Category Archives: Uncategorized

Conscience and Survival

Metaphorically speaking, this strikes me as salient to tomorrow’s decision – it’s not a plea to change your vote, it’s simply a  quick-write personal reflection that jumped out at me with this morning’s reading:screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-11-02-01-am

“By 1974, Douglass [James W. Douglass, Catholic theologian, author, and conscientious objector] and his wife Shelley, were living with extended family in Hedley, British Columbia, a remote mining town in the Canadian province’s vast interior. One day, Robert Aldridge, a Lockheed engineer on the design team for the Trident missile, arrived at their doorstep. He told them he had resigned from his job because his conscience was tormenting him.”

Like Aldridge, I know a little something about not tolerating the party line, i.e., default script – and also about my conscience being tormented. Survival for me meant stepping outside that box and proceeding with much fear and trepidation, wrestling to redefine what it was that would inspire and nurture life.

Ironic, perhaps, that this day before election day, I read those words in ‘A Still and Quiet Conscience: The Archbishop Who Challenged a Pope, a President, and a Church’ (John A. McCoy).

The realization that the Trident (a first-strike weapon) would escalate the arms race was daunting, terrifying even – nuclear annihilation was looming.

As a child, I recall that terrifying feeling – and, in a more grown-up way, I’m feeling it deeply today.

One of these two primary candidates is not like the other.

True, I’m not a fan of Hillary Clinton, (my friends and family who are will hopefully still love me), but Donald Trump terrifies me like no other presidential candidate ever has. He’s a hothead with very limited understanding of building relations with heads of state – having him responsible to oversee world-stage politics and potential military actions leaves me feeling sheer terror for the United States – but also the world.

“In January 1975, the Douglas’s and fourteen other Canadians and Americans had founded the Pacific Life Community (PLC), a motley group of radical Christians, Quakers, feminists, and Catholic Workers. A summary of their initial meeting noted that ‘almost the only thing we had in common was our concern with the nuclear arms race and our hopes for peaceful social change. In language that would later be embraced by Hunthausen, they said they also wanted to confront ‘the Trident within’ themselves by rooting out the personal violence in their own lives.”

Truly, we’re all in different places, i.e., a motley group like McCoy mentions above, we all have our interests and passions we’re trying to represent, and these can be perceived to be in conflict with one another. But, we might be able to recognize that the core of each focus is that life is sacred, and to be preserved if at all possible.

My life as an American is not more valuable than any other life on this planet, and so I will make decisions to the best of my ability that considers that perspective.

Oh hey, and just to reaffirm – because it has become so much about this – born and unborn, I believe that life is to be held with compassion and sacredness whenever possible – and also true, I say often that it’s not my call to judge another’s decision, and I stand by that. But when the candidates demonstrated personalities outstrip this one-issue concern to implicate the entire world’s annihilation, which includes the expected fallout from world-stage bullying and even nuclear annihilation, I’m conscience-bound to vote for the one who represents the lesser threat.

May we dig deep to find peace in the midst of difference, and ways to sit well with one another in the coming days.

Disclaimer: This is no way reflects the political views of Choices Mt. Shasta, nor is an endorsement of any political candidate or platform. 


Musings on Practicing Medicine & Faith

Musings (because musings seem grace-inviting) on the practices of medicine and faith – because time has been plentiful here at UCSF Benioff.  And because I process my way-too-many thoughts through writing. Thanks for being on this journey of hope with us! 


Practice: perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency. (Google)

Practicing medicine, seems to be a lot like practicing faith. 

Practicing infers hoping in both regards, yes?

For most of my life I’ve tended to look upon doctors as gods. They were the mega-educated, mega-knowing, mega-fixers. My heart bowed before their presumed omnipotence, even as my mind knew they were but human. 

My faith tended to evolve over a similar course. I tended to look at priests and pastors as gods too. What they said mattered. Greatly. I was taught not to question. But, after a few experiences in diverse Christian traditions, what they said, differed greatly. I began to question.

When one pastor (eons ago) told me I was not permitted to attend another church, the rebel in me, (I mean seeker-of-more), went anyway. What was being hidden from me? I wanted to practice other understandings, and wonder if there was a better fit for the person God had uniquely created me to be. I mean, seriously folks, how could there be just one model of faith for the great God of the universe – how could it be that certain? And so I explored a few traditions, interestingly finding peace amidst the uncertainty of an exacting representation of faith. 

Over the past decade or so, I’ve left the realm of certainty in some matters of the Christian faith. So much reverence, beauty and creativity in the ways in which the people of God incarnate (represent in human form) God’s presence and hope for the world. It speaks so much less of exacting, certain ways of living and reflecting – and much more so of shades of grey. Practicing. We’re practicing toward hope in gaining understanding about what is helpful in our pursuit. 

Dylan’s rehab doc said this morning that he likes to refer to the practice of medicine as the art of medicine rather than the science of medicine. Love these snippets that just show up. Surely medical practitioners must carefully develop and rehearse the art and impact of language. 

And yes, there’s my current reality that’s been unfolding over the past month. (Longer, if you count the two months prior when the spoken diagnosis was likely carpal tunnel syndrome, with a significant delay for a nerve-testing referral, due to an admin snafu.)  Again, practice, right? 

When the initial MRI came just after midnight on December 1st, and the pediatric resident came in to let us know what had been discovered, he asked if we wanted to look at the scan. My immediate emotional response was “No! I do not want to view the  mass that has formed on my son’s spinal cord, that has caused the mysterious and debilitating left-sided numbness of his fingers, hand, arm, torso and tingling of his leg.” I actually recall turning my head away so as not to look. 

Then, hearing the additional words, “…it looks to be a mass with a solid border” was somewhat comforting, and I decided that to love was to do hard things, and dove headlong into the terror of what the scan represented: I looked, even as my mind was yearning for the certainty of the words: “Every little thing, is gonna be alright.” 

Dylan’s neurosurgeon spoke with us just seven hours later, the morning of surgery, saying, “This looks to be the best kind of tumor, in one of the worst locations.” Do you hear the essence of the word practice? Not is the best kind of tumor, but looks to be. Uncertainty from the start. They know from experience, that this looks more hopeful than not. 

But they’ve practiced this procedure, and they’re gaining on it (especially here at UCSF Benioff), but there are just too many unknowns. They hope. We hope. 

Sitting with a small gathering of family and friends for an excruciating eight hours of surgery was one of the most brutal experiences of this journey. The call from the surgical suite that arrived every two to three hours was both terrifying and encouraging, and each time it was good news. Dylan is tolerating surgery fine; they are making progress, but it’s taking longer because of the complexity of removing the very vascular hemangioblastoma. They expected a four to six hour surgery. But, they couldn’t know how complicated it would be. Excruciating uncertainty loomed for eight plus hours. 

Sitting in this (amazing) hospital for almost a month has deepened my reality that faith and medicine fields seem to coalesce, or come together in similar ways – that hope is always before us, even if we can’t see it, feel it, or define it. We’re called to walk into the darkness, one step at a time, in the company of many who’ve gone before us, and who’ve practiced a hopeful path toward healing. Some things are simply unknowable. 

What I keep hearing here at UCSF Benioff are echoes of uncertainty. There are some certainties, but not many. We’re finding it necessary to sit with uncomfortable answers, that aren’t actually answers, rather possibilities, and hoped for outcomes. These amazing practitioners are doing just that – and we’re waiting to see what happens. 

Volunteer Application: Judas?

(The following are random thoughts related to my long-time work as the leader of a faith-based non-profit, and deeply wrestling with the realities of needing volunteers, while simultaneously trying to please organizational stakeholders – a journey that is not for the faint of heart. And yet, here I am.)

Technically speaking, none of Jesus’ disciples were ‘believers’, in the sense of a modern day born again understanding. It hadn’t been developed yet. Our focus on who’s in and who’s out has really only been in existence for around 150 years.

Judas, a thief, was put in charge the money box. Smart one, Jesus. Somehow I’m thinking they skipped the pastoral reference part of the volunteer interview.

What did Jesus know that no one else did? Why did Jesus trust that all would be well? Did Jesus have such a light hold on the value of money, that he would risk it’s loss at Judas’ hand? (Hmmm, something I might need.) Or, did Jesus trust that Judas was a work in progress, and nonetheless still valuable to do his work in his little corner of the world? (Which, by the way, became stories that we would read to discern their place in our own lives – eons after their occurrence in a different time and place and culture.)

Moving on.

‘Disciple’ essentially means ‘learner’. I’m learning more every. single. day. month. year. decade.

Decidedly, (to which some are now raising their eyebrows in mournful agreement), I am not the person I was decades ago, who held (supposed) truth with a much more firm and knowing hand.

My faith gets refined, defined and mined all the time. On an aside, I just realized that mined can have the meaning of excavation or explosion – both are valid.

My faith remains steadfast; my beliefs adjust with age, experiences, culture, and calling. 

So, the primary motive for enforcing a volunteer proving ground of enough faith is presumably the who’s in/who’s out paradigm – because, if one doesn’t embrace an exacting model, how does one effectively evangelize? (Which is the primary value for some traditions.)

Let’s take this down to a bare-bones query: “Make Jesus known” – what does that even mean? Emulate Jesus’ behavior to the extent our humanness can? Yes, okay, I can buy that.

It’s my desire to generously embrace an understanding that we’re all on a spiritual journey. Some of us found our way to the front of the line via something akin to Disneyland’s Fast Pass, in that we were very eager to get closer to figuring it all out, due to our drivenness, our jobs, our fears, our whatever-you-want-to-call-it, and we checked in early, inquiring minds wanting to know, and all that. The other option is that some of us are just neurotic.

And sometimes we even feel like we’re getting closer to the center target of Jesus. In my view of faith-shaped living, I’ve embraced what’s referred to as a centered-set model. Picture a dartboard: Jesus is at the center as the target, the money shot, and we’re all somewhere on the way there, sometimes moving forward, sometimes backward, and sometimes on the perimeter, fearful or apprehensive of our place – sometimes even hanging on for dear life!

What’s the purpose of knowing Jesus? For me, it’s about joining in the work of God for the good of the world. Bringing grace, mercy and justice for all, in the places I live, move and have my being. It’s likely going to look differently than your knowing.

Ever hear the saying ‘love God – love others’ as a personal mission statement/mantra? The above paragraph is just that, only simplified.

Assuming someone is a safe person (no judgement, no agenda, able to be confidential, full of kindness and compassion), who am I to decide whether someone has permission to intentionally love another person when they’ve expressed a desire to do so, but they don’t fit in a neat and tidy box?

Is it possible to have policies that are too exclusive, considering that we’re all broken people needing love, hope and compassion? Without a doubt, much of my own wrestling and healing from less-than-stellar life choices has come about through my sitting with others in similar circumstances – as a leader. Still does. (Because, you know, ‘I’m not perfect just forgiven’, right?)

Jesus set a standard of grace in his selection of disciples, including Judas. 

Judas wasn’t perfect, far from it, but Jesus nonetheless saw that he had value, including him among his inner circle. Let’s afford people-who-desire-to-volunteer (love) the same courtesy, respecting that if one is on a trajectory toward getting closer to representing Jesus’ character, it just might be okay? It’s a posture of hope – for us, and for those we desire to welcome among us.

It’s Not Real? Whew. Or Not.

Twitter: @abdulaziz_Photo
Twitter: @abdulaziz_Photo

Yes, the disturbing picture of a Syrian boy sleeping between his parents’ graves isn’t real. Actually, the pic is real, in that it exists. We’ve seen it. But the story behind the pic, well, that’s the not real part. Except, as in much of life, it could be, and is. And, it is certainly the reality for many Syrian boys, and girls, and others. Sometimes roles are reversed, and it’s a parent grieving graveside. (My apologies if this triggers pain in my friends with this unthinkable kind of loss.)

The ‘hoax’ part of this disturbs me a bit, because many breathe a collective sigh of relief, “Whew! It’s not true,” releasing us emotionally to go back to our cushioned or somewhat cushioned lives, keeping a certain distance from the devastating realities that exist in Syria, (among other locales) – but it also keeps us from our own proverbial backyards: the places we live, and move, and have our being – and therein lies my interest today. 

The place I live, and move, and have my being includes an extraordinarily high rate of child abuse, technically, it’s child neglect, that translates to abuse. Siskiyou county ranks with one of the highest rates of child abuse & neglect in the state of California.

There are also other high rates to contend with here, often resulting in loss to parents and children – and by extension, to our communities: life-threatening economic stressors, harmful addiction (alcohol, hard/prescription drugs, gambling, porn), domestic violence, all resulting in general apathy or loss of hope, that keeps parents sidelined from engaged parenting – or engaged life.

Sometimes I think it’s relatively easier to see devastating pictures and grieve from afar – we’re still somewhat removed from the reality, and absolved from any sense of responsibility.

So, while we could, (and should), consider the needs of far-reaching children and parents across the globe, what of our own, whose emotionally moving pictures you don’t see? But, maybe you do? Maybe pics show up as in our news and FB feeds as desperate and grievous actions in our communities?

I just read this in a FB meme: “Students who are loved at home, come to school to learn, and students who aren’t, come to school to be loved,” attributed to Nicholas A. Ferroni.  Deficits show up. And this is kind of what I’m getting at – it’s at least part of the picture. It seems I have an abundance of nurses and teachers in my life, thus, I’m aware of the impact of parents who struggle with the above-mentioned life-sucking challenges. Parents love their children, I have no doubt, but it’s these life stressors that often get in the way, and make living in the day to day – and then the future – a challenge.

Children who head to school without breakfast – or packed lunch (and not all schools provide lunch). Children who don’t have sufficient/clean clothing. Children who aren’t able to sleep because parents partying late into the night. Children who come home without a snack – and, in many cases, dinner, left to fend for themselves on a regular basis. I’m sure you could name others. And I’m not even referencing ideal here, i.e., nutrient dense. I’m talking about a connected, caring sense of family that is needful for life success – even if it’s sitting around a table with Taco Bell, that is better than a kid (or a parent), who is sitting alone wondering how to make the basics of life appear.

But I’m not here to beat parents up. I am one. And, at the end of my tour of duty, (at least the first 18 years of each child’s life), I will have parented for 40 years. Crazy. I get the struggles; I’ve had many less-than-stellar moments. Life has given me many opportunities to turn right when I turned left, and I had to find a way to rebuild for self-preservation and survival – for me, but also for my kids – but I had support, family, friends and a village to prop me up til I could stand on my own again.

Whether it was a divorce and a move, a season of yelling too much (even though I had the tools to know better), worry and anxiety that made me a wicked helicopter mom, homeschooling with too-high expectations to prove ourselves, too-often McDonald’s for lunch (sorry first two offspring), or losing a house in the recent crash and forcing the leaving of friends behind, way too much time between dental visits because of no insurance – yes, I’ve had moments of less-than-fabulous mommying. So, I’m not here as an icon of parenting perfection. But, I hope, between the crazy, my children know they are deeply loved.

Refocusing on the Syrian boy between his not-dead parents: image of devastating loss, no doubt. But what of our own kids, who hang out with kids in need of noticing? Or don’t hang out with them, because they’ve been relegated to social outcast status. True, you can’t fix other parents – or their kids. But I think we can mitigate at least some of the absence, hopelessness, and life-havoc if we intentionally seek to welcome others – even those who don’t fit our typical social preference profile.

When we strengthen a parent, we strengthen a child, a family – and a community. (That’s you and me folks.) And it just takes making oneself available. We may not see the fruit of our labors, at least not in the immediate, or in a timeframe we’d like, but we just keep doing the next right thing: making deposits into a life that matters.

So, yes, the pic isn’t real; a photographer didn’t just stumble into this deeply moving pic about a boy and the death of his parents. It was art, and staged. And we could say the same of so many of the movies we watch, or the historical fiction we read: they’re only fictional characters, it’s not real. Except, it is, for many others unnamed. Because, even if it is not true, it’s still true.

Morning musing brought to you by Italian Roast and gingersnaps. And remember, it’s only a perspective, just a slice of what could be a much larger and meaningful conversation. May you have found a nugget the speaks life to you – so that you can (continue) to bring life to others. 

Robbie-the-Dog: Shaking, Scars & Love

“Imagine someone surrounded by love. but they still can’t quite believe it,” came out of my wise husband’s heart this morning, referring to Meg and Bella’s dog, Robbie AKA Bubba-dog, who is still apprehensive of the affection of people, and has a tendency to shake when his family members leave.1795707_10202412436925443_7836239920263314160_n

We’ve all provided much attention, affection, and provision of his needs, and yet he still remains tethered to his life experiences prior to living with Meg and Bella, and us (for the past two and half months).

He makes strides though. We get glimpses of his ability to enjoy life when he plays outside, or especially with Molly, the excitable and energetic year and half old pup – whom he guards and protects.

But, despite those glimpses, he remains the scarred/scared dog that is unsure whether to trust his surroundings for his personal safety and security.

(And he laps up being bowl-fed on the couch – laugh, it’s true – so as not to trigger anxiety because Molly would be happy to eat her kibble and Robbie’s.)

Maybe it’s Robbie’s ‘normal’, it’s just who he is, and it’s okay. Maybe our triggers and apprehensions are just present, and will always be, to some degree.

We are a composition of the entirety of our life experiences. They have shaped our being-ness, who we are, and whether we turn left or right, and how we live.

We may shake in our souls – as the broken-yet-whole. Perhaps we show up with our cracks and scars and find renewed strength precisely because of them.

So, maybe having an eye on loving, not fixing, but being okay with folks showing up with their scars, shaking in their souls, and moving beyond tolerating to collaborating in life toward caring well in the places we live, move and have our being actually make us more suited to acting justly and loving mercy. Wounds will do that.

Robbie, with all his baggage, is the most cuddle-able – while also the most fiercely protective. There’s something in those words to consider: we need brokenness and we need scars to make us more human – something God seems to be familiar with. 10428060_10202651408299578_4207302453510170024_n

Tuesday morning musings fueled by French roast and day old, half-burned (yet still desirable) zucchini muffins. Oh, and forgive the title nothing seemed to work. Feel free to suggest an alternative. 

Random Reflection on Neighborhood

Each Sunday, we’d drive away from our newish, tidy cul-de-sac in Lynnwood, to a destination church about twelve miles away, where most of the folks were much like us, seeking the same experience much like us – and ultimately using economic resources, much like us. After service, being hungry for both physical and relational sustenance, we’d often drive to another location for lunch – we loved spending time together, reaffirming our standing and security in this group.

And, admittedly, without this Sunday jaunt, I wouldn’t have the vital, life-giving relational connections I have today. Truly a conundrum.

Heck, we even imported folks into the neighborhood, who, again, were mostly like us, thought like us, ate like us, and looked like us, (generally speaking). Our house had the promise of good food, good drink and good laughter and conversation. And we were meeting the needs of lonely sojourners (like us) trying to figure out how to swim in a church and life after having had some form of crisis of faith. Maybe it kind of resembled: connecting for the sake of us.

But also each Sunday, as we drove away from the cul-de-sac with well-manicured lawns and landscaping, I was increasingly aware of the need of, or call of community to bear hope for the inhabitants and lives of each house. Here we were, physically located within a few feet to a few hundred feet of one another. Surely people were sick, experienced losses of all kinds, were busy, and were lonely. People were ultimately seeking an  abundant life.

And here’s where my memory reminds me that interestingly, it was the minority ethnicities that were the most open to relationship – and one might consider that in those cultures, there was/is a decided healthy dependence upon community – it takes a village, right?

We could have had some amazing neighborhood potlucks and bridged some understandings of diverse cultures!  Maybe, we, collectively, could have even influenced cross-cultural peace-making as we listened to one another’s humanity. I’m reminded of our Sri Lankan friends, our Polish friends, our Vietnamese friends, and African friend – those being people we had actually met.

But we drove miles away every Sunday. We used our discretionary time, energy and economic resources for us – to fulfill some felt and learned principle that we must meet together as the people of God in approved and worthy representations of Gospel gatherings – and ultimately, if people knew what was good for them, they’d make the out-of-neighborhood trek there too. And, it was good; it was very good. But hindsight tells me it maybe wasn’t the best good – if we value place-making and neighborhood-care as our place of being-ness and calling.

And yet, in the midst of all this, there is a memory that comes to mind during one of the darkest times of our sudden departure from this neighborhood (in the ongoing carnage following the economic crash that began in 2008), there was a moment that defined relationship and community – because there was one family with whom we shared some life: a Sri Lankan family, who looked different, ate different, believed different – and even defrosted their windshield different, much to the annoyance of other neighbors.

A marginalized culture for which we developed a sense of justice for, and stood, with our children, demonstrating on their behalf at a Seattle protest of the ongoing civil war in their home country – because we learned about  human atrocities occurring among their people. And we were moved to join them in saying, ‘No more war!’.

This was a family who invited us to their children’s birthday parties where we were the only caucasians present, who came to our house for pie a’la mode on July 4th, for now and again visits and meals, and ultimately, a family who, upon learning of our sudden economic devastation, offered quite generously to help us with our mortgage, (which we didn’t accept, since it would only be temporary solution). This was a picture of relationship; and a display of compassion, i.e., ‘to suffer with’ – and it happened because we shared mutual stories and life and pain and hope.

Part of me grieves the (other) stories I never learned, the places of hope I never shared or realized for myself, and the relationships that never went beyond a quick wave. Oh God, you provided such an array of needful beauty and diversity, and I drove away.

So, I’m not beating myself up – at least not wholeheartedly. There were moments and times of neighborly goodness. But, my heart so wishes there had been more.

Note: And please know this isn’t a prescription for the universe, there’s no ‘you should’ implied here. It’s a reflection of my own experiences and understandings as of this moment in time. Though, I do wonder what kind of adjustments we can make to our lives that would invite more neighborhood connectivity that would lead to more care of others? 


Thanks Nanny.

My Nanny taught me much about life and faith – and I recognize it more today than ever before. When I became heavily involved in a conservative, evangelical, Pentecostal church at age 21, she promptly told me, “Donna, you will ALWAYS be a Catholic, no matter where you go to church. You were baptized Catholic, and if I have anything to do with it, when you die you will be buried Catholic.” Yes, my grandmother, my Nanny, was fiery – but incredibly generous – some of my family would say, to a fault. Though, we all benefited from her goodness – even if (okay, when) we took advantage of that goodness from time to time.

Making some less-than-stellar choices as a young adult, (like getting married one month after high school graduation) as an escape, Nanny instinctively knew our bank accounts wouldn’t be flowing freely with sufficient cash to make life work very well. Groceries arrived regularly – so did dinners at her house. Grandpa kept a well-stocked separate room, that was actually like a mini-mart – being a child of the depression, he was a diligent sale shopper, and we reaped the benefits. Whenever there was need, we were invited to shop – even before we said anything Grandpa would tell us to head out to the storeroom and grab what we needed.

In my quest to be holy as God is holy, I tried to do it all right. I mean, I did after all have to fit into my persona as Little Miss Goodie Two Shoes – even if it was a big fat lie. I was taught many rules in my church, what I should and should not do, what all good Christians pursuing truth should be about – especially being sure to tell others about Jesus – the Savior of the world. (Except I was a great big failure at that one – it just never felt very kind – and it was just words – what did it mean anyway?) There was also emphasis on the heathen (!) in other countries, who needed to know how to correctly live a Christian life. (Another !) Nanny, hearing my words, (because words have always been my constant friend/enemy), would often repeat some version of this: “Donna, do you see the need right here in the United States? I don’t see the point of sending money away, or spending so much time on something so far away when there is so much need here.” (Now, all my missionary friends, it’s okay, I support you, and your beautiful work of compassion – this was my fiery Nanny, apparently living out her own calling, but sometimes missing others!)

IMG_5413Today, while unpacking more items from our year-ago move, I discovered a round plaque that seemed very kitschy and cheesy stating  HOME: Where each lives for the other and all live for God. I mean really, what does it even mean? (See, I do ask that question a lot!) I’ve tried to toss this before, the style, honestly, it’s really just not me. But it hung in Nanny’s house for as long as I can remember – so it’s a point of emotional connection; a memory-marker. And so it sits on the table before me, wondering if it will be tossed out.

I’ve gotten quite used to unpacking my beliefs over the past decade or so, about things I’ve held tightly, but no longer believe as truths. I’ve learned there are shades of grey – akin to those paint cards with graduated, slight differences in perspective. (No fear folks, my faith in the God of the universe is still intact – I just hold it differently, with a generous grace, attempting to live into my own callings more clearly, chucking fear at every waking.)

So when I read this plaque today, I started to consider what it might mean – digging deeply to stifle the early conversion default template about what was right and what was wrong. Nanny reflected the heart of God for her family – she was all about generosity, both relational and resource. That, I suddenly realized was living for one another – and, perhaps more to the point here, living for God. Nanny’s beliefs weren’t only in her head – she lived them out. She wasn’t a saint, that is, unless saints also had a less-than-perfect side – and I suspect there is truth there. The hopeful take-away in these rambling thoughts this cool but sunny October day, is that while we are all less-than-perfect, and even in the midst of that, we can affect others lives for good – and I suspect that is what it means to live for God.

Interesting how my life work would ultimately reflect Nanny’s ethos of caring locally. Having been at Choices Mt. Shasta for nearly twenty years, learning (and relearning) what it means to truly care well, wrestling through beliefs about the shoulds of life perspectives, and ultimately landing on the reality that it is the simple, consistent and caring presence of one human face and heart to another that makes the difference – right here in our little communities.

And I’m still not sure what to do with the plaque. Maybe I could revive it with some fresh paint? A fresh expression of an old foundational understanding about life and the ways in which it’s not about the rules – it’s about the simple presence of caring that connects people to something greater than themselves – the Creator of the Universe. The Creator is for us – and we can communicate this best in the ways we love others. (Which is why my FaceBook religious view says Love God, Love Others.)

Jim Henderson reminds me of this in his latest book Saving Casper: “The spiritual life is the discovery of the self God meant us to be so that who we are can be God’s gift to the rest of the world.” Thank you Nanny for inspiring and building a legacy for good – for God, in the simple ways of life you modeled for me. I heard, I felt, I knew goodness, safety and hope  because of your care.

(So I realize I haven’t let you in on much of Grandpa’s very loving and influential role in my life – like how he’d roll his eyes with a smile when I’d put ice cubes in my red wine. Yes, people, I wasn’t always the classy wine drinker I am today. Another time. This is about all I’ve got today.)

And, to answer your most certain question, these days I’ve settled comfortably into embracing a hybrid of Lutheran (ELCA) and Anglican (Episcopal) expression of my faith – and I’m thinking Nanny would somehow find that a suitable compromise.

Cheers and goodness to you – may you discover a few deeply held memories that inspire life forward.

I Stand With Katie

UPDATE 6/23/15: It appears the video clips supporting the assertions in this blog post are no longer available, which makes the read less clear, but nonetheless compelling to do this compassionate work of caring for pregnant and parenting mamas, daddies, their little ones and families.

To be sure, this is NOT a blog post to debate abortion – that is a VERY different conversation. This is a justice declaration in responding to those with sexuality, pregnancy and parenting challenges – and in some sense of a current national theme, a whistle-blowing attempt to call out the wrongdoing of misdirected crisis pregnancy centers. Further, this is for those who have been harmed  by well-meaning, yet mislead caregivers, in the process of the working out and wrestling with these weighty and deeply personal matters of the heart and soul. Forgive us. Join us. Help us.  We are so much  more than the abortion question. A quick nod to the amazingly supportive village that is Choices, getting to know our guests who become friends, and providing one on one help in the areas of parenting guidance and insights, (along with practical resources, such as diapers, wipes, clothes, blankets, car seats), dating/partner abuse/violence, and sexual  health and trauma. We were not intended to journey alone – we are better together.  And, as is customary, while I realize this is not a formal writing piece, (clearly!), and lower word counts equal more readers, I struggle with brevity. You’ve been forewarned.  But hang in there – you might just find some intriguing, surprising, challenging, and hopefully encouraging thoughts. As I identify as a Christian, this is the perspective I write from, and while there are many Christian perspectives, it is my utmost desire to honor God with the tools, experiences, and passions given me. You may believe differently; there are many shades of gray. My hope is that we are able to live in peace amidst the difference.  And, please also know this represents my wrestle with a Beloved God, who is at work among us, and through us, and loves us in the midst of all the hard, vulnerable and failing places of our lives – the messes and gray areas, the surefooted and the shaky. Please be kind.  An Unlikely Alliance Katie Stack, founder of the Crisis Project, is just now learning that I stand with her on calling out crisis pregnancy centers who do harm – for many reasons, but also because I am appalled and grieved that such tactics purport to represent the heart of God.

noun. injury – damage – mischief – detriment – hurt – evil
verb. injure – hurt – damage – prejudice – impair – do harm

Katie might be suspicious of my contact. And, honestly, who can blame her? I’ve identified myself as a longtime crisis pregnancy center director – the very group (at large) she is rightly investigating – which, as a movement, has shown itself to be largely deceptive and manipulative to accomplish its aims, (in addition to a tremendous amount of honorable, compassionate work). Why should she trust me? And I get that, and maybe I don’t even know why I wanted to contact her, except perhaps to say – you’re right to do what you’re doing with the Crisis Project. I stand with you.  As Katie has personally visited several crisis pregnancy centers posing as a young woman in need of services, she has uncovered and publicized what we have known to be standard protocol for more than twenty years — and what we have sought to excise and transform, steadily and incrementally since my role at Choices began in 1994. Below are some examples of her necessary and important work, but first a disclaimer. If there was any hesitancy in including these links, which publicly identify these surely well-intended women, it is that I do not desire to hurt them – they are deeply entrenched in perpetuating a system that is flawed and in need of overhaul, that is inflicting harm through many of the 4,000 plus crisis pregnancy centers across our nation. Certainly not all, and certainly there are models with varying degrees of unhelpful and damaging procedures that mostly thwart the stated mission of CPC missions, stated in some form to provide ‘Christ-centered ministry’.  On an aside, a question might be, how can we define ‘Christ-centered ministry’? Likely, we would have varying definitions, as we are all created to reflect different facets of Christ. But, I hope that we can agree that deception, manipulation, invoking fear, guilt and religious propaganda are not among them.

And, sadly, there are more. How many more are there that haven’t been captured? How many women are being victimized in the name of God? So, a challenge in response to viewing Katie’s work – and, some of you will first need to take a breath and dig deep –  might be to identify and acknowledge the irresponsible and outright harmful tactics these volunteers have been taught in an attempt to steer women away from abortion clinics – and to save them. One cringeworthy story I recall is a terrified young college-age woman who went into a CPC for a pregnancy test, discovered it was to her greatest fear positive, and then promptly to be told by the counselor, “If you would just turn your life over to Jesus, everything would be okay.” This is a lie, not helpful at all, and it was these words that completely missed this young woman’s deep pain, and offered her no tangible help. And, since I know this young woman, her Christian faith was already intact –  in case anyone is curious. The outcome? She fled and sought an abortion to relieve her pain. Did she want the abortion? Perhaps. Could she have used a safe space to explore her feelings? Definitely. Harsh and judgemental words that miss the needs of women inflict harm – in the immediate, and in the future. Well-Meaning, Yet Mislead It seems that this phrase could be applied to a few sides of this conversation: those who have labored alongside so many women in crisis and with challenges – and those who have strong opinions, yet little experience in direct care. Meeting face to face with people in pain makes a difference. Misguided agenda includes:

  • Religious proselytizing
  • Fear-based information
  • Images or words intended to emotionally manipulate

Courage hasn’t always come easily – well, maybe never – but perhaps ironically, as I’ve wrestled to live further into my faith as a Christian, I find there is no other option than to declare what I know to be true: my faith informs me that God created us all with the ability to make choices – and that means I don’t get to make yours. To set-up a scenario that seeks to shame, judge, manipulate, impose fear and agenda to accomplish one’s aims (no matter how strongly one feels), is to disrespect God’s intentional design. Our job is not to dissuade women from having abortion – our job is to create an emotionally safe space for a woman (and her partner if desired), to get in touch with her own voice, and to discover that there are resources, both economical and relational to come alongside her should she desire to continue her pregnancy. Our job is not to take advantage of and proselytize women in the midst of deeply painful, vulnerable situations. To hear, “If you would just give your life to Jesus, everything would be okay,” is a flat out lie. Yet, more than once I have heard a woman tell me some version of this was her experience. And mostly, coincidentally, these women will think twice before setting foot in an institutional church. Purporting to represent the heart of God, these inappropriate statements do incredible spiritual harm, and ultimately often keep people from experiencing the Belovedness of God, who loves them unconditionally, just as they are – even if they proceed with abortion. Do Justice e·thos: The disposition, character, or fundamental values peculiar to a specific person, people, culture, or movement When a pregnant woman comes for a pregnancy test, because though they’re readily available, she may not have the financial resources to purchase one – or she may have come needing a friend to help process a hard place. She is offered a private room, devoid of happy, smiling pregnant mamas and babies, and no visible display of fetal models. Her advocate is there to provide support, listening for conversational cues that guide responses to meet spoken emotional, practical and spiritual needs – always respecting boundaries, with no imposition of what one should think, do or believe.

I’ll never forget the look she gave me as she explained, clearly, that continuing the pregnancy was not an option. I realized in that moment that the only way to be truly compassionate was to trust her; that what ever abstract, philosophical debate was taking place in my head, I simply had no way of knowing why she felt the way that she did in her heart.

Justice infers that we are fair, that we are respectful of one another’s understandings and boundaries – regardless of our own standards, values, morals, beliefs and lifestyles. Justice recognizes that there are many factors that may contribute to a pregnant woman’s ability to honor her own desires in the sexuality, pregnancy and parenting realm. These may include domestic violence, sexual shame, trauma or abuse history, family of origin issues, losses, and perceptions. These are deeply personal stories that we must engage carefully and honorably – not as having answers to fix, but as having presence to listen and respond with compassion. Justice respects, so it must also be stated that those entities that lump all CPC’s in the same category with regard to harmful and deceptive ways is not justice, and potentially deprives women, partners and children of needed compassionate care. Justice is that women and their partners have access to the informed services they choose and are available, but the unfortunate fact is that there are those who malign the good work of centers such as Choices that do not intentionally or deliberately mislead or pressure women with any form of an agenda. Shifts Happen It must be said that we understand, know and care deeply for many who have very strong, yet differing perspectives regarding what we should be doing in the *counseling  room. In fact, some of those who read this will think we’ve jumped the ship of faith – at least the correct representation of faith – but nothing could be further from reality. Our deepest desire is that people might begin to glimpse the loving presence of God that looks – and feels – like hope, as we care and are attentive to concerns. Without a doubt, I am convinced that the beautiful, compassionate community of Choices well represents the heart of God, and the compassion of Christ, which has no place for the use of manipulation, fear-based materials or language, judgement or religious agenda.

Love God. Love others. The rest are details. ~Jesus, based on Matthew 22:37-40

So Katie, I stand with you. While it’s likely true that we may differ on various desires for what crisis pregnancy centers should offer, we can likely both agree that there must be change that honors and cares well for those who come seeking love, tenderness and mercy for sexuality, pregnancy and parenting related concerns.   

Desperate for Grace

Would it surprise you to know that you bailed on me at one of the most painful and vulnerable times of my life? While I was simply trying to breathe through my days, you left, just like that.


Triage had become my way of life. Yes, you too were in the midst of attempting to stop the bleeding out of all that you cherished. I knew this. I grieved for your pain. My losses were tracking with yours, only on different battlefields.

You had depended upon me to help bring your visions to life, for which I delightedly obliged. You provided relationship and generosity as thanks. I gave. You gave.

And, ultimately, sadly, I became anemic, losing my spirit and purpose somewhere among the mounting losses that was my life. I no longer knew who I was – or who I was to be. The foundation of my dignity was disintegrating daily, and I was on increasingly shaky ground. Hanging on, desperately trying to find where to step to find solid ground, avoiding the deep crevasses that kept appearing. Managing all the crises and loss was life-consuming. Ever-draining. My wounds were deep.

Grace. Mercy. Compassion. The gift of time. These were my needs.

Specific relational behavior, as in this is the way people should behave was expected from you, and when not met, you bailed. You shoulded on me. And my heart ached. It still aches. Where is my friend?

If I am only a friend, worthy of your presence when I am serving your needs, and behaving according to your formula, then where does that leave my humanity?

A realization learned through this deeply painful chapter – when we are emotionally unwell, when we are on the edge with life-consuming challenges, trying to make sense of circumstances, losses, crises and demands – it is unfair for others to impose time-frames and expectations.

Hopes and plans, coming in the form of spoken or written words when someone is in the midst of crisis, are nothing more than wishes that may never be realized. When we fail to live up to them, we need grace. Especially those of us who’ve faithfully been there. We hurt more, because it’s not who we are in our heart and soul. We are wounded, bruised and battered by life’s unrelenting pummeling – which makes it so hard respond in a manner that meets others needs. Maybe because we are drowning in our own brokenness.

Be sad and be grieved that I could not be there in the capacity to which you were accustomed. Be patient and long-suffering – most importantly, be present.

And be grace-filled. Always. Even when you don’t understand, and when it hurts.

Grace could be defined as the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it. Just do it. God endorses it, generously, as God knows we all have need of it’s restorative healing. I  heard that in your words – but I did not experience it when it mattered.

But, you might not know this brokenness because you bailed.