The Grief Journey is a Grace Journey

In the midst of grief, grace is paramount. 

Whether you’re walking through grief or walking alongside the grieved, grace is a gift that offers space for vulnerability and healing. Grace is a gift that makes room for the pain to push its way through and out, over and over. Grace is a gift that says, “you are loved in your darkest hour. You are cared for even when the tears won’t stop. You are accepted and valued while you’re blinded by pain and tears. You matter, even at your messiest.” Grace is a beacon of light that shines on the long path of loss traveled by the grieved.

It has been less than 3 months since my mom unexpectedly passed away, and I am reminded daily how much grace is required to live through deep, heavy, aching loss. I’m reminded moment by moment that I rely heavily on heavenly grace as I put one foot in front of the other. I’m reminded that when grace slips through my fractured heart, I’m blessed to be surrounded by people who tenderly love me back to a place of hope and restoration, love and favor. I’m learning daily lessons about the surprising movements of grief and grace, and some of these lessons have been hard to tread through.

Just hours after my mom’s memorial service, I lost sight of grace, and made a decision I regret. I allowed hurt and disappointment to get the best of my weary heart. I was confused and afflicted by the lack of outreach I had received from 2 women in my life, and I could’ve let it go. I should’ve let it go. My mom would’ve let it go, and she would’ve counseled me to do the same. I could’ve chalked it up to immaturity, trauma, ignorance, or universal brokenness. I could’ve let it roll off my back, but that’s not what I chose. I chose to engage my hurt until it boiled over hissing for release. I chose to take a route that would bear no good fruit. The very same day I stood up in front of hundreds of people honoring my mom and her beautiful spirit, and claiming that I wanted to be more like her, I still chose to send a message to these women, sharing my hurt and disappointment. It wasn’t an angry message, but it was a message that carried a dose of shame, and it was not a message of grace.

It took less than one day for me to regret my decision. I quickly came to realize that I had allowed my deep hurt, my heavy grief, my exposed and raw emotions to be expressed as anger towards them, and I was heartsick by my choice. I felt guilt and shame for lashing out and I felt a dark sadness that my mom was disappointed in me. In an effort to repair the graceless mistake I had made, I sent the following message:

“I have not acted out of grace or love, and my mom was the perfect representation of both of those things. I want to be more like my mom. I’m ashamed that I’ve allowed my broken heart and hurt to turn into hurting you. I was hurt, but did not need to share it with you…Love should always lead and we love you…Grief at this magnitude wears on the nerves and can cause emotions and behavior that are outside of the norm. That’s where I’m at right now…outside of the norm. I am broken. Please forgive me.” 

Neither woman responded and I was undone. I could not stop the self-talk that said I deserved to be ignored, that my mistakes make me unlovable, that if I mattered I would be forgiven, that the only way I can be accepted is to get “it” right all the time. The shame swimming in my head was keeping me up at night, and I could not stop ruminating. Shame is toxic, and in the midst of grief it can be almost too much to bear. I had inadvertently compounded my grief by adding emotional pain that didn’t belong…pain that had nothing to do with losing my mom…pain that actually blocked my ability to get back to processing my grief. Here I was focusing on the hurt caused by my expectations rather than putting my energy into grief work and healing. Suddenly, I found myself sitting in shame…hating myself for allowing my wounds to wound others. What had started as disappointment in someone else was now a great disappointment in myself. 

Thankfully, I have friends and family who stepped in to remind me that I’m worthy of forgiveness and grace, just as much as the 2 women I had clearly hurt. A dear friend held me tightly and said, “you are allowed to make mistakes and you are forgiven.” She acknowledged that grief turns our world upside down and that we must be kind to ourselves during these times. She encouraged me to forgive myself so that I could refocus on my walk with grief. This is when I realized that the grief journey is also a grace journey, and without grace we may find ourselves experiencing additional pain and loss. The mistakes I’ve made on this path have taught me that in order for healing to move unhindered, there are 3 directions grace must flow in times of grief:

  1. Giving grace to others while we grieve

Many people haven’t suffered significant and/or traumatic loss, and if they have, then their trauma may not allow for the kind of support we need. It is important that while we are grieving we make a decision to forgive others for their lack of understanding, their perceived insensitivity, and even their bizarre or misguided comments. Death is uncomfortable. It cannot be fixed. There are no words. It reminds us of our mortality and the fleeting nature of life on earth. To show up for someone who has just experienced a terrible loss takes courage and vulnerability. Try not to hold on too tightly to expectations of what people should do and/or say or how often. Expectations often lead to disappointment, hurt, and anger in a time we’re most in need of love, peace, and healing. Everyone is doing their best and as Toni Morrison said, “if they knew better they would do better.” Decide not to take disappointments personally. It is important to recognize that those who are showing up, are absolutely doing their best, and even those who don’t show up are living within their own emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual capacity…we are all doing the best we can.  

  1. Giving grace to ourselves while we grieve

In the pursuit of healing, we must offer ourselves daily and generous doses of forgiveness for our mistakes. When our hearts are torn open, we are much more susceptible to overwhelm and uncharacteristic behavior. Sleep is diminished, anxiety is at the forefront, we can barely see straight let alone think straight. We are exhausted and worn out. Grief takes an emotional, mental and physical toll and we must be patient with our hearts, our minds, our bodies. The ability to focus on anything other than the pain can be impossible at times, and our minds struggle to keep up with even the most mundane activities, so please be gentle. Two hours of work may feel like 12 and two minutes of patience with our children may feel like a lifetime. As we walk through this fog, we can expect to stumble. We will make mistakes, we will say things we wish we could take back, we will hurt other’s feelings, and yet we must continue to give ourselves grace. We are allowed to be messy AND loved! We are allowed to say, “ I’m sorry. I just can’t do this. I need help.”   

  1. Giving grace to those who are grieving

There is no telling how grief will impact a person or how a person will cope, but you can expect the bereaved to be forever changed. Please understand that the grief-stricken cannot see the world the way we saw it one moment before. Everything has changed…our reality has changed. We are heavy and pushing through something dark and deep…we often feel lost and disjointed. We will not be ourselves, so please offer abundant forgiveness and understanding. We are facing a long road of healing from an amputation. We must learn how to see and do things differently, think differently, live differently. Every moment carries a pulsating ache. We need love, acceptance, space to scream and pound and weep. We need space for our enormous feelings, but not distance. We need close, strong, loving arms, and undeserved forgiveness as we stumble through the haze of sorrow that surrounds us. We need tenderness even while our rough edges rub everyone the wrong way. We need to be reminded over and over that mistakes do not make us unlovable. We need forgiveness as we will do and say things that are out of character and likely uncalled for. Our world has shifted. Everything about the past, the present, and the future is now different, and we need hope to step forward. As we break before you, and disappoint you, and maybe even anger you, please forgive us. I’m begging for myself. I’m begging for others. 

As I walk the path of grief I clearly see the beauty grace has to offer. Unmerited favor and love create the conditions necessary for the grieved to move towards hope and healing. Unmerited favor and love give the grieved a chance to live with their head and heart above water, while they learn how to live without their loved one. Unmerited love and favor carry the grieved through the heaviest and darkest of days.

I have made mistake after mistake since my mom passed, and I am so grateful for those who continue to hold me close. I am so grateful for those who remind me to be tender with myself. I am so grateful for those who help me lean into grace for myself and grace for others.

I pray that you will join me in the practice of giving grace to those who may disappoint, and that includes ourselves. This journey is not meant to be walked alone, so let us surround ourselves with friends and family who allow unconditional love and favor to flow freely in ALL directions. Let us journey through grief and grace together.

Inclusion Leaves Room for “Old White Guys” Too

“Old white guy.” I said the words and I didn’t like the taste they left in my mouth…a bitterness I have no desire to cultivate. I didn’t say them as an honest and simple descriptor. I said them with a twinge of disgust as I was talking about Joe Biden entering the 2020 Democratic race. I said them with a rolling of the eyes. I said them despite the fact that just 3 years ago I was hoping against all hope that he would run for President.  I said, “old white guy” with the same ugly tone I hear from the talking heads day in and day out. Then, just a few days after uttering those acidic words, I went on a walk with my dad and we talked about the strength of women, the wisdom of women, the value of women. I went on a walk with an “old white guy,” and I was blessed. During our walk, I realized that I would never use those words, with that tone, in front of my dad, because he is my “old white guy,” and he is my rock, my friend, my father whom I respect and admire and love with all my being. I can’t fathom intentionally saying something that might make him feel less than or unworthy of my honor and respect. That night, I went to bed frustrated with myself for falling into the trap of binary thinking…us vs. them, either/or, in group vs. out group. I went to bed admitting that my heart hopes for life-giving conversation, but my tendency is to soak in the culture around me and thoughtlessly repeat the rhetoric I hear. I went to bed praying for the wisdom to speak up and out for those whose voices have been silenced and to do so without spreading hate or shame or fear.  

I do understand that when people say, “old white guy,” they aren’t actually referring to ALL older white men. In context, this phrase is usually being directed towards 1 person, 1 small group of people (i.e. congress), or 1 specific situation. I also understand that this is said to express the idea that the majority has been in charge long enough, and in order for much needed change to take place, others MUST be promoted to positions of decision-making power. I agree whole-heartedly with this notion. I desperately want to see women and people of color given equal opportunities to succeed and lead. I want to see them as the heroes in movies, the leads in shows, the CEOs in Fortune 500 companies, the headliners at conferences, the owners of booming business, the Presidents of universities, and on and on. I want to see an America that honors and respects minorities and embraces diversity. I want to see equality and equity for the marginalized. I want to see all people treated with reverence and regarded as equally worthy of life and liberty. I want to speak out and stand up for the rights of minorities while continuing to honor and respect the individuals within the majority who have earned that honor and respect. I don’t want to perpetuate the false dichotomy that insists we have to be hateful towards one group to love another, dishonoring to one group to honor another, tear one group down to lift up another, ostracize one group to include another. 

Let me be clear. When there is an “old white guy” who is racist, minsogynst, homophobic, power hungry, discriminatory, arrogant, intolerant, etc., I will hold him accountable in the same way I would any individual with toxic beliefs and behaviors that poison our culture. If there is a “boy’s club,” such as the hundreds of cops across the country who shared racist sentiments on social media, I do and always will strongly advocate for real and felt consequences for their bigotry and corruption. Beyond holding individuals responsible for their overt prejudice, I also see the crucial need for the privileged to understand implicit bias and to do the internal work required to break free from this damaging unconscious attitude towards others. I believe it is immensely important for white men to step up and be an ally, an advocate, a champion for women and people of color. I want to see them admit their privilege and then use that privilege for good. I want them to acknowledge their position(s) of power and then seek equality and equity for the under-privileged. I want them to thicken their skin and consider not taking every comment about white men personally. I want them to make a noble effort to hold a deeply intimate perspective of what it means to be a white man versus a woman or person of color in this country. I believe the majority has a responsibility to LISTEN to the outnumbered and the oppressed and to deeply consider the effects of historical trauma and systemic racism in our society. I believe the majority has a moral responsibility to sit with the discomfort of deeply understanding the roots of white supremacy and how white people, as a collective group, have benefitted from structural racism. I believe white men have a responsibility to bring diverse participants to the table, to build bridges of multiculturalism, to open their minds and hearts to the inherent struggles that touch the lives of minorities before they’re even born. I believe these efforts should be a daily exercise. I do not feel sorry for white men. I do believe that some white men are part of the problem, however, I do not believe that speaking about them as a collective whole in a disparaging way will lead us to the loving and lasting change many of us seek. 

I am holding onto hope that we can stand for diversity and equality without tearing others down. I’m hopeful that we can carve out those who divide us while holding close to those who unite us regardless of their race, religion, gender, ethnicity, age, and so on. I believe I can tell my dad, (my “old white guy”) that his wisdom is priceless and that I have much to learn from him while also demanding more diversity, equality, and equity in our government, our companies, our universities, our churches, our media…our country! 

The Changes I Plan on Making:

  1. Instead of using the term “old white men” as if they’re disposable and should be ignored or discarded, I will say: “I want more diversity…others deserve and need to be at the table…I want to hear from someone who represents women and people of color…I desire a fresh perspective around this issue…I would like to see change, and I believe that said change would be best lead by (enter name of woman or person of color here).” I’ve decided that I do not have to say, “old white guy” or “old white men” in a tone of disgust to make the point that I would like to see very different faces and hear from very different people. 
  2. I will honor the gifts of individuals in any and all groups. I’m thankful for the wisdom my dad has to share due to his years of life experience and education. I’m also thankful for the varying perspectives and knowledge that individual women and people of color bring to the conversation. I will continue to advocate for equal and respectful treatment of minorities while avoiding disparaging the majority as a whole.  
  3. I will object to certain individuals and their behavior without objecting to the entire group of people that those individuals demographically belong to.
  4. I will encourage white men and women to do the work of understanding implicit bias, white privilege, systemic racism, and white supremacy without attaching a shaming message, and I will continue to do this work myself.
  5. I will avoid divisive language and over-generalizations to pursue conversations that are unifying, kind, loving, candid, and inviting. As I seek change, I want my words to welcome others to the table. I want my words to summon others to join me in my pursuit for social justice and I want Love to be the leader. 

I aspire to find a firm foundation in standing up for the marginalized while protecting my heart from the destructiveness of hate. I yearn to speak up and out for what’s right while being careful not to treat an entire demographic as if they are wholly responsible for every individual or small group of bad actors. I don’t want to overgeneralize in a way that labels the many older white men in my life as obstacles to a better America because they were born white and lived too long. I don’t want them feeling belittled or devalued because we’ve decided there’s no longer room for them at the table. I want to lift minorities up while maintaining respectful language for those who deserve respect. Our words carry weight. Our words matter. I pray the small changes I’m dedicated to making will bring light to my small circle of influence, and that eventually it will be easier for me to resist the temptation of using language that produces hurt rather than healing. I pray for life-giving dialogue around hard issues and grace when I get it wrong. 

If you have other ideas on how we can have hard conversations without shame and blame, or maybe there’s something you’ve said that’s kept you up at night, and you’ve decided to change your approach, I would love to hear from you!

The Perils of People Pleasing

I’ve spent a good chunk of my adult life trying to dispel the people pleasing bug that thrives inside me. I’ve done affirmations in the mirror, prayer, meditation, self-help books, empowering quotes on the fridge, and….well, you get the picture. Friends and family have gently encouraged me to remember that my value does not come from what others think of me, and I agree. My brain agrees that my worth is not determined by others, but my heart tells a different story. I’ve been thinking a lot about how this propensity for validation drives my behavior and I’ve been talking about it in therapy…praying and willing and trying to shift this perspective. I’ve explored the history behind this behavior, the advantages I’ve experienced that have kept me glued to this path. It’s obvious to me that I continue to walk this road of seeking affirmation because there is a benefit, an incentive, a pay-off. I wouldn’t plunge into people pleasing year after year if I wasn’t getting something out of it, either consciously or subconsciously. With this reflection I’ve realized that before I can change, I first must understand and believe how this way of living has ramifications that outweigh the rewards. I’ve been asking myself, “are there negative consequences to this lifestyle that outweigh the benefits?” As I’ve been seeking to understand the pitfalls of this driving desire, I’ve noticed just how ridiculously hazardous it gets for me.

Jerry Seinfeld said that most people’s #1 fear is public speaking, with the fear of dying being #2. That means that if given the choice, most people would choose death over having to give the eulogy. This is how I feel about letting others down. Letting others down = #1 fear. Death = #2 fear.

I choose pain and possible death over upsetting someone else…you think I’m kidding!!

I’ve had reflexology that was so intense I was bruised the next day, but said nothing during the treatment because I didn’t want to hurt the massage therapist’s feelings. I once laid on a massage table that was too short for me (because I am the biggest lady in the room), and rather than speak up about how uncomfortable I was, I just let my legs dangle off the end until they fell asleep. My feet were soooooo relaxed by the end of that memorable spa experience, that I couldn’t walk out of the room due to my numb stubs.

I take dangerous left turns to please others…for the love of God! I am so concerned that the people waiting behind me may become annoyed, that I find myself bolting into traffic. I fly out into the middle lane saying a little prayer that my sacrifice will be worth it, and that all the strangers will be pleased with the choice I’ve made. I can’t bare the thought of someone being irritated by my driving decisions or making someone wait to the point of impatience, so I opt to risk life and limb instead. “What if they think I should’ve gone already and they honk at me!?!?” Oh, the horror!

My sister-in-law recently shared something she read that said, an alarming percentage of those who are choking leave the room full of people and end up in a place alone where they die. I had to admit that I could imagine myself adding to this statistic. I wouldn’t want to ruin anyone’s meal or good conversation, and I wouldn’t want to make a scene. I can picture myself making a swift exit to avoid being a burden even when the 2 choices on the table are regain breath and life or die from asphyxiation.

I am a chronic apologizer

A few weeks ago, I was pulling out of a parking lot and checked to make sure there wasn’t someone behind me before I stopped to enter an address into my phone. In my peripheral vision I saw a car turn into the parking lot and at the same time I heard a honking. My immediate thought was, “Oh no! what did I do wrong? Who do I owe an apology to?” For a split second I considered gunning it in case I was in the way and inconveniencing someone. I was tentative to look to my left just knowing that I had made a mistake and I was about to meet someone I had angered. Low and behold it was a friend, excitedly waving hello and wanting to know how I was and what I was doing there. As I drove away I couldn’t help but reflect on the knee-jerk reaction my brain has without any information…the voice on repeat that says, “you’re making a mistake,” “you’re upsetting someone,” “you’re wrong.”

It’s a joke in my circle of family and friends that they will inevitably receive an apology text from me after every gathering. As we give our goodbye hugs at the end of a party I often hear, “I don’t want any apology texts tonight or tomorrow Renee’,” and sometimes I will joke and proclaim a blanket “I’m sorry” at the beginning of an evening as to cover my bases upfront. It really has become comical and I can laugh at myself and the ridiculousness of it all, however deep down it’s that same voice that says, “you’re making a mistake,” “you’re upsetting someone,” “you’re wrong,” with an additional “and they’re not going to love you/accept you/be friends with you any longer.” The scariest words I believe are, “If you mess up, they will leave you.”

As I’ve reflected on these moderately embarrassing revelations I’ve come to realize just how unhealthy my desire for approval really is. Putting others happiness and comfortability over my own safety seems a bit (just a tad) unbalanced. I give my extreme examples to make the point that regardless of the “positive” things we’ve come to believe result from people pleasing (i.e. approval, worth, friendship, affirmation, etc.), none of that is worth our spiritual, emotional, and/or physical health.

As I continue to reflect on the results of my people pleasing habits I’m sure this list will grow longer, but as of today, these are the consequences that stand out to me.

7 Consequences of People Pleasing:

  1. Making decisions driven by fear of what others will think will either hold us back from our purpose or thrust us into something we were never made for. When I’m frozen with fear or jumpy with anxiety I must slow down, dig deep, pray for God’s guidance, and take a moment to check in with my heart. I must ask myself who I want to be regardless of the pressure to please.
  2. Joy does not come from other’s approval. Joy comes from leaning into who God designed us to be. Joy comes from tuning into our North star and knowing deep in our soul that we were created worthy, valuable, and beautiful.  When we are seeking approval from others we’ve lost sight of who God says we are.
  3. When we bend to fit other’s visions we lose sight of who we are, and this makes for unhealthy relationships, not just with them, but with ourselves. We cannot be in true authentic relationship if we’re not showing up as our true authentic selves.
  4. The expectations we think others have of us are often expectations we’ve created for ourselves. We may attribute the pressures we feel to someone on the outside, when in actuality the pressure is building from the inside based on our false assumptions of what others are thinking.
  5. Self-criticism and chronic apologizing is a flag that there’s something deeper going on. As I’ve engaged in therapy I’ve met a little girl, a teenage girl, and a young woman living within me, who all believe there was something wrong with them…that if they weren’t perfect, then there would be heartbreak. These parts of us need our empathy, our comfort, our encouragement that they are safe and loved and enough.
  6. It’s exhausting to constantly be on alert for what everyone else thinks. It takes an incredible amount of energy to try and please everyone because it’s IMPOSSIBLE. A mentor once shared a quote with me that says, “the only sure way to fail is to try to please everyone.” Living for others is a prison of constant disappointment as every person is unique in their needs, wants, and desires, and those needs, wants, and desires can change like the wind.
  7. People pleasing steals our health (physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually). The weight of wanting to be liked has me driving like Thelma and Louise, enduring torture at the spa, conjuring up reasons my friends and family must be mad at me, and possibly a future death by choking. Even without dramatic stories like these, trying to please others is a stressor that gnaws at our well-being, and keeps us from fulfilling our potential and being true to who we are.

If your examples of people pleasing are not as extreme as mine then congratulations, as you are a safer driver, and probably walk away from massage with feeling in your legs and glowing/unblemished skin. However, if this desire ever rises up in you (at any level), then I want to encourage you to consider the pressure it creates in your life and how the unfavorable consequences outweigh the gains. I want to assure you that you matter. I want to embolden you to consider who you are in God’s eyes. I want to incite you to believe that your joyful, fulfilling, soulful purpose is within you and your beautiful heart….not out there in the world’s opinion of you. I pray we can continue to move towards who we are meant to be and let the rest fall away.  

Living in the Wilderness: Starving for Nuance on the Abortion Debate


Does anyone else believe that the subject of abortion is more nuanced than the broad generalizations that shout, you’re either a murderer or you hate women? Is anyone else tired of the name-calling, the black and white thinking, the social media posts and memes with the sole purpose of shaming, stoking the fire, throwing bigger stones? It appears that gracious, respectful, and honoring dialogue is rare these days, and I’m exhausted as I observe the battles on social media. I am starving for context and nuance in this discussion and yet terrified to start the conversation myself. I don’t have answers. I don’t stand firm in one camp and shoot arrows at the other. I don’t believe half the country are misogynists and the other half are baby killers. I’m afraid to write about my thoughts on this issue. I’m afraid because I don’t cling to one side or the other with an army of supporters to back me up in case of an attack. I’m afraid that no matter what I write, 50% of my friends and family will immediately see me as the enemy regardless of who they know me to be or what they’ve come to know of my heart. I’m afraid, and YET, I have a desire to bring a conversation forward that is void of hate and name-calling. Will you help me? Do you believe we can be respectful, vulnerable, brave, smart, and kind in our exchanges, giving grace to those we disagree with? Are we up for the challenge of leading with kindness? Please join me as I try!  We will do our best and ask the Lord to take care of the rest.

As I wrestle with this complex issue, please stick with me. Please understand that I’m a person seeking love and grace…to give it freely and receive it fully. Please know that I do not claim to be right or to know right or to live right. If I miss a perspective in this post, forgive me and please share your heart, your desires, your perceptions. I want to hear from you. I want to learn from you. I’m doing the best I can to listen to all viewpoints while building bridges between us versus burning them down. I’m doing my best to see both sides from a place of love and grace, so that I can embrace people regardless of our different postures and points of view. I have no desire to plant my feet in cement and scream at the crowd across from me for the rest of my life. There are many amazing, loving, smart, kind, giving people on all sides of this controversy, and I am broken as I watch us throw stones at each other from our glass houses. I don’t want to choose sides on every debate, but I do want to love all people well.

I have never seen good come out of vitriolic rhetoric, healing from hate, salvation from fear, grace from judgement. I truly believe humbly loving and serving one another is the path to restoration, love and healing, healthy community. As a fan of Jesus, I believe love is the path through confusion and darkness…the weapon that defeats the grip of hate. I believe in the redeeming power of love and I feel myself collapsing under the weight of cruel assumptions, bitter accusations, vicious words without an iota of loving consideration. I feel this burden regardless of the side serving the venom.  

My Reaction to the Pro-Choice Rhetoric:

When I hear or read pro-choice advocates claiming that pro-life/anti-abortion supporters don’t care about women’s rights, I wince. I struggle with the idea that someone attempting to protect what they believe is a vulnerable and voiceless human being is equivalent to not caring about women or women’s bodies. Caring about the outcome of a babies life and caring about women’s rights are not binary choices. We can and should care about both. If we see abuse of a newborn, we report it. We report it to protect the baby. We report abuse even with the understanding that the mom may lose her rights to parent that child. This does not make the reporter of suspected abuse hateful or sexist. If I’m someone who believes that the entity within a woman’s womb is a human life, then naturally, as another loving human being, I feel the need to protect that life. If I believe there is a body….a somebody inside a woman’s womb, then doesn’t it make sense that I should care to protect them both? That I shouldn’t weigh one’s worth over the other? That I should support them equally in their right to life? That I would choose to fight for both of them to live regardless of their age? If I believe personhood begins in the womb, then isn’t it imperative that I act as a voice for the voiceless and defend the defenseless, not because I don’t believe in a woman’s autonomy, but because I believe in protecting the unprotected?

It makes sense to me that people who believe a fetus is a life would advocate for birth and fight against abortion. They literally believe they’re saving lives, and in that case, “her body, her choice” doesn’t apply, because they believe there’s more than one body being discussed, and that one choice affects the lives of 2 people. With that being said, of course we can and should have the difficult and nuanced discussion around when the fetus becomes a life requiring protection. This is one of many questions that will have different answers, but different doesn’t mean that those on one side are appalling and those on the other have it all figured out.

My Reaction to the Pro-life Rhetoric:

When I hear or read pro-life/anti-abortion advocates calling pro-choice supporters murderers and baby killers, I cringe. I struggle with the idea that someone attempting to protect women’s rights and privacy due to their belief that the embryo or fetus is not a human being, is equivalent to hating or wanting to kill babies. I disavow the assumptions I see in reality-distorting memes suggesting that there are lots of women waiting until their 3rd trimester to abort a perfectly healthy baby. With abortion being more accessible in the first few weeks of pregnancy, and women understanding the pain, the fatigue, the erratic hormone shifts, the difficult and irreversible changes that happen to her body throughout pregnancy, I reject the notion that there are numerous women enduring all of that while they weigh the decision for 6+ months. I find these presumptions hurtful and harmful, not just to having a productive conversation, but to those dear women who have had to make impossible decisions late in their pregnancy, in the midst of the worst times of their lives. There are many men and women who love children and have, or plan to have children, who also support a woman’s right to choose because they do not believe that the embryo or fetus is a person. It seems clear to me that there aren’t millions of people who desire to execute babies, but rather millions of people who support a woman’s right to choose whether or not she will carry a group of tissue and cells inside her womb to the point of personhood. There are women who are healthy with a healthy embryo who choose to abort for a whole host of reasons (age, financial, mental health, physical environment, timing, hopes, fears, etc.) that are personal to them and their circle of support. There are reasons for abortion that I don’t understand or agree with, however if someone believes the potentiality for life is NOT equivalent to life, then naturally it follows that they would  believe they have the right to choose what to do with the entity inside their own body. It is also important to remember that this issue covers more complex scenarios. There are women who opt for a therapeutic abortion because their baby is not viable for life outside the womb. There are women who opt for abortion due to the irreparable damage of being raped or surviving incest. There are women who opt for abortion because their life is at risk. Regardless of the reason, again, it comes back to the nuanced discussion of when we believe the fetus becomes a person. If I believe the fetus is not an individual until a certain point in the pregnancy, then it makes sense for me to believe that a woman has the right to choose whether or not she will carry the embryo or fetus up until that point.

It is rarely appropriate OR helpful to paint with broad strokes, especially when discussing such a complex topic. There are so many women grieving the unthinkable loss of their baby who are retraumatized by the lack of grace and understanding that explodes onto social media every time there’s a hot button court case. It breaks my heart that so many women are thrust back into pain and shame without a chance to tell their story…without anyone even stopping to ask what their story is.

This dispute has always felt very grey to me, but I have always considered myself pro-life, with exceptions of rape, incest, and the mother’s life being at risk. However, when I was pregnant with my first-born, my eyes were opened to just how personal and murky this debate really is. My brother died in a tragic accident when I was 11 weeks pregnant with my son Isaac. The night before my 12 week prenatal appointment I was suffering from extreme anxiety and panic, as I feared there would be something horribly wrong with my baby, and I knew I could NOT survive another loss. My entire family gathered around my parent’s kitchen table and prayed for me and the life growing inside. After that terrifying appointment, I began to imagine what it would be like to be told that my baby wasn’t viable for life outside the womb, or that he didn’t have a heartbeat, or any number of horrible announcements from a doctor that change the trajectory of a pregnancy…change the trajectory of all the lives involved. Around this time, I received a prayer request for a woman who knowingly and courageously was giving birth to her stillborn baby. It was in that EXACT moment (reading this gut-wrenching prayer request) that I knew I could never live through laboring and delivering my dead son or expose my family to such trauma as we were still reeling with grief over the unexpected loss of my brother. I would never have recovered from this fate. If I had faced that horrible reality, I would have chosen a therapeutic abortion, as I truly believe that I couldn’t have endured the alternative at that time in my life. I would have opted for an abortion and I would have been thankful that it was an option. Contrary to many of the memes and hurtful mud-slinging I hear and see, I don’t believe that decision would’ve made me Godless, faithless, heartless, or a murderer. I believe most of us make decisions based on advanced medicine/science and the intimate knowledge of our own capacity to live with our choices, and doing so we can still walk faithfully with God through it all. It was this experience that gave me a more nuanced perspective than I had ever had before. It made me realize how our experiences so often drive what we’re willing to fight for and that maybe sharing our stories with each other could narrow the divide.

Rather than spreading hate from both sides, I truly believe we could introduce love to one another by taking the time to have a conversation and listen…really listen. Listen to the woman who has lived through rape. Listen to the woman who had an abortion and now wishes she had made another choice. Listen to the woman who labored and delivered her lifeless baby. Listen to the young girl who survived incest and is now carrying her father’s child. Listen to the woman who cannot have children and couldn’t fathom ever choosing not to. Listen to the family that lost their mom, their wife, their daughter, sister, aunt during childbirth. Listen to the mom who struggles to feed her 3 kids and now must make the hardest decision of her life. Listen to the woman who was harassed at Planned Parenthood when she went in for a therapeutic abortion because her very much wanted and loved baby was not viable for life outside the womb. Listen to the woman who chose to be a teenage mom. Listen to the woman who had the abortion when she was 14 and has no regrets. Listen to the couple living through IVF. Listen to the family that loves a child with disabilities. Listen to the fostered child. Listen to the adult who seeks therapy from the trauma of foster care. Listen to the adult who praises the blessings gained from foster care. Listen to the stories of miracles and the stories of loss, the stories of regret and the stories of gratitude. I can only imagine the countless ways this issue affects women and families and I can only imagine the overwhelm that comes with each decision. And, because I can only imagine, I’m thankful for those who have shared their stories with me. I believe it is these conversations that have landed me in a place where I no longer make assumptions about the kind of person you are or the heart that you have based on where you land on this issue.

Where I “Think” I Land

I believe all life has value and should be protected, but I will openly admit that I don’t know where I land on the timeline of a fetus becoming a life. I believe a woman’s body must be treated with honor and respect and if that is violated, she should have the right to proceed in whatever way is necessary to heal rather than perpetuate that trauma. I have always considered myself pro-life AND I believe that a woman should be able to receive a therapeutic abortion if she has been raped, the baby isn’t viable for life, or the mom’s life is at risk. I have always considered myself pro-life AND making abortion illegal concerns me because I don’t want women pursuing life-threatening options or ending up in jail for seeking an abortion as that defeats the entire purpose of advocating for life and family. I believe all life has worth and should be treated with love and respect  including those who disagree with me and/or those who’ve made choices I “think” I wouldn’t make. But, the truth is we have no idea what choice we would make until we’re in those shoes, breathing that air, crying those tears, screaming those prayers. I am thankful I never had to make that choice, but I do not stand in judgment of women who have.

What wakes me in the middle of the night is the thought that some people I love dearly will say that I’m anti-woman for these beliefs and some will say I’m an assassin of innocent life. I stand in the middle somewhere as I try to consider the nuances and it is a lonely place to stand. I don’t belong to a camp because I see good people in both camps, and because I see good people in both camps, none of the camps will have me. The world tells us that we have to plant our flag on one side and despise the other, be disgusted by the other, call the other godless, evil, ignorant, misogynist, and on and on. To Brene’ Brown’s point in Braving the Wilderness, I don’t want to connect with a group or bond with others because we hate the same people with equal intensity. I want to find my relevance in a group that is built on who we can love and how much we can love them. This middle ground, this desert, this wilderness is isolating and scary and I’m hoping that I will eventually bump into others who live here too. I hope that even if we disagree we can commune respectfully and thoughtfully with our hearts and arms wide open for a warm embrace. Brene’ wrote a chapter titled, “It’s Hard to Hate Close Up,” and this is why I believe sharing and listening to each other’s stories is so important in the quest to love each other better and create a space of belonging. I would like to be on this journey with you.    

As I continue to tell my story and listen to others, I want everyone to know that the God I serve loves all of us, regardless of the choices we’ve made. I want everyone to know that God is not up in heaven wagging his finger, shaking his head, and saying “shame on you!” I want every person to know that they are loved and worthy of that love. I hear God saying, “grace on you!” God’s love is the example I seek to follow and I pray that I will connect with others on the same journey for life-giving grace and unabashed love.

If you relate to these struggles I would love to hear from you! I believe we can speak hope and love into each other’s lives. As I mentioned earlier, if I’ve missed a perspective and you would like to share your story and your thoughts, I would also love to hear from you! I believe it’s the sharing of the history behind our narratives that can build bridges. If you think a more nuanced conversation is valuable, please share this so that we can continue a conversation void of hate and hurt and filled with grace and the desire to listen and love well!

8 Lessons I Learned From My 2 Year Old

Parenting is a never-ending syllabus of valuable lessons. There are lessons in resilience, in patience, in the paradox of love and anger, in mindfulness and presence, in creativity, in what exhaustion does to the brain, the mood, the marriage 🙂

I had not anticipated what great teachers my kids would be, and although they don’t set out to teach, I am always learning.

When my son was 2 years old he was doing his very best to patiently wait for his older cousin Brayden after a basketball game. I use the word “patiently” from a toddler’s perspective, as he was running the length of the gym, sliding feet first into the mirrored walls on each side, and then licking said mirrors, all while laughing hysterically.

Waiting patiently

Then, sweet Isaac spied his favorite thing….older kids doing something without him (how dare they)! Isaac is drawn to older kids like a moth to a flame, desiring to do everything they do regardless of how complicated or dangerous the activity might be. A 4 y/o boy and 6 y/o girl were playing a game of tag, and Isaac immediately began his attempt to keep up, running as quickly as his little legs would carry him. He was completely oblivious to the fact that he was being ignored and was in no way a part of their game. It took a few minutes before the boy finally acknowledged Isaac. He pointed his finger at my son’s chest and said, “we’re not playing with you. It’s just me and her playing…not you!” I watched from afar as Isaac tried to understand what he was being told. The boy attempted to confirm that Isaac had understood the limits he had just set. He stopped pointing his finger and made the fatal mistake of raising both arms in a shrug to say, “ok? Get it? Understand?” This was the moment Isaac decided that this boy’s shrug was actually an invitation for a hug. Isaac gave both kids an excited squeeze as if they had just nominated him President of their exclusive, “We’re Older and Bigger and Play Better Games Than You” club. Within minutes, the hearts of the older kids visibly softened as they began to make room for Isaac in their play. The boy took Isaac by the hand, guided him to “base” and then taught him how to tag. My sweet son decided that tagging should be hugging instead, which they graciously tolerated. Even when Isaac began tagging his own reflection in the mirror, they laughed with him and then patiently redirected him to their game. By the end of the evening these 3 beautiful children were friends. My heart melted as I watched this loving interaction and I was struck at how 3 young children had innocently illustrated the power of loving-acceptance and kindness. I couldn’t help but think of my own life and the times I have reacted to others in a way that wasn’t at all what I hope to model for my son. I couldn’t help but think of the times I’ve recoiled at someone’s perceived harshness without considering that maybe I was interpreting their actions unfairly and without context. I couldn’t help but watch these kiddos and consider how one kind gesture in the face of possible rejection can lead to openness and belonging. 

Watching these sweet littles taught me:

  1. When we judge, we lose the opportunity to forge new friendships.
  2. We can be loved through and forgiven for our misguided behaviors,  and we have the opportunity to do the same for others.
  3. Inviting someone “different” into our world can teach us a new way to approach, view, lean into life, and this can bring more joy, more freedom, more friendship, more love, more hugs!
  4. Loving someone who has hurt us can heal more than one heart.
  5. We must believe we’re worthy before expecting others to believe the same.
  6. When we are vulnerable we find ourselves loving others before judging them.
  7. It’s easy to love those who are kind to us. It’s courageous to love those who hurt us.
  8. When we love ourselves we can receive and accept love from others.

I’ve hoped to model for my son a love for others that is fearless and authentic and vulnerable, but as I watched that evening unfold, I realized that these qualities already live and breathe in young children. They don’t need adults to demonstrate these virtues, they need us to foster and protect them, as they face the hurts and disappointments that come with growing older. What I thought was my responsibility to teach my son, was actually a lesson I needed to learn from him.

The next time I’m tempted to judge someone, I’ll think of these 3 children and remain open to experiencing a new (and possibly more joyful) way of approaching life. And, the next time someone tells me that I don’t belong, I’ll remember that the most appropriate response is to love them anyway!

Isaac with his cousin after making new friends

The Importance of Being Ourselves

Have you ever admired someone so much that you trip over your words, behave in strange ways, and ultimately embarrass yourself while trying to be the person you THINK they want you to be? Have you ever looked up to someone with such reverence that you actually avoided being around them because you were afraid you might make a bad impression? Maybe you’ve tried too hard and walked away feeling inauthentic and even silly? If not, how lovely for you! 🙂 If so, then I want to tell you that you’re not alone and I want to encourage us all to be true to who we are regardless of our proximity to those we’ve placed on a pedestal.

My neurologist is a brilliant and lovely woman in her 30’s. Being her patient has me believing that I still have the opportunity to make something of myself, and that if I spend enough time with her I will acquire some of her success through osmosis. Early on in my treatment I was confident that one day we would tour the nation sharing her knowledge and my story while dramatically changing lives. (In an effort to be completely transparent about the level of my delusional day-dreaming, I must admit that I also believe if I ever met Steve Nash, Jewel, Brene’ Brown, or Jen Hatmaker, we would be BFFs).

Shortly after my future touring partner had her first baby, I went in for a quarterly appointment and had a bit of a cough. I spent the entire appointment feeling guilty that I was exposing her to my cold. I worried that my germs would be carried home to her newborn, and that in turn, the rapport we needed to establish prior to traveling the country with our transformative message would be hindered. The appointment was brief, and as she walked me out and shook my hand, I left her with this sound advice, “make sure you wash your hands!” Like a Jewish mother frantically calling her adult son on a Saturday afternoon insisting that he floss immediately because gum disease runs in the family or a Christian father telling his 30-something divorced daughter that no man will buy the cow if he can get the milk for free, I unnecessarily and unabashedly advised my doctor to wash her hands!

Whatever would she do without me and my sageness?

I was so embarrassed by my unnecessary counsel that at the next appointment (weeks later) I brought up the exchange and apologized for being thoughtlessly overbearing. Then, with all the accountability I could muster, I blamed my bossiness on my childhood. I explained, (in my defense) that I was the only girl of 4 children, and with 2 brothers 11 and 13 years older than me, I grew up with a lot of disciplinarians at home. Consequently, I turned to “leading” (or what others might unkindly and more accurately call bossing) the neighborhood kids. I’m told that I would direct everyone to sit in a line and then proceed to “teach” them. I can only imagine that these lessons included tips on how to avoid spankings, how to secretly feed your vegetables to the dog, and what to do when your parents threaten to “pull over the car!” After my sincere apology and lengthy justification, she assured me that she didn’t think a thing of it. Of course I knew the truth…I was convinced she had gone home that night and laughed with her husband about her “astute” patient who brilliantly encouraged her to wash her hands. I imagine their conversation snowballed into, “What would I have done without her keen instruction? I bet she counsels her pastor to pray, directs her therapist to meditate, and cautions her personal trainer to stay hydrated!”

As I received my treatment, I thought long and hard about how I could make light of our last encounter and “totally redeem myself!” This time, as my lovely doctor walked me out and shook my hand, I let my wit loose on her and said in what I think might’ve been an overly sultry voice, “and you can do whatever you want with your hands.”

In an effort to vindicate myself, I managed to unintentionally hit on my neurologist. Who does that!? Well….I do, obviously!

This is a light-hearted example, but what I’ve learned is that it rarely plays out well when we try to live up to the self-inflicted pressures of fitting in, impressing others, or trying to belong. We can avoid a lot of discomfort by resting in who we are and loving who we were made to be. As I allow myself to be the quirky, “helpful,” and sometimes sultry (ha) person that I am, I will build a community with people who appreciate those traits and allow me to lean in while fully belonging.

You are uniquely made and made to be you. You will experience true fellowship when you stop striving and start being. The impression you leave with your authentic self is so much more beautiful than the image you create when trying to impress.

Be you! You are enough!