Thursday, December 22, 2016

History. Whostory?

I'll openly admit that history is not my best subject. I appreciate it. I enjoy when it is told to me in engaging ways. It is certainly important.

I took a fair bit of history in grade school that I still remember. I don't remember all the details- dates and names and specifics- but I recall the overarching themes and lessons from each period and nation. Still, my knowledge of history is millions of miles behind Jonathan. To be fair, he's a history buff. I'll ask him a simple question about a basic historical fact and 15 minutes later he's managed to retell the entire story of some nation or people.

I've been wanting to increase my own knowledge of history but have always felt a little overwhelmed at where to start. I enjoy reading, but history books have never quit been my thing. I don't always enjoy documentaries, though there are some good ones. There are probably some decent audio programs out there.

It used to be that learning more history just wasn't really a priority in my extracurricular life. It's still not truly a priority, but more and more I've found myself wishing I had a better understanding of the context and past of different people and places to help me process the present. We've watched a few engaging documentaries recently that have helped start to fill in the large gaps in my history knowledge.

But, I still feel hesitant about diving in. I used to think I was just intimidated by the vast amount there is to learn. I'm coming to realize, however, that it isn't intimidation, but concern, that keeps me at arms length.

I feel concerned that what I read will only be one side of the story, that my view of a nation or people, and subsequent interpretation of history and even the present will be colored by an only partial truth, or worse, by a false retelling of events.

History, so often, is written and told by the victors, the powerful, the resourced. I know many true historians, past and present, place great value on truth and strive to retell the stories of the past with the greatest truth they can find. They do research and care about the information they are sharing with others. I appreciate their effort, but it doesn't feel good enough. I feel constantly concerned that whatever I choose to read or watch or listen to will only be part of the story. An honest effort to tell the whole story, perhaps, but still just a part. There will be people's voices who won't be heard.

Even two similar people can experience the same event or time period so differently. What and how they recall what happened will sound different. I know this to be true even from simple examples of my own life- my sister and I, I'm sure, would tell different versions of life together growing up. Neither are wrong, but neither is complete.

Current academic historians, I believe, do try to research and tell the fullest and truest version of history, though even they have special interests and agendas. But the primary documents they have and period literature they use to research is still generally written and told by the wealthy (not the losers of battles), powerful (dominant culture, men), and resourced (not the poor, uneducated). In school we're taught history as though it is fact- simply a set of events that have happened that we are to memorize and take for granted. But who decided on that version of events, on those set of facts?

So I find myself feeling trapped- wanting to learn about the past, but concerned I won't hear the whole story. Arguably, this is not a reason not to being learning (got to start somewhere). But, it does make me feel cautious. I don't have time to read multiple sources and accounts and vet authors and such. I haven't found a good solution to this discomfort. I know there are authors out there who focus on telling history from the perspective of the losers and powerless- their books aren't as fancy, mainstream media and publishing doesn't promote them in the same way, so they feel less credible, which is the whole problem to begin with! These are the people whose story wasn't incorporated into history the first time, it's hard to weasel your way in decades or centuries later.

Truth is so exhausting to search after, sometimes.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

100 Days

Today marks the 100 day mark in Tallahassee.

A few reflections on life here, with some (perhaps unfair) comparisons to DC and Philly.

Tallahassee is not a morning city, but I am a morning person. Streets and playgrounds and stores are close to empty until closer to 10:30 or 11am on the weekend. There are a few more serious runners out, but weekend mornings are very quiet.

Religion (Christianity, in particular) is a fair topic for conversation among almost near strangers. I was never once asked "where do you go to church" in DC by anyone but a close friend. Strangers ask this here. Politics, however, is not a fair topic for conversation. The city overall seems much less "in the know" about what goes on abroad and throughout the country. Perhaps it just isn't talked about.

People aren't as obsessed with work here. Work seems to start mostly at 8:30 or 9. None of that 7 or 7:30am craziness that happens in DC. It's not the first, or only thing people talk about. Then again, I don't have that many people I talk to regularly, so maybe they do. Tallahassee is less pretentious, a little more humble. People don't walk around thinking they have all the solutions and answers. Or at least that's my impression. People here don't go boozy brunching every weekend. They just eat normal breakfast and lunch. People seem to care most about comfort and security.

The first thing everyone says when they hear where we moved from is, "Wow, that is quite a change. How's it going?" Then they ask, "Why did you move?" Then, "Do you have any kids?" Then, "This really is a great place to raise a family. You'll learn to love it." I find that amusing, because I never say during these conversations that I'm not enjoying it here, it is inferred that because we moved from a big, bustling, full of life city, that we must find this place boring and conservative. Everyone feels the need to reassure us that this is a wonderful place to raise a family. I wonder what they would say if we didn't have kids? If we were single? Where does the need to reassure come from?

To elaborate a bit on the family friendly point- It is certainly nice to have more space, a yard, a safe street to run around in. There are some playgrounds and parks. There are weekly lists of "family friendly" events going on throughout the week. I find the term "family friendly" interesting. It just means your kids will like it, or will tolerate it, or will be tolerated. No guarantee that the whole family will actually feel they're meant to be there. BUT, I actually found both DC and Philly to be very family friendly. There are way more parks, playgrounds, public spaces to be in. When everyone owns/rents less personal space, more time is spent out in public. There are small playgrounds every few blocks, you can walk or metro to school/daycare/church/groceries/zoo/friends house. Here, it seems everyone has enough space in their yard and house, they don't need to go out as often. The streets always seem quiet. Where are all the kids playing outside? Don't people work in their front yards ever? Getting anywhere means at least a 15 minute car drive it seems, plus the hassle of getting in, out of the car, taking kid gear with you, buying gas...etc. In DC I don't think we used our car for anything except going to work, and then later on groceries.

Life rhythms in DC/Philly aren't about going to specific events/places most of the time. You just go out for a walk and spend a few minutes at the park, maybe pick up a gallon of milk, and head home 30 minutes later after running into at least 2-3 people you know and many others who look familiar. Your life syncs up with the life of the city- you become a part of it and it a part of you. Your feet are familiar with the cracks on the street and your eyes notice even small changes in your surroundings.

I don't hear gunshots in our back alley in Tallahassee, I've never left my wedding rings at home while running to lessen the chance that someone might mug me. I don't see people peeing on the side of our house when I leave for work in the morning. I don't walk by corners on which I can recall the names of young men and women who were shot in gang fights. But then, I also don't run into people I know while walking/metroing to work. I don't have the chance to talk with Theo about all the evil that is sometimes so blatantly obvious in big cities. (Good and evil, are everywhere, of course. But they look different in different places). I can't pop into a friend's house while going for a walk. I don't notice if our local school has planted a new garden or if the homeless man on the corner is gone. I just don't naturally see people as often. Maybe as I meet more people this will change.

Finally, race relations here feel quite different. It's hard to put my finger on exactly what is different. The city feels uncomfortable talking about race, out of practice. Though, it's clearly a segregated city. Philly and DC are exhausted from racial tensions- they're stuck in the fight to figure out how to live life closely with those who are different. I haven't figured out yet where Tallahassee is in that glorious battle. By numbers, Tallahassee is actually quite mixed, much more than I'd ever guess just driving around. Why is that? It is easy to live here and to never need to interact with those of a different race, class, religion if I don't want to (except for work). That isn't true for everyone here, but it does seem true for large swaths of the city. It requires great intention to be with those who are different because the city is set up in such a way that it doesn't happen naturally. It's why we intentionally put Theo in a daycare where he's one of few white kids, mixed mostly with Latino and Black kids. There are parts of the city where this seems to happen more easily, I'll admit. In DC/Philly, the city requires you to interact with those who are different. You can avoid doing so, but it takes intention. My feelings about this, too, may change as I get to know people and places more. But, after going to a historically black med school and living in an incredibly diverse city and neighborhood, life here feels a bit homogeneous. I've never lived anywhere where I felt a part of a religious majority, and it's been a while since I've lived so obviously as part of a racial majority (though my privileges by being a part of each of those groups have never diminished despite my geographic location).

I have a lot more learning and listening to do about this place. I'm sure all my observations are not reflection of the full truth of this place. They are just what I have experienced so far. Part of that experience comes not just from moving cities, but from also moving from one type of neighborhood to another, namely from lower income to higher income.

Life is full and complicated and best lived when all the hard questions of where and why and with whom to 'live and move and have our being' are brought to the light and struggled through in truth and grace.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Waiting for Advent

I've been waiting for Advent for weeks.

It's strange, I suppose, to anticipate and wait for a season that is all about anticipation and waiting.

Holidays, I find, are too quick. One day of celebration and it's over. Advent is a season. I need the time to marinate. Advent is like a walk in the woods- there's time for marveling at big trees, dipping toes in the stream, a picnic, bouldering to the highest point, and maybe even a nap in a sundrenched clearing.

Advent is about remembering how to be and become more human.

Advent gives us four weeks to find light in dark places, to remember that wandering and searching have both purpose and an end, to remember promises and long for their fulfillment, to be human in all humility and glory, to find hope in unexpected places, to be near to God, and yet feel not near enough. It brings out our every longing and need, and yet doesn't leave us vulnerable or taken advantage of- it mysteriously holds both our needs and their fulfillment in the same breath. It gives us hunger while it cooks us a feast. We are safe to long for, anticipate, and even expect, and that honesty and security is a gift.

As much as I enjoy this season, perhaps the greatest glory of Advent is that it ends.

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

 It's Advent. Finally. I've been looking forward to this season for weeks, and hoping to do more writing during this time.

To kick it off, something I wrote for a different blog last year:

Expectations. They get us into trouble, or at least leave us with dashed hopes and broken hearts.

I expected that my best friend would remember my birthday. I expected that I’d be married by now. I expected that I’d be able to have children. I expected that my boss would respect me. I expected that my hard work would pay off and I would feel fulfilled. I expected that black and brown lives would matter.

I expected that things would be…different.

Even when expectations seem quite reasonable, they leave us vulnerable, at the mercy of someone else to meet…or not.

A great deal of conflict arises from differences in expectations- among friends, co-workers, family, local and international leaders alike.

God’s people, too, had (and have) expectations that were heart wrenching and conflict inspiring. From the moment Adam and Eve left the Garden, God went before his people, and followed after them, leading and leaving trails of expectation. “Expect me to show up,” he was trying to teach them. It was the beginning of Advent.

I will bless your children and your children’s children. Expect me.

There’s fire in this bush. Expect me.

There’s water in this rock. Expect me.

There’s manna falling from heaven. Expect me.

I rescued you; I will rescue you. Expect me.

I give you this king; I will give you a King. Expect me.

I am your strength, your consolation. Expect me.

I will bring joy to your longing heart. Expect me.

“Expect me,” God whispered for centuries into wandering desert trails, on cliffs and in valleys, in 
palaces and huts, to men and women and children, to the young and the old, the familiar and foreign, the rich and the poor. All of creation was living in Advent- looking for signs of Jesus, feeling vulnerable and impatient, caught between great hope and anxious despair.

Wilderness wandering and high leader turnover taught a stubborn and self-reliant people how to expect God to show up. Faith-filled expectation doesn’t come naturally to them, or me. It’s one thing to expect to be paid on time, or for a good friend to lend a listening ear. It’s quite different to expect the God of the universe to come and fulfill all of my longings, to be the restorer of the whole wide world.

But amidst all the chaos and tenuous promises of the world, we have a God who whispers gently, and sometimes shouts, into our stubborn ears and hearts: expect me! The glory of Advent is that the longing and expecting, the searching and wandering, does end. Jesus comes! (Perhaps not as was expected…those expectations, man, they’re tricky business). God bids us wait, expect, learn to long for him. But not forever. Advent was never meant to last forever. Jesus came! Messy and fleshy from birth to death. He tastes our sadness. We taste his glory.

It encourages me that the impulse to long for a world more beautiful, more peaceful, more just, more healthy is not simply childish discontentment; instead, it is living a life of Advent hope. God’s final word to us isn’t “wait, hold on” it’s “I’m here, come in.” I’m not always sure what exactly I’m expecting when I long for the end of our current Advent, for a time when Jesus returns and shalom invades and reclaims the earth. The Advent of Christmas tells me that expecting Jesus, now and one day more fully, is the surest and most glorious expectation I can have.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The First 100 Days

The first 100 days a president is in office is often used to define the entire term's agenda. The most important, or most pressing business gets addressed first- or at least that's the goal. The administration is full of energy, enthusiasm, support, hope, and fresh gratitude for getting elected. Some go as far as to say it the most productive, if not only productive, time of the entire term.

During RA training in college, I recall learning, similarly, that what a freshman commits to and does in their first 100 days of college will likely play a big role in shaping their entire college experience. 100 days is long enough, they said, to try out a few new things, find a niche, a few friends, and to start forming habits, trends, patterns. Students who start out partying, continue partying. Students who start out going to the gym, continue going to the gym. College, more than maybe any life stage, is full of change and growth, and yet the stats they showed us back then still supported this 100 day trend.

I recall reading (wouldn't be able to tell you where, or who) that the first 3-4 months (ie. 100 days) in a new job, or new home, set the patterns and habits that tend to stick for years to come. Workers who start out arriving on time or arriving late continue those trends. The time you get up, where you park, whether or not you pack your own lunch, if you say hi to the door man- they are all small parts of a routine that start out as a myriad of small decisions and quickly become a routine rarely requiring questioning or second thought.

The "100 days" theory, which I more or less to believe to be true, isn't meant to be restrictive and prescriptive. It is simply descriptive of the way things often go. Habits and patterns are comfortable, even if they are unintentional. The discomfort of being in a new place drives us to develop routines that foster a familiarity that brings comfort and belonging.

Of course change is always possible. Change, though, is often reactive. The first 100 days have the freedom of being more proactive. Most decisions in life lie somewhere on the spectrum between proactive and reactive, often having a good mix of both. There is much importance and value in reactive change and decision making too- realizing something is not the way you want it to be and working to change it is what most of us spend all day doing in one way or another. But, there is something special about more proactive change- you've got a few more raw materials to work with, fresh dirt, new seeds, rather than old soil that needs fertilizing and a garden that needs weeding and uprooting.

Since we've just moved, I've had lots of proactive questions for our new life. Small questions like where to get groceries, and big questions like how will we establish life in a way that cares well for ourselves as well as our new city? In some sense, there are no small questions. Everything says something about what we value and why. The challenge (and fun?) in being proactive is that it marries the big and little questions to produce or create a culture of "me" or "we." Culture creating is a more helpful term, I find, than culture change. We're created to create, are we not? Given how hard culture (and habits, patterns, trends...etc) is to change once it's in place, it seems worth spending time thinking about the culture we want to create before it mindlessly forms on its own.

I've been in Florida 18 days and thought a lot about what creating life here might look like. So far I've settled on planting gardens, killing mosquitoes, getting to know the names of my neighbors, killing more mosquitoes, learning about who lives where and why in this city, not having a TV, getting reacquainted with my piano, and going for long walks.

December 10th. On December 10th I'll have been here 100 days. I wonder what kind of culture will be created by then?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Called to Exile

"Calling" is a tricky word. "I've found my calling," people say. "I was called to go to ___." "I'm trying to find my calling." Calling, in our culture, is used most often as a noun, a destination. It arouses the notion that by some mix of skill and circumstance and effort and success and a dash of mystery and aligning stars, we find a vocational, relational, geographical resting place that feels more like home than anything else we've found. Calling feels like a new outfit that fits just right and gives you that confident bounce in your step.

What I've noticed, is that this glorious notion of calling can actually be quite debilitating, paralyzing. What if it doesn't all happen so neatly? What if it isn't obvious to what or where you're called? What if you spend years, decades, searching for your calling? What if your interests and your gifts don't match up? What if life is just hard, and "calling" is a privilege that comes at the expense of survival? And how can you ever be really sure you've found it?

I don't mean to sound cynical, and I do believe that the God who knows every hair on our head makes unique people for unique purposes, and that it is incredibly energizing to find that one job, person, place, that seems to perfectly connect with your own personhood. Calling, though, was never meant to be so finite, so specific as to mean a job or person or place. Calling was always meant to be a verb.

"But the Lord God called to the man and said, "Where are you?"" Gen 3:9

We were called, from the beginning, to return to God. To look for him in both gardens and concrete jungles. To let him find us, naked and ashamed and broken, and to let him re-set our paths. What if to find our calling meant to find a gracious God, looking for us between trees and along garden paths, longing to redirect our steps towards a journey of grace, mercy, freedom, life? What if calling actually means listening for the whispers and shouts of "Where are you?" as we move through life, and to respond with, "Here I am." (Gen 22:11, Gen 46:2, Ex 3:4, 1 Sam 3:4, Is 6:8, Acts 9:10)

"Where are you," God calls.
"Here I am," we say.

With that, God becomes our sherpa, travel companion, path straightener, brush clearer, guide. He sends, leads, and sometimes exiles. He calls us, not to a job or city, but to find him.

I'm moving soon, and that brings up all kinds of questions of calling and notions of being sent and lead and, yes, even exiled. Because, if I'm honest, going to Florida feels more like exile. Leaving family, friends, faith communities, cities I know and love, job offers full of vision and mission I believe in, and life rhythms that are comfortable. "Here I am," but do you have to send me to Florida?

I've read and re-read passages about God's people being lead through deserts and wilderness, with the great promise of a flourishing land of milk and honey. I've longed to feel apart of that journey, to feel purposefully lead with vision for a new home.

I'm tempted to linger and wallow in those passages that talk of the great places God promises to bring his people and the ways he'll provide for them there. I long for this move, new job, new life, to feel a part of God's great plan and vision in a way that it just doesn't (even if I know- head knowledge- it is).

But those promised land and beautiful Jerusalem passages end, and like any good story the plot twists. How easily the land of milk and honey becomes wilderness and desert. How far God's beautiful plan for the world was from the cities and temples his people built in the promised land. It was never about the land, was it? It was about learning to live as a "called people." It was their called-ness to be with God, to be sought after and to seek, that made their land and life good. God called his people to the promised land to dwell with him, but the promised land became desolation as his people started to dwell alone.

Exile results. God calls his people to exile. They leave all they know- their culture and familiar surroundings. Just as he lead them to the promised land, he lead them into exile. God wasn't banishing them, he was saying to them in a new way, "Where are you?" The capture of God's people, their exile to Babylon aren't happy passages to read. The joy of journeying onward towards the promised land and basking in the bounty of God's provision seems miles away. Strikingly, though, his instructions to his people in exile aren't any different than those he gave them in the promised land. "Live, love, flourish, seek and find me" God tells them. Even exile can become a place of flourishing if life is lived with God.

God always calls his people to himself. Exile and wilderness aren't only, or even primarily, about location and lack of comfort, they are where people have forgotten to seek God, where they've forgotten their calling. The promised land and flourishing cities, similarly, aren't just prime real estate filled with great jobs, they exist anywhere God's people remember their calling- that they are called to be with God.

"Where are you," God asks.
"Here I am" I say.
"Me, too," God answers. "Me, too"

Monday, June 20, 2016

Half Mast

Our flag has spent a lot of time at half mast the last several months, years. So much time, in fact, I can't always tell if it's meant to be there to symbolize a new loss or tragedy, or if we've just left it there as the new normal.

I don't know that I believe we live in more tragic times than in the past. Perhaps we're more aware of it all from the media. Our tragedies are different than those past, but we've always had tragedy in our midst. Well, not always, but almost.

Whose job is it to decide when our nation's flag should be lowered as an acknowledgement of tragedy? Who gets to decide what is "enough tragedy" to lower the flag. How many people have to die? What other countries do we show solidarity to, and for how big a tragedy? How long does the flag stay low? How do we decide we've "recovered," nationally, and can raise the flag high again? **

It's a rhetorical question. I know there are regional and local variations, and there really must be someone who gets to decide. I'm sure there are protocols and flow charts.

Flags, I know don't solve problems. They aren't even a particularly personal way of showing support or solidarity. But they've become a visible and public demonstration, and certainly aren't without meaning, either.

I wonder, if we each had our own flag to raise and lower, in demonstration of support and empathy, how would we each choose to do so? Maybe it isn't even an American flag, maybe a family flag, a Stefanie flag.

I suppose what I'm getting at is that it seems that we could easily find endless good reasons to always fly at half mast. There's more than enough tragedy out there to go around. I don't say that with a sense of depression, but simply out of truth. Life on earth is a bit like our half mast flag- simultaneously symbolic of greatness and tragedy. To fly high seems to discount the true and great hurt inside and around us. To lower our flag to the ground undervalues and dishonors the great hopes of freedom, love of neighbor, and fullness of life we strive for and get some real glimpses and tastes of in this country, world.

Whether our flag is flying high or lowered, I'm reminded that I'm not only a citizen of this country. I'm a citizen in God's kingdom. While He mourns and weeps better than any of us over the tragedy of this earth, He's able to fly his own flag of victory high, knowing that goodness and truth, beauty and honor, justice and peace, love of neighbor and life everlasting will win, have won, are winning. His flag flies high not out of nationalistic pride or the limits of his empathy, but out of power, love, and ultimate victory.

** I always feel a little awkward about showing pride in our American Flag, or really national pride at all. Maybe it's the post-WWII German in me who is has a healthy fear of nationalism. I love many parts of our country, but intense nationalism scares me a lot.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Live Where You Live

I walked to work one day last week, something I fantasize about doing regularly in the future. I walked behind a little boy and his grandmother. He was probably 5, maybe a tall 4. She was probably 40, maybe a young looking 45. He had a superman cape on and those shoes that light up when you stomp. He clutched some nondescript glazed pastry in one hand, the kind you can get for 1.99 at the check out counter of 7-11. His other hand was holding onto grandma. Grandma was holding him tight in one hand, and swinging his batman backpack in her other hand. They weren't rushing, but walked steadily, with purpose. I walked behind them for about 5 blocks until they reached his school and we parted ways. She let go at one point and told him to run ahead and get his energy out before school started. Off he darted, happy to have some freedom. Her newly unoccupied hand reached for a cigarette which she enjoyed over the next few blocks, still swinging batman with her other hand. She caught up to him, put out her cigarette and dropped him off at school. His batman backpack looked huge on his wirey frame, but he darted happily inside the brick building. You could tell life wasn't perfect, but grandma loved him and he loved batman.

It was only about 7 minutes in total, but it reminded me of how valuable it is for me to be present and to live life in the same geographical and social space as my patients (another life long fantasy). There's more information to be gotten from that morning observation than from 10 minutes of diligent question asking in an exam room.

I thought about that kiddo the rest of the day. I wondered if he was hungry after the sugar rush wore off? I wondered if he had asthma, and grandma's smoking made it worse? I wondered what his home life was like? I wondered what he learned in school, and what was inside that big batman backpack? I wondered if he would get mislabeled as ADHD, or if stomping his feet to make his shoes light up filled him with feelings of security and magic powers, like batman, to face an imperfect world every morning. Kids are resilient, people say. But are they? Really? Look how many people grow up to have physical, mental, relational difficulties because of their childhood. That's not resilience, it's incubation.

A few miles away from that morning walk, and two years ago, I remember sitting in my hospital's lobby. This time, I was a patient, waiting for lab work. I had decided I'd go to doctors and deliver my baby at the hospital in which I worked. On the one hand, it was convenient. I was an intern with no time, and proximity and inside connections were gold. On the other hand, I knew all too well the flaws and messiness of my hospital. Sitting there in the lobby, it was pretty clear I wasn't the typical patient.

Similar to being a neighbor in the neighborhood where I work, being a patient in my own healthcare system was probably the best medical education I ever got. I learned about long wait times, frustrating insurance, chaotic offices, an overwhelmed hospital, and being surrounded by people who didn't look much like me. I pushed a baby out in a hospital room that was less than luxurious, yet had everything I needed. I faced my own sense of entitlement that things should work better for me!

But it isn't the humble environment or semi-chaotic atmosphere that I remember. It's is the deeper joy and importance of having my vocational, social, health, and geographical worlds collide. It is the deeper meaning behind having my baby delivered by a Nigerian, washed by an Ethiopian, and handed to me by a Korean. There's a peace that comes with being fully present- it overcomes awkwardness and social or cultural barriers. I've since delivered a few other babies in that same room, and each time had heightened meaning because of my own relationship with that space.

Live where you live, I've learned. Work where you live. Be where you live. Don't just see patients, be one. Don't just treat patients, live with them. It makes me a better doctor, to be sure, but also a better neighbor. We're all just neighbors in the end, aren't we?

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Street Cleaning, Solo-Parenting, and Margins

Tuesdays were my least favorite day of the week this year. 

Tuesday is street cleaning day on our street. (don't even get me started on how ridiculous street cleaning is) I'd guess that most of DC has felt the burn of waking up on "street cleaning morning" with a sharp pang of "argh. *&*$^&$^** I forgot to move the car." It might only be 7:01AM, but you probably already have one of those infuriating pink tickets. 

If you park before 6:30pm on Monday night you have to go out and move your car to the other side of the street before 7am on Tuesday. And then if you get home before 7pm on Tuesday night you have to move your car back to the normal side by 7am on Wednesday. I repeat, *@^&@&$*@!!. 

With Jonathan away in NYC during weekdays this year, street cleaning day has become particularly painful. Do I drag a newly bathed, ready-for-bed kiddo out to the car, strap him in, and drive around until I find a new parking spot? Do I wait until he's in bed, sneak out and hope he's ok and drive around alone to find a new spot? Sometimes I found a spot immediately, other times it was a 15 minute ordeal complicated by weather or traffic or other people's poor parking. 

It's such a simple thing, but each week it brought to surface the difficulties of solo-parenting.** 

If this year had a theme, it would be margins. I did a lot of living life in narrow margins. 

Margins provide extra space. Room to correct mistakes. Wiggle room. Cushion. Protection. 

Life without much margin feels tenuous, and perpetually vulnerable. Small deals become big deals. A kid with a cough becomes a potential day-care phone call that he needs to be picked up, which turns into leaving patients waiting or unseen. A patient close to her due date becomes a potential 2am phone call saying I need to go to the hospital and figure out what to do with my sound asleep kiddo. A night on call means planning weeks in advance about who can pick up munchkin from daycare, feed him, and be with him all night. Staying later at work means late dinner for munchkin means cranky-pants kid. Not being able to carry everything from the car to the apartment turns into worrying what item is least likely to be stolen while it sits in the backseat, and wondering if it’s ok to leave munchkin alone in his crib while bringing in groceries up 3 flights of stairs. Spending 2 glorious hours from 6-8pm feeding, bathing, and playing with legos means maybe my medical board scores won’t be as high.

I’ve never in my life spent so much time double and triple checking when I leave the house that I have everything- phone, keys, wallet, food, kid…etc. Forgetting those things becomes lots more complicated when you’re alone. I worried more about getting a flat tire or having the ER suck all the battery out of my phone and being unreachable more than ever before.

Small deals become big deals when life doesn’t have much margin. Distant worries become real fears. Potential snags in the day seem to become imminently possible and probable.

Were there friends to call? Sure. But this is DC. Everyone is busy. It’s hard to call for help at 2am when you have to go to the hospital no matter how good of a friend.

By the grace of God, I haven’t had any big emergencies. No 2am hospital calls that didn’t work out in the end. No late dinners or early mornings or street cleaning days or chief resident emergencies or lack of groceries that had any lasting impact. Practically and tangibly, things worked out. But life still felt vulnerable, hanging in a delicate balance between “things working” and “system failure.” There didn’t seem to be any middle ground.

I’ve learned how much I love margins. I’ve thought deeply about individuals and groups who permanently live life without much margin. Single parents, unemployed, homeless, disempowered minorities, the chronically ill. Small things become big deals. Life is more delicate.

Everyone needs margins and help on their “street cleaning” days.

**I use term solo-parent rather than single parent because, well, I'm not single. Jonathan may have been away a lot, but we're still together, and we're only apart for a year. He was always there for a supportive text or call or email. Once he even rushed back from NYC on a train (I wouldn't let me him tell me how much last minute tickets cost) when I had to bring Theo to the hospital. We saw him for long weekends almost each week. We mutually agreed that this was the best plan for us this year. I'm not single, but I learned a lot about what single parenting might be like. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Presence makes the heart grow fonder

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

But does it, really?

We drove up I-95 to Philly last weekend, and as the skyline began to peek up over the industrial graveyard that is the 20 miles between Wilmington and Philly, my heart had a few extra pitter patters. I love Philly; it feels like home, still. As we walked through the streets all weekend I felt comfortable- the way I feel when I pull off work clothes and step into running shorts and a sweatshirt. I suppose as I think about where I might want to live in the future, and feel absence from a city I love, I feel fondness. But it's nothing like being there, being present. Presence makes the heart grow fonder.

I went for a run today through DC. I've always enjoyed getting to know cities by running and walking through them. I've never loved DC the way I love Philly. It takes work to love DC. I don't think after or long for it when I'm away. Certain people and places, sure, but not the city as a whole. Today, running 9ish miles, I loved the city. The Ethiopian man who runs the corner store on my street waved hello. I passed the empty store front a block down which, after 7 years of emptiness, is showing a few signs of new life. I passed the Howard dorms- someone finally washed off the graffiti mourning the death of Trayvon Martin from the cracked bricks. The building looked empty without that spray paint memorial. I ran past Howard, Bread for the City, down through Chinatown onto the national mall, over to the Supreme Court, back down the mall and over to the White House, up 18th street, past Community of Hope, Christ House and the Potter's House, past Whitman Walker and Upper Cardozo and La Clinica Del Pueblo. I ran past playgrounds and schools, police and homeless folks. I didn't see anyone I recognized, and yet everyone seemed familiar. It's been 7 years, and I know this city. I've walked through almost every neighborhood, maybe even every street, at some point. I don't just know where things are. It's deeper than that. I know it the way good friends know each other- able to spend time together, anticipate each others thoughts and feelings, and move through life together in a sort of duet. The city has a rhythm, different neighborhoods with different beats, and I've become a part of it. Presence, being present, makes my heart grow with fondness for this city.

I've spent about 60-70% of this year with J living in NYC. Do I love and miss him when he's away? Sure. Solo-mommying is no joke, and deserves a blog post of its own. But it's his presence that makes my heart grow fonder, not absence. My favorite text of the week is, "my train's here, see you tonight!" I suppose the times of absence have grown my appreciation for his presence. But, when it's time for him to return to NYC for the week, I realize that it is actually his presence that grows my appreciation of his presence. Presence makes the heart grow fonder.

This has been an encouraging theme as I think about moving to a city for which I currently don't feel much fondness. I feel, well, mostly nothing about Tallahassee. Not good, not bad, just fact. It's a fact I'm moving there. But presence, being present, grows fondness. Maybe I'll grow to love this new city, too. Despite my introvert desires to move into our new big house, spend any extra time reading books and building a deck and growing gardens and having kids, and just living off the fondness I've stored up for Philly and DC, I know I can't. I need to be present. I'll always love those cities, but I suspect my fondness will dwindle the longer I'm away from them. They'll always be special, but I'll fall out of touch with that deep city rhythm that I feel a part of now. Maybe on my first day living in Tallahassee I'll go for a nice, long, run.

Presence makes the heart grow fonder. Being present in and with cities, neighborhoods, communities, families, friends grows my love for those places and people. Absence, perhaps, helps reveal the fondness. But presence? Presence grows the heart.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Walking Down the Aisle

I married a Republican*. I've always voted Democrat. I'm not a huge fan of those labels, but they're commonplace and simple to use.

I've become a little more Republican. He's become a little more Democrat. Heck, we've even talked about voting across the aisle depending on the year, the candidate, the issues at stake. 

Speaking of aisles, we walked down one. Together. Almost 6 years ago. 

We don't always agree, and there are times when we cut the conversation short, because arguing it out and getting in our talking points isn't worth going to bed feeling disconnected. 

Republican and Democrat aren't our most important labels or descriptors. Christian, wife, husband, mommy/daddy, son, daughter, sister, brother, economist, doctor, nerd. They're not the only descriptors, but they aren't un-important. They're part of a story that shapes how we see and interact with the world around us. 

I can't laugh quite as much as some anti-republican jokes on late night comedy, because I'm watching them sitting next to my favorite Republican. Jonathan can't write off Democrats as all being tree-hugging, non-profit founding, government dictators, because I'm sitting next to him when we watch Fox News. 

We agree on a lot, the vast majority. But sometimes we don't. And that's ok. At the end of the day, we trust that what each of us most desires is real, true, good life, for all people. Neither of us think that's found wholly, fully, perfectly in presidents or government. We both see, differently, how our leaders and government structures affect the world we live in in real ways. I tell stories about the injustice of healthcare and welfare. He tells stories about the injustices of bad economics. We both long for a country and world more full of life, peace, justice. My ability to think about life, peace, and justice is bigger, not smaller, because of our cross-political relationship. Isn't that the point? I've had the experience of getting frustrated about bad democratic policies. And...Jonathan has hugged a few trees since we've been married. 

We live life not reaching across the aisle, but walking down the aisle. 

We are at our best when we're in motion, walking together, not seated comfortable and holding hands across an ideological aisle. Walking means neither of us are fully comfortable, easily defined or contained, and that's a good thing.

The carpet in the aisles is a little more worn. You can't help but bump into people. And when the people from either side are trying to move in different directions? Forget it. Mass chaos, stepped on toes. No one gets anywhere fast. Aisles work best when people are moving in the same direction, even if at different speeds, with pit stops and side conversations.

Here's to hoping we can all spend a little more time in the aisle.

*Disclaimer, Jonathan said it was OK that I outed him as a Republican, and that he isn't really that Republican. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Lent: Fasting or Feasting?

Like most seasons of spiritual life and discipline, I've found two sides to the Lenten coin.

I've always been fascinated at the relatively wide-spread practice of giving something up during Lent, even (particularly?) among those who don't engage much with faith life during most of the year. I figure, it's one thing to celebrate Christmas even if you're not really a follower of Christ. There are universally held messages in the Christmas story and season that resonate and lead many to gratitude, gift giving, and love of neighbor. But...Lent? Our culture is far from celebratory of repentance, sacrifice, and abstinence.

Still, I think as a culture we value independence, or, more specifically, lack of dependence on things, foods, and people. We don't like to think of ourselves as addicted, hooked, needy. We don't like being told, or challenged: "I bet you can't live without ___." And so, masses of people give up chocolate, carbs, facebook, coffee, alcohol. This list goes on. We like to prove to ourselves that, gosh darnit, we can do it! We can live without those things! We're not really that hooked. We still have self discipline and control. Go us!

I too have had a mix of Lenten traditions. There were younger years when I gave up sweets- it never seemed to phase me much beyond some annoyance when I really wanted ice cream after dinner. (man, I love ice cream). One year I tried (semi-successfully) to give up lying. Like, no lying at all. Ever. One year I gave up all work on Sundays, committing to a real, true Sabbath. One year I fasted once a week, or for a few days with a group of close friends. Then there have been a few years that rather than giving something up, I tried to add something meaningful to my life- more time for prayer, a community dinner once a week, saying hello and looking in the eye everyone I passed on the street.

All of these experiences been valuable, and some more so than others. There is value in disconnecting from addictive habits, from committing to live more faithfully, to becoming more connected to my community. But I've often ended Lent wondering: "Did I do it right?" I mean, those aren't things I need to wait for Lent to do. In fact, I should probably be doing them regularly, like, all the time. It's always seemed uncomfortable to end Lent with the celebration of Resurrection, only to go back the next day to being a little more selfish, a little more addicted, a little less sacrificial. Shouldn't the result be the opposite? Isn't the season of Lent really about needing and finding a little more of Jesus than what we had before, holding on to Him for dear life, and emerging a little fuller, a little more faith-filled, a little more faithful.

Isn't Lent actually about Feasting?

The God I know doesn't want me to be empty, hungry, fasting. He wants me to be full, filled, stuffed, feasting. He's not thinking about chocolate or carbs. He's thinking about love and grace. He's not thinking about how long I can subsist on only water, or if I made it a whole week without swearing. He longs for obedience, trust, dependency. He's not a God who calls me to give things up simply to make the point that it's hard, or to acknowledge addiction. He calls me fill myself up with himself, and that generally requires some emptying of myself first. To make room to feel hungry for him, and then to be filled!

That emptying process, I think, is what we call repentance. Like a gardener weeds a garden before planting season, removing rocks and weeds and old dead brush, repentance lays bare the weeds and rocks of my heart and asks the great Gardener to remove them so new life can be planted.

So, is there fasting, giving up, emptying that Lent requires? Sure. Of me. I'm called to give up me. But that's not the end of the story. I'm equally called to hunger and thirst not for my old self (or chocolate, facebook, carbs, sin) but for Christ. For Christ in me.

Lent prepares me to arrive at Easter not starving and deprived, but so filled with need for and love of Christ that his Resurrection is absolutely the best news out there. To be filled with hunger is different than being hungry; it is to be filled with repentance and love and need for Jesus. It is to feast!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Being White on MLK Day

I debated whether or not it is "ok" to think and talk and write about being white on MLK day. I remember and know, personally, that power-filled majority cultures tend to make everything about them. About me, I mean. They, I mean we, I mean I, make our voices heard, find power, assert dominance, even on days and in places and with people where the focus isn't supposed to be us. We like to be "big deals."

I've always had trouble knowing what it means for me to celebrate MLK day. Of course, there's much King did and said that is more than worth celebrating. Still, I can't help but simultaneously think: I wish there weren't so many reasons to celebrate. I wish he hadn't needed to say so much, do so much, believe and hope and dream so much. There's tragedy mixed in with the celebration, and the extent of the celebration is commensurate with the extent of the tragedy. But, the opposite is true here as well. With the tragedy of racism and prejudice, subtle and not-subtle slavery, comes real and true and glorious celebration when bits and pieces of the darkness are chiseled away and we can see the light underneath.

MLK day is a celebration of King's birth. I wonder, what would I have been like had I been born that day in the south? Maybe in the same town as King. Unlikely we would have been at the same hospital. What would my childhood have been like? My adolescence? My young and mid-adulthood? King never got past that stage. I probably would have. I might still be alive. How different would my childhood have been compared to the one I did have in the 90s? I'd like to think hugely different, but I'm not sure. Could we have known each other? Would we have bumped into each other? On purpose, or by accident? What would I have thought about him? Would the strong call I hear in Scripture to love my neighbors, all my neighbors, to fight for injustice and for the weak and powerless, seem as strong when the question of racial injustice and white privilege were brought to surface? Would King's criticism of and plea to white Christians have applied to me? Probably. Does it still? Yes. Would I have marched? Would I have risked jail? Those Ivy Leagues, you know, they don't like criminal records on their admission applications. I wonder who they would have picked- me with record of jail due to protesting, or a black student with an impeccable record and grades. It's a real question- even in those "we're-above-race"ivory towers.

These are the things I think about on MLK day. These questions are what it means for me to be white on MLK day.

I'm tempted to avoid the day- to treat it as a holiday for rest and maybe some community service. To spend it feeling guilty- guilty for the fact that I'm part of a culture that made this day necessary to celebrate. That I probably would have been explicitly involved in the culture of slavery and overt discrimination. That I probably wouldn't have been as brave, as holy, as I would like to think I would have been. That I probably am not as brave or holy as I like to think I am.

But, guilt and shame and avoidance, or even Hallmark card quotations of King, aren't celebration. They are, in their own way, a part of my privilege. They are part of the problem.

I've never been a good celebrator. But that is what I need, we need, to do today. To celebrate a man who was needed, is needed, because of injustice and inequality that I probably would have perpetuated had I grown up with him. Celebration like that demands humility and confession and repentance and love of what is good and true and beautiful and right, rather than love of self. Now that's something worth celebrating.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Working and Mommying

Today marks 365 days since first dropping munchkin off at daycare so I could return to work as a Family Medicine resident. Was it a tough day? Sure. It felt strange to leave him in the arms of someone I didn't know, unsure if he'd eat and sleep, unsure if his little 10 week heart and mind were feeling abandoned, nervous about work emergencies that would make me late for pick-up, and if I'd find time for pumping between seeing patients.
Munchkin's first day of daycare

But, I'll tell you a secret. I was ready to go to work at the clinic/hospital. Like, really ready. The shift from a 60-80 hr work week that was super structured to totally unstructured days at home with a newborn was rough, and, I'll admit it, often boring. I'm sure if there had been other kids running around, or if I had planned to set up my life to be a work at home mom, my attitude and reality would have been different. But, there weren't and I didn't.

Don't get me wrong, I love time with my little munchkin. Maternity leave is important, in most cases should be longer, needs to be protected, and really is a unique season of life. I'd love a more formal way of giving moms who don't work outside the home real maternity leave.

This past year I've had days, sometimes even weeks, when I fantasize about being a work at home mom- watching and helping my kids discover the world during more than just nights and weekends. Then there were days when I wish I didn't feel the pull to go home right after work, because I'd love to stay longer- talking, working, problem solving, learning. I anticipate swinging back and forth on a gradient between those two scenarios for several years yet to come. I anticipate seasons when I will doctor more, and seasons when I will mommy more.

What I (re)learned this year, is that every "yes" is also a "no."

The last few years have been filled with books and trendy articles about how it is a women's time to have it all. How we can be great mothers and great CEOs, great mini-van drivers and sleep over planners, and also great professionals workers. I appreciate parts of this conversation. I appreciate being recognized as more than a uterus and lunchbox packer. I also appreciate recognition that as a professional I do in fact have a uterus that desires to hold a few children, and pack lunches. I appreciate that being a great mom and a great doctor are both valued attributes. It's also worth noting that the "you can have it all" message is one of great priviledge- most don't have such choices, and having it all means keeping your family alive and mostly well. Overall, I think the "you can have it all" mentality preached to mostly middle and upper class women is a dangerous lie, and in the end a disservice to women.

Every "yes" is also a "no." Sometimes several "no's." When I said "yes" to marrying Jonathan, I said "no" to marrying 6+ billion other people. When I said "yes" to being a doctor, I said "no" to several other attractive careers I had been thinking about. When I said "yes" to being a mommy, I said "no" to quiet lazy mornings, clean floors, and 8 hours of sleep at night (at least for a while).

And that's ok. In fact, the "no's" are part of what make those "yes'" so important, so valuable.

When I say "yes" to spending time with my munchkin instead of working, I'm telling him, "right now, you are more important. I am saying "no" to other things and instead am choosing you." On the flip side, when I decide to stay late at work, bring work home, or even work outside the home at all, I'm also saying, "there are other things that are also important, and sometimes I do those things instead of being with you." Being a mom means that I'm not always, or even often, going to stay late at work, take on every extra task, and might try not to put myself in job positions that are going to make mommying impossible. Being a doctor means that I'm not always going to be home to put munchkin to bed, to spend large amounts of day time together, to see each important moment. That's hard to hear, do, feel. Of course I've made sure someone else can pick him up, watch him, nurture him, when I can't (big shout out to J!), which is something I can't do with my doctoring work. I hope munchkin grows up seeing his mom care about hurting people, and also that he grows up with a mom who disciples him to care for hurting people.

I suppose we all have slightly different definitions of what it means to be a great mom and be a great out-of-home worker- different definitions of what it means to "have it all." The way it's talked about in recent media and news leaves me feeling exhausted, with no room for margin, and feeling consistently inadequate in all areas- home and work. I probably could "have it all," working late after kids are in bed, being a super efficient person during each nap time at home and lunch break at work. But, what I'm finding, is that I don't want "it all." Not like that, at least. Time and space are finite for me, and how I choose to spend my time and space is part of how I say to the world- "this is something I value!" Of course I can value more than one thing and place, and going to work doesn't mean I don't value being home, but it does mean I do value being at work. My limitations of body, time, and space aren't meant to be stretched to the max, striving for some time-warped world and teleporting body; they are gifts to live within, and give the grace needed to not have, do, or be "it all."

There is a lot more nuance to this whole topic than simply "yes" and "no," and there is a wide gradient between "having it all" and being restricted and discouraged from work outside the home. Like most things, real life is somewhere in-between, usually.

Instead what I've learned is that working and mommying is like being given two good gifts, each held in one hand. But, sometimes one of them requires two hands, and that means putting the other one down. When I toss munchkin in the air and see his toothy grin, the gift of work has been placed on the floor. When I loose track of time at work or dream about running a health clinic/center in an underserved neighborhood, munchkin is being tossed in the air by someone else during those moments, and I'm holding more fully the gift of doctoring work.

So, every "yes" is also a "no," and I have been given two good gifts (and more). Also, there's a lot of grace to be found in the midst of the yes', no's, and gift juggling.