A Firsthand Look at the Refugee Crisis and Surprising Hope

January 27, 2017 in Beth, But Seriously by Beth Woolsey

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

January 12, 2017 in Beth, But Seriously by Beth Woolsey

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 the New Year, Autism, and Thanks, Anyway

December 31, 2016 in Beth, But Seriously, Family by Beth Woolsey

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

December 28, 2016 in Beth, But Seriously by Beth Woolsey

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,

Signature

 

 

 

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.¬†

On Kids, Who Are Horrible and Holy, and Who Have Much to Teach Us in This Season

December 9, 2016 in Beth, But Seriously, Family by Beth Woolsey

Kids. They’re made out of SO MUCH HUMAN, friends. Horrible and holy. Awkward and awesome. Wild and weird and wonderful and ragged and radiant and full of rage and fire.

Yimg_2685eimg_2690simg_2682teimg_2683rdaimg_2680y was a snow day which is rare in our neck of the Oregon woods. I, of course, take these things completely in stride where “in stride” is defined as using ALL CAPS all over the Facebook to let everyone know the SNOW IS COMING and we should BE PREPARED with ALL THE TUBS OF CHEAP, PROCESSED COCOA MIX and that MY KIDS ARE TAKING A SNOW DAY whether the school district gives them one or not.

Snow days are my favorite. They’re a forced change from the bustle of winter. No sports. No events. No meetings. No homework. Nothing other than staying home and hunkering down and making a fantastic mess of the house and the floors and ruining the pristine blanket of white outside with muddy footprints and snow angels made from 47% snow and 53% gravel.

My 10 year olds were too excited to sleep the night before snow arrived, and too excited to stay asleep, and therefore only caught¬†their zzzzzzs between 11pm-3am. Which means I only caught mine between 11pm-3am. 😳🙄

Nevertheless, we did All the Things.

  • We woke up too early. I complained about waking up too early.
  • We waited for snow because in Oregon we have snow days before snow actually arrives.
  • WE YELLED WHEN SNOW ARRIVED.
  • We insisted on the Facebook that we did, too, have snow, and we argued with our friends from Alaska, Idaho and Colorado about What Counts as Snow.
  • We wrapped the children in plastic bags and duct tape because there’s no way I’m buying snow gear for 5 children every year when we may get no snow at all and the snow we do get is likely to last 4 hours.
  • We made hot chocolate.
  • We spilled hot chocolate.
  • We made more hot chocolate.
  • We made snow cones out of SNOW.
  • We made popcorn.
  • We got the duct tape off the kid’s waist BEFORE he pooped his grandmother’s borrowed ski pants. FOR THE WIN!
  • We dealt with Major Meltdowns from children who got no sleep and played hard fueled mostly by adrenaline and sugar.
  • We were GRATEFUL FOR TEACHERS AND SCHOOL AND HOPE IT’S NOT FROZEN IN THE MORNING.
  • That last one was mostly me.
  • Also, I didn’t make dinner.
  • Also-also, I spent the rest of the evening hiding in the tub hoping no one could find me.

All in all, it was Snow Day perfection, surrounded by muck and mayhem, joy and delight, occasional bouts of rage and tears at snowballs packed too tight before they smashed into the faces of their intended targets, and children who are stunning and gorgeous and homely and wise and fragile and kind and cruel, all wrapped up together.

I intended to get Lots of Things done. To clean the kitchen between batches of warm beverages and crying, happy kids. To write. To bake. To bask in the bliss of silent snowfall. To finish the 17 piles of laundry. To not lose my poo, not even secretly on the inside. To wrap presents. To sing too loud to Pandora’s Pentatonix holiday station. But I managed none of those things. Not one.

And it was still perfect. By which I mean utterly imperfect and exactly right.¬†Kids, friends. They are SO MUCH OF EVERYTHING, and they ended up around my table wiping their noses on their sleeves, bickering about how many rocks, exactly, were in the snowball, and who threw it in whose face on PURPOSE — full of “did not” and “did TOO” and “did NOT” and “I SAW YOU” — all while dripping giant puddles of snowmelt on the floor, shoving popcorn in each other’s faces, and making plans for an Even More Epic Snowball Battle to start in 5 minutes. I reminded them the Next Battle was likely to end in tears, same as the first, and they looked at each other like I was crazy. Not wrong, just crazy. “We know,” they said, with¬†duh in their voices, “but it’s SO WORTH IT.” As though there are some things in life worth taking a rock to the face and worth the fighting and tears.

I have a feeling they’re right and that they know more about the cost of joy than I do.

This is a strange season we’re in. A season full of weird politics. A season of questioning where we belong, what we’ll cling to, and what we’ll discard. A season of joy. A season of taking rocks to the face. A season of full of “did not” and “did TOO” and “did NOT” and “I SAW YOU,” which happens in my kitchen and all over the Facebook. A season of remembering the refugee. A season of having a¬†ragtag crew around the table and considering how to both¬†invite people to that table¬†AND take a less privileged seat at it. A season of considering who’s left out in the cold and how, exactly, to welcome people to the magic inside, knowing there’s a muddy, mangled mess here, too.

These days, I’m finding I’m only learning one thing at a time and that I can’t see the whole pathway forward. I can only barely make out the next step of learning to love my neighbor as myself and learning that everyone is my neighbor. But my one thing right now is to look to my kids and learn from their example. Because kids. They’re made out of SO MUCH HUMAN, friends. And so much of the divine. Horrible and holy. Awkward and awesome. Wild and weird and wonderful and ragged and radiant and full of rage and fire. Angry at taking rocks to the face. Eager to fight for justice. Willing to keep finding joy anyway.

And so, amen.

Sending love, friends, and wishes for snow days to come,

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P.S. For those of you southwest of Portland, Oregon — or who want to come from afar — I’m hosting Whiskey and Worship this Tuesday, December 13th. You can find all the details here. This is the first of what I hope will become a monthly event.¬†Our goal is to create a safe and sacred space that is open, welcoming and affirming of all comers, focused only on corporately loving God no matter our definition of the Divine, loving each other, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. This is a space free of coercion and attempts at conversion, because gross. And, especially, this is a place to bring our whole selves — perfect, imperfect, messy, magical — understanding we are made in the very image of a God whose love for us, exactly as we already are, is endless.

The tavern is solely reserved for our group and use. Come at 7 to grab your drink and food and say hello. Nate Macy and Shawna Gordon will lead us in worshiping the Jesus we know and love starting at 7:30. I get not all y’all are Jesusy people — that’s, frankly, one of my favorite things about this space — but for those of you who are, and for those of you who are weary of the way the church has been acting more as gatekeeper than welcomer, this event is for you.

It’s All on the Line. Like, EVERYTHING.

November 29, 2016 in Beth, But Seriously by Beth Woolsey

I’ve been hidey again these past two weeks. Partly because my burrito baby felt like the truest and best thing I had to offer the world in the wake of a haunting election, so why mess it up with more?¬†Partly because I’ve been working hard at listening to All the People, especially the Afraid People and the Hurting People, but also to the People Who Think Very Differently Than Me¬†because listening is a sacrament and holy.¬†And partly because I’d convinced myself, as usual, that I have nothing to say because my thoughts are too many, and too loud, too complicated and jumbled to make sense. By now, of course, we know that last thing is my modus operandi; my M.O.; my area of expertise; my spiritual gift. And who am I to squander my talents? The Bible says whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability, and I am SUPER GREAT at self-doubt and silencing myself, so WOOHOO — look at me, rocking the heck out of that!

I have, of course, been responding to the rampant uncertainty and unkindness in all the usual ways. Panic, deep breathing, remaining calm, and panicking again in rapid succession, which is a form of prayer. Also, french fries. Also-also, a ferocity of conviction to DO MORE THINGS to help marginalized people. And binge watching the Gilmore Girls revival all in one sitting and ’til 2:00am because that’s a wise use of my time and emotional energy. (It totally is.)

I don’t know, friends; I just feel more and more like it’s all on the line again. “It,” you know? Everything. All the Things. Whatever¬†defines me, and defines my family, and defines faith, and defines our country and communities; it’s all in need of review and unpacking and simplifying and purging and paring down to the barest essentials so we can Love Each Other Better, which is the Main Goal and the Biggest Thing and the most Of-God we get to be in the world.

I wrote once about unpacking my God box to find a truer truth.

And so it was that becoming a mother stripped me down to nothing and left me bare, exposed to my fears and my not-enoughness and my God. It was there, in that empty space, that I slowly began to unpack my Lunchables box, trying to discover whether any pieces of my God-meal matched a more significant, infinite, loving God who could sustain me… whether I could somehow mesh my easy, compartmentalized answers with my difficult, messy questions…. and whether, perhaps, I might find myself in the process.

My box was loaded with things that were striking to me in the way they didn’t fit with my understanding of a loving God. Things I was surprised I’d carried for years and in secret because I thought I would be shunned by the Church if I discarded them. Things that I thought were core to being a follower of Jesus, but which I found out… weren’t. Things like:

  • a Letter of the Law fundamentalism that‚Äôs married to mob-mentality politics,
  • ‚Äúthe Lord helps those who help themselves‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúlove the sinner and hate the sin‚ÄĚ and other trendy sayings that embrace a cringe-worthy sense of entitlement or judgment and, strikingly, aren‚Äôt in the Bible,
  • and the pressure to deliver the Horror of Hell story with enough conviction to scare people toward a merciful God and into Heaven

These and a thousand thousand other things stuck in my throat and became increasingly difficult to swallow.¬†They clogged my faith and made it hard for me to breathe. And so, with the cacophony of ‚Äúbut you¬†must¬†believe these things to raise righteous children‚ÄĚ and a great deal of uncertainty ringing in my ears, I let them go.

I let them go for the risky pursuit of an authentic faith.

You can read the whole thing here, but the crux of my current conviction is this: we’re here again, except this time collectively, and we’re flailing a little bit together. To find Love. To find Truth. To find Each Other. To find the things to hang our lives on, and to discard the things that keep us from what matters.

I’ll be writing more about this in days to come, but I’m going to have to let it leak out slowly. Incrementally. As I figure out which pieces of the boxes to unpack. Again.

Here we go, friends.

Here we go. Except I’m really glad we’re going there together.

With love as always,

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P.S. This was my face at 1:00am watching Gilmore Girls’ Fall, as messaged to my friend, Laney, lest I feel all the feels all alone.

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I just wanted to share it with you because I’m so pretty, and the point of the internet is to share pretty pics. Heh heh heh. Also, WE NEED EACH OTHER, friends.

P.P.S. Ferocity is¬†totally¬†a measurement of conviction. Do not even try to tell me otherwise, or I will have to tell you stories of about my mother that involve chainsaws and trees and a wireless phone and threats to call the police. Ferocity of conviction, I tell you. It’s a thing.

For America With Love: A Burrito Baby Photo Shoot

November 14, 2016 in Beth, Funny by Beth Woolsey

 

I’m not pregnant.img_2364

Not even a little. No babies in my belly these days.

Nor do I have a belly tumor, so fear not, dear ones.

What I do have are three things:

  1. A love of burritos (where “burrito” =¬†all the food)
  2. A special talent for pushing my belly wall to the max
  3. The knowledge that all of us — even me — are worthy of Deep, Abiding Love, exactly as we already are. Beloved. Valued. And Beautiful.¬†‚Üź This is a true a truth as I know.

That why I’m making the announcement today that I am having a burrito, friends. And, as we women do for all the momentous events in our lives, I had a very special maternity photo shoot to commemorate the occasion — a photo shoot we’re¬†calling:

Not a Baby
(Just a Burrito)

I’m giving these pics to you, America and the world, because I’m pretty sure burrito babies can help make our world a better place,¬†and Dear God in Heaven, we need the world to be a better place right about now.¬†

img_2359The truth is, a few months ago, things were hard at our house. They’ve been hard before — we don’t live an uncomplicated life, after all, what with the five children and myriad special needs¬†and we parents who are stunningly imperfect — and they’ll undoubtedly be hard again. But this time, my kid was falling wildly apart, psychiatrically speaking, which is, so far, my Very Least Favorite kind of falling-apart when it comes to our children. Mental illness is a deep, deep darkness — I would know — and it’s hard sometimes to remember to wave in the dark¬†to the others who are waiting for dawn, as well, so we can recall¬†we never¬†wait alone.

It’s been a tough season, and it’s not over, but we’re on an upswing lately, and we’ve triumphed the way triumph happens in real life; by taking the next right step amidst many missteps, by breaking all the way down¬†and cobbling ourselves partly¬†back together, by circling back to our humans, by practicing radical self care in tiny¬†ways, by trying to get good sleep, by reading escapist novels¬†and a few trashy ones, and by being kind and cruel and then kind again to ourselves and our people. And, of course, by eating all the french fries, which, though completely unsustainable in the long run, is one of the best damn short-term strategies I know.image-1img_2378Listen, though: Let’s acknowledge that we do not come out of tragedy or loss or grief or even a shift of expectations unchanged. We do not come out of eating all the burritos unchanged, either. Right now, I’m wearing the past season of life in my skin.

In my skin.

In my body.

I grieved. I worked hard for my kid. I ate All the Things.

And also, I am lovely.

AND ALSO, we are lovely.

Not “but we are lovely” or “nevertheless¬†we are lovely” or “someday,¬†if we’re very lucky and never, ever touch a burrito again¬†we’ll be lovely.” No. Not those things at all. We come out of tragedy and grief transformed — sometimes utterly —¬†AND ALSO we are lovely. Little and big bellies and all; we are stunning.¬†And we are, every single one of us, worthy of deep love and celebration. From others. From ourselves.

When we know that’s true, we can learn to laugh and love a¬†lot, and enjoy the hell out of our lovely, stunning selves.

Including during the burrito seasons.

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In conclusion, I don’t know how long the burrito belly will last. It waxes and wanes like the moon. But I’m sure going to celebrate it while it’s here.

With abiding love,

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P.S. Thanks to the crew, aka the Lovelies who attended the Grace and the Grime Spiritual Formation Retreat and got roped into helping with a Burrito Baby photo shoot. Y’all are good sports.

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Photo Direction:
Kim McDonough

 

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Photography:
Emily Chlumak

 

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Make-up:
Crystal Kuttner Wolf

 

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Bra and Burrito Holders:
Carrie Zelnar Hutchinson
Angelina Littrell