Just a Wednesday

To be a parent in the year 2023 in the US is to get a text from your husband in the middle of your workday saying, “We just got word that there are two schools in town on lockdown and there are conflicting messages, but there could be an active shooter.”  It is to watch social media, and texts, and emails from the school all day for any word of updates about whether or not it was really a shooter.  It’s to hear they think that it’s just a hoax, but the buildings are still in lockdown.  It’s to realize that your kid is NOT at one of the buildings in question, but is in the district and not knowing if they are in lockdown or not, but knowing that she has such high anxiety that lockdown drills–which they have had to do since kindergarten–cause her full blown panic attacks.  It’s texting her the words, “Are you ok.  I love you.  Please text me as soon as you see this.”  It’s realizing that if they were at one of the other school buildings you could be sending the same words but under very different circumstances.  

It is sending a text to one of your dearest friends who has a child at the high school in lock down just to say I love you and I am here while you wait.  It is knowing she is a pediatrician and has treated half of the kids who are hiding under tables and in back rooms trying to stay quiet.

It’s to come home at the end of the day and feel so grateful that your kids came home alive and you get to hug them.  It looks like knowing that other parents haven’t been so lucky on other days at other schools.  

That’s what being a parent in the US in 2023 looks like.  It looks like terror.  It looks like not feeling safe to send your babies to the place that they should be the safest.  And it looks like your country, your fellow citizens, your politicians… not being able to give a damn enough or to figure out how to work together enough to even begin to find a solution.  

This is what it is to be a parent in 2023.  It’s also terrifying to be a child, or a teacher, a paraeducator, or an administrator.

It shouldn’t be this way in the country that we say is the greatest in the world, the freest in the world.  This doesn’t feel like freedom.  It feels like terror.

This is “just a Wednesday,” in a small town in the United States these days.  There were lockdowns other places today.  There was a mass shooting at University of Michigan this past weekend.  I attended an Active Shooting Training at my church last year and have been urged to attend another for the organization I volunteer with.  I spoke at a work meeting yesterday about how I learned to Run or Hide or Fight because we were thinking about how to be prepared for a potential shooting there too.

It’s all so commonplace.  Just a Wednesday.  

Just a Wednesday in the United States in 2023.

Still Dancing

I’m watching the sunset and up much later than my old 41-year old self can stand tonight.  I find myself fighting the idea of going to sleep.

17 years ago after a long day of sitting vigil next to my too-young-to be-dying mother… after my husband slipped in having flown off the aircraft carrier to be there with me… after sitting with my Dad, her best friend Sara, with 3 month-old Rory, in different combinations throughout the day…  

17 years ago tonight I slipped into bed with my mother alive and in the world

And woke up without her in it.

I can’t help but wonder if I am delaying sleep in some sort of desperate effort to change the outcome of waking up 17 years ago tomorrow.

I asked my dear friend, Melissa, who is a death doula, why is this day such a thing?  Still?  I wondered, Am I just creating my own suffering?  

She said, “If you look and consider  what you are comprised of—it is earth and dust and universe and stardust. At a cellular level.

So when our loved ones return, that DNA that we share will always call you to them. To G-d. To home….  

Our ancestors want and delight in dancing with us. So she is calling you to remember.

That dance is a sacred ceremony.”

So here I am, 17 years later… Still marveling at the feel of a cool breeze on my face and shoulders on a summer evening, still pulling up the songs we used to sing together badly in the car, still missing her.

And again this year, something in my body remembers and takes up the steps of the dance.

Homeschool Mom? Yes, I have a Career

I was in a meeting yesterday where a homeschool mom was asked by a team of people who care about education, “Why will you have time to take on this new position?”

(I am not going to go into details of the meeting or the position because there are other pieces ancillary to that that will cause my point to get lost).

That person answered, “I will have plenty of time because I don’t have a job. I am just a homeschool Mom.”

I can tell you from experience that teaching my kids at home is different than teaching in a classroom. I have taught in the classroom as well. It is categorically different because it requires different kinds of teaching methods. It is “easier” in some ways because there are fewer students (though I am friends with amazing homeschool families with large families too!). But those few students may be yours for the entirety of their school career. In some ways there is more ease in teaching my 3 kids. In other ways, it was a cleaner delineation of career to be in the classroom.

There is planning, and scheduling. There is grading and mentoring. I don’t get to specialize in a content area or a grade level… Writing, Science, Phonics, Math–all levels of them? I have to make sure I know those subjects well enough to teach them, or that I can sustainably outsource them to people (so there is some coordination and logistics as well). I also have to balance the relationship to my kids as Mom with the relationship to my kids as teacher.

Do you know how much tutors are paid an hour? A low-end price is often $40 an hour. Do you know how many hours of unpaid labor I do a week?

I have struggled through waves of invalidation year after year after year about not having a “career.” It was only recently that I realized I HAVE one. Not in a patronizing, “Moms are so important and what you do is hard!” kind of way (we are and that is true… but this goes a little deeper than that). If my youngest is schooled at home in some capacity until she graduates, I will have worked as a homeschool educator for 17 years. That is a pretty decent span of time for one job position. That is a career.

So what is my point here?

1) Friends who homeschool? Don’t invalidate yourselves. This is real work. This is every bit of a job or even a career as any other calling. And please, please, please don’t invalidate yourselves (and by extension the rest of us) in a room full of professional educators who already misunderstand so much of what we do.

2) Hey society: This is another part of largely women-led labor that is unseen and uncompensated. Please don’t assume that because our work is at home (and after COVID so many people should know from experience that work at home is still WORK), that it isn’t “real work,” or a “real job.”

I choose to take the weight of my children’s education onto my shoulders. It was a cognizant choice in a sea of GOOD choices. I am a huge fan of the school district we are in. I teach my kids because year after year, we have collaboratively decided that some version of that has been the best choice for our family. But just because that is a CHOSEN weight makes it no less a weight. *I* am getting my kids to the finish line of education. That weight is HEAVY so many days.

I have a career. It is a good and rich one. It requires an understanding of children, and education, and all of the school content areas. It takes discipline and stamina. And I am proud of it.

I wish more people could be too.

Tatters or Nets

posted this initially in response to a post by Dr. Craig A. Boyd, one of the professors who challenged me and my way of thinking in college. His post was about why people are leaving Religion/Religious Institutions/Communities of Faith.

Dear Craig,

In 2003, I graduated from the institution you alluded to in your Facebook post, and was not entirely sure how to describe my faith at the end of that college experience.  I remember feeling that my faith had been deconstructed (did I think to use that term then?  I don’t remember).  I was frustrated that it hadn’t been put back together.  Articles came out in the School Newspaper at the end of my senior year about other students who were saying similar things.  Sadness was expressed over these editorials… Clucking sounds were made….  Criticism was leveled at you and your colleagues.

For myself, after leaving college, I remember saying I felt  like I was in a faith free fall, and I felt angry and scared about that. I felt that I did not know how to pray….  My time in scripture–the “Devotions,” of my earlier years had gotten significantly dicier now that I could more robustly think about and consider what I was reading.  Don’t worry, I blamed the CCM majors for obliterating my sense of worship, so you were off the hook for that one

Still, I strangely always really loved the classes that I blamed for deconstructing my faith. 😉   I was only able to take one class with you during my 4 years at that school, but it left an indelible mark and I think of it nearly every day.  It was a required religion credit for Freshmen.  I remember you being the first person to point out to me that there are two creation stories and one doesn’t square with the other.  I remember you taking questions from those who, like me, were raised in the standard late 90s American Evangelicalism with Christian Music stations, Christian Rock Concerts, Christian T-shirts, and Bumper Stickers (but they are witnessing tools!) and more “Christian” inanimate objects than you could shake a stick at.  I remember members of my class trying to take on the faith leader at the mosque we visited as part of the course and seeing him elegantly put them in their places with scripture he knew much better than us Freshman–no matter how zealous we thought ourselves to be.  I remember, getting a kick out of all of it, and finding that there was something immensely freeing about being flipped on my head.  In short, I remember learning a lot.

An embarrassing confession:  I was part of a prayer group praying to participate in spiritual warfare against demonic forces and “false doctrine” that we were allegedly being taught there….  I mean….  We might have named you by name a time or two, I can’t remember….  Strangely, I didn’t find this to be at odds with how deeply my mind and heart were enriched by your classes, and the classes and chapels led by your religion department colleagues.  I guess it was a confusing time?

All of the ways I was enriched and affirmed were clear to me and yet I felt in the first years after college that my faith had crumbled.  Then a few years went by, and a few more, and a few more…  My faith and my understanding of it became stretched.  The narratives I had been given about people I was told to hold in suspicion were repeatedly challenged.  My gay friends…. were also sometimes Christians?  And…  They were happy and in committed healthy relationships?!  My friends who were people of color shared with me that instances of racism happened to them every day….  They weren’t rare exceptions to some “post racial” ideal world?!  Friends I made who followed other faith traditions seemed to be as at peace and in tune with the creator, and as enriched with their relationship with that entity as I was….  How could these things be so?!  

As my perspectives shifted and the narratives I had grown up with were increasingly challenged, I found that the faith that I thought had been obliterated was actually…..  Stretching pretty, darned well.  I found that I had templates for challenging my own preconceived thoughts–templates I had learned from you and your colleagues in the religion department.  I had a more well-rounded view of scripture and Biblical Scholarship.  And maybe most importantly, I still had the curiosity and the interest to want to keep learning and digging into what it meant to be a person of faith despite the stories that were changing and the things that were shifting.

That faith I thought had been obliterated with holes poked into it had actually been woven into a net that was able to catch me as my faith matured, and as my understanding of people, and society, and morality evolved.

Fast forward to now…. and my faith feels tattered again.  It seems as though I am not alone in that as today you posted on Facebook some of your own story–which overlaps the genesis of my initial perceived faith-unraveling.  You expressed some of the reasons you left the institution you spoke of in your post and I spoke up above, and some of the reasons you have left “bodies of faith” writ large. In your words:  

    “I left because of. . .

– the insidious “spirituality” that justified a kind of perverse license to do anything immoral “in the name of Jesus.”

-the so-called “leaders,” who demanded absolute submission from all who were “under their authority.”

-those who hallucinated heresies and were hell-bent on exposing them.

-those for whom fear completely dominated every facet of their lives.

-the racism of so-called ministers who have the gall to call well-respected African-American women scholars “uppity” while simultaneously denying their own racism.

-those who think that anyone who dares to disagree with the “Republican Platform” (and now, Mr. Trump’s views on anything) are “deceived by Satan.”

The rampant Dunning-Kruger Effect, thinly claiming to be “spirituality” and which often had nothing to do with the genuine nature and teachings of Christ, led me “elsewhere.” I probably should have left earlier.”

I find that again you are teaching me, or that perhaps we are students in a similar class these days.  I can’t pinpoint how to even name what faith I may still hold onto….  But I certainly didn’t lose it because of you or your colleagues in the religion department you headed.  In fact, that same net that I found woven together during my time at college, continues to stretch.  It may have stretched beyond a faith that can be named or categorized neatly in a way that stacks up in the face of the forces at war in American Christendom today….  But it has stretched to allow me to continue to fall into my own and others’ humanity….  Into compassion…  into inclusion… into continuing to demand intellectual honesty of myself and others.

I am grateful to you, Craig, for being someone I held partially responsible for “tearing my faith,” so long ago.  I’m not sure whether or not I can call myself a “Christian,” but my soul is intact….  My spirit feels more whole than it did in those early days when I thought I knew something about the Bible or God or prayer.  If I had remained in the Evangelical tradition I was raised in….  I am certain I could not say the same.  

I heard ironic grief in what you posted today….  I heard the irony that you were accused for so long of destroying the faith of those you mentored when you were really weaving and casting nets the whole time.  I hear the grief of so much of what passes as the Christian faith in this country has eroded into Christian nationalism and white supremacy.  

I share that grief.  I find myself still “deconstructing” almost daily from those things that I thought I had to believe.  I find myself wanting to “come apart and be separate” from so much of the American Church itself.  I find myself bewildered and grieved by Trumpism, frightened by Christian nationalism and the way it imperils our country, and consistently worried for the most marginalized in our society who somehow are not protected by those who profess Christ, but are targeted by them.

I thought you were part of tearing my faith down, but instead you were weaving and casting a net for me and those who learned alongside me.  I am proud to stand with you, holding that net, hoping that it’s generous stretch will catch us all up into a faith that expands and includes and lifts up


Snowmageddon Sunday

Happy Snowmagedoan 2021.  Which of course comes on top of Happy 11th (eleventieth?) month of COVID restrictions.

This is hard, for everyone.  Don’t let anyone tell you that living in this abnormal sort of world isn’t rightfully hard.  It is.  We are all under strain right now.  The snow which, for almost all of us, has been a welcome novelty at the very least, is also a complication.

Today I am thinking about homelessness.  I am thinking about what it is to be a person who is trying to survive when you don’t have reliable housing, or reliable income, or reliable meals.

Our community recently opened a Drop-in Center for folks during the day. (SPIN Cafe, does good work.  Please support them!)  It’s open Monday through Friday, and located in–but not run–our church during the daytime hours.  

But, Today is Sunday.  My husband and I went to shovel sidewalks at our church knowing that tomorrow people would need to get in for the Drop-In center.

There was a gentleman who came hoping that the Drop-in center was open.  It wasn’t.  He understood, but he had walked a long way.  He made himself content on a bench outside the door.  And it pretty well broke Andrew and I both.

So. It’s Sunday.  It’s Snowmageddon.  It’s a Pandemic.  The library is closed due to the weather.  Restaurants and Coffee-Shops don’t have indoor seating because of COVID.  The Drop-In Center wasn’t open.  The Haven (the floating emergency shelter on the island) doesn’t open until 6 p.m. tonight.  There was nowhere for this gentleman to go.  

There is a foot of snow on the ground and people in this town are cold…  And there is nowhere to go.

When things are hard for me….  I am finding over and over again, that they are exponentially harder for those who are unhoused.  The things that are a barrier and a frustration for me, become an even greater barrier for a person who has no home to operate out of.  

They have….

No place to take a shower.

No place to wash their hands.

No place to wash clothes.

No place to snuggle under a blanket and take for granted there is enough money to pay the electricity bill from running the heater so much more during the day.

No place to stretch out their legs or to lay down.

No place to get a cup of coffee.  

No place to sit for very long without worrying someone will complain that you are loitering or lingering.

No place to make soup to warm your belly at the end of the day. 

There is no place to just be.

COVID restrictions have been hard.  I miss eating in a restaurant or meeting a friend for coffee.  I miss going shopping and not worrying about how many people are in a store.  I feel disconnected from people and that gets lonely.  Every. Single. Things seems to take an extra level of thinking and planning and that gets exhausting.

For people experiencing homelessness it has made just being, just living so much harder.  There aren’t places to get warm.  There aren’t places to just exist.  There aren’t places to fill out job applications, or to look for resources.  What is a frustration to me is a barrier to stability, or to warmth, or to a full belly, or to dignity for them.

I am grateful that our community is developing more places for people to just be. I am so grateful for SPIN cafe and the work they do and the dignity they bring.  I am grateful they keep looking for ways to provide things like lunches, and showers, and a place to just BE during the week.  I am grateful for the Haven providing places to sleep at night.  I am grateful for Ryan’s House and their drop-in center for youth and young adults. We can never meet all the needs, but each Something that we do…  Each Someplace that is made open….  Makes it that much easier.  

I firmly believe that saves lives.

Still there will be Snowmageddon Sundays.  There will be cold midnights.  There will be circumstances which make the places doing a lot of good not the best fit for people.  

I don’t have a pretty bow to wrap this up with.  I am just seeing it, sitting with it, and inviting others to see and sit with it too.

A Snowmageddon Sunday in the middle of a Pandemic is many things to many people.  For me, today, I guess it is a chance to reflect on how hard life continues to be, and how much work there is to be done to ease the burden for so many people in our communities.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

“Let’s acknowledge that Pence’s attitude of patronizing non-chalance was really triggering for many of us, like physically painful to watch.

We shouldn’t feel this way when leaders speak, but too often, we do. Abuse and gaslighting are everywhere. Take care today.”

I saw these words from Kaitlin Curtice today.
Last week people talked about how Trump’s behaviour was triggering–particularly for abuse survivors. So it might seem surprising to hear the same words after Pence’s debate performance.
After all, wasn’t Pence more “civil?” The debate was quieter. There wasn’t yelling. His tone of voice was measured. Doesn’t that mean he showed restraint and dignity?
Trump and Pence are two sides of the same coin. People are responding–particularly women and people of color–are responding in visceral bodily ways to both of them for that reason. They are both abusive. They are both harmful.
Trump represents the loud, violent abusive man. The one who slams doors. The one who brags about groping women and exploits them both in the groping and in the telling about it. The one who leaves bruises [I am not accusing Trump of physical abuse here–I am saying that his physicality and loudness in the word brings a portrait to mind]. He is who we have been trained to think of when we hear the word, “Abusive.”
Pence is the flipside. Pence represents the abusive man who says the same emotionally abusive and toxic things to women and people in his life that the other, louder abusive man does but he does it in a measured, quiet way that makes it all sound so…. reasonable.
He is the one who makes you feel crazy because after all, he isn’t acting crazy, but his words and actions…. absolutely cut you down just the same. So, you reason… It must just be you. It must be that you are over-sensitive. He is a “Good Christian man” after all. He says so. Other people say so. And he doesn’t raise his voice.
His weaponry is that cool, caluculated tone. That is where and how he does his damage. It is harder to put your finger on, so it leaves you feeling crazy and questioning the things you know to be true.
This abusive portrait is the one who is so often in the church. He is the one who makes people say in snide tones behind their hands, after the nasty divorce happens and a woman is trying to find her feet, “Well, you know, there are two sides to every story. I am sure she played her part.” They can say the right words. They can even dress them up with scripture. They can use the right tone. They can put a note of sympathetic softness in the words they say.
While saying words that crush, and hurt, and destroy. While doing things that crush, hurt, and destroy.
People had visceral reactions to both men…. because they both remind of us of abusive portraits of people we have encountered in our own lives.
We need to pay attention to our reactions. And to the way we explain away our reactions or other people’s reactions.
They tell us a lot about the society that we live in, and the behavior that we continue to allow to be shown by the men in it.

Our Lights Together


Melissa and her family taught us about Hanukkah.  They drove several hours with bags full of food and goodies that they used to make us dinner.  Melissa taught me to make Challah, how to knead the bread, the way the whole process was prayer–prayer beneath my fingers–prayer that literally rose.  I marvelled at the way the honey-butter laden bread melted in my mouth with sweetness. We ate Latkes and some of the most amazing steak I have ever eaten.  They taught us how to play Dreidel and my kids declared gelt to be the “Best Chocolate Ever.” I giggled over the fact that she taught my kids to gamble.


We lit the Hanukkiah together (Melissa explained to me that a Hanukkiah is a special kind of menorah with 8 candles and a Shamash, rather than a 7 branched menorah) and then, my girls wanted to show them our Advent wreath and how we lit it.  I hesitated… After Melissa shared with me about how someone the week before had outrageously called Hanukkah “Jew Christmas” and ignorantly claimed that the Hanukkiah was a kind of “Advent calendar,” I didn’t want it to feel like we were forcing our faith on them or trying to equate our Advent wreath with the Hanukkiah.  I wanted her to understand that we understood that Hanukkah was different than Christmas even though they happened at similar times of year. My girls were eager and earnest and Melissa assured them and me that of course, she’d love to learn about our traditions too, and was genuinely interested in what Advent was all about.

Then, our families sat together around a table twinkling with the lights of both of our traditions bathing us all in warm light that seemed to have a presence all its own.

Hanukkah candles and an Advent wreath.  Side by side. Miracles. Light in the darkness.

We’ve lit the Hanukkah candles (on the Hanukkiah that Melissa’s family gave to us) every year since.  It’s become a cherished part of our family holiday tradition. To be completely honest, there were moments when the lights of Hanukkah and the holy resistance of the Maccabees were able to light the way through the darkness I was feeling when my own faith traditions couldn’t seem to touch my gloom.  This “minor holiday” still packs a punch. Even so, I asked Melissa several times, “We love celebrating Hanukkah. How do we lean into this in a way that isn’t appropriating a tradition that isn’t ours?” She gave us so much space and so much grace: It’s your story, too, Val. The stories belong to both of us.  This was OUR history. Kindle the lights to remember.

And so we have.  

So many times, the tears have come to my eyes again as I looked at the lights of our traditions together, side by side…  It made me remember our evening together. It made me feel closer to my friend.


In the last few years Anti-semitic attacks have increased, and while I could never understand the impact of that on my friends, I have grieved with them.  These attacks aren’t new, though they are increasing in regularity and intensity. I was taken aback when Melissa told me about security measures they take at their temple–I take my relative safety at church for granted….  But Melissa has never had that luxury.


Last night I read of the most recent attack–”5 Stabbed during Hanukkah celebration in Rabbi’s Home,” the headline read.  

I thought about my friend.

I thought about our lights sitting side by side together. 

I thought about what it means to stand against the darkness.

I thought about what it means to stand in solidarity with people you care about when they are threatened for their beliefs.

The lights of our traditions push back against the darkness.  Our lights together stand even stronger against the darkness.

Schrodinger’s Cancer

This week I had Schrodinger’s Cancer.  (Don’t worry, and keep reading).

I told a friend this and she did some Googling and couldn’t find it and came back and said, “Dang, Val.  You get all the rare cancers.”

So, I told her it’s not actually cancer.  I meant that it’s like the cat: Schrodinger’s Cat–While he is in the box you don’t know if it is dead or alive.  So does this mean it’s both dead and alive?  

(And I thought I was a bad pet owner for letting my cats go outside when they want).


I had scans this week.  A super special one. I mentioned it on Facebook because it’s honestly, pretty freaking cool to be literally radioactive for a while.  I got a super fancy scan that detects super fancy cancers like Neuroendocrine Tumors, which is what I had previously. As usual I geeked out on how the actual test worked–with radioactive half lives and Positrons annihilating electrons and that annihilation actually being what gives you the picture.  All of that I could say out loud without betraying much anxiety.

What I could not say out loud, save for to about two people, was that as I geared up for the scan, had the scan, and waited for the results I felt like I had Schrodinger’s Cancer.  Maybe it was there, maybe it wasn’t. I wouldn’t know until the phone call from my doctor.

When I lay in the scan, my hands pressing into my thighs as hard as I could so that they wouldn’t move, my body got moved up through the donut-shaped tube in 4 minutes increments.  It started at my head and went down to my thighs (“eyes to thighs” is the sing-songy lingo). As the different parts of my body were in the active part of the scanner, I thought about what recurrences and mets could be lurking.  Head and neck–the original site of the tumor… What will the nodule that we think is a lymph node on the other side show? Neck–Scans from NIH indicated I have a spinal hemangioma about which they said, way back then, “metastasis could not be ruled out.”  Would it be ruled out this time? Lungs…. They’ve been kind of touchy lately, could I have mets there? Abdomen/pelvis. Oh good. We’re looking at my Adrenal glands. That’s where Pheos show up. Do I have one there? I had a blood test result come back high for the first time since I’ve been being tested…  Was something hormonal being secreted by a lurking tumor?

I breathed and I told myself it was just a time to practice mindfulness and I counted my breaths and I also counted the portions of my body and imagined all these scenarios…

And then it was done and all that was left was the waiting.  Me and my Schroedinger’s Cancer just hung out for the rest of the week.


At different times throughout my days I wondered, what would next week look like?  Would it be life as normal… or life where I am scrambling with appointments and making plans and dealing with “the C word” again?  Would I be facing another holiday season with the shadow of cancer in my body? Would I be trying to find ways to be straight with my kids about what was going on in Mom’s body without scaring them too much?  

I tried really hard to be “chill” about it all.  And I was… except for in the inbox of my best friend in the world.  That’s where it felt the most ok to whisper out loud that, even with the likelihood being that no tumors were lurking, during this time of uncertainty while I waited to know for sure, I. Was. Scared.


Today the Patient Portal notes dropped and I went over them with a fine tooth comb.  I had some questions, I always do. That nodule on my left carotid is still hanging out and uptakes slightly, but hasn’t grown any in 8 years and reactive nodes DO uptake slightly and it’s considered “within normal ranges”.  So I won’t freak out, I won’t freak out.

Then Doctor D’s nurse called, the same one that I literally went to battle with to try to get this darned scan even authorized and she said, “It all looks great!”

And that was it.  Schrodinger’s Cancer wasn’t there anymore.  


I won’t have a scan again for three more years.  I am grateful I don’t do this every year. Scan time is the time when I really actually feel again like someone who went through what I did 9 years ago.  It was this time of year 9 years ago that we were going to weekly appointments at UW with the incredible High Risk OB doctor who delivered Alaine without me pushing.  It was this time 9 years ago that we waited to hear when I would be scheduled for testing and surgery at the NIH. It was this time 9 years ago when I held my breath. When I went to sleep every night knowing I had a tumor and being grateful, but scared, that we couldn’t do anything with it until my baby was on scene.

I didn’t have chemo or radiation after my surgical resection which makes the whole thing feel less cancery, both for me and for others that hear about it.  But for 9 long months I had a rare tumor on my carotid artery that was wild enough to merit a trip to Maryland and the NIH to be dealt with surgically.


The times I sit again with the fear and uncertainty again the most are scan times.  “Scanxiety” times. The waiting to see if all is still well times. It’s supposed to be well.  There is a low incidence of recurrence. But there is recurrence nonetheless–sometimes decades after the initial tumor. 

So we scan, and we test, and surrounding the season of scans I have Schrodinger’s cancer.  

I hold my breath until I get the phone call saying that I can breathe out again knowing that until next time….  I can rest in the words, “Things look good.”


Thank you God.  Things look good.

Good Friday

“NO!   Death FIRST!”

It doesn’t even phase my family anymore when we drive by the Christian school in our town, and I shout those words.  Their marquee has read, “He is risen!” for weeks.


Today, I’m scrolling through my Facebook feed today musing that somehow or another even Good Friday has become a Meme.  How can the event that caused such a totality of darkness become Meme fodder?  “Sunday’s coming,” so say the memes.

And it’s true.  It is….

But first.  First….


The Death of Jesus

(Psalm 22:1-31; Mark 15:33-41; Luke 23:44-49; John 19:28-30)

45From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. 46About the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli,f lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”g

47When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He is calling Elijah.” 48One of them quickly ran and brought a sponge. He filled it with vinegar, put it on a reed, and held it up for Jesus to drink.

49But the others said, “Leave Him alone. Let us see if Elijah comes to save Him.”

50When Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He yielded up His spirit.


First there was death.  First the light of the world was extinguished.  There was darkness.

I have always struggled with what I was taught growing up–that “God turned his back on Jesus.”  I was comforted by other theologians who believed otherwise.  They explained that “My God, my God why have you forsaken Me?” was simply the first line of Psalm 22 and in a very Jewish way, Jesus was invoking those words…  Words that spoke prophetically about what he was experiencing in that moment and a Psalm that ultimately ended in hope.


This year what strikes me as important is this:  Perhaps Jesus felt like he had been forsaken. I don’t want to turn my back on Him in that by reassuring myself.


At 38 years old faith has been a full out wrestle for a long time.  I am not sure how to approach these events of Holy Week except to know that they are Holy.

But still, I yell, “Death First,” when I see “He is Risen,” during Lent before Easter has arrived…

Because the darkness needs a minute. 


We are a people who rush people to their happy endings.  We can’t rush this story.

God died.  The creator incarnate breathed His last.

The world quaked.  Darkness covered the land.

The people standing there scoffed at his ending

Or despaired


Hope Himself…



For 3 days that was the end of the story.


Yes, Sunday is coming.

But it’s not here yet.


On my “Fridays,” on the darkest days…  On the days when hope seems to have breathed Her last, I don’t need people rushing me to a happy ending.  I don’t want people asking me to “see the bright side.” I can’t stand people telling me that “It all happened for a reason.”

I need people who pull up a chair next to me

And simply…

Feel the darkness.


More than a Meme….  More than a hastily issued, “Sunday’s coming,” Good Friday to me is that.

May you be brave enough today and on the Fridays you encounter (whether your own or someone else’s) to pull up a chair and feel the Darkness.

To Hell and Back


Remember the movie What Dreams May Come?  I was always struck by the power of Chris journeying through Hell to bring someone he loves back.  That has been an image of the highest form of love for me since I first saw the movie.

I never thought I’d have the chance to make such a journey myself.

If you ask the parent of a kid with OCD what they said when they first got the diagnosis, almost to a person the answer will be, “Have you seen my kid’s room?  They CAN’T have OCD!”

This is because OCD is so terribly misunderstood in our culture.  It’s thought of as that disorder that people have when they want things to be clean and organized.  “That’s the handwashing thing, right?” we hear a lot.

Ordering and hand-washing are often part of OCD, but they are far from the totality of the disorder.

A fuller picture would have to include how debilitating it can be–how it can hijack, not only a person, but an entire family.  It would have to give weight to the fact that hours and days of a person’s life can be lost to obsessions, and compulsions. It would have to include how illogical it is….  How the obsessions that can take over a person’s mind don’t make sense even to her, and yet she can’t ignore them.

It would have to include how terrifying it is when aggressive obsessions or sexual obsessions take hold….  The terror of being a person who believes that you could kill someone just because you didn’t perform a ritual perfectly, or touch something exactly right.  The sticky images that get stuck in a person’s head of her loved ones perishing in a fire. The belief that because you thought that someone would die, that they will.

It would have to include the mental anguish that can make a person want to die to escape the pain.

This is the Hell that is OCD.

I stood in the road one day after my daughter tried to run away.  I was doing all I could to be an immovable force. All she knew was that she wanted to escape.

When you are 11 and you want a feeling to stop sometimes the only words you can come up with are, “Mama, I just want to die.”

And then, because OCD is OCD those words can be followed by terror.  Terror that because you said them, because you thought them, that you will die.  

This happened to my daughter over and over again.


We arrived at IOP after over 4 years of treatment.  For so many people the journey of OCD treatment includes seeing counselors and psychologists who don’t know enough about OCD to treat it skillfully.  We were lucky that pretty quickly into our journey we found an expert and he kept seeing us each time OCD crept up to a level that was unmanageable. Over four years in, the cycles of crisis were coming closer together and he leveled with us–this is going to need Intensive Treatment.  You should consider a Residential Treatment Facility. That took our breath away.

A few months and another round on the crisis cycle later and he said, “She could be part of our Intensive Outpatient Program.  I think that could be our best shot.” And so we signed on.

Andy was gone on a boat when I formally told Dr. Wiegand that we wanted her to attend the IOP.  The IOP was kind enough to wait for him to return before my daughter started attending. We determined that the drive from Oak Harbor to Seattle was too difficult to do every day on top of the exposure homework my daughter would need to do.  Dr. Wiegand and a social worker on base helped us to figure out lodging options. In the end we split time between two facilities that serve families enduring medical treatment.

It turns out, there are a lot of logistics to nail down before you start a journey to hel


If you pressed me to sum up IOP in one phrase the words would be “Upside Down World.”  The first week we were there kids were saying swear words and sex organs out loud multiple times a day as part of their homework.  Kids were asked to do homework and tests in highlighters, to break rules, to lie, to eat food off of toilets and shower floors, to forego handwashing.  Kids watched horror movies, and scary TV shows.

We began celebrating the oddest things, “My daughter went 5 days without showering this week!”  We all cheered. Then we looked at one another and laughed.

We deconstructed our parenting.  To a person each of us had seen our child go through intense distress and as a parent all you want to do when your child is in intense distress is to make it go away.  Unfortunately, often our attempts to do that make OCD grow bigger instead of smaller. We learned to withhold reassurance. We stepped back and watched our kids, many of whom were screaming, yelling, and sobbing for extended periods, contain their own explosive emotions.

We unlearned what all the parenting experts had taught us and what all of our maternal and paternal instincts had led us to do for so long.

And our kids?  Our kids fought like hell.  They did an assessment at the beginning of the program and ever 4 weeks after, that allowed the therapists to essentially catalog their worst fears.  Then, they methodically faced them. Each child would take on the things that caused the most distress, one by one, and learn to sit in the discomfort to “Ride the Wave,” as the therapists explained it.

I don’t know many adults who have catalogued all of their fears and methodically faced them.  But my 11 year old did.

Don’t get me wrong, the IOP program tries to make this process as fun as they can.  We spent large parts of every day clapping and even laughing. OCD is absurd and laughing about that absurdity can be healing.  The kids in the program realized they weren’t alone and they realized they had other people fighting alongside them. The parents found the same to be true.

I realized quickly I was part of an elite club–the club of parents who HAD moved heaven, hell, and earth to help their child find healing and wholeness.  The club of parents who would literally follow their child to their darkest hell and then journey out of that darkness beside them. It’s important to note that my “Where Dreams May Come” analogy breaks down in a significant way.  In the movie Chris journeyed to hell and brought his wife out. In this OCD IOP treatment reality, parents journey with their kids to hell and then watch THEM claw, and scrape, and crawn, and eventually stand up and walk out on their own.  We are merely companions.


In a few hours, my daughter and I will go to our last day of treatment at IOP.  My daughter will listen to the words of those who have traveled with her, and those who have been her guides: the amazing therapists who taught her the skills, who sat with her, cheered her on, and helped her believe that within her was a force so powerful that it could shout down even her most relentless demons.  Then she will take us on a journey. She will walk us through what she has experienced over the last 13 weeks.

We’ll eat cake.  We’ll laugh a lot.  And then we’ll go home.

I can’t tell you what an honor it is, what a JOY it is, actually, to emerge from this day having journeyed with my daughter to the darkest regions of her mind.  I can’t tell you how proud of her I am–how teary, blubbering cliche Mom I am when I look at her.  

And if I’m honest, while I tell you that, I’ll also tell you this.  I’m proud of myself too. I am proud that I was willing to journey to hell with my daughter.  I am proud that I was willing to unlearn what I had always known about parenting. I am honored to have put syrup on my hands, and read scripts, and stood beside her as she fought each and every one of her fears.  

We are warriors she and I, and today we taste victory.