The Journey From Anger To Joy

Often after I write a new piece or have conversations with others about where I’m at spiritually and physically people respond with a word that I have an uneasy feeling about. They say it’s inspiring or inspirational and ugh, that just seems too heavy for me to carry. I think that somehow people miss the hard work that goes into getting to where I am. It’s as though they think that the hardships I face, do not, in fact phase me or that I easily move to a place of hope. Or worse, that I am somehow in part responsible for their own motivation. I know it’s supposed to be a word of encouragement but I’ll be honest it weighs heavily on me. Let me be clear here at the very beginning today. When I share it’s because I started in a place of devastation, despair, grief, and fear. My writings, my shaping, my listening, and my voice all begin there. 

It’s not because I’m a whiner or a victim. It’s because in the journey of life we all face trials and tribulations. It’s because I do not want to stay in despair or fear that I choose to do the hard work of not automatically dismissing those realities.

When I first got diagnosed with Lupus I was grief stricken. Hoped seemed lost. The pain was great both physically and emotionally. I had to give myself the freedom to acknowledge those feelings. I needed to listen to my heart and soul. I needed to take those realities to the Divine and let my Creator mourn with me. This was holy grief.

When I was sexually and physically abused I was frightened and angry. Not because I was a victim but because I found it almost impossible to find a way to not only heal my own brokenness but to help nurture what healing needed to take place for those who tried to victimize me. This was not easy and joy-filled. Again, I held these realities close and welcomed the Divine in. I felt and heard my Savior weep with me and rage against the injustice of a reality in which these atrocities were possible. This was holy searching.

When I felt alone and abandoned by God my anger was palpable. It was no easy feat to keep my heart and soul open for a new word. This was holy listening.
In my limited experience on this earth I have learned few things, but I have learned this: when I allow myself to acknowledge my devastation the Divine will bring me through to new realities. This is what it means to engage with the Holy.

I move through devastation to despair, despair to anger, anger to calling, calling to hope, and hope turns to joy. I see that truth reflected in Scripture. I see it reflected in my relationship with my disease. And, this weekend I saw it in those across the nation and world who marched.

Now, before I go further I’d like to say this to my friends and family who had words to say about these demonstrations that were filled with concerns, confusion, and/or anger. I hear you. I’m thankful for your words. 

To the women who have said that they’ve never felt like a victim or oppressed, I celebrate that that is your experience! How wonderful! I’m happy that that is your reality. 

To the folks who call those of us who marched whiners, I appreciate that you are calling attention to our voices. I do not feel like I was whining personally nor did I encounter much of that, if at all, from the marchers I met. I felt like I was helping to safeguard the progress we have already made and giving voice to those across the nation and globe who needed one. 

To the people who have asked that I give our new President a chance. I am and will continue to do so. Part of that is the freedom to state my concerns openly so that as the leader of our country he may take into account my voice and the voices of others.

Now that I’ve thanked you all for your voices and I hope you know I genuinely do thank you, I’d like to express what surprised me when I participated in our local rally.

I anticipated a lot of people who would be angry and that they would give voice to that anger. In fact, there were some who were angry and did give that anger voice. Some brought signs I would not have wanted to associate myself with but that did not negate their anger or concerns in my opinion. 

And while there were those who were angry, the overwhelming majority of people I encountered and the atmosphere of the event were not marked by anger but by enormous love, acceptance, and gratitude. Indeed, these people had done the hard work of moving from devastation to anger. Then they felt that anger and heard a call. They responded to that call and found hope that others heard it too. Then even more astonishingly, when we gathered together we found great joy in one another and in the knowledge that our diverse experiences and voices could help safeguard what is good and right as well as shape what is to come.

Some may call this foolish. Others may call it inspiring. No matter what you call it, the truth is it is indeed shaping.

Wherever I go from here I will strive to listen to as many voices as possible. Your experiences matter. They are not just anecdotal. They are realities we all must grapple with. I am thankful for your stories, your wisdoms, and your voices. You shape me, praise be to God.


Oh So Difficult, Oh So Beautiful

Most days it’s pretty difficult to convince myself to get up out of bed. It’s even more difficult to convince myself to go out in public. It’s nearly impossible to convince me to go out on my own. With how sick I feel my energy is not where I’d prefer. Then there’s the fact that I deal with significant hair loss and one more piece of my self-confidence takes a hit. Add the vasculitis rashes I deal with and it’s downright hard to feel like I’m presentable let alone pretty.

One of the ways I combat all those negative feelings about my appearance is how elaborate I make my headscarves. It’s become a bit of a trademark for me. The more bling I can add the better. I’m constantly searching for new ways to wrap and braid my scarves. My thought has been if I’m gonna feel like people will stare at how sick I am I might as well make myself something worth looking at. In short, my headscarves and wraps are rarely subtle. It’s a small thing but it has come to mean a lot to me.

So, when I was accosted a few weeks ago while I was alone in public because of my headscarves it’s easy to see how affected I was emotionally by that. The man who accosted me was clearly not someone who knew sense in any intimate fashion but that did not lessen my anger or hurt. Some may have decided it would be safer to stop making such noticeable headscarves and wraps. That would help ensure I would not have to deal with that uncomfortable and dangerous situation. In typical April Beth fashion I chose to do the opposite. It only ensured that I would be even more fervent in how frequently I wore my headscarves.

Today at lunch I had the urge to go to Walmart and look for some more accessories for my headscarves. I mentioned to my Mom that I wanted to go after lunch. She looked at me as I would have looked at her if she had said she wanted to go to Walmart. She was not thrilled. I told her I’d go on my own. I had more energy today and I knew what I was looking for. I hate going to crowded places looking so sick but for some strange reason I really wanted to go this time.

As I was walking towards the accessories I walked past two sisters. They looked to be around their mid-thirties and they were looking at scarves. One of them was clearly unwell, wearing a bandana, and tears were streaming down her face. Not wanting to disturb this hard moment I walked quietly by. That is, I walked until I heard the other sister say, “Excuse me Miss?” I turned around. The young woman continued, “Um, how did you do that?”

Understanding I replied, “My headscarves? Would you like me to show you?” The sister who had been crying slowly looked up and said “You would do that?” I told her I’d do it right now in the bathroom. I quickly told them what supplies they’d need. It takes a bit to give the Illusion that you have hair underneath those scarves. After picking up two scarves, a faux bun, bobby-pins, and a headband. I waited by the bathroom as they made their purchase. We went into the bathroom and I unwrapped my headscarves. I started showing them what I put together under the scarves and while we got her faux bun attached another woman walked into the bathroom and started watching us.

“What are you doing?” she asked. “I’m showing them how to tie some headscarves.” “Can you hold on one minute?” the new woman inquired.

She stepped out and a short while later she was followed by another woman wearing a hat. The hat wearer said, “I just lost my hair and my friend got me this scarf but I couldn’t figure out how to tie it.”

“No problem. Pull up a mirror. I’ll teach you both.”

Soon a few more women wandered in and saw what was happening. There we stood a collection of sick woman tying scarves while the well women cheered us on and ooo’d and awed over our creations. I must admit that I started crying a bit. These women both talked about how difficult thinking about showing up to their respective Christmases looking as sick as they did. They’d both come to the store drug in by friends and family to search for something to make them feel beautiful, all the while internally feeling like that was impossible.

The sister told me that she wouldn’t have had the nerve to stop me but I was alone and she thought I might be more understanding. How thankful I am that I went alone today.

As we finished up my tutorial I gave them all my info and several YouTube channels that I found helpful when I was first learning. The women expressed a want to go and buy some more accessories for their headscarves and I said, “Well, that’s what I was headed to do to start with.” As we made our way back into the store I heard one of the ladies tell their husband how much better they felt about Christmas. That husband came up to me and said. “Pick anything you want out. You made my wife smile and that’s the first time in weeks she has. You just gave us our Christmas back. Let me give you some in return. Merry Christmas.”

I cried some more and picked out a pretty flowered headband. As we all made our way to the check out the cashier asked us where we all met. We replied, that we met here, just now. Laughing and hugging we left to each go on to our own lives.

But as I sat in my car preparing to leave I took a moment to wonder over the nudging of the Holy in my life. Of all the things I hate and worry over, of all the little silly things I do to try to feel good, it took both to bring a little Christmas to the world today. I’m so happy I’m stubborn enough to wear my crazy scarves and I’m so thankful that the Divine took something so difficult and made it so beautiful.

That’s Christmas, oh so difficult, oh so beautiful. Thanks be to God.

A Date And A Name

It’s December 11, 2016 and I’m not quite sure how I made it here. All week long I’ve been overwhelmed with conflicting emotions regarding today’s date. It’s an anniversary of sorts, just not one that is happy. It’s date marked by trauma and in a sense, marked by the death of my previous existence.

In 2006 I got married. It was a quick engagement to a man almost 10 years my senior. While I do not necessarily regret getting married, I do deal with the emotional repercussions from that relationship daily. My husband was a talented man who had mounds of potential but he could never see that in himself. His own self-doubt led him to be an abusive presence in my life. As many people do he chose to deal with his own sense of self worth by turning those emotions onto others. If he felt unworthy he bolstered his self worth by doing what he could to convince me that I was actually the worthless one. He spent years whispering lies about how I was inferior in every way. That not only was I less than him but I was leagues lower than my siblings. He would tell me he heard my sister and brother talk about what an embarrassment I was to the family. That out of all of us, I was most assuredly not up to par and frankly, I didn’t deserve the family name.

My husband convinced me to drop out of school because the dreams I had could never work with the life he envisioned. And as he would say, I was young and idealistic, of course he knew what was best. He was the one with real experience. My input was never valued. The first year we were married while I worked two full-time jobs. He got a job as a singing waiter but he felt that was beneath him. So, he worked for about two weeks and then quit. He didn’t tell me until six months later. That year he stayed home and spent all of our savings on electronics, DVDs, and alcohol.

Years into our marriage I realized that his alcoholism and abuse were not the typical behaviors for a husband. Too many times I got a call from the jail after he was picked up for a DUI. Too many days I came home to a man so blinded by self-hatred that he could only respond by being a drunk; a mean, violent, and often disgusting drunk. A man whose violence contributed to the loss of our unborn child. A man who would scream at me and bring me knives urging me to slit my wrists because I was an awful person. A man who would be so lost in drunkenness that he frequently couldn’t make it to a bathroom. A man who told me that my illness was a sham and it was my fault his life was so unbearable.

It was not a life. It was purgatory. I had no idea how to be who I needed to be. It was so dark and so lonely I could not begin to imagine that life could ever be good again. As I did everything I could think of to get my husband help our relationship shifted. No longer could I be a wife. I suddenly had to keep watch over him. I needed to make sure he wouldn’t drink and drive. I needed to make sure he wouldn’t get violent. The responsibility was crippling and it nearly killed me. His response was to look for someone else that didn’t feel the need to manage his behavior. That led to him to look for a younger woman who was as naive as I used to be. Unfortunately, he didn’t find a woman. Instead he found an underage girl. He manipulated her and started a sexual affair with her.

I was sick from my own physical health complications, exhausted from his constant abuse, and worried over his alcoholism. Perhaps I was too wrapped up in my own trauma because I did not see the affair. Had I known I would have called the police myself.

So five years into our marriage on December 11, 2011, after finally decorating our apartment for Christmas we both went to bed. A few hours into the night I was awoken by a loud commotion outside. I could hear dogs barking, men yelling, and an unrelenting banging at our front door. I was confused and disoriented. What in the world was going on? I woke my husband and he froze in terror. I pushed him out of bed and still he just stared at our front door terrified. I went to open the door when suddenly the door literally flew off it’s hinges and police and dogs flooded our apartment. I was immediately handcuffed as was my husband. The police separated us and sat me in a patrol car as they started searching our apartment. They asked so many questions none of which I could make sense of. Did I know this girl? Did I participate in a sexual affair? Did I help try to cover it up? Did I know my husband had done this? They asked me all of this and what I remember most clearly is seeing my husband on his knees handcuffed under a tree as rain poured down. I couldn’t think. I had no way to process all that I was seeing and hearing. I was in complete shock.

I watched as they drove my husband away in the rain. After what felt like hours, the police slowly emptied out of our apartment, released me, and then thanked me for my cooperation.

Pouring rain, a door that no longer stood, a trashed apartment, and me. That’s all that was left.

I had no words. I had no understanding. I remember calling my parents who lived states away crying. Dad asked me if my husband got another DUI and I could only say. “Oh Daddy, it’s so much worse.” I couldn’t stop crying. I don’t remember much else of our conversation. I know my Mom called my local pastor and my uncles who showed up. They put the door back on as best they could. We put a small overnight bag together and I spent the night at my uncles house. Unable to sleep, I spent the night silently crying and raging.

How in God’s name had my life become this? What did I do to deserve this kind of existence? I did all I knew to save my marriage but you can’t save something if the other person is determined to destroy it. I could not see any hope left. I was a shell of a human being and there was no reality in which I would ever be okay again.

Most of you know the rest of the story because a lot of you were there. My Dad flew down and with his help and the help of my church family we packed up my apartment in one night. Which was good, since my husband had been arrested on the property, that violated our lease and I was evicted.

My sister and brother, the ones my husband told me hated me, they both immediately went to my parent’s home and helped prepare a space for me. Together my siblings and Mother made a lovely apartment-like room for me. Dad and I drove back up to Nebraska and for one night it was just the five of us. The five of us that made up our original family before marriages and the birth of more children.

I sat in the living room with everyone and I don’t know if it hurt more or comforted me more to realize that my husband really had been lying to me all that time. That in fact, my family loved me more than any one person deserved. That my siblings never once would have ever seen me as less than. The grief I felt over losing what could have been wonderful years of relationship with my family was overwhelming. Yet, here they all were. In my deepest, darkest, and most critical moment every single member of my family dropped what they were doing to come and carry me through.

The sorrow that my brother and sister felt for me was almost a tangible presence. Together my family stood by me and did all they could to mend what had been so broken in me. In no uncertain terms my family reminded me daily if not hourly that they loved me. They reminded me of who I was. They showed me how to be strong. They led me to the Holy. They cried with me, found ways to laugh with me, and more than anything else they believed in me.

Today I will have spent as much time out of my marriage than I did in it. Five years later and I hardly recognize the girl I was then. So much of me had been put aside to make room for a man who never would have made room for me. These past years have passed so quickly. The years I spent in my marriage felt so much longer and like another lifetime. The days grow excruciatingly long when they are shared with abuse. It’s a tragedy that life seems to move so fast when your days are shared with abundant love. I’ve learned to savor that love as much as possible. Life still isn’t how I envisioned it would be but it is so much better than that girl in 2011 could have imagined.

Everyday I wrestle with the lies I was told. I fight to remember that I am worthy, that I am loved, that my dreams matter, and that I can always keep moving forward. No matter how bad the circumstances are somehow the Divine will pull me through. It’s the only explanation I have. It’s the only way I can explain how the people who make up my family are who they are. They could only be this good, this amazing, this beautiful, this steadfast, this loving, this powerful…they could only be those things because the Divine lives in who they are.

Five years ago, living in that aftermath, I was at once relieved and ashamed that my last name wasn’t Wiles. The idea that I could have tainted that name was a heavy burden. There was no way I could have ever believed I would be worthy to share in that name again. Yet, that’s not how my family saw things. If anything they reminded me how much I belonged to our name. There is not much that could be a greater gift than that.

It’s December 11, 2016 today and once again my name is April Beth Wiles. I still worry. I still have trouble seeing how I could possibly deserve to carry that name. The healing continues and is administered by those who share that name with me. It is so hard and yet so easy to be a Wiles again. It seems too quaint to say this but I have no other words than these. Praise be to God. I’m a Wiles once more.

Thank you Dad, Mom, Missy, and John for being all of who you are and giving meaning to our name. To be your daughter, your sister, and the aunt to your children is the greatest gift I have ever known. I wish I had better words but these will have to suffice. I love you. Thank you.


Raspberries and Reflection

I really really love food. I love eating it. I love talking about it. I love thinking about it. In fact, I’m fairly vocal about my food opinions. I don’t like seafood. Yuck! It smells like feet. Can’t do it. I hate eating meat on the bone. Makes me feel like a cannibal and the moisture of the meat eeks me out. I love tacos. I would eat tacos everyday if that was an option. Pizza is fantastic too. Cheese, my goodness, I love cheese. And don’t even get me started on lemons. I can barely go a day without my lemons.

It’s easy to say I have pretty vocal opinions on food. One would assume that I would be self-aware of what my favorite foods were. I mean, who doesn’t know what they like? By adulthood you literally choose what to eat based on needs and wants. You’d think a person would notice what they like.

A few mornings ago however, I had a silly but startling realization. Apparently, I really love raspberries. However, if someone had asked me to list my favorite berries or fruits I doubt it would have ever occurred to me to add raspberries to the list.

Yet, I find that all but two of the teas I own have raspberries. I also realized that if given the option I’ll always choose raspberry jam over any other jam or jelly. I’m also rather partial to pink ice cream products like raspberry ice cream and Popsicles.

Somehow I had unconsciously declared that raspberries are a favorite of mine. Those who have lived with me would clearly see my love for raspberries. They most certainly would have assumed that I was aware of that affinity. But, I never knew consciously how my actions and behaviors pointed towards that reality.

This seems entirely silly for this realization to shake me as much as it did. I mean it’s just raspberries, it isn’t anything life changing. However, seeing the scope of my own self-ignorance shown to me completely freaked me out.

What other parts of me have I been completely unaware of? What do my behaviors show about my personhood that every one else would see but I remain blissfully ignorant of?

For me, that’s a pretty heavy concept and it challenges me to step outside myself and be a bit more objectively critical of my own behaviors.

These past months I kept hearing from myself and others a common refrain. It went something like this “How can (insert person or group here) honestly not see the damaging nature of (insert political affiliation, religious affiliation, and or pop culture group here)?

It seems everyone has a series of behavioral indictments for anyone outside of their worldview. But rarely do people find reasons to be critical of themselves.

So, I’m making an attempt here to step out of my own perception and have an honest evaluation of what I say my values are versus what my actions tell others what values I really do have. Let me tell you, this is pretty uncomfortable. No one wants to face things about themselves that are contrary to what we think we are.

This is the crux of a lot of the turmoil surrounding this years election. It’s why we are hearing people call out others for supporting misogyny, racism, and bigotry. It’s why we hear people calling out folks on what we see as clear hypocrisy. Whether it’s because some of us supported candidates with some uncomfortable scandals based on emails or it’s because some of us supported a candidate who “tells it like it is” by continuously fostering misogyny, racism, and bigotry.

The rift we feel is not about policy it’s about trying to reconcile the people we know and love with how their chosen voting habits do in fact support these unethical behaviors. The hurt and grief we have is based in the reality that these truly awful behaviors are somehow not deal breakers for those who casted their votes.

Don’t mishear me. I’m not calling out just one side of this divide. I’m calling every single one of us out, including myself.

My friends, we need new eyes to see with. We need new ears to hear with. We need new hearts to lead with. How do we do this? It starts with ourselves. Before we point the finger to others we must first examine what we are unknowingly saying about our own values.

It’s time to find our raspberries. I’m looking for mine. I hope you are looking too.


Saving the Unsalvageable

As anyone with a chronic illness can tell you there are times in which finding hope seems impossible. You have a flare and one symptom turns into two symptoms. Somehow two symptoms turn into four symptoms. The symptoms start to multiply so quickly that it’s easier to state what doesn’t hurt than to list everything that does hurt. With every new symptom new limitations get placed around you and you find yourself isolated from the world around you.

Several weeks ago my vasculitis started rearing it’s ugly head in my direction. First my cheeks and nose were covered. It then continued to slowly spread until it covered my head, ears, throat, neck, and chest. That was frustrating enough. Not only does the vasculitis change how I look physically but it also causes intense neuropathy. Aside from the neuropathy my internal pain increases as well as internally the vasculitis takes hold of me. Sore throats, nose and mouth ulcers, consistent coughing, migraines, and fevers come along for the ride too.

As many of you know I find great solace in knitting and crocheting. As my physical limitations increase I found that the creative energy I spend in fiber arts brings a sense of healing to my battered emotions. So, when I noticed the vasculitis spreading into my hands I almost lost any sense of hope for my existence. It was like having everything I hold dear being torn away from me.

So, shocking as it doesn’t seem to anyone who knows me I decided to continue my crafting despite the physical pain. That was also a pretty risky choice because it meant I could be helping the vasculitis get worse by not resting my hands. I researched different techniques for every stitch to minimize hand movement. I timed my activity time so that I would stop and rest. I’d ice my hands frequently to encourage healing and pain relief. In short I did everything I could think of short of completely cutting my crafting out of my life during this time.

This time of year is a busy time for a crafter. We are more than likely preparing multiple gifts for multiple people on our lives. In fact, if anyone gets a present from me they should assume it’s handmade. It’s just who I am.

This week I started a knitting project for one of my nieces. I was so excited to buy the perfect yarn, find the perfect pattern, and spend the time I knit thinking of the beautiful woman she is becoming. Every stitch is made in prayerful thoughts for the woman she is and will be.

This project was special and attempting to work on it while dealing with my physical pain was an intense experience. My knitting speed was significantly slower. My brain power was also significantly fuzzy. Every movement was felt but I knew every discomfort was worth it. After 36 hours of dedicated knitting I had finally come to the final touches for the project. I just needed to add the edging. It was around 8 pm and I was tired. I thought to myself that I should lay down my needles and start again the next day when I wasn’t so tired. However, it was just too tantalizing to put down. I dove in with little preparation. After a few minutes I realized that I had made a mistake. I tried to go back and unknit or tink my way back to fix it. In my haste to start the edging I had not placed a lifeline in my project and that proved to be it’s literal undoing. In a matter of seconds a 2 inch by 2 inch portion completely unraveled. This was not a matter of a few dropped stitches. The entire piece was ruined.

My heart began to race as I searched my brain for a way to salvage what I had painstakingly put my heart and hope into. The more I stared the more I realized that in that moment nothing was salvageable. I lost it. I started crying and muttering and my poor parents had to sit in horrified silence as I had a complete emotional breakdown.

You see, it wasn’t that I made a mistake. It was how hard it was for me to even attempt to do the project only to watch it be destroyed in the final stitches. Hours of pain. Hours of prayers. Hours of new adaptation. Hours of hoping that I had not lost one more piece of myself. All lost in one mortifying second. What else was there to do but lay it down and grieve so that perhaps the next day I may find a way to salvage the unsalvageable?

Here’s the hard part. Here’s the part that I can barely bring myself to acknowledge. What affected me the most was realizing that I knew that project was really how I viewed myself. It wasn’t that I was the knitter. It is that I’m the one being created.

I often wonder about my Creator when I engage in the act of creation. Does my Creator feel like I do when he see’s a new pattern taking shape? Is every moment of my existence a stitch from the Divine? How many hours of pain did the Creator spend when it comes to putting me together? What hopes does my Creator craft into my very nature? How often does the Creator see me and find the seemingly unsalvageable?

These are not easy questions to sit with. They are even harder to come face to face with when you find more of your life becoming limited. How can I be salvaged? It feels so impossible. Who would want to pick that up and try again?

Yet, that next morning in high stress and apprehension I did pick that project up again. I spread it out lovingly and carefully on the dining room table and slowly began to unravel it row by row until I could see a way to make it right again. Then I slowly, gently, and with hope began to pick up each and every stitch back on my needles. I whispered encouraging words to myself and the piece as I did so. Things like, this is possible and just one little stitch at a time. Even going so far as saying, we can do this, as if the project had the ability to help in it’s own creation.

All stitches found and accounted for I sat back down in my chair and started knitting again. I’m happy knowing that my niece will still benefit from the time I spent creating with her in mind.

Now, we can leave this story here. There are plenty of truths we can glean from my knitting fiasco. In fact, I’ve been dwelling on it for a while thinking how it brought me to a closer understanding of my Creator.

However, I find I can’t leave it at that. It seems the Creator had one more truth to share with me.

I do feel isolated from the world around me when I am sick like this. The picture of what is unsalvageable in me shapes a lot of my interactions. In fact, I struggle greatly seeing any value in myself when it comes to my relationships with others. I think that it must be exhausting to be my friend. That I must seem a continuous Debbie Downer. I think my presence could only point to how broken this world is. Yet, I also logically know that community is not about me. So, I do all I can to engage and cultivate my community.

As is always the case I find that my engagement in church community is always a reflection and reminder of who I am called to be. So, I do all I can to be present even when it’s difficult. I show up even on days where I’m more purple than caucasian. I attend even when touching is painful. I manage my time so that I can be present even though my energy is failing. All in all I do everything I can to be in community despite how isolated I may feel. I don’t want you to read this as me giving myself a pat on the back. I don’t feel that I deserve one. That’s what you are supposed to do when you join community. You choose to be present. You choose to engage because community is not about you and how you feel. It’s about everyone else and how you can love and serve more wholly.

Today I went to my church. I was exhausted and as is typical in pain. I looked sick but I put effort into how I presented myself. I put on my nice clothes, worked my scarves in their elaborate braids. I dressed to minimize the physical aspects of how sick I am.

I arrived and greeted people. I stood up to sing in unity. I bowed in prayer in communion. I joined in active listening to the word prepared for us. I celebrated birthdays and mourned the hardships of others. In short, I participated in my community even though I felt pretty unsalvageable.

That alone would have been enough. That act of being a part of community would have strengthened me to move forward despite my own doubts. But today the Creator and my community gave me more than I could have imagined.

As we prepared to pray in community Deanna Larson, a woman who has taken me under her wing at church, stood up front and did something that I’ve never witnessed in all my years of church community. With incredibly loving and humbling words she recounted the struggle my health is. She said even kinder words about me than I deserved. Even more humbling she petitioned our church to hold a 24 hour prayer vigil for me. In her love and wisdom she stated that while we often wish we could carry each other’s burdens there are times when we can not. That the only thing we can do is surround each other in love and prayer.

As I sat in the pew and listened to my church community lift me up in love I felt the hands of my Creator picking me up while gently and encouragingly putting each of my stitches back onto the needle. Because in the world of the Creator nothing and no one is unsalvageable. Every stitch is made in hope. Sometimes it takes a little longer to knit life together. But the Creator shapes and molds us in love for our communities. We are crafted beautifully to be used in service to others. And every once in a while, when we feel the most pain. When we feel the most lost. When we feel the most isolated. When we feel unsalvageable our communities become the very hands that help us knit it all back together for good.

How humbling to see yourself in creation and in community. Thank you to all of you who have joined in my community. I hope that as I am knitted new once again that my usefulness will point to the beauty the Divine brings to all of us. It all feels like too much and not enough. How grace-filled it is to be that which is created. How wonderful to be unsalvageable and through redemptive love and grace be made beautiful once again!


The Excruciating Wait

I’ve been largely absent from most of life these past couple of weeks. That happens when my body decides to take over. You’d think that after 20 years I’d some how get used to it but I never really do. I sit here covered with a giant vasculitis rash that looks like some sort of contagious zombie disease. It’s excruciating and disgusting. I find myself secluding myself from the rest of society. Lord knows I hate going out and looking like this. But the real struggle is the fact that my body continues to add more symptoms to an already overwhelming existence. Knowing there really isn’t anything else to do anymore but wait and hope. We’ve done all we can and still we wait.

How tiresome it is to always be waiting and hoping. Waiting for it to stop spreading. Waiting for the pain to ease, waiting for my energy to return. Waiting to see some silver lining in all of this. Hoping that one day I’ll look into the mirror and not see my illness. Hoping that I will find something to laugh about. Hoping that I walk this journey with as much compassion for myself as I have for others. Hoping that I not fail to remember that my physical health is not my definer.

The past few weeks my Pastor has led our congregation through various Old Testament stories. What has stood out for me as how often those stories revolve around waiting and hoping. We read those stories about Abram waiting for a child or Israel waiting for Moses and think how impatient they all were. But, were they really that impatient? I find that doubtful. The stories are narrated in short segments but span great lengths of time. These character, these people were waiting for years for their hopes to be realized. I totally understand Israel wanting some way to see that promised hope realized. I imagine their prayers sound a lot like mine do. The prayers where we try and convince the Divine that we are ready for our promised hope.

In that anxiety filled waiting we can make the worst decisions of our lives. We grasp for anything that looks promising and lose sight of what is true reality. It’s in the waiting that we know true fear. The fear of the unknown is always greater than the known. When we act out of that we lose sight of who we are called to be.

As I wrestle with that knowledge I wonder how I will survive this current wait. Am I doing it with integrity? Am I grasping for the Holy or just grasping for anything? Am I continuing to live out of who I’ve been created to be? I honestly don’t know those answers. I know what I strive for but as I sit through this excruciating waiting period I can barely look beyond my current predicament to see my own future. I worry that my hopes are not aligned with the Divine’s hopes for me. Yet, I still can not release them. I still wrestle with the story the Holy has given me.

So, I come to you in confession. I am exhausted by my waiting. I’m overwhelmed by my hopes. My Lord, I beg your patience with me as I struggle to learn patience. I beg that your hopes shape mine own. I cry out for your comfort for I know no other. May my waiting and hoping always be marked by you and not by my own faults. I pray that as I reach out to grasp I grasp onto you and none other. I will continue to wait and I thank you that you join me in the wait. Even as I wait for my promised hope you sit beside me and whisper those hopes into my soul. I am not alone even in my darkest questioning I feel your presence shaping me. Thank you.

My friends, for what are you waiting? Does it seem excruciating and overwhelming? Can you find your grace in the waiting? Can you recognize the shaping that takes place? Are you ready for your promised hope? I can’t answer that for you but I can support you as you ponder those questions. And I will wait with you through all of it.


Walking Alone Together

As is often the case I find myself grappling with my current reality. I struggle with depression and crippling anxiety. It’s fairly easy for me to automatically assume that my emotional and spiritual discontentment is based on my own depression and anxiety disorders. The problem with that is sometimes that gives me permission to not determine what is actually causing my discontent.

Yesterday I was talking and lamented that my current situation feels crushing emotionally and spiritually. Here are the truths of my current context: I know I am a mystic. I live with a severe chronic illness. I feel called to live in and cultivate community.

Those three truths when lived in together are hard to hold in tension with one another. There’s a reason history is filled with mystics who seclude themselves from society. There’s a reason why a lot of folks with severe chronic illness choose to spend a majority of their time by themselves. However, I believe that as a Journeyer with the Divine I am called to live in community just as the Divine does. This calling complicates things.

As I reflected on some of my struggling my wise mother pointed out that I was angry. And boy, is she right. I am angry. It’s a nuanced anger and by automatically assuming it was just anxiety and depression I neglected my own process to move through my anger. I stalled the healing process by refusing to acknowledge the truth of my own feelings. There are a lot of reasons I’m angry but I’m choosing to share one of those reasons with you all today.

A few years ago I made the conscious and intentional commitment to allow my chronic illness to be used as a tool for my own spiritual formation. Within that I discovered what can only be described as a tugging at my soul to write about and share the truths I was encountering through that process. I do not regret this. However, there was a consequence that I didn’t fully understand at the time. I have discovered that how I move through this life and illness impacts those around me in ways I did not anticipate.

I started worrying about if I was traveling this road with integrity and a modicum of grace. I put a responsibility on myself that was too heavy. If for some reason I failed to “be healthier” or failed to find a way to be content in my broken body I felt as though I was failing my community. I put that on myself. An unrealistic and false responsibility. It is not my job to win my struggle for anyone else. To be perfectly honest I know I cannot win this struggle or this reality. That’s why I travel towards and with the Holy.

And while that is truth, I still struggle with the realization that others will and do use my bodily and emotional experience as a way to lend credence their own theological beliefs.

Earlier this week I had a very vivid dream. In this dream I was talking to a stranger and was becoming increasingly agitated as he continued to reference my disease as a way to prove God’s providence. At one point I lost my cool and yelled out this specific phrase, “Stop using my body as a proof text for your own beliefs!”

I woke up and that phrase was ringing in my head. I immediately wrote it down. I told others about it because I knew and still do know that this is a source of my anxiety and anger. I do know that most people love and care about me. That they see my journey as one to inspire them, that they somehow see proof of their picture of the Divine in the fact that I still journey. People says it’s the power of prayer that I can still walk. People say it’s a testament to faith that I move forward. People say it’s a story of grace that shows who the Divine is that I still smile. While I cannot wholly disagree with these statements they make me feel like people are pulling these examples out of context and by doing so short circuits their own spiritual journey.

While I do encounter Truths that I feel led to share the fear that people see more in this vessel than there really is consumes me. My illness and how it plays out is not due to how others pray. Whether I get better or not has nothing to do with gaining or lacking divine favor.

I continue the journey like I started it, with the knowledge that prayer shapes those who are praying. That prayer brings wholeness by giving us the tools to deal with what may come. That prayer enables us to see who we are called to be. That prayer enlightens us to deeper truths.

I move forward in the journey like I started, with the knowledge that my illness is not a reflection on my or anyone else’s sins. That my illness is not a definer of my failings. That despite what others may teach my illness can only be used as a way to point towards the divine because it is through brokenness we most clearly see wholeness.

Without this knowledge. Without the reality of my mystic nature and my constant physical struggle I would not be who I needed to be in community. It’s not so that other’s can use my illness as a way to see the Holy. It’s so that I can see my greatest struggle as a way to discover the Holy. I will share with others the truths and I invite you on my journey but this body and experience is mine. The truths you lay upon it are just that, yours.

I regret putting a crippling responsibility on my own shoulders. It does not matter if others see the truths I speak. What matters is that I continue to be faithful. What matters is that I continue to speak truth regardless of how others interpret them. What matters is that I hear the Divine calling me forward and even in my anger I follow.

This is not the life I had wanted. It is not the life I hoped for. But, this is the life I lead and I am grateful, for it is life. It is life poured out in it’s most vulnerable. It’s a life that pulls me forward even in my fear. It does not end no matter what this body does. My life grows everyday into new realities and it is the only life I can’t live without.

As always the journey continues and I invite you along. What responsibility have you unreasonably placed on yourself? What truths are you trying to live into? Have you let others dictate your own reality? Will you choose to live out of the Truths the Divine gives to you? The road is long and hard but you are not alone. I’ll be with you as you discover those new realities that the Holy gives to you.