Beach Glass Blessings 

Beach Glass Blessings 

I wrote recently about how finding beach glass reminds me of dating.

I think it reminds me even more of blessings. Those good things in life that lift our spirits, that call out for gratitude.

It takes training my eyes to see them – wanting to see them. And to see them in a range of colors and shapes and sizes.

It means taking the time to stop and bend down to pick them up. Most days, my collection reflects the time I’ve spent stopping and looking.

But then there are those tiny, rare pieces of blue beach glass. When they come to me, they feel like a promise.

It’s been a summer full of transitions (on top of a year full of transitions, on top of a few years full of transitions). Some have been painful and some hopeful and some both at the same time. None have been easy.

The first piece of blue beach glass I found felt like the blessing of a promise – “there is more goodness, love, and beauty ahead than you imagine.”

I’m not superstitious. I don’t think blue sea glass is a sign from God. But it has become an icon of hope for me.

Each weekend since that first piece, as I’ve walked the beach and prayed (or tried), a piece of blue sea glass has come to me, each one feeling like a small miracle.

Maybe not all miracles need to be supernatural. Maybe some of them can be bits of brokenness, tossed among the rocks and sand again and again until the edges wear down and something that is smooth and whole all on its own remains.

Maybe some miracles can be found in the rare gift that comes from nature and the world and all we put into it. When things come together to deposit a small, brilliant piece of blue beach glass at your feet.

And maybe some miracles can be found in the gift of eyes and time to see and receive them.

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Still Summer

Still Summer

It’s still summer – I know because of the sun and the heat and the ice cream carts.

Ice cream carts are a summer fixture in Rogers Park, up and down the sidewalks, near parks, and especially on the beach. They plow through the sand bringing frozen goodness to anyone with a little cash.

And everyone, it seems, loves them. In my United Nations of a neighborhood, ice cream bars are trans-cultural.

I don’t want it to end – summer on the Lake. I knew I’d moved to a diverse neighborhood, but I didn’t realize just how diverse until I came to the beach Memorial Day weekend.

I lost count of the languages. Women in scarves and head coverings sat on blankets at the water’s edge alongside women in bikinis. Children of every shade of skin tone squealed as the cold lake waves splashed at their knees. Men tended grills – this one smelling of fresh tamales, that one of burgers, others of spices unrecognizable to me.

The sun and the Lake brought us all out to enjoy the gifts of summer.

Rogers Park is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country. In Chicago’s patchwork quilt of ethnic neighborhoods, Rogers Park is plaid – people of different ethnicities and economic status live next door to each other. More than eighty languages are spoken here, many by refugees and other new residents.

When the weather is cooler, I catch glimpses of these neighbors. I pass them on the sidewalk going to the train station, or in the aisles of the local market (it squeezes a remarkable collection of food into a small space). But for the most part, we frequent different restaurants, attend different churches, keep different schedules.

Our kids would be in school together, if I had kids. I see them all congregated outside the elementary school across the street when I leave for work in the mornings. It’s harder to find those common spaces as a single.

Except for the summer, it turns out. When the beauty of the beach is open to all. It’s a glimpse of how it should be more often – shared smiles at the antics of children, apologies for stray volleyballs and frisbees, admiration of dogs, and ice cream.

I’m glad I’m not the only one still hanging on to it.

His Life Matters

His Life Matters

I met a charming young man on my way home on the Red Line last night. He had a bunch of those silver helium balloons – two spider man and one happy birthday, and when I asked, he happily replied that yes, today is his birthday.

He’s three. Dark curls, huge brown eyes, and beautiful latte skin. He asked my name and proudly announced he was going to church. He was a complete delight.

As I said goodbye and got off the train, my smile faded as my heart clenched. Tears began to squeeze into my eyes as I saw the realities he doesn’t know he faces.

In ten years, or even five, too many won’t see him as charming and confident and funny and beautiful.

They – we – will see him as suspicious , dangerous, scary.

Because he’s driving in the “wrong” part of town, or walking down the “wrong” street. He’ll be holding something we think is a weapon. He’ll be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’ll be frustrated or confused or disrespectful. He’ll be doing something that somehow fits the wrong narrative as far as we are concerned.

And because of that, he’ll be bleeding in the street.

But not because of any of those things – not really. Because of the color of his skin.

No, not even that.

Because of the stories we tell ourselves and each other about the color of his skin. About where he belongs and who he is.

We’ll tell him those stories, too, and he may try to live up to them.

I wonder what stories his mother will tell him. Will they be stories shaped around who he really is – who he’s meant to be?

Or will they be stories shaped around us?

I pray that in ten or five years we are different. But I fear for him.

His life will likely be shaped around our fears. And I imagine when so many are afraid of you no matter what you don’t do, it may come to feel like the only way you can own your life would be to give them something to be afraid of.

So often we create our own nightmares, whether or not they are real.

We need to stop.

His life matters.

Meant to Be

Meant to Be

“When it’s meant to be, you’ll know it.”

“It just wasn’t meant to be.”

After 44 years of being single, I long ago lost count of the times I’ve heard these kinds of things, from both loving friends and clueless acquaintances, about all kinds of circumstances, but mostly about dating.

And no.

“Meant to be” doesn’t exist, at least not in that way it’s used.

There is no fate. There is no “God’s will,” at least not in that fatalistic, stand-in-for-fate sense.

God’s will is simply God – the beginning and the end of all things – drawing all of our chaotic randomness to that end like metal shavings to a magnet. The path will eventually get there however we twist and turn it in the meantime.

The only sense in which “meant to be” is true is in what is. Now. This moment. With no guarantees of where it will or won’t lead.

So many things that are meant to be never will be.

Sometimes you do know. In those first moments, there’s something that says, oh, this! This I was made for!

And you’re not wrong. But one or a hundred choices along the way – both already and yet to be made – mean what was meant to be won’t be.

Life is a series of grievings for what was meant to be. It is more than that, but it is that.

The denial may help some, but it’s never comforted me. It denies the often crappy reality of choices and their consequences. Some of those choices were mine. Some of them were about me, and some weren’t about me at all, but the result is the same.

Someone chose to walk away from what was meant to be. Because they are afraid of it. Because of some lie their past has taught them. Because of what they are afraid they’ll miss out on. Because they’ve bought what someone is selling about what they’re supposed to want. Because, for whatever reason, maybe even a good one, they’ve chosen a different possibility.

But sometimes, for this single moment, we can hold what was meant to be in our hand, just by recognizing it.

We will only be able to grasp it if we can let go of – grieve – what we want it to be in other moments, what we want to make it.

But if we can let go, it can be beautifully and imperfectly what was meant to be for this one moment. And whatever may come cannot destroy that.

Neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, not height or depth, not any powers, not even the future, can separate us from the gift of love. Even the gift of love that is only a moment.

The only thing we ever really have, the only gift we’re ever given, is now, in this moment and in its memory.

What good to turn away because it isn’t guaranteed to be there tomorrow?

Beach Glass Dating

Beach Glass Dating

Walking along the beach at the Lake today, it occurred to me that learning how to date post-forty has been a bit like looking for beach glass.

When I was little we used to go to North Myrtle Beach on the South Carolina coast twice a year. My mother and I would walk up and down the beach, along the shoreline, and I learned to look for shark’s teeth from her.

For years, I collected shells I liked – buckets of them, while she brought home a few black slivers of shark’s teeth.

Now I walk along the Lakeshore looking for beach glass – those small pieces of broken glass the waves have tumbled into smoothness. They come in brown, a milky white, green, and very rarely, deep blue.

It takes the same kind of effort I learned from my mother – a kind of concentration that gradually trains your eyes to notice a particular difference in the assortment of small stones that blanket the Lakeshore.

Online dating can be overwhelming (particularly when dating has meant years of famine). At first, I said yes to meeting anyone who was not a clear “No!” And that was good. I began to understand what questions I needed to ask, what kinds of things I needed to look for.

But it’s not all about knowing what you want. So often I catch a glimpse of green in the water only for a wave to cover it as quickly as it had revealed it.

It’s hard. So many times the possibilities of a promising date are unexplored because of timing and circumstances. Though of course, it’s also timing and circumstances that have revealed possibilities where I never thought to find them.

The analogy breaks down (they always do). I’m not collecting dates. I’m looking for a unique relationship with a partner.

But I am doing my best to collect the gifts the dates bring me.

I don’t mean literal gifts – the only two first dates I would consider unmitigated disasters included gifts. (Online dating tip: don’t show up to your first meeting with a copy of your self-published self-help book, and don’t spend the whole time talking about the special insight and technique you’ve developed to address every kind of emotional struggle. Book pitches do not work well as dates.)

Everyone I’ve met has given me a gift, though. Always the gift of time and conversation at the least, but most often, also the gift of something of their life and self and story.

There was the man whose long struggle with brain cancer ended in a miraculous cure. (His marriage survived the illness but not the cure, and he still longed for his wife.)

The former Benedictine Monk who decided final vows were not for him, and seemed to be making up for his decades in black with some of the most colorful business clothes I’ve seen on a man.

The black attorney who loved scuba diving and really wanted to go to seminary.

The pastor who’d started his career with the Chicago Police Department so young that his mother had to sign his gun permit, and then quit a few years shy of his retirement eligibility because his church needed him.

They each gave me something – often questions about life and what it means. Sometimes realizations. Sometimes affirmation. I hope I gave them similar gifts in return.

And while I don’t collect dates, I do collect the gifts they’ve brought me – like sparkling beach glass.

Unclobbering and Shared Stories 

Unclobbering and Shared Stories 

A friend of mine, Colby Martin, has written a book that’s about to be released. I’m proud of him, not just because of the enormous work such a project means, and not even because it’s a brave and beautiful book.

I’m proud of him most because of the life he has engaged and shaped in himself – it’s a brave and beautiful journey he has walked to be able to write this book.

Unclobber is part memoir and part exploration of the Bible’s “clobber” passages – those verses that convince believers that God condemns same sex desires and acts. When Colby came to understand those passages differently, he lost friends and the position as pastor he was called to in a conservative evangelical church.

It’s not the book about affirming my LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers that I would write, and I’m glad. While there is strong resonance between our journeys, Colby’s story is uniquely his and uniquely valuable for that.

For me, his story is most powerful in a place where it both deeply connects with and departs from my own.

Colby changed his mind and heart because of his deep commitment to be faithful to Scripture and following Jesus. He had no questions about his own sexuality, no friends or family members who were gay.

Like me, Colby didn’t come to see things differently because he had a stake in the game. I would say that we both began to look deeper because we saw that Jesus has a stake in the game.

It’s not an easy path. While there is, as Colby expresses so well, a deep peace that comes with living in alignment – mind, heart, spirit, and outward behavior all in harmony; that peace can come with deep loss.

I am fortunate that, unlike Colby, my own journey did not jeopardize my calling or the ability to support a family. But there are deep losses nonetheless. When what it looks like to be faithful changes for you, to those for whom it hasn’t changed, you appear to be unfaithful.

Following Jesus can take us down different paths, paths that can seem confusing (and worse) to those who love us. But once seen, the vision cannot be unseen. Once known, new understanding cannot be unknown.

I’m reminded of the parable Jesus told of the Pearl of Great Price. A merchant sells everything in order to gain one thing that matters most to him (a thing that would look absurdly impractical to the parable’s audience – he can’t eat it or shelter under it, and it would be difficult to sell, if he even intends that).

It’s a parable that challenges us to know what it is that we value most. That will not look the same for all of us, even those of us who follow Jesus, and that’s hard sometimes.

I’m grateful for Colby and his journey. I’m grateful for friends who have counted and paid the cost, and continue to follow as faithfully as they know how.

And as we share our stories, I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that we can continue to challenge our fears and blindspots, that we can embrace a faith that is ever more just and generous.

That together we can create a world that overflows with the shalom, beauty, and love of God to all.

Blue Woad for Courage

Blue Woad for Courage

A friend of mine said once that courage is doing really scary stuff really scared. It’s the only idea of courage I’ve ever been able to relate to.

It’s not so much about sticking around when the bad stuff hits. Shock usually takes care of that for me. While my emotional brain is still reeling, the hyper-rational me steps in and takes care of things. (From what I’ve been told, I’m the most rational person you’d ever break up with.)

No, where the scary stuff comes in is the next day. When my world has shifted or shattered and I have to figure out how to live in a new reality.

That’s when just showing up is courage.

Theater people taught me a lot about showing up. When I was in high school hanging out with college theater majors, it was the costuming department I spent the most time with.

Costumes were important because they revealed the character – to the audience, yes, but first and more importantly, to the actor. And the principle bled over into everyday life. What we wore was about more than self-expression; it was self-revelation.

Showing up with who you really are, even when it gets scary.

Courage is about the willingness to be vulnerable. I almost said “the strength,” and it may be strength, but it never feels like it at the time.

It feels like showing up with all your wounds, your hurt, your vulnerabilities on display. It feels like saying, “I’m here; I’m hurting but I’m not going to hide.”

My seminary boyfriend used to complain that whenever he tried to break up with me (sometimes successfully), if he saw me the next day I would be looking particularly good just to torture him. Some of that was doubtless his penchant for regrets, and some of it was probably that I really did look particularly good.

But not for his sake. I was claiming me in the face of rejection. If he wasn’t going to value me, I certainly was.

There is a tradition that the ancient warriors of Scotland went into battle naked, their bodies painted blue with woad.

They didn’t put on armor that would protect them from assault, cover the softness of skin and muscle that bleeds.

And they didn’t camouflage themselves with colors that would help them blend into their surroundings and hide from their enemies.

No. They took one of the brightest and rarest of colors and they painted themselves with it, all their wounded and scared and vulnerable flesh. And they showed up, with all of who they were and nothing but blue woad for courage.

On my scariest days, the ones when I can either show up or lose something of myself I don’t want to live without, I show up.

I show up trembling, and yes, stubborn. I don’t put on armor – something that covers my softness with cold, hard bravado. And I don’t try to hide, blending in and unnoticeable.

I put on whatever feels most like me, with all my longing vulnerabilities and defiance and aching wounds and love.

And I show up, with nothing but blue woad for courage.