A Firsthand Look at the Refugee Crisis and Surprising Hope

Jan 27 2017

Two weeks ago, I met a man with a gunshot wound, and a woman with tuberculosis, babies with malaria, and a toddler so malnourished she looked like the photos we saw in the 80’s coming out of the Ethiopia famine. I waited in line with refugees who arrived in Uganda from South Sudan that very day, babies on backs, belongings bundled, future uncertain. And, though we saw tragedy and enormous heartbreak — I sat a while and squeezed the hand of a mama whose baby couldn’t be saved during childbirth the night before — what took me by surprise again and again… what stuck with me and wouldn’t leave me alone in story after story after story after story…

… was hope.

Hope.

What a strange thing to find half a world away in Africa where I presumed to find only despair.

Hope.

And do you know why?

Because these people, who are fleeing violence, who are uncertain, who are longing for a better future, who want peace, are not alone.

There is hope because they are not alone.

There are people waiting to receive them.

Do you know, in this age of worldwide isolationism and xenophobia and shutting down borders and building walls — in this era where we choose to fear for our personal security, though it has not been threatened, and deny our neighbors safety, though they are under attack — how the government of Uganda has responded to the 400,000 refugees flooding their country since July alone?

Uganda has responded by throwing their borders WIDE OPEN.

Can you imagine?? Wide open borders for refugees rushing to safety. As though the right things to do are to welcome the stranger, and to look after the widows and orphans in their distress, and to reach out to the poor who cry out for help.

And do you know who has shown up to help their neighbors? The Ugandan people.

I mean, yes; Medical Teams International, the organization I traveled with, is there doing health intake and triage for every single refugee entering the country. Every single one of hundreds of thousands of refugees, more coming all the time. But do you know who makes that work possible?

Ugandan doctors and nurses and administrators and janitors and midwives and surgeons and cooks and data analysts who show up every day to love their neighbors as themselves.

It was hope. Over and over and over again. An infusion of hope in a dark world.

Look, friends; I don’t know about you these days. I don’t know what you’re thinking or feeling while strange things are afoot on our planet. I don’t know whether you, like me, want to hunker down some days and mourn and grieve how we’ve lost our way. I don’t know whether you, like me, are populating your personal Facebook feeds with hashtags like #CallingOutTheLies and #RefuseGaslighting because you’re unwilling to be party to alternative facts. I don’t know whether you, like me, have a stash of pretzels and chocolate and Reese’s peanut butter cups on your nighstand you’re eating late at night to swallow your feelings. I don’t know whether you, like me, vacillate between fight and flight, back and forth in rapid succession — I MUST FIGHT one minute, and Oh Dear God, Let Me FLEE THIS INSANITY the next. But I do know all of that is OK. All of it. Shock, anger, grief. It’s all normal. It’s all OK for a time. But eventually, we need to remember hope.

We need to remember hope, and we need to fight for it.

But in case you, like me, sometimes forget — in case sometimes hope slips your mind or you find it hard to grasp — slippery, slippery hope — we can rest for a tiny bit knowing the people of Uganda are carrying it for us until we can pick it up again. Like kites made of garbage bags and flown with joy, we can pick it up again soon.

With love,

 

 

 

P.S. All photos here were taken by yours truly, but are owned by Medical Teams International and are used with permission. All thoughts/opinions here are my own, however, and should not be held against Medical Teams. ūüėČ

P.P.S. The refugee and displaced people crisis is expected to increase in 2017. But do not despair! There are real things we can do to help refugees around the world. Learn what the UN Refugee Agency, one of Medical Teams’ valued partners, is doing to support refugees, more than 50% of whom are children. Learn what it could mean for refugees and displaced people if the¬†world, including the U.S., continues its policies of isolationism. Designate your donations to organizations like Medical Teams International by specifying “refugee relief.” And remember hope, and that we get to help in building it.

P.P.P.S. I’m terribly sorry I’ve been offline so much lately. After our flights were so dramatically messed up, we ended up extending our trip to Uganda so we could still see ALL the amazing work being done there. I was home only 10 hours before leaving for the Magic in the Mess Writing Retreat I run… which was AMAZING thanks to incredible participants and staff who let me recover from jet lag at the gorgeous Oregon Coast. It’s been a whirlwind, in other words. A GOOD whirlwind, but a whirlwind nonetheless.

P.P.P.P.S. The GOOD NEWS is the writing retreat DID afford me the opportunity to finish the latest draft of my book proposal, which is now back in the hands of my literary agent. I do hope to have more news to report on that soon.

P.P.P.P.P.S. The writing retreat participants, particularly Jen and Heidi, DID spend significant time advocating that I STOP DROPPING THE BALL on updating you on Betty and the kitchen remodel, which is … wait for it … COMPLETE, but about which I’ve failed to tell you. So stay tuned for more.

P.P.P.P.P.P.S. I do feel very silly ending a post about refugees with an update about my kitchen. Gross. But I’m also grateful you let me be very Both/And, friends. Both deeply, abidingly concerned about people suffering around the world and what I can do to change that AND excited to cook with Betty.

Sending love, friends.

 

Feet on Dusty Ground

Jan 12 2017

True confession: I’m not very good with suffering. I don’t like it. And, whether it’s my suffering or others’, I invest quite a lot of energy in avoiding it. I turn off the news. I hide the sad things on Facebook. I take Ambien to sleep at night. I eat all the french fries. And I shudder whenever I hear Christians say, as Christians often do, “I pray that my heart will be broken by the things that break the heart of Jesus.”

I get it.

I do.

I understand what they’re trying to say in praying to be people of compassion and people of Love and people who¬†see the suffering of others and thus respond.

But I shudder because my heart is already broken by these things.

And I avoid sadness because I’m not sure my heart will keep beating if it’s broken any more.

I plug my ears and squeeze my eyes closed and say LALALALA very loudly to drown out the suffering din because I feel helpless and like there’s nothing I can do, anyway — there is only¬†one of me and so many who hurt — so it feels like an exercise in futility to continue to offer my heart to be pulverized.

The truth is¬†I don’t intend to stop shutting down the news and hiding the “too sad to bear” items in my Facebook feed, because it’s OK to have coping mechanisms and to know how much on any given day I can take before breaking utterly, beyond repair.

And yet.

And yet.

And yet.

I took pictures the past few days in refugee camps where mamas and their babies sat in nutrition and feeding classes taught by Medical Teams International. Mamas who fled South Sudan only the day before, afraid for their lives and the lives of their children.

I held hands with small kids and waved to the big ones.

I walked through hospital wards and met men recovering from gun shot wounds, women recovering from rape, children recovering from malaria.

And, friends, many smiled.

Not all.

Not everyone.

Certainly not.

But many.

Mommies are proud of their babies¬†everywhere. All over the world. And when you coo at the little ones and tell the mama her baby is beautiful, she shines, because she knows it’s true. It’s like she’s been in on the secret from the beginning — this baby is¬†everything, this baby is¬†precious and perfect, this baby carries light and life, this baby is made in the very image of divinity and Love — and so, when you see it, too, and show the mama with your eyes and your smile and your hand on her baby’s brow, you quite literally share a piece of her soul.

And she smiles.

And in that smile is hope.

I’ve spent the last few days walking dusty ground, sweating and smiling with people who are sweating and smiling and sobbing with me. And I’ve been reminded that entering into suffering is also entering into hope. Entering in. The reminder that we don’t walk dusty ground alone. The reminder that our highest calling is to learn the ways of Love and to love each other as we love ourselves. The reminder that we are here to bear witness to each other’s lives. The reminder that entering in is also an action as vital as food and medicine.

And I am glad — truly glad — to be here.

Sending love… and hope in the middle of pain… with feet on dusty ground,
Beth

P.S. The photo above is of our momrade, Margaret, and her son Christopher whose life was saved by Medical Teams International (MTI). Margaret is a mama of twin boys, just like me; Christopher’s twin is John Baptist, not pictured. I’ll be writing more of Margaret and Christopher’s story in the days ahead and sharing via MTI. You can follow MTI’s work at their website, www.medicalteams.org, or on Facebook here.

P.P.S. MTI is not sponsoring this post, nor paying me for this opinion. All thoughts shared on this blog are my own. Obviously. Or I’d be a lot more careful about what I say. Heh heh heh.

P.P.P.S. By mistake, I only packed one pair of socks for this trip. I have now become an expert at handwashing socks in Africa and drying them by the next morning. Totally putting that on my resume for the future. This is why travel is important; because LIFE SKILLS.

P.P.P.P.S. I also have spilled something at nearly every meal and also in the car on long, back-country drives. Because I’m traveling with me, and my skill set is Expert Level in Spilling Everything. To date, I have spilled milk, coffee, passion fruit juice, and mango juice, some of those all over myself. HOWEVER, I only spilled on the CEO ONCE, and that was a bag of beef jerky which doesn’t soak in, so I’m considering that a win.

On Connecting with Our Hearts

Jan 10 2017

We arrived in Africa after 54 hours of travel. It was supposed to take 26 hours, but, as Greg messaged me shortly after my arrival, “no plan survives contact with reality.” It turns out the ice storm in Brussels was very, very real, which meant six hours sitting on a plane that would never take off, six more hours of waiting in line to rebook, and three more countries added to our routing ‚Äď Germany, Saudi Arabia, and Ethiopia ‚Äď before we arrived in Uganda. But arrive we did, so WOOHOO! AND, most importantly, my traveling companion, Martha Holley Newsome, CEO of Medical Teams International, UNDERSTANDS THE IMPORTANCE OF COFFEE, so it‚Äôs all going to be OK. We‚Äôre here. We‚Äôre safe. WE‚ÄôRE GETTING COFFEE REGULARLY.

We‚Äôve spent our first two days meeting with the Kampala staff of Medical Teams International and with the Uganda Representative for the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, a man named Bornwell with a beautiful smile who walked me down the stairs after our meeting. I asked him why he does this work — why he’s done it for 28 years, which is his entire professional life — and he told me it is his heart. “If you do something not connected with your heart,” he said, “you are in the wrong job.” Which, amen, right, friends? Amen. Being connected to our hearts would save the whole world. Connected to our hearts and connected to each other.

Tomorrow, we head to refugee camps to visit our momrades there who are fleeing South Sudan to save their children and, thus, themselves.¬†I won’t have time to write a lot while I’m here, but will try to update you as I have connectivity and a minute to spare. Bear with me if it’s slow and sporadic going. I may only be able to share a few snippets — a “thought for the day” — and personal photos since I’ll be focused on my work with MTI, but I want to keep you in the loop and have you join our world here as much as possible.

I’ve only been in Africa two days, and yet I feel a little like I’ve come home. Growing up in SE Asia has its similarities, I suppose, and I find myself at ease in the developing world in ways I never quite do in America. As though America is the cross-cultural experience, and the developing world understands what’s important. Food, water, safety, health, and a future for our kids. I just feel so… distracted… in the States. Like I’m chasing the strangest things and pretending they’re important. Status and stuff and an entire aisle in the grocery store devoted to nothing but cereal; what an odd way to live.

Sending love, friends.
Beth

 

January Book Selection for It’s a Likely Story Book Club

Jan 7 2017

Waving in the dark, friends. And in the light. It’s 12:52am at home and 9:47am where I’m typing this from the Brussels airport, ready to board my flight to Uganda in a few minutes. Light and dark, chasing each other across the world, and I feel like I have a foot in both at the moment.

I’ll try … try, try, try … to write periodically while there. We’ll see how the internet holds up. I’m eager to meet our refugee momrades and to sit with them in the dark, in the name of all of us, and in the name of Love. To hold hands. To live in the mud. To see magic there. Stay tuned, friends. I’m holding you close in my heart while I’m there.

In the meantime, I’m late (because OF COURSE I AM) in telling you our January “A Likely Story” Book Club selection. This one comes suggested to us by one of my favorite librarians, Korie Buerkle, who has, for several months now, been reading books with protaganists who are not white. The book below is an epic YA fantasy, and is the first book of a series, only two of which have been written to date. I must say, I’m about a third of the way through it and am enamored already.

Enjoy, friends.

And see you on the flip side.

 

 

 

ALikelyStory

A Likely Story Book Club
Announcing: January’s¬†Book Selection!

An Ember in the Ashes
by Sabaa Tahir

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.
 
Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.
 
It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.
 
But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.
 
There, Laia meets Elias, the school‚Äôs finest soldier‚ÄĒand secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he‚Äôs being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined‚ÄĒand that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

“Sabaa Tahir grew up in California‚Äôs Mojave Desert at her family‚Äôs eighteen-room motel. There, she spent her time devouring fantasy novels, raiding her brother‚Äôs comic book stash, and playing guitar badly. She began writing An Ember in the Ashes while working nights as a newspaper editor. She likes thunderous indie rock, garish socks, and all things nerd. Sabaa currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.”

And here’s a review of¬†The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror¬†by Christopher Moore, our December book club book.

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On a scale of¬†1-5 (1 being the worst, most heinous book in the history of the world, and 5 being I WILL FORCE EVERYONE I KNOW TO READ THIS) we rated The Stupidest Angel a 3.1. You’ll note the rating scale is a little harsh. It’s, like, practically impossible for anyone to rate a 5. Like that annoying college professor who thought awarding me an¬†A+ meant I actually had to EXCEED expectations for¬†my specific work according to the parameters set out in the syllabus¬†instead of to do just fine and be generally smart as a person which was the system I preferred. So I guess I feel the need to point out a 3.1 is a solid C grade for this book, which is a C, and, as I told my college daughter when she brought home her first semester grades, C’s GET DEGREES! GOOD JOB, BABY!

Comments from our Facebook book club group:

Terry FischerWolfe: I loved it. It reminded me of another of my favorite authors, Tom Robbins. Quirky books have always been a favorite of mine. I give it a solid 4.

Alissa Cowan Norman: I loved it. My husband was entertained when I picked it back up after a couple days and said “Gotta see if the zombies eat everyone now…”. The language didn’t bother me at all, and I already recommended it to my MIL, so… I give it a 4.

Diane Bognar: I read maybe half of it and then returned it to the library. Couldn’t get into it at all. The part I read would be rated a 1.5.

Sarah Kessler: I read it and really enjoyed the writing style! That said, I would give it a 3.5 for the language and some of the content which I just felt was unnecessarily vulgar. Highly entertaining tho and very funny 😊

 

On the New Year, Autism, and Thanks, Anyway

Dec 31 2016

I gave my nephew, KG, a frog book for Christmas. He did not want a frog book. I knew in advance he didn’t want a frog book. I gave him the frog book anyway (though it was supplementary to another gift I gave him I knew he’d want, so I’m not a total monster).

KG is in second grade, has autism, and also has 100,000 allergies to All the Things, so he’s our bubble boy. He’s not like the kid who gets a tummy ache from dairy. He’s the kid who ends up in the ambulance and the hospital and sometimes the Pediatric ICU because he stops breathing, even though we have a strict NO NOT-BREATHING ALLOWED rule in our family. He’s the kid we wildly celebrate because he’s a survivor and that status can’t be taken for granted for him like we do with the rest of our kids.

We love KG for lots of reasons. Obviously. And I sort of feel like I’m supposed to say we love him in spite of his autism, except I feel like the truth is we love him in part¬†because¬†of it. We love his brain. We love his quirks. We love that he’s inspirationally truthful. We feel on a deep level there are lessons we can learn from him about authenticity, and self-advocacy, and eschewing our collective cultural bullshit, and unapologetic honesty.

KG opened his frog book present at Christmas,¬†and his shoulders slumped in defeat. “NOT A FROG BOOK,” he said, because he detested it.

His daddy, my brother, said, “Nope, KG. What do we say when we get a gift?”

“Oh, yeah,” said KG, as he looked at me with sorrowful eyes, “Thanks, anyway, Auntie Beth.”

Total Eeyore voice. Absolute melancholy. Working to be grateful anyway.

“Thanks, anyway, Auntie Beth.”

I would like to only give gifts to people with autism in the future, please, or to people who have learned from them, because they’re my favorite. They can learn to be polite when necessary, but they’re also not going to pretend a situation, even one requiring gratitude for the sake of social nicety, is OK. Frog books suck. Let’s not pretend otherwise. But thanks, anyway.

This is exactly how I feel about 2016.

2016 sucked, collectively if not personally. Let’s not pretend otherwise. But thanks, anyway.

Thanks, anyway, for the horrible frog book, 2016.

My sister-in-law, KG’s mama, told this story earlier this year when he was on steroids following another spell of Not Breathing:

When a small person is on this amount of steroids, it means more of EVERYTHING.

The day following anaphylaxis, KG and I stopped to get gas on our way to see the doctor, and had the car turned off with the windows down. While we were fueling up, a Beekeeper, wearing full beekeeping gear including the hat/mask, pulled up in the lane right next to us.

Seizing the teaching opportunity, I point out our fuel companion to KG. “Buddy, look over there! A beekeeper! Check it out! Look at the gear he wears to work with bees!” My announcement was met with total silence (which can be a side effect from the massive amounts of medications). Undeterred, I tried again– “KG, did you see? Look over on your side– a beekeeper!”

My inquiry was met with yelling, through the open window, with the power of a thousand fiery suns. “I hate you! I hate YOU! I hate you, BEEKEEPER! I! HATE! YOUUUUU, BEEKEEPER! You steal from BEES! You STEAL! From BEES! THIEF! THIEFFFFFFFFFF! Beekeeper, I. HATE. YOU!!!!!!”

Despite my direct commands to knock off the yelling, it continued. Until the tank was full. (This felt like an eternity, but was likely a minute or two.) Driving away, with the windows safely secured in the upright position, I asked KG what in the world happened back at the gas station. He shared a righteous anger that a person in a position of power would take advantage of the smaller, lesser creature, that the beekeeper would selfishly steal all the hard work of the bees, and explained how this was a justice issue that concerns everyone.

I explained to KG how Beekeepers are actually the biggest advocates and defenders of bees, how bees are rapidly going extinct, and how the efforts of beekeepers are what sustain the bee population. We discussed how the beekeeping/bee relationship is symbiotic, especially considering protections needed/offered during winter and from predators.

He took in all of this new information. Completely unaffected (and unashamed), he replied “Oh. I was not aware of this.”

These adventures brought to you by Autism on steroids.

I don’t know about you, but 2016 has me feeling a little strung out. A little like yelling out the window and lashing out. A little relieved we get to drive away now from 2016 which was a¬†THIEFFFFFFFFFF¬†for so many millions who lost their homes, their countries, their babies, their lives.¬†And from 2016 which may have been good in some ways I’m not yet ready to acknowledge.

May we learn a lesson from my nephew, though, as we head into the New Year; to champion important causes, to understand WE are one of the important causes, to be honest, to be grateful even if we have to do it reluctantly, to give no¬†time to things that don’t matter (like stupid frog books), to be open to new information when we can listen again, and to be unashamed because we are, after all, wildly, wonderfully, weirdly, perfectly made.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful New Year,

 

 

P.S. I DID give KG his real gift later — Pokemon plushies — which met with his enthusiastic approval. May 2017 learn THAT’S how it’s done. ūüėČ

(This is the niece and nephews posing with the things I got them that they¬†actually liked. Notice there’s not a frog book to be found. Hehehe. KG is the one pointing to Evie.)
(Also, yes. Yes, I did get that hideous golden lion necklace thing for my oldest nephew. He wanted it, and I’m a sucker.)

 P.S.S.My mom left her computer open HAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Cai

Carrie Fisher Drowned in Moonlight, Strangled by Her Own Bra: 10 Things to Do about 2016, 2017 and Beyond

Dec 28 2016

Carrie Fisher died, drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra. The media is reporting it as a massive heart attack, but we know better because Carrie told us so.

If I’m going to be perfectly honest, I’m seriously bummed by Carrie’s death, but not desolate or overwhelmed. I liked Carrie Fisher very much. I love that she was wildly herself. I love that she learned to find humor in the madness of life. I love that she was honest about her addictions. I love that she was fierce and free and believed a good story could change the world. I’m also grateful that neither outright addiction nor mental illness took her in the end. That may sound strange or even callous, but those of us with mental illness always wonder whether it will triumph; whether it will be the one holding our hand while we drift away. That she died of a heart attack drowning in moonlight, strangled by her own bra? I kind of feel like Carrie won. Like she’s gone far too soon AND like she flipped mental illness the bird on her way out. Both/And, friends. Both/And.

I also feel like 2016 can bite me.

I just read an NPR article by Sam Sanders that 2016 maybe wasn’t all that bad. And I get what he’s saying, from an individualist, American-centric, privileged perspective, which he names outright in the article. But from a global perspective? With the largest displaced-people crisis the world has ever known? And war and chaos, unkindess and uncertainty? And even from an American perspective if we care about the marginalized, vulnerable and disenfranchised among us who feel more vulnerable than ever? Nope. All due respect, Mr. Sanders, but 2016 can totally suck it.¬†

We are in collective mourning for the state of our world and for the loss of our storytellers, and our oracles, and our sense-makers, and our truth-sayers. Whether we experienced those losses personally or not, it is right to grieve. The “I” may not be worse off after this year, but the “we” certainly is, and thank God we still know to lament that loss as a community.

I left my computer at work last night and realized it 25 minutes later, when I was almost home, so when I finally walked in the door after an additional round-trip to my office, to piles of mail, and half-eaten bowls of cereal littering the kitchen table, and boys squawking over who was cheating at Exploding Kittens (Hint: everyone. EVERYONE WAS CHEATING), and every surface covered with goo and gunk, I was more than done. I wanted food, a beer, my bathtub, and to be magically thin and fit in my jeans and still eat all the cheese; all of which were equally unrealistic in the moment.

I don’t know, you guys; it’s just, it’s the tail end of¬†2016 and I falsely thought, “IT’S ALMOST OVER; SURELY THE WORST HAS HAPPENED,” and then Christmas came and George Michael died, and after Christmas Carrie Fisher¬†died. By last night, I was all, “WTF, 2016! BITE ME,” except I whispered that very quietly¬†because I believe 2016 might ACTUALLY materialize in horrific semi-human form to bite me FOR REAL.

I tried to write last night but I gave up because I was too busy pulling the covers over my head and wondering if I could talk my kids into bringing me water and toast (read: beer and cheese) for four more days until the New Year because the only thing that made sense for the remainder of this fully effed up year was HIDING and praying the Lord Jesus comes quickly and TAKES US ALL TO GLORY. COME, LORD JESUS and take us to Glory where we can hang out with Mr. Michael; Ms. Fisher;¬†Alan Rickman who will sit by a roaring fire in a worn, leather, wing-back chair and read the¬†Harry Potter books in all the voices;¬†Richard Adams who will follow Mr. Rickman to read from Watership Down;¬†Leonard Cohen who will remind us there are Hallelujahs, somehow, everywhere;¬†John Glenn who will tell tales of the cosmos; and Gwin Ifill; and David Bowie; and Gene Wilder; and R2-D2; and my friend¬†Krissi’s daddy; and Prince; and Doris Roberts¬†who I suspect would’ve been fun to get a drink with; and Muhammad Ali; and Nancy Reagan¬†who taught me the power of NO, although never to drugs, because, in a grand disappointment, no one ever offered them to me like she practically promised they would; and Patty Duke; and Pat Summitt who was an unapologetic badass; and Harper Lee; and, the ones that most catch me in my throat and heart and soul, the kids like my friend Sue’s sweet boy who left so young and far too soon; and the precious ones we lost who are LGBTQ, like Molly Woolsey,¬†who couldn’t bear to stay in our unkind world filled with people who say they love their neighbors but only do it with words and stipulations.

Yes, I tried to write last night, but ghosts of 2016 surrounded me, and I had to mourn for a little while without words.

And then I checked the mail and found a package. A surprise present from my friend, Matthew, who is beautiful and a Light Bringer and rad.

img_3187

Which I sort of feel like is a present for all of us because it’s an icon¬†of St. Jude, the Patron Saint of Chaos and Impossible Causes, and I can think of little more important right now, in the waning days of 2016, than the reminder that just because things are impossible is no reason to give up. I mean, yes; we can give up for a¬†little while.¬†I’m a big fan of giving up¬†temporarily. But over the long term, we hope anyway. And we love each other. And we rest as long as we need. And we hold hands in the dark and whisper to each other that dawn is coming¬†eventually. And then we fight like hell and tackle the world and are fierce, unapologetic badasses who, like Leia Organa, lead the resistance. That is how this is going to work. That is how we’re going to make it through 2016. That is how we’re going to approach 2017 and beyond.¬†

  1. Things are impossible.
  2. We don’t give up.
  3. Except for a little while.
  4. After we’re done giving up, and even though we’re in the middle of unbelievable chaos, we hope anyway.
  5. We LOVE each other. No stipulations.
  6. We rest as long as we need, sitting in the muck and the mud and mire, knowing magic is there, too.
  7. We hold hands in the dark.
  8. We whisper dawn is coming.
  9. We fight like hell because we are fully fierce and free.
  10. We lead the resistance. 

And then we do it all again.

And again.

And again.

img_3140My family is celebrating Hanukkah this year. I’m hoping those of you who are Jewish don’t feel I’ve co-opted your religion and culture for my own ends; it’s just that I rather desperately need to celebrate the miracle of Light, which always comes in the darkness and just when we’re sure there’s no fuel to provide it. We have no Hanukkah candles, though my mama bought me a lovely menorah, so we’re using birthday candles which keep falling over, making the Festival of Light a fire hazard which somehow seems fitting for our family, like every Christmas Eve when they give my children candles at church and I spend the whole time singing Silent Night — all the verses — hoping we won’t burn the church down.

It’s just… I need Light this year. 2016 has been a weird one. Politically, yes. Religiously, yes. Deathly, yes. And also personally.¬†Our oldest son melted down over the summer. Fully and completely. Nearly needing institutionalization, though whether the person institutionalized was going to be me or my child was very much up in the air. Chaos and Impossible Causes, both of us; so much potential, so much heart, so much desire for better days and healthier brains, and so little knowledge for how to get there. And here we are at the end of the year with some things better and some things still mired in impossible chaos, because we are human, which is to say, we are divine, made in God’s own image, full of light yet also full of darkness. Both/And all the time. Full of grace, which is a state of being both lost and found at once.

And so I sign off for now.

Fiercely, impossibly, chaotically yours… and still whispering that the dawn is coming,

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P.S. TWO MORE THINGS, friends…

  1. During the chaos of summer, while everything was falling fully apart, I quit my beloved job at Medical Teams International, a humanitarian aid organization that provides medical and dental care, humanitarian aid, and holistic development programs to people in need around the world. Humanitarian aid work is my first love and where I thought I’d spend my life, so quitting the job, even for all the right reasons, including my child’s sanity and my own, as well as the plan to pursue writing “THE BOOK,” was full of grief. The right thing, for sure; also, hard. However, the CEO of Medical Teams, Martha Newsome, invited me to stay on in a temporary capacity focused on communications, and next week I’ll be traveling with her to Uganda where Medical Teams is responding to the overwhelming needs of South Sudanese refugees, mostly women and children, fleeing the war in their home country.¬†The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees asked Medical Teams International to provide medicines and doctors for new camps right now so more refugees can survive; MTI, of course, has stepped up to the task. While I typically try to separate my writing here with my work for Medical Teams, entirely because I want to protect Medical Teams’ reputation and I’m not sure my mouthy, progressive, push-the-envelope self is the very best way to deliver their message, I’ll be sharing my trip to Uganda with you because I know so many of you, like me, are eager for stories of hope and ways we can help. As I find out, so shall you; honestly, I can’t imagine going without you.
  2. sealrock1If you are in need of respite — a time to relax, or work on a project, or be with friends from this community in a gorgeous environment where my friend Maggie will make your food and serve you wine — we are opening up the additional spots at January’s Magic in the Mess retreat for anyone who would like to come. While this is billed as a writing retreat (and still will be — there are writers and wonderful instructors coming), there are 5 spots available for people who just want to come for respite! The writers will be taking two 3-hour blocks of quiet writing time every day, so there will be times of extended quiet; the rest of the day, while writers have their small group sessions, are free for us to explore, hang out, walk on the beach, hot tub, sit by the fire, etc. The dates are January 19-23, and you can find more information here. Please come; I’d love to hang out with you.¬†

The Longest Night

Dec 21 2016

I yelled at my husband this morning but not at my children which means I only yelled at 17% of my household and therefore have an 83%, or B grade, which is not an A but is definitely above average. This is why math matters, friends; so we can assess how much, exactly, we’re screwing it up. This is also the best argument I know for having too many children; even if you wreck it just completely with one of them, chances are you can still squeak out an overall win in the percentages.

In my defense, Greg didn’t do a small thing he assured me he would do, by 9:30am exactly, which I’d told him was important to me, which means Greg is human and fallible, which is a crux of All Marital Issues, large and small, which sucks. Unfortunately, another¬†crux of All Martial Issues, and All Relationships in General, is How We Respond to the ways we are disappointed and hurt. I usually pick Lashing Out and Being Mouthy and Overreacting in the Tiniest, Most Adorable Ways, minus being either tiny or adorable, which turns out Not to Improve Things but makes me feel better in the moment, same as bacon or cheese or perfectly crunchy toffee with a thin, chocolate coating that crumbles and dissolves¬†on my tongue. I might regret it later, but at the time? It’s the best thing I know. I’d like to apologize to Greg, but I know my apology will be sullen because the only genuine apology I can offer is, “I’m sorry for the way I reacted to you not doing the thing you¬†knew you needed to do, which you¬†agreed to do, which seemed small to you but which was important to¬†me, about which I¬†proactively communicated¬†to avoid this¬†very situation,” which doesn’t seem particularly helpful at this time.

Today is December 21st, the Winter Solstice, the Longest Night of the Year for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, and I am weary, friends. I am tired. I am heavy laden.

img_2939I has been Quite a Year.

And, though he was an easy target today, it’s not Greg. Of course it’s not.

It’s All the Things we’ve individually and collectively carried that are simply too much. Too huge. Too overwhelming to bear. Loss. Grief. Uncertainty. Illness. Unkindness. Helplessness. Fear for ourselves and mostly for others who are more vulnerable and have less margin to lose.

It’s been a Dark Night this year. A long, dark night. We’ve been waiting in the darkness for dawn to come, and, frankly, hope isn’t easy this year.

And yet, the Longest Night has come anyway. Like Good Friday, which is less about what’s good and more about bearing witness to the dark, and sitting in the pain, and seeing the sacrifice before we know for certain whether it will matter in the end. The Longest Night and Good Friday come, whether we’re ready or not.

And so we sit tonight, together. Holding hands. Waving in the dark. For a very long time. While hope is just a whisper we long to grow louder.

Sending you love, friends, and the blessing below on this long night,

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Blessing for the Longest Night
by Jan Richardson

All throughout these months
as the shadows
have lengthened,
this blessing has been
gathering itself,
making ready,
preparing for
this night.

It has practiced
walking in the dark,
traveling with
its eyes closed,
feeling its way
by memory
by touch
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.

So believe me
when I tell you
this blessing will
reach you
even if you
have not light enough
to read it;
it will find you
even though you cannot
see it coming.

You will know
the moment of its
arriving
by your release
of the breath
you have held
so long;
a loosening
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
a thinning
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
around you.

This blessing
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
to travel
in the company
of a friend.

So when
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Get up.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.

This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you go,
you will be walking
toward the dawn.

© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com