Monthly Archives: July 2020

Thread the Needle



Before the kids left for camp, I noticed that my son Clay’s favorite swim trunks had a seam that needed reinforcement.  I didn’t want it to come undone when he was away swimming, jumping, and diving every day. So, I got out a needle and thread, but I struggled to thread the needle.  I put my bifocals on and still couldn’t see well enough to get the thread through the eye. I recalled my mom handing me her thread and needle when I was a teenager and asking me to thread it.  Now, I knew why.  Without a needle threading tool, I couldn’t see my way to thread the needle.

When the kids came home from summer camp, a Covid outbreak shut down the remainder of the summer camp season and put us in a fourteen-day quarantine.  Our entire family has generally stayed home during these past few months of the Covid crisis.  Ben works from home, the kids did online school, and I was at home as usual. But when summer came before the kids went to camp, the kids and I retreated to the pool almost every day because we could be outside there and still socially distance from others.  When we had to quarantine due to our camp exposure though, we couldn’t go to the pool or inside anywhere.  While thankful that we did not suffer any symptoms, our emotional states rode quite a roller coaster.

We felt a bit claustrophobic.  We struggled mentally – we knew we had to do the right thing and stay away from others, but we were not accustomed to the resulting stir craziness.  We shed some tears and yelled a bit more than normal.  At times, I felt as though our efforts to maintain balance were akin to trying to thread a needle.  And yet, it was hard to see a way to do it successfully.  Difficult to establish harmony and navigate our strong personalities and opinions.

Certainly, we’re not the only family, organization, or community that has found it hard to thread the needle this year.  We’re all dealing with more tension and stress than in normal times, and the anxiety it breeds differs in so many ways.  Our vision is obscured and blurry.  We can’t see the future with any sense of clarity.  The more we concentrate, the less focus we have.

We cannot bring peace to our immediate circles when we’re feeling unsettled ourselves.  We cannot successfully keep everyone around us calm without support.  But if we look to God to center our hearts and minds, we will find help for ourselves so that we can then help others.  God is like the ultimate needle threader.  By seeking God’s vision for our lives, we can better see how to thread the needle and bring cohesion to our families and friends.

I’ve worn a bracelet this summer that reads “be still” in reference to the verse from the Psalms, “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10.  This statement has always given me relief.  Even more so now.  We don’t have to figure everything out.  We don’t have to control everything or everyone (we can’t anyway).  We don’t have to do any of this by ourselves.  We can lean on God for comfort.  If we focus on God, we will have guidance and reassurance.

My vision doesn’t give me the capability to thread the needle easily.  In fact, my view of things may make it impossible.  Even though we may lack a clear picture of what comes next, we can depend on God to bring a sense of peace to us and those around us. God will help us see how to thread the needle as we make our way in these uncertain times.





Authentic Voices



When I was a child, a pastor visited our church accompanied by his son who was also about my age.  The boy, who had a slight speech impediment, sang a song for the congregation.  Later that afternoon at home, I began to the sing the same song.  Just as I would’ve tried to copy the singing style of someone on the radio or television, I mimicked how boy sang it, speech impediment and all.  I wasn’t trying to be mean.  That’s the way I’d initially heard the song and therefore believed it was the right, and perhaps only, way to sing it.  I distinctly remember that upon hearing my copycat version of the song, my father said, “use your own voice.”  But I honestly didn’t know what he meant because I thought I was singing it correctly.

Only later as I grew older did I begin to understand my dad’s advice, and I’ve spent a long time since trying to find and use my own voice.  And that’s not always been easy.  Over time, my fashion sense has changed, my career aspirations have differed, and my beliefs have evolved.  I’ve strived to become more authentically myself.  I’m still a work in progress and always will be.  But I’m closer to my truth now than I’ve ever been, so at least I’m going in the right direction.

I’ve tried to impart to my children the importance of maintaining or finding their genuine selves.  That when they can be completely themselves with other people and those people accept and embrace them for who they are, they’ve found their special people, whether they be friends or significant others. Pretending to be someone else or hiding your true self is exhausting and ultimately unsustainable.  Convincing young people that being true to themselves regardless of the consequences to popularity or inclusion is difficult.  I certainly didn’t understand that when I was young.

In Romans, the apostle Paul writes that we all have “different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.  If your gift is . . . serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” Romans 12: 6-8.

I read these words and hear God telling us to be ourselves.  Not grudgingly or with resignation.  We need to embrace the truth of who we are – of who God made us to be.  He created each of us to be unique with various personalities, talents, and traits. When we do things the way others do them, without digging down to know if that path feels genuine to us, we deprive ourselves from living with authenticity.  We also diminish our communities and the world because they need us to be real and whole.  Let’s stop wasting time trying to be someone or something we’re not.

Sometimes these days when I’m singing along to the radio, I catch myself trying to copy the singer exactly.  But the world is already acquainted with the voice on the radio, and it doesn’t need another copycat.  God wants me to use my voice in the ways he’s gifted me.  He wants that for all of us.  He needs all of us to tap into our voices, our gifts, our authentic selves and share with the world.  In that way, we are all more comfortable and grounded in our lives, and the world benefits from the people God created us to be.


Who Do We Look Like?




In our family, this is how our physical traits break down.  Our daughter Riley (16), son Jed (14), and son Alex (7) favor Ben with brown hair and brown eyes.  Our son Clay (10) is the outlier of the kids because he looks like my side of the family with blond hair and blue eyes.  Recently, Clay and Ben were out together during dinner time.  The rest of us were eating at home when Alex said to Riley and Jed, “You two look alike, and I look like Clay.”  Riley, Jed, and I stared with mouths open at Alex.  All three of us said, “no you don’t.”  We informed Alex that he looked almost exactly like Jed, especially when Jed was younger.  We told him that he didn’t look like Clay at all.  Alex got up and went to the mirror.  He came back to the table, shrugged,  and said that he guessed we were right.

We laughed at Alex’s conviction that he and Clay looked alike and his willingness to change his misperceptions once he was told differently.  I don’t know why Alex was mistaken.  Maybe it’s because he spends most of his time with Clay – they play together constantly.  Alex is always looking into Clay’s face.  In some ways, it’s like Clay is Alex’s mirror.

I started thinking about how we settle on our perceptions of ourselves.  We have the regular mirrors that reflect our images back to us.  Sometimes they seem more like fun house mirrors because we focus on certain features and distort their significance.  Now, we have the predominance of selfies as well, usually posted on social media. Those photos that are curated, filtered, stylized, and modified.  We thought we had it bad when only the fashion editors possessed the tools to edit, trim, and enhance.  Everyone has the same abilities these days, and we use them with wild abandon.  And it’s not just our images that we skew on social media, but our whole lives made pretty for others to see without any of the difficulties.

We also see ourselves through other people’s eyes.  We see how people look at us and how they react to us.  Sometimes, we tell ourselves stories about what the other person must think based on a glance or a stare even though we may not have actual information to back up our assumptions. In addition, we gauge our worthiness based on the reflections we see from those who know us well.  If the people in our lives treat us with respect and love, we have a better chance of feeling that way about ourselves.

While positive treatment doesn’t always translate into our feeling worthy, negative treatment will shape our self-images in mangled and warped ways.  Often, we feel we deserve to be treated negatively because we’ve adopted the harsh opinions of others as our own.  The mirrors that others provide to us are not always trustworthy or accurate, but it’s hard to reject the perceptions of those that reject us.

On the other hand, God’s vision always provides authentic and true revelations of who we are.  God loves us – simply and unconditionally.  No matter what we’ve done or what we believe about ourselves.  When we shift our focus to God’s eyes, we will see love, pride, hope, and kindness shining back.  God sees our beauty, our flaws, our brightness, our darkness, and all the while he wants us to know that he values us.

We cannot depend on the mirrors on the walls or the reflections that other people provide to establish our pictures of ourselves.  But if we concentrate on how God sees us, we may be able to reevaluate the way we view ourselves.  We may learn to love and appreciate ourselves a little more.  And God would love that.



Loose Thread



This summer, I’ve renewed my love of the skort.  It looks like I’m wearing a skirt, but there are shorts underneath. It’s basically a miracle piece of clothing. Anyway, I pulled on a skort the other day and felt something brush the back of my leg.  I was a little flustered but didn’t think too much about it.  Then, I bent over to pull on my sandal.  When I stood up, I felt like I was being pulled back down.  That was when I realized that a thread from the hem of the skort had run down my leg and was now under my foot in my shoe.  I pulled the sandal off, grabbed scissors, and clipped the string.  Problem solved with respect to the skort, but that errant thread mirrored a bothersome train of thought that had been dragging me down, threatening to unravel my peace of mind.

In my herculean efforts to protect my sixteen-year-old daughter from rejection and hurt, I found myself pressuring her to take actions that differed from my experiences in my teens and early twenties.  When things didn’t go her way, I would hurt, but not just for her.  A visceral pain bubbled up.  At first, I thought I could brush away what was troubling me.  But then I unearthed a strong thread made up of my own rejection and hurt that had woven itself around my heart because I’d never truly dealt with it.  I began dwelling on friendships that failed; boys who broke my heart; job opportunities that fell through; publishers that didn’t want my writing; and on and on.  I cried more than I had in a long time.

I wished I could take a pair of scissors and cut that cord completely so that it would no longer trouble me, but an easy fix was not possible.  I discovered that this strand of unworthiness was embedded in my mind and heart more than I’d ever realized.  I couldn’t untangle my thoughts from the past and their intrusion into the present.  I knew that I couldn’t ignore the strangle hold of this particular string any longer.  I read a spiritual book on rejection.  I talked to my therapist.  I prayed asking God to help me with this burden.

Throughout this process, I realized that I still questioned God about why particular things had turned out as badly as they had.  Even though in most cases, in the end, everything ultimately worked out for the best, I still felt that God denied me in certain ways.  That God said no because I wasn’t up to par or because I couldn’t discern his will in the circumstances.  That God himself had essentially told me over and over that I was not wanted.  It’s quite enough to be rejected by people and institutions, and quite another to feel you’ve been rejected by God.  And that cord wrapped around me might have contained more than a little resentment toward God.

But then, something shifted.  A new thought dawned on me.  Instead of God being perfectly fine with my numerous rejections, I wondered if God might have been upset for me, along with me, when I was rejected.  Like in the distant past when the boy with whom I’d been spending a lot of time said he didn’t have feelings for me beyond friendship, was God angry and agitated on my behalf?  Because that was certainly how I felt.  Perhaps God thought I’d been wronged as well.

I don’t assign wrongdoing to God when bad things happen to other people, like illness or natural disasters.  When it came to my personal experiences though, I always tried to figure out why God thought I was wrong, had failed, or was less than.  I made the mistake of laying responsibility for my rejections at God’s feet.  But what if God wasn’t trying to punish me or teach me a lesson every single time I felt rejected?  When I concentrated on God’s loving nature and ventured to trust that he was on my side, my perspective began to change.  I started to rethink the way I viewed the past and my heart began to feel less constrained.

I’m not saying that everything is now perfect.  I don’t believe I’ve cut the string so that it no longer binds me at all.  But the oft quoted verse, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” took on new meaning for me.  Romans 8:31. If I can believe that God stood with me in those times of rejection, feeling the pain as I did, then I can start to reclaim my worthiness.  I feel that God showed me how to gradually loosen the thread of the past’s hold on me.  God was with me then, and God is with me now.  Caring for me, suffering with me at times, and leading me to a place of eventual healing.













Lessons from Hamilton



One of the few good things to come out of 2020 so far is that Disney decided to release the filmed version of the Tony award winning musical hit Hamilton featuring the original cast on July 3.  I was lucky enough to see Hamilton on Broadway in November 2015 when I traveled to New York with a group of writers.  Earlier that summer, my friend Stephanie suggested we buy tickets to a show about Alexander Hamilton, the Revolutionary War, the Constitution, and the other founding fathers of America.  So, I bought a ticket for less than $100 and was shocked as the show debuted and skyrocketed in popularity before our trip.  I determined that I wasn’t going to like Hamilton just because of its critical acclaim – I intended to make up my own mind.  But from the opening notes, I knew I was witnessing something new, innovative, and groundbreaking.

I love the musical Hamilton for many reasons, including the fact that my friend Heather and I snagged a photo with one of the stars, Daveed Diggs.  But one of the reasons is because it portrays imperfect men grappling with tough decisions about national debt, governance, slavery, and how to proceed in war and in peace.  Not all of the founding fathers agreed about the way to do things. We often take the way in which our nation works for granted, but they didn’t because they were creating it as they went along.  And Hamilton shows us that we as a nation have a responsibility to continue to evolve and change.  The proponents of the Constitution wrote a foundational document that still breathes and expands as the nation grows, changes, and as we become more enlightened as people and society.  America is a promise that we must continue to live into – striving to become a more perfect union always.  We cannot just look back and long for good ole days that were not good for everyone.

Much the same is true for Christianity.  Some Christians use the stories in the Bible to portray a God that is ancient, stagnant, wrathful, and judgmental.  The Bible has been used to uphold some of the most abysmal and systemic horrors in our history.  But I believe the Bible is a foundational series of documents that guides us by demonstrating God’s loving nature.  God is not static but is active and alive in our lives and our world today.  We cannot stick God in a box of our own limited understanding so that the powerful remain privileged and the poor and downtrodden remain weak.  God works constantly to bring justice and fairness to all people throughout the world. He expects us to open our hearts and minds to his love and to his people.  He wants us to mature in our faith so that we can better demonstrate his love in our communities, our cultures, and in our countries, including, but not limited, to America.

Nationalism and patriotism are not religions.  And while I believe in the separation of church and state, I also believe that God is the overarching deity to whom we owe our allegiance.  We can argue and debate the ways in which our faith influences the course of our society, but we must pray and invite God into the process as opposed to treating God as a relic of the past.  We must continue to expand our understanding of God, who is loving and inviting, and then use that knowledge to inform how our country and our world can become ever more inclusive, fair, and just.