The Unfinished Work of Freedom


I was today years old when I realized something. As we stood in the meeting house this morning and sang “America the Beautiful”, I found myself looking at the lyrics, the music dying away on my lips as I read and thought. The latter section of each verse is, in its essence, a prayer.

v1 – O beautiful for spacious skies, 
for amber waves of grain; 
for purple mountain majesties 
above the fruited plain! 
America! America! God shed his grace on thee, 
and crown thy good with brotherhood 
from sea to shining sea. 

v2 – O beautiful for heroes proved 
in liberating strife, 
who more than self their country loved, 
and mercy more than life! 
America! America! May God thy gold refine, 
till all success be nobleness, 
and every gain divine. 

v3 – O beautiful for patriot dream 
that sees beyond the years 
thine alabaster cities gleam,
undimmed by human tears! 
America! America! God mend thine every flaw, 
confirm thy soul in self-control, 
thy liberty in law.

For all their extolling America’s virtues, these verses and the prayers embedded into them acknowledge that there is still so far to go, so much to do in the work towards that American Dream of freedom. And I find myself appreciating this honesty, whether the authoress, Katharine Lee Bates, intended it or not.

The absolute truth of our country is that freedom is still an unrealized dream. No, slavery doesn’t exist anymore in our country (not as we historically think of it) but the cultural and societal beliefs and mindsets that engendered it still survive and pervade. Freedom and independence still do not exist for all in America. The fight for equality and equity is still on-going. It is not over because not everyone is truly free and, ever more the worse, many refuse to acknowledge this truth.

“God mend thine every flaw.”

We are such a flawed nation, dear readers. We pull away the rights and access that we were taught were the very basis and foundation for our country’s creation in the first place. We deny others the security, equality, and freedoms that we have enjoyed. We shove people out instead of welcoming them in. We revel in and even proudly display our biases, our prejudices, our hatreds, and out the other corner of our mouths, we declare this “the greatest country on earth”. It is not. We have not fed the hungry, sheltered the homeless, clothed the naked. We have not welcomed the desperate stranger nor loved our neighbors as ourselves (no exceptions). We are not free. Not yet.

So, as we cook our hot dogs and terrify our pets with colorful explosions, let’s not forget, dear friends, that one of our most “patriotic” songs acknowledges the long way we have yet to go and prays for us in it.

Till all success be nobleness.”

We are not free because not everyone is free or has the equity or ability to live with dignity and rights. Freedom has never been and still is not yet “for all”. We are not done yet. So don’t you dare think that this is the time to sit back and rest on your laurels and admire how great America is. We aren’t there. Not yet. We are closer. But not there yet.

So. Finish up your hot dog and potato salad, make sure that your sparklers are all the way out, and get up. Let’s go. There’s still work to do, friends–for our loved ones, for our neighbors (all of them), for our country. Let’s go make it beautiful.

What Is This Feeling, Sudden and New?


I think I get what Elphaba and Galinda were singing about now. Well, in a way, at least.

Our family has recently grown by one member. This new member is about 11 inches long, weighs approximately 1lb, has beautiful blue-green eyes, and the sweetest little tufts of white fur stick out between his toes. Yes, our newest family member is a little two-month-old kitten named Jack (or, as I call him in my head, Jackson Ozymandias Snyder). He has been in our house for almost a week now and has thoroughly claimed all three of us as his own. He is slight and light, with his own unique little meow, and we love him dearly already. But, somehow, amidst that love, this kitten has settled like a weight within my chest. A little ball of anxiety curled up amidst the playfulness and comfort, Fear and worry over this additional little life for which I am now responsible and the routine of life which he has totally upended. Now we have another’s comfort, safety, and well-being to consider, whose needs may be far different than ours.

I did not expect this anxiety upon keeping the promise of a kitten to my daughter. I did not expect an abject fear so great that I wanted to hand him back to his foster family and call the whole thing off. Fear that I might fail him, like I failed Ozymandias before him. Our Ozzy who had to be re-homed after Lizzy was born because I, in my postpartum struggles, did not have the energy to expend to redirect his dissatisfaction with this squalling pink thing that we had brought home and that was constantly in his spots. We did re-home him on my in-laws’ farm but he got out and disappeared. We have no idea what happened to him after that and, unbeknownst to me, the guilt had buried deep. I had broken my promise of a forever home. I had failed him.

I absolutely did not expect the guilt and fear of that failure to crash over and try to drown me in this new attempt. In private, I have breathed, cried, and wrung my hands when the urge to give Jack back is strongest. When he curls into my lap after his favorite little playmate has gone to bed and turns into a little void loaf, purring as loudly as ever he can, I cup my hand around his tiny head or the curve of his back and murmur to him. I tell Jack how imperfect I am, how I have failed before, but I also promise to do my best for him. I promise to keep him fed, sheltered, healthy, and to love him as much as I can. I will be imperfect; I will fail. But I am going to do my best to love him, teach him “soft paws”, enrich him, and help him feel forever safe.

The anxiety is still here, just as it is for my daughter as she goes about her first week of summer camp, but I don’t want to stay stuck in it. Maybe this is a first step forward in my wider work of healing and recovery in the midst of my anxiety: choosing to trust that I will do my best and believing that, day to day, that it is enough for that moment. I love little Jack. So does my daughter; she says thank you for him at least once a day and aches to get back to him at the end of camp. My husband burst into tears when Jack climbed into and curled up in his lap for the first time of his own accord. I know he carries the guilt of Ozzy’s fate, too. But we will do our best. I know we will.

Whatever you are facing in your journey today, dear Reader, do not despair. You will be imperfect, it’s rather unavoidable, but do not let that keep you from trying. Your best will vary from day to day but, no matter what, it will be your best and it will be enough for that moment. I believe that. And I believe in you.

Finding my Voice in the Silence


It has felt as though my voice has gone quiet, that there is just heavy silence where my soul is. Heavy, exhausted silence. Many often wonder at the silence of God. I wonder at my own silence. I am on auto-pilot. When I respond enthusiastically in a conversation or to a request, part of me is standing back, staring in awe and often shock at this person who is just continuing on with life. Or at least it’s the part of me that best knows, ostensibly, how to play this game called life. The other part of me, though, what feels like most of me, is silent.

I want to speak. I want to write. I want to have conversation. I want to laugh. I want to be silly. I miss all these things, deeply and dearly. Yet I struggle. When I do engage in them, except with my closest of people, I feel that emotional separation again. As though I’m sending a social golem out with my voice while the real me stays back in silence.

I know my voice is still here. I hear it every day. I hear it in the words I say and the encouragements that I give to my students. I hear it in my FB and IG posts and in my message to friends to check up on them, I hear it in the cards and letters that I tuck into the mailbox. Using my voice for others feels like the easy job, a performance and practice that I know well enough to make it muscle-memory, strange as that might sound. Using it myself, for what I love, for what I want…that feels infinitely harder.

How do I coax my voice back out? Not just for others but for myself? I want to get back to using my voice for me, too. Not just for God and for others, but also for myself. To ask for what I need, say what I want, speak truth without fear.

My voice can be a thing of beauty, of power, of gentleness, and abject love and grace. I want to find it and the courage to use it again. Not just for others but also for myself. Because I deserve all that, too.

How do I do that again? Am I doing it right now? I honestly don’t know. But I am going to try.

A Year Later, As the Story Goes…


Of course, it popped up in my memories today. All of them. Facebook, Google Photos, Instagram…they all found it absolutely imperative to remind me that, one year ago today, my little corner of the world shut down–just like everyone else’s. First, school closing was announced until April 13. Then, this morning a year ago, it snowed. Snowed heavily enough for my daughter to go out to play in it and for me to take a snowy tromp out across the field behind our house. The next day, I took my last dinner and a movie outing with a bestie. Then the world screeched to a halt, and I haven’t done it since. I may miss it but this is not a post about what I miss. Not really. Not entirely. More like it’s about what’s missing.

A year ago, I posted about stopping. Could I just stop? Stop and embrace the unknown of what was next? Stop and rest? I decided I could, and I did. I found new avenues of connection, encouragement, and expression. I held hands with dear ones, students, and strangers across the digital gap, turning my talents into new strands of gold. Despite the hardships of lockdown, which I detail out quite honestly in my personal journals, I don’t remember being afraid. I don’t remember the paralysis of worry and fear. In fact, in some ways, I thrived in that odd spring.

Here we are now, a year later. Progress is being made, medical measures are now available for safety, the world has begun to move again, in some cases very quickly, and, now–NOW–I feel as though I am in survival mode. The avenues I had discovered and thrived through last spring feel barren and cold to me now; they have become things that I no longer have time or energy for. Tricks and emotional hacks that have lost some of their efficacy; the shine has dulled, the gold seems to have flaked off.

And that hurts. It hurts more than I care to admit at times.

A year later, I am honestly avoiding people. I am avoiding socializing. A friend messaged me the other day to let me know that they were glad to see me on a Zoom gaming session last week and, as grateful as I was for that and as much as I did have fun for the most part, I felt an internal balking at making it a consistent thing. It takes so much to participate in life now. So much energy, so many spoons, so much emotional risk. I find myself hesitating at things that I would have leapt at in the Before Times, such as seeing friends in person that I haven’t seen in a long time. I find myself thinking twice about saying yes now; so much so that the hubby has taken to telling me, “Say yes. Yes is your answer,” when I bring up invitations. So I am trying to say ‘yes’ more. Do I always say ‘yes’? Absolutely not. Sometimes I just cannot handle the idea of sitting with someone in person and talking; other times, it’s all I want in the world.

A year later, I feel depleted, shrunken rather than grown. I feel hunched and inward-facing rather than outward-facing, though I still pour out out of sheer habit sometimes, which is a very strange dichotomy in which to be. I am hesitant to hope, to look forward to things, because disappointment looms. Large changes drain me because this last year has been one full to overflowing with them. So, like Tony Stark, I concentrate on what I can do. (“You’re a mechanic, right?” “Yeah.” “So build something.” “…Okay.”) I am giving everything to the point of exhaustion to work/teaching, because that is what I can do. It’s frustrating as all get out. I will not call it rewarding because that is not where I am right now, but it’s my job. It is what I have to do, and the kids in my classroom need something I can hopefully give. We are all closed-off to an extent right now but…I can try. I will cry and curse and collapse, probably, but it is what I can do right now. So I do it. I am unsure as to whether anyone truly understands the withertos and whyfores for me in this, but…it is where I am. I don’t know if it is helping me, I know it is not a long-term answer, but I cannot help but hope it is helping. Someone. Somehow.

I was not emotionally prepared to be this emotionally unprepared a year later. I feel more fragile than I did last spring; more hesitant, shyer, and more anxious. I feel less seen and, in some cases, less willing to be seen. Like I want to hide and hibernate until I am ready to be in the world again, when the climate is right again for me, whenever that may be. But, as I am not a tardigrade, that is not an avenue that is open to me. So I will keep on. I will try the avenues that are open to me and try to give myself and others a fighting chance at making it.

If you are in this place of emotional unpreparedness, too, you aren’t alone. Know that. The world has not ended; this struggle will, though, I hope. Just hold on, okay? I’m right there beside you, holding on, too. Even if it is just by our fingertips. Feel that? That’y my pinkie touching yours. You aren’t alone.

If you are struggling, please do not hesitate to reach out. There are avenues open for you, friends.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Live Online Chat

If you or someone you know is suicidal or in emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your confidential and toll-free call goes to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. These centers provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

Initiating a Reconnect


I always despair of the world returning to “normal” after Christmas time. I just love that, for a while, it seems as though beauty and magic are evident to all. It is unavoidable for a while, glowing on every street corner, in the stores, neighborhood, and from many homes, whether or not they are decorated on the outside. It feels easier to believe in the wondrous and in people’s ability to be awed by the world around them during the holidays. And, yes, I do mean all of them: Christmas, Hannukah, Solstice, Yule, Kwanzaa, etc. They all have to do with light, miracles, better things; and, for a little while, hope feels tangible.

The work of Christmas feels harder when the lights are dimmed and decorations put away for another year. However, I know that the work of Christmas continues, nevertheless. That work of bringing light and love, encouragement and edification to the world around me, that is my purpose. However, I find that I have felt disconnected from that purpose in a way recently. I feel it as I struggle with time and space for reflection, with late nights in the blue light of my computer screen as I grade, the days that fill with needs and responsibilities and small metaphorical fires to be put out. I find myself struggling for connection. Not just connection outward to others but also inward to my own gifts and ministries, namely words and writing. I miss it. I want that connection back. I want to think deeply about the things I hear, read, and experience, contemplating their place and effect on my life—what it is and what it shall be.

I am feeling tugs and pulls on my heart to even newer chapters within this new course of our life. It’s life-giving and terrifying. But I have been praying for God to prepare me for whatever He has next for me.

I want to reconnect. I do not know how much easier it will be this year than last, but I want to try. I want to get back to that place where I am tapped in, to myself, to God, to my purpose in this world. Because there is still more out there for me: to learn, to give, to be, and to do. There is still more for you, too. And I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the world needs the more we can connect to and become.

Photo by Getty Images

Advent 2020 ~ Wrapped in Love


As Advent wanes and Christmas draws nigh, we look to the pillar of love. Where does gentle love begin? Is it in the things we buy, package, and donate? The wishes we try to fulfill? Is it in the hours we give to rehearsals and practices? Is it in the presents tucked away with all the hopes for them bringing joy when opened? Is it in the moments when we let the To Do list fall by the wayside, when we just sit in the glow of the lights with the warmth of our dear ones in our arms? Is it in our voices lifted still with cries for mercy and justice?

Yes. This is where gentle love begins. In any of it. In all of it. In the small moments, the little things, in the corners of our hearts that we open up, in the generosity that we show, and in the quiet moments that we are mindful of and cherish. When we open ourselves up to let these beautiful things out, we let love and gentleness in as well. It refills us, reinforces us, and reminds us that we are dealing with very human hearts in a very humanly-flawed world.

The world, as we look at it today, is hard, uncertain, and frightening; it batters and beats and berates and bruises those who most need its mercy. We take that in day after day after day and fight not to let it make us hard in turn. We fight back with love and mercy, grace and gentleness. Let’s hold tightly to Love and hold each other gently, Friends.

As Christ showed love to the lost, the rejected, the ill, and the forgotten, let us do the same in this Advent season and on forward forever. Let us not lose that gentle love that makes humanity humane.

Let’s remember the love of our Lord who gave all He had for all of us. May we accept that fierce and gentle love, press its flame to our hearts, and share its light with those around us. May the world, and our Lord, know us by our Love.

Advent 2020 ~ Surprised by Joy


Have you been surprised by good things this year? In those moments when we laugh and smile and, for a glorious little while, things feel…normal? The word normal feels like a dangerous one these days, as though we are afraid of it because it might not be graspable, at least not the way we remember it. But, even if normal feels fleeting, joy is still here. Advent is a season of hope, of expectation. What are we expecting, though? We are expecting joy. Whether it be in the transcendent meaning of the Christmas season, the beauty of our homes, neighborhoods, or houses of worship, or the elation of children on Christmas morning, we normally expect joy to come from somewhere. This year, perhaps we are hoping rather than expecting. Perhaps we are praying, pleading, yearning for joy. Romans 15:13 blesses us, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

No matter where we are in our lives this year, joy is still here. It may not be where we expect it to be. Rather joy can be where we choose it to be, where we need it to be.

Joy can be in a child’s thoughtful prayers for others who are suffering or have less than they.

Joy can be in the belly-laugh of your partner, their face bright with a smile.

Joy can be in the wrapping of the perfect gift for a loved one, no matter how simple it may be.

No, Friends, joy may not be where we expect it this year, but it lingers where we need it.

Joy is still here.

Advent 2020 ~ Fashioning Peace Piecemeal


In the world in which we live, peace seems like a far-fetched dream. Peace in a world of sickness, fear, worry, and dread? Peace in a world of struggle, suffering, loneliness, and inequity? Yes, peace is hard to find. Yet it can be found. Jesus holds it in His hands, its tiny flame dancing and throwing just enough light to glow in our eyes. Here, His heart says to ours. Here is a bit of peace.

A bit of peace in a glorious sunrise filling the sky with painted fire and jeweled clouds.

A bit of peace in a quiet house after little ones are abed, the fireplace or the wind outside the only sounds for a few moments.

A bit of peace in an unexpected card or gift that brings a smile to our faces.

A bit of peace in that favorite comforting song coming on the radio.

A bit of peace in the right words said at the just the right time.

Here is peace built piecemeal, one bit at a time. We may not be able to see peace on a large scale, but we can find it in its bits and pieces all around. We can find the tiny dancing flames and press them warm to our heart and soul. If only we know how to look for the little bits, the hidden bits. We can cup our hands around Jesus’s hands and smile with Him over peace built piecemeal. Together all those little flames can cast light in the darkness, enough light to warm every heart.

Advent 2020 ~ The Flicker of Hope’s Flame


2020 has barreled its way through our lives like so much of a stampede, seeming to batter and crush anything in its way. Our days have often been swathed in worry, upheaval, pain, and grief. We have spent this year living in the space between breaths.

We acknowledge the losses, the pain, the change, the struggles, and the sadness of this year. We take 2020 to heart because it has affected every corner of our lives.

But there is something else that we take to heart, Friends. In all of the struggle, in all of the hard, we take Hope to heart. We grasp the Hope that we now celebrate today. We grasp the Hope of Jesus’ Coming. We grasp the Hope furnished by His birth, His life, His death, and His rising again. We take to heart the Hope that is grown and nourished by His Love, His Joy, and His Peace.

We can take that Hope to our heart and soul. There may not be much or anything that we can do on a large scale to stem the tide of struggle seemingly inherent within this year, but we can do our best to live in Hope. We can do our best to live in Peace. We can love, hold, do good unto, and care for others, for those who surround us. We can forgive. We can give grace instead of sinking into bitterness and despair.

We can hold on to Hope.

Decking New Halls


I am finishing my coffee before my TO DO list for the day begins and I start prepping for my first holiday season in our new home. I have the food to cook for my little family tomorrow as we tamp down our Thanksgiving celebrations. But now comes the tidying, the cleaning, the preparing, and, after tomorrow, the decorating. I still do not have all the Christmas decorations that I could desire but I know that such stockpiles take time, as I am rebuilding them from scratch since the move.

It feels odd to be preparing to dress up a new house for the first time in twelve years. In our old little cottage–which, by the way, we signed the final sale paperwork for last night (big feels!)–I knew where all my decorations went. I knew how I liked things set up and where things had to go in my living room configuration. Nothing was huge or elaborate, but they were there, a constant reminder of stability. Our tree with its silver, blue, and white ornaments, spattered with sentimental ones, glowed in the living room, crowed with its silver star that Ben and Elizabeth put on together every year. It must be the absolute last thing on the tree. I had the same wreath with its silver and white ribbons and flowers for fourteen years. It had had multiple birds’ nests built into it in early springs and then cleaned out once the babies and parents had vacated. The little potted pre-lit tree (that had been our family Christmas tree while we had a cat and small baby) sat faithfully on the front porch, decorated with flowers, leaves, Easter eggs, etc., throughout the differing seasons by myself and my daughter. The silver stockings hung on their snowflake hangers from the dvd shelf, under the compilation frame of family photos and frame by fir branches with silver poinsettas. The nativity scene that my Erin brought back for me from Malawi was set up on the bookshelf, the camel I found at Levi Coffin Days (an almost-perfect match) tucked in amongst the wise men to complete the set.

This year, I will need to figure out just how things will fit in this new house with its new rooms and spaces. I know where the tree is going, and we have a “glowy star” this year, per my daughter’s request and choosing. I haven’t bought any stockings or hangers for the mantlepiece yet (I have a real actual mantlepiece, you guys!), though truly the only one whose stocking gets stuffed any more is my daughter. She has her new one for her door already picked out. Harry Potter, of course.

So this will be a year of starting new in more ways than one. I am trying not to think about not having “enough” to decorate my house this year. What I really want is for my home to be warm, welcoming, and soothing because this will be a holiday season that is already missing some very important people. So I want my home to be a place of uplifting, hygge, and comfort for those hard moments. I want that Christmas-y feeling. Not to avoid the hard moments necessarily but to help them perhaps be not quite so heavy.

I’m trying, dear ones, I really am. But Target is calling my name…