous and time consuming the screening process already is, or the statistics on how unlikely it is for an American to be endangered by a refugee in the United States. We are much more likely to be killed by heart disease, a car accident, or even a gun in the hands of a fellow citizen.

I thought about listing the mandates in Abrahamic religions to assist the stranger who asks for help, to care for the poor and needy, and to not turn away the guest who shows up at our door.

But as I kept thinking, I realized even with all these facts and personal anecdotes and religious commands, it actually comes back to something even deeper than all those things for me. It all comes down to love.

Love is risky. “To love at all is to be vulnerable,” C.S. Lewis reminds us in one of his most quoted sayings. Opening our hearts and lives to others involves uncertainty. Love is both an opportunity and a liability. We are sometimes given much greater love and grace in return. But love can also be a one-way street. Just because we extend love to another does not mean that we will be loved in return. We can extend grace to another and not experience grace in return. Sometimes we experience hurt or betrayal or cowardice or any number of ill actions in return.

I do not think it is likely but one of the refugees we welcome to our country could do a bad thing – could hurt someone or steal something or commit an “act of terror”. I do not think it is any more likely for a visa holder to do this than a US citizen but it is possible because all humanity is capable of doing evil and violent things.

Just as in any relationship, we should be wise and cautious and have appropriate boundaries and all of that, but really, all love and acceptance is still a risk. A risk that I think is the bravest and noblest for any person (or in this case – nation) to take. One that can potentially pay off with huge rewards and bring more benefits than you can possibly imagine before you take that risk.

Think of a friend or loved one or partner that you took that risk of love on that now you cannot imagine your life without. Think of all the joy you would not have experienced if instead of opening your arms, you had closed them tight across your chest.

I think of this great nation of refugees and immigrants and I cannot imagine it without them. Partially because I would not be here either. Someone took the risk and accepted my ancestors to this country – willingly or otherwise – and now I have the opportunity to be part of a multicultural democracy that is founded on principles of plurality yet also equality and justice for all. I think about the scientific discoveries we would have missed; contributions to art, literature, and film. I think of the foreign-born engineers who have helped build this country into a world leader in technology and innovation. I think of the friends I would have never known and my heart hurts.

Yes, allowing anyone into your circle – personally or socially or nationally – is a risk. But if that is not a risk that we think is worth taking, then I wonder what we are actually protecting. Because that sounds like a very small life and a very small nation to me indeed.

Embrace

I don’t usually look at a piece of art and say, “Yeah, me too.” I say this often about writing and film and music but very rarely about a drawing or painting or photograph. So when I saw John Baldessari’s “Green Kiss/Red Embrace” at The Broad last week and this was my first thought, I stopped and looked longer.


I’ve been thinking about the Body a lot in the last year. I’ve had an at-arms-length relationship with my body most of my life. My mind has always been stronger so I let it lead the way. I spent my childhood tripping over things with too long legs and a minimal sense of balance. In school, I only played sports when forced to and usually in positions where my height was my sole advantage. In trying to unify and strengthen my mind, soul, and body, my body has always lagged behind.

When I got married, I became aware of my body in new ways. (And I don’t just mean sexually.) As I got to know someone else’s body, I also got to know mine better. (Have I had that freckle on the top of my knee my whole life? Has the nail on my ring finger always had that asymmetrical slope?) I started noticing my body and enjoying my body and being thankful for it in new ways. (I love that my arms are long! My nose crinkles up funny when I smile!) It’s funny to me that my body only really felt like mine once someone else’s body also became mine.

When we separated, one of the many strong emotions I experienced was a distance from my own body. I alternated between feeling like I didn’t even know my body and feeling like half of it was missing. I experienced sensations that I can only describe as something like phantom limb syndrome. My hand would hurt to be held and my shoulders would physically ache for someone’s arm to be around them. I don’t know what it really means to become “one flesh” but I wonder if I was experiencing some physically reaction to that being torn apart.

During this time, I started doing a therapy where I learned to identify emotions through my body. I learned to identify fear as a tightening in my chest, happiness as a lightness in my arms and shoulders, and anger as a heat in my neck and face – among many other emotions. It was an interesting and unusual way to come back to knowing my body and appreciate more deeply the place my body plays in the interaction of mind, soul, and body.

In the last year, I have been more conscious about strengthening my body. Learning to identify physical indicators of stress earlier, recognizing that good food and sufficient sleep are not luxuries for me but necessities, and developing patience with myself when I need time to heal from injury or illness. Humbly recognizing that my body affects my mind and soul just as much as they each affect my body.

I still sometimes experience the physical sensation of missing another’s physical presence. I miss being held and touched and sex and well, being an integral part of someone else’s physical experience of the world. It’s not something I consciously acknowledge very often so that moment in The Broad when the green faces and red bodies forced me to stop and think and feel was significant. And I am once again grateful to the role of art as a mirror to the parts of ourselves we may be hesitant to look at too closely

This year as I focus on dwelling, one of the things I want to understand better is what it feels like, looks like to really dwell in my own body. I know that sounds funny because where else would I be dwelling? There is probably a better way of describing it but I have a tendency to feel like my body is just container for who I am rather than an integral part of my very being and experience of the world. I want to learn to be more thankful for and enjoy the fact that I dwell in this world in a body and one that is mostly healthy and getting stronger.