Category Archives: Faith

The Good Old Days

“We are facing dangers in America. Enemies are being made now that are dividing this country as it has never been divided in its history. We are facing the greatest dangers we have ever faced, and the religious liberals are riding in now on the crest of a wave of what seems to be popular.”*

Sounds familiar, right? It does to me. From blog posts to Facebook statues to sermons, I feel like I’m being bombarded with this idea that we are leaving “the good old days” and about to enter something far more sinister.

Kids used to pray in public schools! Traditional family values prevailed! Men were men and women were women! Children were respectful and everyone went to church and the world was as it should be!

But then it all changed, right? Somehow we Christians didn’t SPEAK THE TRUTH IN LOVE loudly enough and America went off the rails and this new world, this liberal world has arrived.

A few years ago, my grandmother passionately announced that she wouldn’t want to bring a child into the world the way it was. That statement has stuck with me since then, this idea that our present reality could possibly be so degraded that my generation might as well give up, not bring children into this world, because there is no hope for their future.

But then I also remember her calling my mom shortly before I went to Prom with grave concerns about my attending the event with a boy with the last name of “Dominguez.”

And that’s how I know she was wrong.

That’s how I know anybody who looks back fondly at the “good old days” of the 50s or 60s or 70s or 80s or 90s, the ones who want to “make America great again!” are misguided. Because I grew up with eight grandparents, and I assure you, I heard every one of them say something jarringly racist at one point or another. Hateful, even.

Their attitudes were a byproduct of the world in which they grew up. The “good” version of the world. The “more Christian” version of the world.

That 1950s world where women made sixty-something cents on the dollar to men for the same year-round, full time work and likely never questioned sexual harassment as a workplace norm.

That 1960s and 1970s world where people of color were dragged to their deaths and churches were burned to the ground by the KKK. Where white kids beat the hell out of black kids as school desegregation was taking place.

That 1980s world where in Stockton, California a man walked into an elementary school and murdered or injured 37 children before taking his own life.

That 1990s world where female military cadets at my own alma mater were being beaten, raped, and brutally hazed because many men didn’t want them to be allowed in “their” organization.

These were not good old days. These were more days full of scary things.

This is and always has been a world full of scary things.

And I think we can make it better. I think in many ways we have made it better.

I can’t stop wondering: why are we romanticizing a time full of as much as or more hate, racism, sexism, and depravity as we have today? And are we going and do this whole thing again in another 50 years?

Someday when people look back at 2016, I’m worried they won’t remember that there were white Christians who were refusing to even consider that simply living a life with darker skin might be more scary, more dangerous than the white one we were living. That we would rather refuse to accept that black lives do matter for fear that we risk allowing anything or anyone to matter more than ourselves.

I am worried that they won’t remember that in 2016 we could tell our daughters that they could be anything they wanted when they grew up, unless what they wanted was to be the senior pastor of most any evangelical church.

I am worried that they won’t remember that in 2016 Christians chose to fight for our own perceived “safety” in public restrooms rather than remember that loving people is supposed to be fundamentally unsafe, we are called to give up our lives for Christ, yet can’t hypothetically pee in the stall next to someone who might have views vastly different than our own.

I’m worried they won’t remember that there wasn’t one woman in 2016 who wasn’t on high-alert walking down a dark alley at night because we were victims first, and we were told that it was probably our fault for being there in the first place.

I’m worried that they won’t remember that we claim to follow a Jesus who gave up His life for us, who loved the marginalized, who trained his apostles to allow themselves to be martyred for his cause, yet we can’t even consider giving up a chicken sandwich and an indignant Facebook status in solidarity with people we may not agree with, even though doing so would be an act of love that could show them who Jesus is.

I am worried that perhaps future generations will think of this time as “the good old days.” Days we should get back to. Days when we loved less and oppressed more but dammit, we got our way.

Or maybe, what I’m really worried about is that all of this will still be a reality, and they won’t need to look back at anything to be horrified; that we’ll decide to keep these “good old days” exactly the way they are.

*The opening quote is from a sermon by American broadcast evangelist Bob Jones Sr. on Easter Sunday, 1960. It was an anti-desegregation sermon.

“God never meant for America to be a melting pot or rub out the line between the nations… When someone goes overthrowing His established order and goes around preaching pious sermons…and talk about rubbing out the line between the races – I say it makes me sick.”

No More Mister Nice Guy

kindness2

My workplace has this incredible tradition of honoring people on their work anniversaries. They do it slightly differently for each person, but essentially an anniversary at my job means that they’re going to buy you a nice, really personal gift, and most likely everyone will all get together in the same room and say kind things about you.

When you’re planning someone else’s anniversary, often we will ask everyone the same personalized-to-the-anniversary-ee question. “What do you like best about working with Ryan?” “What makes you think Derek may not actually be human?” “How has Russel helped you this year?” “What has Shyam taught you?”

My one-year anniversary was in November, and everyone answered a question about the nicest thing I have ever done for them. It was thoroughly overwhelming to sit in a room and listen to some of the people I most respect in the world talk about things I had completely forgotten that I had done that had evidently meant a lot to them.

(Also they gave me a kickass bluetooth speaker that I take everywhere with me because the sound quality is pristine and also it makes me feel loved every time I use it.)

Niceness is nice, and I am grateful that my colleagues associate me with that trait.

But then, there’s the other side of niceness. The side where you can get walked over by someone who will take advantage of it. The side where people don’t take you as seriously as they could. The side where you’re only doing it because you feel like you have to, or should. The side where your friend will yell “WOMAN UP!” at you semi-jokingly when you’re being insecure about making a decision because EVERYBODY NEEDS TO BE OKAY WITH IT IS EVERYBODY OKAY ARE YOU SURE THOUGH BECAUSE IT’S REALLY OKAY IF YOU WANT TO DO SOMETHING ELSE.

A friend pointed out something I had done out of niceness the other day that discredited me some. That caused me a little more work than it should have. He recommended I stop being quite so nice. He told me it gets in my way. It led us to a discussion about niceness and the need for it (or lack of need for it) in the world.

And the thing is I agree with him. “Nice” is never a thing I am trying to be, because I have spent a lot of time thinking about the very big difference between “nice” and “kind.”

A nice person will do something for you because they’re supposed to.

A kind person will do something for you because they care about you.

(Fun Fact: I thought “Care” was my word last year. Nope. Apparently it was 2 years ago. That’s how much I needed that word. It lasted two whole years.)

I texted Alece a few weeks ago about how I couldn’t get my shit together to pick a word and could it just be “wine” this year? Because I know I can rock the word “WINE.”

(She said absolutely it could. One of the many reasons I love that girl.)

So maybe my word this year is “Kindness.” A reminder that I can be kind without always being nice. A reminder of the loving God I serve and also of the ass I want to kick at my job and my life.

The world needs kindness. People need kindness. I want and need to be kind to others to show them who my version of Jesus is. My Jesus who meets people where they are, who loves and serves who is in front of Him no matter what. And that same Jesus who flips tables over in the temple and rebukes Pharisees because He was not here just to be nice, yo.

I can be kind without being nice. I can be empathetic without being weak. I can love without being less.

Maybe this year, I will figure out exactly how to do that.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

I don’t think it was worth it

I had a conversation tonight in which I was able to reflect on the past two years. The brother-with-cancer part. The loss part. The grief part. The horror part. But most of it was the part where God came through.

I have this story to tell now, a story where God came through despite the cancer and the loss and the grief and the horror. I wouldn’t have had this story otherwise. I wouldn’t have known this version of God otherwise. A version who inexplicably works all things together for good. All things. For good. Inexplicably.

I wouldn’t have gotten to know this version of my God if Shane had lived. I wouldn’t have had this story to tell if Shane had lived. And it’s an extraordinary story. An extraordinary God. I believe deeper now, am more sure now. Because Shane didn’t live.

But I don’t think it was worth it.

I’m seeing life turn out differently because he’s not here. I’m seeing good things happen despite Shane being gone. Every time I realize the good things that are falling into place are as a result of my brother’s death, I reasonably have mixed feelings.

I may or may not have made the career changes I made. I’m finding a deep fulfillment in this new job that I don’t think I could have ever found in the previous one. I’m being challenged and I’m growing and I’m learning and I feel alive.

But if it’s because Shane’s dead, it wasn’t worth it.

My sister-in-law wouldn’t have met Jeremiah, who makes her laugh and introduces her to new hobbies and loves my nephew fiercely and does all those things differently than Shane would have, but he’s the kind of person you feel thankful to know.

But I don’t think it was worth it.

I wouldn’t have thought to use my photography to serve others with cancer, and I wouldn’t have met some really wonderful people as a result.

But I don’t think it was worth it.

My mom wouldn’t be so diligent about taking her Betaseron shots, since she promised him right before he died that she wouldn’t miss any more. Maybe as a result, she’ll live many more years without her MS symptoms progressing. I’m really thankful that he had that stern talk with her right before he died.

But I don’t think it was worth it.

There are more, I’m sure. Stronger faith. Deeper relationships. Better perspective. But if I could change it all right now, I would choose Shane over any good God has done with these circumstances.

That’s the truth about God working all things together for good. I don’t think He expects us to think it’s worth it. I just think He works it together for good.

And that’s going to have to be good enough for now.

The F-word and church

It started as a practical offer.

One of the guys who usually helps pass the plate with Jack and two other guys at church wasn’t there on Sunday. There are four aisles. There need to be four people.

“I’ll do it,” I said casually, hoping I wouldn’t hear what I was about to from the men I was standing with, but knowing I probably would.

“Wait,” our friend said, “is that allowed?”

It’s a question I have been afraid to ask about a lot of things inside my church’s four walls. I grew up in traditional baptist churches, where men lead, men teach, men deacon, and men decide.

What am I allowed to do here?

I have been on a journey over the last few years, one that has lead me to really study the Bible and what it says about issues that bothered me. To challenge the ideas that I grew up with and always accepted as truth because I had been told how certain scripture should be interpreted.

I have been learning what it means to be an adult Christian. One who decides to love Jesus because of who He is and not because my parents told me we do.

It started when I didn’t marry Ben Sisney.

Ben was the best-friend-boy I grew up with that my parents imagined me marrying. At least, they imagined me marrying a Ben Sisney. Someone who had also spent his childhood running around in a baptist church like I did. As I became a teenager, that’s exactly what I imagined too. He would know the Bible backwards and forwards, would probably be able to quote scripture, and would be able to make intelligent, witty jokes that referenced obscure Bible stories at (alcohol-free) dinner parties.

Sorry, Mom and Dad. We'll never have Bible-verse memorizing babies together.

Sorry, Mom and Dad. We’ll never have Bible-memorizing babies together.

The problem is, I didn’t fall in love with a Ben Sisney. I am confident that I was never meant to.

Instead, I fell in love with a boy who grew up in a Catholic church instead of a Baptist one. He hadn’t memorized scripture and his knowledge of basic Bible stories was fuzzy. He couldn’t open his Bible to just the right verse because they just didn’t have to do that in his church. His upbringing was different but the result was the same: he loved the same God I love.

So who cares? Well, I did at first. I spent a while trying to reconcile the fact that the person I had pictured being THE SPIRITUAL LEADER OF MY HOUSEHOLD would have to catch up to me in the “look how fast I can look up a Bible verse” department. And OMG(osh, obviously) did that mean that he couldn’t be THE SPIRITUAL LEADER OF MY HOUSEHOLD after all?

Turns out, Jack has led in a way I could have never planned or expected. He has shown me that serving and loving our God means more than being able to pray pretty or quote the entire Romans Road sequence on cue. He has shown me what kindness and humility mean. He has supported me and pushed me in ways that have grown me. And he has challenged me to lead when it time for me to lead.

If that isn’t a spiritual head of a household, I don’t know what is.

I think if I had kept my caps-lock version of that principle in my head, if I had married a Ben Sisney, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be the person I am today. That husband might have allowed me to only follow instead of pushing me to become a leader in the right areas.*

*Dear THE Ben Sisney, I apologize for the bad rap you’re getting as my metaphorical good Christian husband. I’m confident that you’re a lovely, non-misogynistic husband to Marci.

And so, fast-forwarding through these years of becoming an adult Christian, of deciding what I would keep or reject from my accept-everything-I’m-told churchy upbringing, I have found myself in the often-confusing role of Christian feminist.

There are those reading this who will find that word dirty. I actually have a hard time stating this publicly because I am acutely aware of all the ways feminism gets misinterpreted. Also, I feel it’s more impactful to live out what you believe than to place a label on it.

I have had other Christians (men) warn me against making Christian feminists my role models, against accepting any of their ideas. I have had friends (and probably my mother) worry about my spiritual security when I mention that I’m not comfortable with ways certain scripture (especially scripture about women) has been interpreted. I have been surprised by blatant sexism in my career. I have noticed the disparity in women who lead vs. men who lead in this world.

I have been not allowed to do things in this life for the sole reason that I’m female. Things I would have been great at. And I can’t stop wondering whether my church will stop me from doing things for that reason too.

I have perpetually not fit into the typical church lady mold that seems to exist, even though some of my friends do fit into that mold and seem to be comfortable with it (and use that mold to be amazing servants of Christ).

I love the way Sarah Bessey puts it:

Women have more to offer the church than mad decorating skills or craft nights. I look around: I see women who can offer strategic leadership, wisdom, counsel, and teaching. Their whole lives are an offering, and sometimes, the best way to properly celebrate that offering is with a dozen cupcakes and a fashion show, and that’s okay, too.

Recently Jack and I have talked a lot about this. I can’t stop wondering if women aren’t leaders in our own church because it’s not allowed, or because we aren’t stepping up. Maybe the women are doing craft nights and teaching kids’ Sunday school and doing Bible studies about emotions because that’s what they want to do. But what if women are only doing craft nights and teaching kids’ Sunday school and doing Bible studies about emotions because we think we aren’t allowed to do anything else? If I’m being honest, that’s why I’m doing all of those things (except craft night because I can definitely rock a hot glue gun).

What if we are allowed to lead and just aren’t doing it?

I told him I feel like it’s important for me to be a part of changing that. To be that woman who volunteers for things that only men do when there’s a need for it. To see what they say when I do. And God bless him, he cheered me on.

(He always cheers me on.)

Honestly, I’m terrified about the follow-through here. What if I find out that this church I love, full of people I adore, this place where we finally feel at home, comes back and says I can’t, only because I’m a woman?

(This is how I know when God is telling me to do something, by the way. I never, ever want to do it.)

So I have been studying and praying about this for a while. I feel like this is both a “if anyone knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” thing and a “make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister” thing.

I don’t want to challenge the status quo for the sake of causing trouble, but I don’t want to not challenge the status quo because it’s scary.

So I offered to pass the plate at church. And yeah, it annoyed me that it was even a debate, that anybody even questioned it. It reminded me of how far I feel the church needs to go. Because to be quite frank, unless these men are passing the offering plate with a part that God gave only men, there is no reason I or any other women can’t stand in the aisle and wait for an offering plate to get to the end of a row.

It was time to step up. It was time to know the good I ought to do and do it.

And you know what? It was allowed after all.

Some words from my brain

I keep opening new blog posts. Because the last one is super depressing and I don’t really want it on top anymore. But then I abandon said new blog posts and that depressing one just stays on top.

Life is overwhelming right now, so writing about life, trying to summarize it, to tell just one story, that’s overwhelming too. Maybe I won’t tell a story or worry about making sense at all tonight. Because no matter what I write, at least it will bump the depressing post down one.

Today’s devotional told me that rest can be a form of worship. To stop being so busy. To stop running. To stop being overwhelmed.

But until I can figure out exactly how to add in all that rest-worship, I’ll be here trying to hold all the pieces together. The marriage pieces and the business(es!) pieces and the grief pieces and the joy pieces and the health pieces and the change pieces and the pieces of the messy, messy house.

They’re kind of everywhere, the pieces. And people keep trying to hand me new pieces.

And it’s not all bad, and it’s not all good. But it is all demanding. And unsummarizeable. The little red squiggly line has decided that “unsummarizable” isn’t a word. I have decided to agree to disagree with the little red squiggly line.

There was a speaker at church a few weeks ago that talked about how much better things were for Christians 40 years ago (Hello, racism? Sexism? Drug use and sexually transmitted diseases? War?). He was 8 years old then.

I don’t know if that is true, because I wasn’t alive then. So it’s hard for me to connect or agree with somebody who is basically saying “things were so much better before you got here!” Plus, the things I remember from when I was 8 are kind of inaccurate. Like how awesome those wafery chocolate covered peanut butter Little Debbie things were. I loved them when I was a kid, but really they taste like wax. We remember things better than they really were, probably in part because our parents shielded us from reality and probably in part because kids are dumb.

And precious and gifts from God and all that too. But c’mon. Also dumb.

The speaker went on to say how Christians are so persecuted now, that we don’t have the rights we once had (you know, how he remembers when he was 8). I guess that’s kind of a hot button issue for me, because I have been to countries where there is actual danger in being a Christian or something else and I have seen groups of people who really are persecuted, and I have never been in that category. And being a white, upper-middle class American Christian? I’m just not terribly worried about my group. Maybe you are. I guess that’s okay too. But I won’t be convinced that my Christianity is in ALL THE DANGER, is all.

I added Meghan Trainor Radio to my (long) list of Pandora stations. You know Meghan, right? She’s all about that bass?

I feel it’s a public service to tell you that. Because it’s a very happy mix. If you like that sort of thing. Or if you’re also all about that bass.

I have been taking pictures lately. People keep asking me to do it for them, which is kind of perfect since I really love doing it. I believe that’s what they call a symbiotic relationship.

And it’s one of the many aforementioned pieces that definitely falls in the “not all bad” category. In fact, if there was a “hardly bad at all” category, it would belong in that one (missing the “not bad even a little bit” category by a narrow margin due to the unfortunate need for business bookkeeping. Bookkeeping and I are not buddies. Nothing personal, Bookkeeping, it’s just that I’m seeing other people and I only hang out with you because it’s part of my custody agreement with Photography Business.)

Also. Fall is creeping in, a few degrees at a time and a few pretend-pumpkin-syrup coffee drinks at a time.

And because Fall requires no bookkeeping (aside, technically, from the extra family photo sessions I book during this season) it belongs into the “not bad even a little bit” category.

That’s a category I can rest-worship in for a minute, at least.

Still good

We went to a church service this morning that featured a guest band, The Moment, and the lead singer, Dave Bell, told his story about getting a rare eye cancer at 16 and living through it. He told the congregation all the ways his family had faith and all the ways God had been good to him, because He had performed miracles in their lives.

(His story starts at 6:50 on this video if you’d like to see it)

And it’s a lovely story, it really is. Encouraging, even. He tells it very nicely and it’s good to hear the way things work out for some people who have faith.

Some people who have faith, though, it just doesn’t work out for.

I know the intent behind this kind of storytelling is good. You don’t have to tell me that; I get it.

But the thing is, God didn’t choose to heal Shane that way. God didn’t choose to reveal his cancer to us in a low-numbered stage, and God didn’t choose to stop the cancer from spreading quickly. God didn’t choose to clean up the infection and God didn’t choose to make his liver start functioning again.

For whatever reason, God chose to take him Home.

And if you’re hearing these “yay miracles!” stories after hearing God’s unthinkable “no” to your prayers of healing, it can get a little frustrating.

Because God is still good.

God is still good even though he didn’t choose to heal Shane on Earth. God is still good even though a big part of life is terribly empty now. God is still good even though my nephew has only pictures to point to to identify his dad. God is still good even though my sister-in-law is suddenly raising a toddler without her husband. God is still good even though I can’t talk to my buddy every day anymore. God is still good even though nobody is using the golf simulator in the garage.

I’m sure it’s tempting to think that people who get “yeses” have more faith, or that God favors some prayers over others because He is unfair and unloving.

I don’t believe it for a second. My God is a God of healing, regardless of how He does it. My God is a good God. My God is a loving and just God.

So tell the world how God healed your cancer. Tell the world how God delivered you from your bad situation. Tell the world how God showed his love for you in many different ways.

But please don’t forget that the same faith that moved your mountain didn’t move somebody else’s.

And God is still good.

OneWord 365: Care

I have been mulling over my OneWord post for a little while now. The truth is, I knew what my word should be right away (I know when God talks to me because I usually don’t like what He’s saying), but I haven’t quite figured out what to say about it. I guess maybe I should just start writing.

This year, I chose the word Care.

For me, grieving has mostly been waves of pain and numbness, pain and numbness. There are other feelings in there, like sadness, contentment, anxiety and even joy, but I feel like “pain” describes the negative portions of the grief and “numbness” describes most of the rest of my time.

If you want the ugly truth, it’s hard to care about anybody else’s stuff when your stuff is always worse.

These last six months, “studying” the reactions of others who are grieving has taught me that comparing the good or bad situations in life is absolutely worthless, and will just lead to bitterness. I have yet to read a blog post or have a conversation with someone who is content with their life and also comparing it to someone else’s.

So, I try my best not to do that. But sometimes, when a friend is complaining about every little thing or things at work are in upheaval when they need not be, I look around at the drama others are creating and have to bite my tongue to keep from screaming the word “CANCER!”

How can they be complaining about this when their brother didn’t just die? How can they be worried about this when there are realities that are so much scarier?

So, I have to shut down a little. Stop comparing. Stop caring.

Which works for me. I can be apathetic. It keeps me from being angry. It keeps me from being bitter that my “bad” is so much worse than somebody else’s “bad.” And to be honest, caring takes energy I simply don’t have sometimes.

Except for the fact that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

The least of these are talking about their inconsequential ailments, or wasting my time with busywork projects, or vaguebooking, or always finding the negative in things. The least of these need a favor when I’m exhausted, and the least of these are just plain BUGGING ME.

So, this year I will focus on caring.

Break my heart for what breaks yours.

I will listen and empathize when I don’t feel like it.

I will care enough about people to put them above myself when I want to roll my eyes.

I will put effort into projects that I believe don’t deserve the energy.

I will do for the least of these what I would do in a second for the One who created a place for my brother.

Glorious

I have not felt like being new-years-resolution-y lately. Or last-year-reflective either.

I keep reading summaries of peoples’ year, and their goals for the new one. From shouting the previous year’s joy from the rooftops to everything is negative negative negative negative (there are vastly more of the latter, unfortunately) to predicting just how much better the next year will be. I’m not really interested in any of that.

Because, you know, it doesn’t always turn out the way you think it will anyway.

Dad

It’s funny that my dad used that word, “glorious.” Because while he reflected upon that proclamation later with a “boy was I wrong,” that word-choice made me think about something else glorious.

The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. (Revelation 21:23-25)

John uses that word over and over when describing heaven – “glory,” as do many other authors in describing God. It is almost a foreign concept to me, and maybe it’s supposed to be something just on the other side of imaginable. God’s glory being so great that it literally lights all of heaven. It’s described that way in Exodus too (13:21 and 24:17). That’s kind of a big deal.

I spend a good amount of time trying to picture what heaven is like, especially now. I eat an incredible piece of crab at my favorite restaurant on the San Francisco warf and as it melts in my mouth, I think “Oh my goodness. The food in heaven can’t be better than this.” I see an unbelievable sunset, with all its colors intertwining and setting the sky on fire, and I think “Oh my goodness. The colors in heaven can’t be better than this.” My nephew rolls between Jack and me in our big bed in the morning and as he lays his head on my chest to give me a cuddle, I think “Oh my goodness. Heaven itself can’t be better than this.”

And every time I think that, I know better.

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

I, as they say, “ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

So, 2013 was glorious, for Shane. And knowing that makes it kind of glorious for me too, even though I will ache for him until the moment I finally get to join him in heaven one day. And the fact that I will be able to is pretty glorious in itself.

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To him be glory forever.

Amen.

Co-exist

This morning when I got to work, my buddy Cathy was on the phone, so I quietly snuck in behind her and placed the coffee I had picked up for her on the way in on her desk. She turned around and gave me the most adorable look and a big smile, like she was excited that I had finally arrived. I walked away smiling too, knowing she would probably bring that coffee into my office with her after she got off the phone, and we would take a few minutes to catch up and chat, the way we often do when I get to work on slow quiet mornings.

As I walked into my office and logged into my computer for the day, I thought about Cathy and the rest of my friends and family, and how wonderful they are, individually and as a group.

And I thought, “I love my life.”

A split second after that thought began, though, another overlapped it.

“Shane died.”

And instantly I felt guilty. Now, realize, I understand logically that you can both love the life and blessings you have been given without betraying the brother for whom you are still grieving, but logic doesn’t always apply in grief. (Or, ever apply in grief?) It was a betrayal! I don’t love everything about my life! A huge part of it is pretty darn sad right now, and on some days the hole in my heart seems to stretch so big that I can barely feel anything but emptiness.

But even so, both feelings seem to find their way into my heart, the grief and the joy, co-existing and intertwining and awing and confusing me all at once. (And making me feel guilty sometimes too, apparently.)

My brother died, but I am surrounded by friends who love and support me, making me laugh or leaving me alone or wrapping their arms around me, depending in what I need at the moment.

My brother died, but his perfectly-matched wife still seems to want me in her life and I am probably closer to her now than most anyone in the world.

My brother died, but his son is growing and learning and thriving and filling me with love beyond my wildest imagination.

My brother died, but my family still loves and cherishes each other, not fighting over anything. I don’t take that for granted for one second after seeing two different parts of my family fall apart after loved ones died. Despite the years that have passed, many members don’t even speak anymore. That won’t be Shane’s legacy, and for that I am infinitely thankful.

My brother died, but he will be waiting for me in heaven one day, and that thought makes me look forward to it more than I ever thought possible. He made heaven as real for me as a neighboring town that I just haven’t visited yet. He made death 100% not scary. I’m good to go.

I thought maybe this Thanksgiving we might have a hard time finding things to be thankful for after all the hell we jut went through, but it’s just not the case.

Yes, there is grief. And sadness and unfairness and emptiness.

But also so, so much to be thankful for.

New Every Morning

I prayed for mercy that Wednesday as I landed in Denver. I saw the mountains that my brother loved so much, and I knew it was going to be hard. All of it.

Mercy, please. Whatever that means for us. What does that mean for us? I don’t even know, Lord.

I prayed for it before I had even walked into Shane’s room and seen him how he was that day, with his labored breaths and his yellow skin and his skin-and-bones body. He was struggling.

I held onto his hand for dear life, for his dear life I guess, and I prayed even harder for mercy.

I prayed for it when I realized he wasn’t going to make it through the night. When I didn’t know how I was going to say goodbye to my built-in best friend, the one you have to love but don’t have to like but man, did I like him too.

I prayed for mercy for me.

I prayed for it as they moved him to hospice, and when they took way-too-long-in-my-mind to get his pain meds set back up in his new room, as he started to get more uncomfortable.

Mercy, please Lord.

And then, all of the sudden, we got it. He was gone. No more pain, no more cancer. No more Shane.

We were alone, together.

So then we prayed for a whole different kind of mercy as we held on to each other tightly over the next few weeks.

And He keeps answering my prayers. I keep getting mercy.

Mercy in the form of video chat technology, so I can watch my sweet nephew run around and make stupid faces at him and not-really-listen to Jack and Cassandra discuss football.

Mercy in the form of a semi-work from home schedule, so that some days I don’t have to make everything-is-okay small talk with acquaintances on the way to the office kitchen.

Mercy in the form of a sewing machine and a very quiet weekend alone.

Mercy in the form of a few seconds or minutes or hours when I forget everything, engrossed in some project, not realizing that I forgot it until, well, I remember it all again.

Mercy in the form of “Friends” reruns every night, that sometimes keep my mind off reliving All of It long enough to drift off to sleep for a few hours.

None of this is easy. None of this is fun.

But I am surrounded by love and enveloped in kindness, and so, so thankful for all the mercies He has thrown my way.