Little Poems for Dark Days #4

Little Poems for Dark Days #4

My neighbor Laura makes oatmeal
for anyone that ends up in her front yard.
With solar glasses and pinhole projectors,
this little band of dogs and humans is ready
to see the moon eclipse the sun
then to see the sun come shining back again,
ready to remember that our planet is still suspended,
that we are still, mercifully, alive in the universe.

Little Poems for Dark Days #1

Little Poems for Dark Days #1

What seem to be fresh horrors
are really just old wounds
that have never stopped bleeding.
Forgive me
for wanting to be relieved
more than I want to be awakened.

My friend Janel and I were talking last night about writing and poetry and how scattered we feel during this time of dramatic headlines. I haven't been writing much because I feel like I have nothing coherent to say. The little nuggets are not coming to me.

But there are millions of others who's been testifying no matter the headlines. And they have been doing it for centuries. It's going to take much more than Trump to shut them up.

So I've been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates. And Sherman Alexie. Roxanne Gay. Langston Hughes. Trying to immerse myself realities that aren't mine. Trying to get my white self seeing whiteness, otherness, and the construct of race the way Indians, immigrants, and slave-descendants have always seen them--as deliberate, engineered tools of oppression that concentrate money and power in the hands of the conquerors.

This education of mine has been going on for me since my early 20's when Yancey and I moved into a south Seattle neighborhood that's one of the most diverse zip codes in the country. We thought we'd become friends with everyone, maybe exchange some Spanish and Vietnamese phrases with neighbors, give our kids an education in diversity. It was all much, much harder than that, and my learning has never stopped. If you're white and wanting to start or further your education on race and privilege, you don't need to exploit people of color to do it! You don't need to find your few friends who are brown or black and ask them to educate you. You can do it yourself! This reading list prepared by Cristena Cleveland is a great start. My biggest piece of advice on this journey is to believe the witness of marginalized people in this country. They're not pulling your leg. They are not exaggerating. They're not looking for sympathy. They are voices crying out in the wilderness. And, as people with more privilege, it's our job as white folks to bring those voices into the mainstream. We can't afford to wait any longer.

So I'm going to be posting Little Poems for Dark Days. As many as I can for the foreseeable future. Hopefully every day (though you KNOW that won't happen) for as long as the Spirit moves me. I'm so inspired by Langston Hughes--his straightforward, social, political, playful, direct, revolutionary poems. This is an experiment for me in being less careful, less caught up in crafting a perfect little package, and more stream-of-consciousness, less adorned, quicker on the draw.

And thanks, Janel, for the cheerleading yesterday. Writers gotta write!

For 43 Years, I Have not Died

It's my birthday today.

40 was a big deal (and that year, I don't know HOW many 40th birthdays I went to!), but between 40 and 45, it seems blurry and spongy. I've been forgetting all year if I'm 42 or 43.

I'm just coming out of a little low spell--seasonal allergies, not much gas left in the tank for the last 6 weeks of Yancey's training program, feeling generally uninspired (which I'm realizing is my LEAST favorite feeling.) I wasn't looking forward to much. One morning a couple weeks ago, having a quiet minute in my office before the kids woke up, a bolt of energy went through me and I almost said out loud, "I haven't died yet!"

When you think about it, it's incredible. Improbable. I came through my mother's birth canal and didn't get wrapped in the umbilical cord. I didn't crack my head on all the sets of stairs I navigated as a toddler or yesterday. I haven't ever wanted to take my own life or give up on life itself. That time I choked on an ice cube at Chuckanut Manor, I didn't die. Learning to ride my bike, birthing two children, driving thousands or maybe millions of miles in a steel-encased motor with wheels that goes 75 miles per hour. And all that time, I haven't died! Hooray!

I've been contemplating death a lot lately, I think in a good way. The way we all should. That we are all going to leave this earth and there's an invitation to get into it while we are here. Getting into it doesn't mean we're always happy. Or successful. Or passionate. Or inspired. (Shoot.) But that we give ourselves over to what Life is doing.

Emily is here for my birthday weekend (bliss!) and we were walking and talking today about how we've been using the wrong metaphor for energy. We often talk about it like a gas tank that's getting filled or getting emptied, how some people and endeavors fill it, how others siphon everything away. Instead, we want to think of ourselves as being caught up in the infinite, uncontrollable, always-enough Flow of Life, and we are just beings for it to move through. We don't need to worry about running out of energy or love or life. There's more where that came from! We just get to present to it. (A little easier said than done, of course.)

Between now and my next birthday, I want to not die. And I want to live like I've had a near-death experience. Even on my lowest, least-inspired day, I want to feel Divine Presence holding me up. I want to make more strawberry jam (Who else wants to do that on their birthday? Sigh.), tuck my kids into bed, watch more SNL clips with Wyatt, let the dog out in the morning, mist my houseplants. I want to give more money to the Lighthouse Mission and quit using so many Ziploc bags because I really do love this planet. I want to ask for forgiveness when I screw up, and I want to be in close enough relationship with my friends and neighbors and family that screwing up matters. I want to look in on the piles of laundry, remember they are about LIFE, and shut the door on them. And I hope I'm saying, whether all that happens or not, "It is well with my soul."

Lent 2017: (Trying to) Go with the Flow

I haven't been posting! Life has intervened, and I have let it. In the last week:

I've flown to Kansas City to be with dear friends. We sat on the museum lawn in 80 degrees and talked about God and parenting and politics and culture.

I've been on a little food trip to Seattle with my Mom and sister where we ate too big a lunch too late in the day and ended up at the Frye Museum killing time until we were hungry again.

I've facilitated 3 events with my colleague Laura and soaked up every minute of meeting area business owners, helping them be better leaders, and then getting to teach the Enneagram again together, which is the work of my heart.

I have asked my babysitter to do a lot more than usual and she has blessed me again by obliging. For Wyatt's family birthday party tomorrow night, I am not cooking. The Thai place down the street is. And Amazon is supplying some "good enough" gifts.

Emily just left after 3 days here, during which time she took Loretta to the movies, obliged Wyatt in his plea for fast food, did the dishes, and didn't get offended when half our conversations were conducted while I was doing laundry, sweeping the floor, or paying taxes.

I was talking with her about a conundrum in a group I'm part of, and she said, "Just because you notice something doesn't mean you have to do something about it. Why don't you try going with the flow?" (Does she know how to cut through my BS or WHAT?!)

Wisdom, right there. Some of us deal with reality by withdrawing or choosing not to act, and the prescription might be different. For me, though, the invitation to "Go with the flow" is the voice of God: Sit back. Notice what's trying to be born. Let things unfold. Don't make too many plans. Don't worry so much about being right or good or impactful or in control. Let your friend Beth pick Loretta up from school, let Lisa make you dinner, let Rob and Willow be the Surrogate Super Parents. Let the dog lie around with no exercise. Let grilled cheese sandwiches be the menu for the week. Let that group you're in flounder a little bit without trying to facilitate it. Let your "Thank you" be enough. Let life take care of you the way it wants to. Relax into the okayness of life. All will be well and all manner of things shall be well.


Lent 2017: Yes to Enjoying the View

The things that move me are inevitably the moments when suffering and beauty meet--the dual wings of agony and ecstasy. One without the other and we get nowhere.

Emily recommend Ellen Bass' poetry to me. Her collection "Like a Beggar" came in the mail today, and I'm smitten. Here's some lines from her poem "Relax." Drink them up.

The Buddha tells astory of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs halfway down. But there's also a tiger below.
And two mice--one white, one black--scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
The she eats the strawberry.
So here's the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you'll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles in a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You'll be lonely.
Oh, taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.

Lent 2017: Yes to Longing

Yancey is living in Seattle all year for his paramedic training. As many of you know, we see him every 7-10 days for about 12 hours. We are halfway through, and definitely surviving. But it's hard, and mostly I'm reminded of how much I like to be around him. I'm more relaxed with him, more flexible, more engaged. After 22 years of marriage, it's nice to notice that. Still. Again.

Here's a poem for him.

Play Date

Two big poodles, one brown, one white,
are happy to see one another--
sniffing, wagging,
straining on leashes
like they just won the dog lottery.
Their owners chuckle,
chat for a minute,
finally coax them apart.
The dogs, looking backward,
aren't nearly done.

You know I'm going to make this
about you and me,
my love.
About how I want to be with you
all the time,
how uncooperative I am
when we're forced to keep walking.

Lent 2017: No to Suffering in Silence

I was at a client site today--a huge bureaucracy in downtown Seattle, the kind that has a committee for every possible eventuality. There were posters everywhere about "What to do in Case of Emergency." The first item, big at the top, was:

Yell for Help!

I laughed. Below that were all the other things about 911, fire routes, etc. I thought it was funny that we need to be reminded to yell, but then I thought again. There must be a real reason we need that reminder. How many times do I suffer in silence? How many times do I consider NOT asking for help some kind of heroic act? How many times do I work overtime to solve things myself or expect others to read my mind when I'm sad, frustrated, or feeling left out?

Rumi says the need brings in what's needed. The mother's milk comes when the baby cries. The suffering, the crying out, is the impetus for abundance.

Did anyone here the NPR story today about the depressed woman whose boyfriend had just broken up with her? Her sink was piled with dirty dishes and her house was buried in snow after an epic snowstorm. She could function just enough to get herself to work, and posted something on Facebook about needing help. A co-worker who she barely knew came over with her husband while the woman (Laura in the story below) was at work. Here's a bit from the story:

LANTZ (Narrator): Yeah, it was bad. Ruthie went inside to plug in the snowblower, and she saw the pile of dishes, so she washed them. She noticed the floors, so she mopped them. Laura was still at work, but when she got home that evening, she couldn't believe her eyes.

LAURA (Protagonist): It felt like I could say help, and it wasn't weak to need their help. Like, it made me feel strong again.

LANTZ: Laura says that what Ruthie and Bill did was a jumpstart for her. But for them, it was natural.

R. BROWN (Good Samartian): If there's something you can do to help somebody or do something, you don't let that pass because you can't go back. You can never go back and try to help her again on that day.

LANTZ: Laura says when it comes down to it, Ruthie had no idea what she was going through, but she acted anyway.

LAURA: She just needed to know that my dishes were dirty and that there was some soap right there. And she could just pick it up, and solve that problem. So it really has made me, like, want to be somebody who picks up the soap.

Come on! Isn't that a beautiful story? It's tempting to read it as a story about the helper (which it partly is), but it's really about the receiver. Ruthie would have never been able to give if Laura hadn't been vulnerable enough to ask for help. Giving can't happen without receiving--we give others a gift when we let them in and tell them what we need.

Yell for help! Then be ready for the water to come pouring from the spring.

Lent 2017: Yes to Shining your Crazy Light

I listened to this podcast today (thanks for the tip, Emily), and heard this (from the Gospel of Thomas, a Biblical apocryphal book of non-canonical sayings.):

"If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you."


A couple years ago, I had an image that has profoundly guided me. I was stuffing produce down the chute of my juicer--beautiful, bright carrots, apples, celery, ginger. The juice was plentiful and nutritious, but the juice cap wasn't open, and it was clogging, overflowing all over the counter, staining the floor, uncontrollable and undrinkable. The message from the universe was, "Get out of the juicer and into the cup! If you don't, it's a mess."

Since then, I've redone my consulting website and given out hundreds of business cards. I found a way to be a spiritual teacher in my work. I started painting. I started writing what was in my heart, especially lots more poetry. I started seeing a therapist and dismantled my membership in several groups, both as a participant and as a facilitator. I set boundaries or walked away from relationships that didn't help me love God and myself more. I stopped wondering if I was okay and stepped into my flawed giftedness. I said "Yes!" to shining my crazy light.

All of that juice had to go somewhere. And if it didn't? What we do not bring forth will destroy us! Presence isn't a luxury. It's what we need in this broken world, now more than ever.

When we say "Yes" to this invitation, we're saying "No" to safety, indifference,  victimhood, complacency, stasis, all the stories about ourselves that have always WORKED for us. We're saying there's something below those stories, something below the way we hustle for love or attention or success or belonging or freedom. It's our Essence, and it's dying to be uncovered.

What's in you that's dying to come out? How can you bravely and lovingly call to it? What's stopping you?

Lent 2017: Yes to Soul Friends

Emily and I just spent a much-needed weekend together. She's moving to Palo Alto soon for a chaplaincy program at Stanford, so sleeping in her little studio on Capitol Hill together seemed especially sweet. She doesn't know what will happen after next year, and it's hard to imagine not being a short road trip away.

We always talk about the fact that we're connected on the Spirit Highway, and we trust that. 1,000 miles won't change it. AND there's something precious about the face-to-face, rambling, start-and-stop conversations that proximity affords.

I could write a book about our friendship (and maybe someday I will), but in my Lenten theme of Yes's and No's, Emily and our soul friendship is one of the great Yes's of my life. The poet Elizabeth Alexander says, "Poetry.../is the human voice/and are we not of interest to each other?"  Emily and I are blessed with an endless fascination of one another, an endless interest in what's stirring in the deepest places. Among the topics covered in the last 30 hours:

  • The Divine Feminine
  • Christian Wiman and his line, "And I said to my soul, be loud."
  • Rob Bell (of course)
  • The Enneagram (with countless bullet points underneath this favorite heading--negative emotions, the 3 centers of intelligence, how the arrows get more attention than the wings)
  • Work, calling, and vocation
  • How church can bury the soul
  • Knowing when to move on
  • Writing
  • Death and dying
  • Krista Tippett and how we love her and think she talks too much (A favorite subject of mine)
  • Generational wounds and healing
  • Paul Ryan's powerpoint and the way he's conveniently forgotten that insurance is, by its definition, a risk pool

I love you, sister.

Lent 2017: Yes to Soul Maintenance

This is my tenth entry, and time for a little Lenten check-in.

As Parker Palmer says, we're good at creating space for our brains to show up. We're sometimes okay at creating space for our bodies to show up. We suck at creating space for our souls to show up--that part of us that longs for MORE, that part of us that knows what sorrow is and so longs for more joy.

Here are few Lenten reflection questions if you're brave enough:

  1. What gifts are trying to offer themselves up to me? How can I get out of the way and accept them?
  2. What suffering needs to be experienced before I experience more freedom and groundedness? What support do I need to walk into that suffering?
  3. In what ways could I be exhibiting indifference toward the world around me? What does my soul tell me about that when I listen?
  4. What embodied tenderness and affection is available to me? How can I say "yes' to that?
  5. What commitments or obligations aren't life-giving anymore? How can I walk away from them?
  6. If I were to have an encounter with the Divine right this instant, what message would I hear?

Lent 2017: Yes to Partnership

This is my colleague and friend Laura. She took this photo on a snowy walk a week ago.

A year ago, we started meeting once a week to talk about work (we're both Organization Development consultants/leadership coaches). I had low expectations (usually a good idea) and was hoping we could talk shop, share ideas.

Instead, we've taught several workshops together, coached one another, and just had a love-filled open house for an office space we're now sharing. She called to check in today, and I said, "Why are things so easy between us?! I feel like whatever we put our hands to turns to gold." She said, "I think that's because we are both operating out of our Essence."

Bingo. I call myself a Collaboration Junkie, and am always longing for connection, intimacy, partnership. And I've tried a lot of work partnerships that have taught me something, but left me wanting. When I step back, I wonder if I just wasn't settled enough in myself. I hadn't dropped down to that place of Essence, that place beyond personality, beyond preferences, beyond opinions and ego. Not that I'm there now (I wish!!), but at least I know that's where I want to be. And that turns out to make all the difference.

Lent 2017: Yes to being in our bodies

Wyatt got invited to practice with the high school basketball team tonight. Even though the invite came very inconveniently during my office open house and 10 minutes before he had to be across town, the look on his face was, "You can't let me down here." Thanks to my parents who raced out of there, came home to get his basketball shoes, and delivered that kid to his version of heaven.

Loretta and I caught the last few minutes, and it was the highlight of my day. Yes to being in our bodies, to all the physical, earthy moments that offer themselves up to us. What a thrill.

King of the Court

I'd wither out there
in that land of shirts and skins,
covering the court in a few giant strides
every eye on you and whether you can stop the shot
or make it, your bony chest heaving
with pure concentration and delight.

Son, I don't have to tell you
you're king of this court. There's nothing--
nothing--I'd rather do than lean against the wall,
tired, car keys in my pocket,
and watch your electric aliveness ,
see you being in that body that came from mine,
that came from the fires of the universe
and will someday return to them,
probably with a basketball in hand.

Lent 2017: Yes to Yes

I have lots of no's. Most of my friends would describe me as a boundaried person, and that's been helpful in my life. Helpful in managing my time, in avoiding relationships that are harmful, helpful when I need to defend my values or make hard decisions.

But the invitation to me as I get older is, "RELAX! Relax into the okay-ness of life. Have more fun. Don't take yourself so seriously. See that there are many right ways to do things, many good paths to many good destinations. Don't find security in a 'no' when the universe is giving you a banquet of 'yes.'"

And the Sufi poets (Rumi, Hafiz) have helped me with this. Saved me, really. Here's something from Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky. Say yes to yes!

Every Movement

I rarely let the word "No" escape
From my mouth.

Because it is so plain to my soul

That God has shouted "Yes! Yes! Yes!"
To every luminous movement in existence.

Lent 2017: No to Sectarianism

"Sectarianism is belonging gone bad."

Heard that on this podcast on my way to work this morning.

And what is sectarianism? Good old Wikipedia says it's , "a form of bigotry, discrimination, or hatred arising from attaching relations of inferiority and superiority to differences between subdivisions within a group. Common examples are denominations of a religion, ethnic identity, class, or region for citizens of a state and factions of a political movement."

Oh boy. More than anything, I want to belong. I want to be known, be welcomed, be understood. And difference is the HARD way into that. It's much easier to be around people who look like me, people who think like me, people who have similar stories, similar political leanings.

God, I refuse to just say what I'm against. To retreat into my beloved group of like-minded folks. Help me find my belonging in something much deeper than opinions, geography, language, race, religion, or worldviews. Help me know, with every fiber of my being, that I belong to you and to this vast human race. Amen.

Lent 2017: Yes to Being Down Here

The only thing I get in my inbox every day are Richard Rohr's meditations. You can subscribe here if you want this thirst-quenching stuff. Today, he says,

...true power is circular or spiral, not so much hierarchical. It’s here; it’s within us. It’s shared and shareable; it’s already entirely for us...God’s Spirit is planted within you and operating as you! Don’t keep looking to the top of the pyramid. Stop idolizing the so-called “Top 1 %.” There’s nothing worthwhile up there that is not also down here. Worst of all, it has given much of the world an unnecessary and tragic inferiority complex.

There isn't anything at the "top of the pyramid" that's worth the struggle. The only way to be "successful" is to dig into who we already are, what we already have. Anyone that's constantly talking about how much they own, how often they win, how much they've attained? Big red flag. Don't follow that person anywhere.

It's said that Catherine of Genoa, a Christian mystic who lived in the 15th century, ran through the streets shouting out her discovery--"My deepest me is God! My deepest me is God!" This is one of the truths that's most profoundly guided me the last 5 years. What we need isn't outside us. It's not a religion or career or political win or completed bucket list. Our power, our worth is already inside us, and it's only the path of descent that will get us there. Downward mobility, going deeper into who we already are and not being scared of what we find there. You in?

Lent 2017: No to the Domination Narrative

Totally inspired by three things today: 1) My pastor's sermon on what can happen when people come together 2) The chapter on Palm Sunday from The Last Week by Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan and 3) Rob Bell's podcast on counter-narrative.

Jesus' parade through Jerusalem on a donkey was happening the same time as Rome's imperial procession on the other side of the city. From Borg/Crossan: "Jesus' procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate's proclaimed the power of empire...Two processions entered Jerusalem that day. The same question, the same alternative, faces those who would be faithful to Jesus today. Which procession are we in? Which procession do we want to be in?" And which narrative are we buying into? The narrative of Empire and Domination, or the narrative of Peace and Inclusion?

That's where this poem comes from. I think you can guess which procession I'm in. Though I'mfearful, full of mixed motives, and second-guessing myself most the time, I want to be entering through the wrong gate.

Coming in through the Wrong Gate

There is no press release.
Nothing's gone viral.
No glossy posters
or monogrammed hats,
no tour buses or theme songs.
It's pathetic, really--
just a donkey, some branches ripped from trees,
total illegitimacy.

But still, they are coming,
pouring out of every forgotten crevice
in this besieged city--
peasants, cripples, children.
Zealots, immigrants, castoffs,
the blind, deaf, dumb, diseased and disgraced.
Farmers, beggars, women,
dogs, pigs, roosters,
dusty, clear-eyed, determined
to upend this old domination story
and start telling a new one.

Lent 2017: Yes to Giving Without Worry


Caution: I'm about to write about something that I'm very opinionated about.

I guess it's all about the pope this season, but did you see this article, "Give Without Worry"? When people ask him, "Well, what if the panhandler spends the money I give him on alcohol?" the pope's answer is "If a glass of wine is the only happiness he has in life, that’s O.K. Instead, ask yourself, what do you do on the sly? What ‘happiness’ do you seek in secret?” Then he *&#!ing goes further and says the way of giving is as important as the gift. You should not simply drop a bill into a cup and walk away. You must stop, look the person in the eyes, and touch his or her hands.

Can I get an amen?!

My daughter Loretta has been my teacher in this department. She absolutely cannot abide the idea that we would turn a blind eye to anyone asking for help. (This photo is her on the trail to school a few days ago. Come on.) So, for the last 5 years, we have given to almost everyone who asks unless we literally could not figure out something. We carry $5 Starbucks gift cards and granola bars in the car for folks hanging out on on-ramps. I carry dollar bills for people spare-changing on the street. Recently I offered to buy a man a meal and he said, "Ma'am, can I be honest with you? My sign says 'Anything helps,' but I really want money." So I went to a cash machine and got him money.

Did he buy pot with it? Maybe. Did he spent it on a hotel room when he can go to the Lighthouse Mission and sleep there for free? Maybe. Did he buy fancy dog food when he could stand in line at the food bank and get some generic stuff? Maybe. But what business is it of mine?! I love it when the pope says, "What do YOU DO on the sly?" Busted. Buy a $75 sweater when I absolutely do not need it. Waste food. Pay every month for Hulu, Comcast, Netflix, Amazon so we can have unlimited choice in our leisure time. That homeless man doesn't demand accountability from me about how I spend my money.

When I give a down-and-outer a $1 bill, her life is definitely not transformed. The transformation happens in ME, when I look her in the eye, when I square up with my own privilege, when I really think about what kind of life i want to model for my children.

Peter Gomes, in his immensely helpful "How to Keep a Good Lent" (download the PDF here), says, "Contrary to popular perception, Lent is not private and personal. From ancient times it has had a communal, public, even civic dimension wherein the faithful are encouraged to good works and deeds of public charity and private philanthropy. Lest you become too private and self-absorbed in Lent, you should find a way in which you might give time to some or work or kindness which is not only for yourself." I love his "SHOULD" in there. He's not apologizing for it! And in case you need more convincing, there are stacks of research that say doing things for others is one of the only things that make us reliably happy.

The way I've come to see it, the spare-changing folks downtown are giving us an opportunity to be generous. We don't have to go to Africa or send shoeboxes to Guatemala (though it's wonderful if you do). Just because these folks technically have a shelter where they can lay their head or just because they might receive a disability check or go to the needle exchange doesn't make them less "deserving" of our generosity or of being treated like the precious humans they are.

So go ahead. Give without worry, and enjoy it!